Edinburgh World Heritage - Find out more about Fergusson’s work and his unfortunate early death


Find out more about Fergusson’s work and his unfortunate early death

Robert Fergusson was born in Edinburgh in 1750 and began his education at the High School here.  In 1762 he got a bursary to Dundee Grammar School and this also took him on to the University of St Andrews.  He started there in 1765, when he was 15 – not an unusually young age to go to university in Scotland then.  Sadly, two years later his father died and he had to return home without a degree to support his family. He took a humble position as a clerk.

He had begun to write poetry while he was at St Andrews and he continued after he came back to Edinburgh.  Most of his poems were produced in a two years period, starting with the publication in the Weekly Magazine in 1772  of ‘The Daft Days’, about celebrating the New Year holidays in January with plenty of food, drink and mirth to set against a cold climate.

Late in 1774 Fergusson suffered a head injury when he fell on a flight of stairs and was admitted against his will into Edinburgh's Darien House ‘hospital’.  He died there a few weeks later.  He had only just turned 24. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Canongate Kirkyard.  His fellow poet Robert Burns, who greatly admired Fergusson’s work, later paid for a memorial to be erected over the grave.  As the plaque in front of the memorial stone explains, Robert Louis Stevenson intended to renovate the stone, but died before he could do so. Stevenson, whose works include Treasure Island, Jekyll and Hyde and Kidnapped, was another admirer of Fergusson’s work.

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