Former student returns after 230 years
The eighteenth-century poet Robert Fergusson has received a unique tribute from his alma mater, the University of St Andrews.
The University will erect a bronze statue of the poet once described by Robert Burns as ‘heaven-taught’ in the Poetry House within the School of English, reminding current students of an immensely gifted writer who died tragically young.
The 3 ft statue, by Kilmany-based sculptor David Annand, was presented to the University today (Wednesday 28th January 2004) by the Friends of Robert Fergusson, a charity set up in 2000 with the aim raising the profile of ‘Scotland’s forgotten poet’. The St Andrews maquette will be a smaller version of a life-sized statue, which the Friends hope to erect on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh later this year.
Robert Fergusson was born in 1750, in a close off the High Street, Edinburgh. He studied at St Andrews, published poetry successfully in magazines and in a collected volume of 1773, but died untimely in 1774 in Edinburgh’s Bedlam madhouse, probably after contracting syphilis. Despite their brevity, Fergusson’s life and work, especially poems such as ‘Caller Oysters’, ‘Auld Reekie’, ‘To My Auld Breeks’, and ‘The Farmer’s Ingle’, have exerted an iconic influence on Scots writers from Robert Burns to Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Garioch, and Hugh McDiarmid.
Burns once described Fergusson as ‘my elder brother in misfortune, by far my elder brother in the muse’ and paid his own tribute to the poet by paying £5 10s out of his own pocket for a gravestone at the Canongate Kirkyard in Edinburgh, which had lain unmarked for the twelve years following his death.
“Burns would have approved of this commemoration and of the fact that both academic and general readers are rediscovering Fergusson’s poetic genius’, commented Professor Robert Crawford, Head of the School of English.
“Last year saw publication of a volume of essays and poems reflecting on Fergusson’s life and work; this year the statue provides another concrete reminder that Fergusson is back – part of our research and teaching and now a solid presence on the premises.
“Since he was among the first students at St Andrews who would have studied works of English literature as part of his course, it is especially apt that he should be represented in the School of English. Fergusson had a wayward, anarchic streak as a student at St Andrews – and was once nearly expelled for rioting – but he was also a powerful and scholarly intellect with a talent for maths and music. Perhaps modern students will identify with that protean, challenging personality. Certainly, the statue will be a daily reminder of a writer who reinvented Scots vernacular poetry, giving old forms both a shot in the arm and a kick in the ribs,” he continued.
The Friends of Robert Fergusson have been fundraising for the last three years to realise their aim of commissioning a life-size bronze statue, to occupy a site on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, depicting Fergusson as if strolling between the Canongate Kirk and the Scottish Poetry Library.
Chair of the Friends, Peter Robinson, said: “This marks the beginning of the year of Robert Fergusson¿.
With the sale of the small statue to the University of St Andrews, the Friends of Fergusson are now closer to their fundraising target for the life-size model, which they hope to unveil in October 2004, on the 230th anniversary of Fergusson’s death. Anyone interested in contributing to this ongoing project should contact their Treasurer, Fiona McLachlan, on 01383 825733.
NOTE TO PICTURE EDITORS: JPEGS OF THE STATUE ARE AVAILABLE FROM THE PRESS OFFICE – CONTACTS BELOW.
Issued by Beattie Media on behalf of the University of St Andrews For more information please contact: Gayle Cook on 01334 467227 / 462529 or 07900 050 103 or gec3@st- andrews.ac.uk View University press releases on- line at http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk Ref: fergusson statue pr 270104University news