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 Robert Fergusson

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Robert Fergusson

  • Birth 5 Sep 1750 City of Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Death 16 Oct 1774 Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Burial Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh, Scotland
  • Memorial ID 20732

Poet. As one of Scotland's greatest poets, his works became a major influence and inspiration to Scottish poet Robert Burns. He was born on September 5, 1750 at Cap and Feather Close, near Edinburgh, Scotland, the youngest of three surviving children. His father was employed as a copying clerk. He received his formal schooling at Edinburgh's Royal High School and the High School of Dundee, Scotland. In 1765 he was enrolled at the University of Saint Andrews in Fife, Scotland where he began writing poetry. In 1767 his father died and he returned to Edinburgh the following year without completing his studies, in order to provide support for his mother as his older siblings had left home. Having rejected the clergy, medicine, and law as career options that were available to him due to his university training, he opted to follow his father's career as a copying clerk. During this time he became a regular contributor of poems to "The Weekly Magazine" or "Edinburgh Amusement," and became involved in Edinburgh's social and artistic circles, rubbing shoulders with musicians, artists, actors, and booksellers, who were also publishers. In 1769 he befriended Italian castrato singer Giusto Fernando Tenducci, who was touring with a production of the opera Artaxerxes. Tenducci asked him to write some Scots airs for the Edinburgh performance and he supplied three, which were performed and published with the libretto. In early 1771 he began contributing his poems to Walter Ruddiman's Weekly Review, first in the English language and later in the Scots language. His first Scots poem, "The Daft Days," was published in January 1772 and from then on he submitted poetry in both languages. His poetry gained popularity, persuading Ruddiman to publish a first general edition of his poems in early 1773, which sold around 500 copies, enabling him to clear a profit. Shortly after that he attempted his own publication of "Auld Reekie," his most famous poem that described, in the Scots language, a day in the life of his home city that was intended to be the first part of a planned long poem. He became a member of the Edinburgh Cape Society, which met regularly at a tavern in Craig's Close, with each member being assigned a name and character. He was dubbed a knight of the order, with the title of "Sir Precentor," in allusion to his fine voice. From around mid-1773 his works appeared to become more darkly melancholic, suggesting that he was suffering from a deep depression. In late 1773 he wrote "Poem to the Memory of John Cunningham," which was composed on learning the death of that poet in an asylum in Newcastle, Scotland, and expressed fears of a similar fate. He fell prey to what at the time was called "religious melancholia." He completely stopped writing, withdrawing from his friends and riotous social life, and spent his time reading the Bible. In August 1774 he sustained a severe head injury in circumstances that are obscure (some say that he fell down a flight of stairs). His mother attempted to care for him but he was finally admitted against his will into the Edinburgh Darien House "hospital" (a public asylum) where he died on October 16, 1774 and was buried in an unmarked grave at the Canongate Churchyard. In 1789 Robert Burns paid to have a headstone placed on his grave. A memorial statue of Robert Fergusson was erected outside of the Canongate Churchyard on October 17, 2004.

Bio by: William Bjornstad





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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 3 Mar 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 20732
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Robert Fergusson (5 Sep 1750–16 Oct 1774), Find A Grave Memorial no. 20732, citing Canongate Churchyard, Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh, Scotland ; Maintained by Find A Grave .