The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

XIV. Scottish Popular Poetry before Burns

§ 15. Alexander Ross

Alexander Ross, a graduate of Aberdeen university, who became schoolmaster at Lochlee in Forfarshire, acquired much fame in the northern counties by his pastoral Helenore or the Fortunate Shepherdess, which, with a few of his songs, was published at Aberdeen, in 1768, a revised edition appearing in 1778. Linguistically, it is of special interest as a specimen of the Aberdeenshire dialect; but it is a rather wearisome production, and cannot compare with Ramsay’s pastoral, on which it is largely modelled, though the plot is of quite a different and much more romantic character. Its prosy commonplace strikingly contrasts with the wit and vivacity of Ross’s songs, such as The Rock and the Wee Pickle Tow, Wooed and Married and a’ and The Bridal O’t, which, apart from lyric effectiveness, are really admirable sketches of Scottish peasant life in the olden time. Quite the equal, and, indeed, the superior, of Ross, as a song-writer, was John Skinner, episcopalian minister of Longside, Aberdeenshire, the irresistible sprightly cheerfulness of whose Tullochgorum so captivated Burns that he pronounced it to be “the best Scots song Scotland ever saw.” In much the same vein are Tune your Fiddle and Old Age; but a much finer achievement than any of these is the Ewie wi’ the Crookit Horn. Though suggested by the older elegies of Sempill and Hamilton, it is in a different stanza, one of three lines riming together, with a refrain ending in “a” throughout the poem, and it altogether surpasses them in pathetic humour. To it, Burns owed more than the suggestion for Poor Mailie’s Elegy, following not merely its general drift but partly parodying its expressions, more particularly those in the last stanza, beginning “O all ye bards benorth Kinghorn.”