Allan Ramsay lived from 15 October 1686 to 7 January 1758. He was a renowned poet, and is often called Allan Ramsay the Elder to avoid confusion with his son, the artist Allan Ramsay the Younger. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Allan Ramsay was born in Scotland's highest village, Leadhills in Lanarkshire, where his father was the superintendent of the lead mines owned by Lord Hopetoun. He was educated in the local parish school, and at the age of 15 was apprenticed to a wig-maker in Edinburgh. In 1710 he became a Burgess of Edinburgh and set up in business on his own as a wig-maker. In 1712 Ramsay married Christian Ross, with whom he was to have six children. The oldest was to achieve fame as Allan Ramsay the Younger, an important portrait painter in Edinburgh and London.
These were bad years for Scotland, when the the 1707 Act of Union seemed to be doing more harm than good to Scotland's economy. Ramsay was an ardent nationalist and Jacobite, who helped set up Edinburgh's "Easy Club" as a forum for intellectual, political and literary discussion. Many of Ramsay's early poems had their first outing when read aloud at meetings of the Easy Club.
By 1720, Ramsay's interest in literature was such that he had given up his trade as a wigmaker, converting his premises instead into a bookshop. In 1725 he moved to larger premises in the High Street, establishing what many regard as Britain's first circulating library. Collections of his verse were published in 1721 and 1728. He wrote in both Scots and English, though with a more original style and more success in the former. He also published "The Ever Green, being a Collection of Scots Poems wrote by the Ingenious before 1600" in 1724, and the 5 volume "Tea Table Miscellany" between 1724 and 1737, which restored to circulation many traditional Scottish songs and ballads, starting a process later carried on by Sir Walter Scott: though some have criticised Ramsay for a tendency to edit traditional work to suit his own taste.
Ramsay's greatest success was with his long pastoral poem "The Gentle Shepherd", published in 1725. In 1736 he lost money investing in a failed theatre project in Edinburgh. In 1755 Ramsay retired from his bookshop, living until his death in 1758 in an octagonal house close to the esplanade of Edinburgh Castle. Today this house is still called Ramsay Lodge, and forms the central part of the spectacular Ramsey Gardens, overlooking Edinburgh New Town from high on Castle Rock.