Robert Fergusson was a brilliant Edinburgh-born poet, living and writing at the height of the Scottish Enlightenment. A huge influence on Robert Burns, Fergusson was considered a genius by many over the course of his brief life, impacting his contemporaries hugely.
After studying first at Edinburgh High School, then Dundee High and finally St Andrews, Fergusson moved back to Edinburgh to become a legal copy clerk for the Commissary Records Office following his father’s sudden death in 1768. A few years later his poems were printed from 1771 in Walter Ruddiman’s Weekly Magazine or Edinburgh Amusement.
Fergusson was fluent in both English and Scots, and much of his poetry was filled with a vibrant and careful portrayal of Edinburgh life. This gave him the status as poet laureate of Edinburgh.
Now stairhead critics, senseless fools, Censure their aim, and pride their rules, In Luckenbooths, wi glowring eye, Their neighbour’s sma’est faults descry: If ony loun should dander there, Of aukward gate and foreign air, They trace his steps, till they can tell His pedigree as weel’s himsel … - from Auld Reekie
But tragically his fortunes declined, and when he died it was in such poverty that he was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave in the Canongate Kirk graveyard. Dismayed by this injustice, one of Fergusson’s admirers, Robert Burns. arranged for him to have a proper gravestone in the Canongate, gathering support and funds to make a monument befitting his hero.
A more recently made statue of Robert Fergusson stands outside the gates of the Canongate Kirk, caught mid-stride with his coat-tails flapping, perpetually on his way down the Mile.