Eighteenth century Scottish humanism and the poetry of Robert Fergusson
In the main historical and critical analyses of eighteenth century Scotland have concentrated on the society and culture of the literati, the Presbyterian Moderate, the Whig utilitarian, while ignoring considerable subcultures within the nation. This thesis examines Robert Fergusson's poetry in relation to eighteenth century Scottish humanism, the Scotland of the old European Scot, of the Episcopalian and Catholic, Tory and Jacobite. The introductory chapters first place the early Scottish humanists, who were responsible for the Vernacular Revival, in a historical and philosophical context, tracing the evolution of historicist and primitivist ideas in Britain, and explaining how these ideas fit so neatly into their cosmology; and, second, define what is meant by Scottish humanism, using Fergusson as a prime example of that subculture . The succeeding chapters analyse Fergusson's country verse in relation to the Tory social ideal, and the attempt to reconcile progress with primitivism, and in relation to the disintegration of that same ideal with the Whig Agrarian Revolution. In these poems the themes are skilfully represented through an elaborate pastoral framework and rhetorical structure, where the older Scotland is an Edenic garden, and the newer, a desert waste. With chapters 6 and 7 the humanist rhetorical structure, especially insect and animal imagery, Presbyterian pulpit rhetoric, the pastoral foil, and the subtle use of seventeenth century forms are considered in the light of the poet's rendering of a conventional literary city, the New Babylon, which the poet secularises into modern Whig Edinburgh and attacks in all its Whiggish guises of luxury,utility, determinism and sentimentalism. The concluding chapter considers the poet's attempt, as a humanist 'maker', to reconstruct an idealised Auld Reikie of the past and to resolve tensions within himself. In so doing Auld Reikie, as a microcosm of the concordia discors principle of the cosmos, becomes a heavenly city of the imagination.