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William Stanley Braithwaite, ed. The Book of Georgian Verse. 1909.

Leith Races

Robert Fergusson (1750–1774)

IN July month, ae bonny morn,

Whan Nature’s rokelay green

Was spread o’er ilka rigg o’ corn,

To charm our roving een;

Glouring about I saw a quean,

The fairest ’neath the lift;

Her een ware o’ the siller sheen,

Her skin like snawy drift,

Sae white that day.

Quod she, ‘I ferly unco sair,

That ye sud musand gae,

Ye wha hae sung o’ Hallow-fair,

Her winter’s pranks and play:

Whan on Leith-Sands the racers rare,

Wi’ Jocky louns are met,

Their orrow pennies there to ware,

And drown themsel’s in debt

Fu’ deep that day.’

And wha are ye, my winsome dear,

That takes the gate sae early?

Whare do ye win, gin ane may spier,

For I right meikle ferly,

That sic braw buskit laughing lass

Thir bonny blinks shou’d gi’e,

An’ loup like Hebe o’er the grass,

As wanton and as free,

Frae dule this day.

‘I dwall amang the caller springs

That weet the Land o’ Cakes,

And aften tune my canty strings

At bridals and late-wakes:

They ca’ me Mirth; I ne’er was kend

To grumble or look sour,

But blyth wad be a lift to lend,

Gif ye wad sey my pow’r

An’ pith this day.’

A bargain be’t, and, by my feggs,

Gif ye will be my mate,

Wi’ you I’ll screw the cheery pegs,

Ye shanna find me blate;

We’ll reel an’ ramble thro’ the sands,

And jeer wi’ a’ we meet;

Nor hip the daft and gleesome bands

That fill Edina’s street

Sae thrang this day.

Ere servant maids had wont to rise

To seeth the breakfast kettle,

Ilk dame her brawest ribbons tries,

To put her on her mettle,

Wi’ wiles some silly chiel to trap,

(And troth he’s fain to get her,)

But she’ll craw kniefly in his crap,

Whan wow! he canna flit her

Frae hame that day.

Now, mony a scaw’d and bare-ars’d lown

Rise early to their wark,

Enough to fley a muckle town,

Wi’ dinsome squeel and bark.

‘Here is the true an’ faithfu’ list

O’ Noblemen and Horses;

Their eild, their weight, their height, their grist,

That rin for Plates or Purses

Fu’ fleet this day.’

To whisky plooks that brunt for wooks

On town-guard soldiers’ faces,

Their barber bauld his whittle crooks,

An’ scrapes them for the races:

Their stumps erst us’d to filipegs,

Are dight in spaterdashes

Whase barkent hides scarce fend their legs

Frae weet and weary plashes

O’ dirt that day.

‘Come, hafe a care (the captain cries),

On guns your bagnets thraw;

Now mind your manual exercise,

An’ marsh down raw by raw.’

And as they march he’ll glowr about,

Tent a’ their cuts and scars:

’Mang them fell mony a gausy snout

Has gusht in birth-day wars,

Wi’ blude that day.

Her nanesel maun be carefu’ now,

Nor maun she pe misleard,

Sin baxter lads hae seal’d a vow

To skelp and clout the guard;

I’m sure Auld Reikie kens o’ nane

That wou’d be sorry at it,

Tho’ they should dearly pay the kane,

An’ get their tails weel sautit

And sair thir days.

The tinkler billies i’ the Bow

Are now less eidant clinking,

As lang’s their pith or siller dow,

They’re daffin’, and they’re drinking.

Bedown Leith Walk what burrochs reel

Of ilka trade and station,

That gar their wives an’ childer feel

Toom weyms for their libation

O’ drink thir days.

The browster wives thegither harl

A’ trash that they can fa’ on;

They rake the grounds o’ ilka barrel,

To profit by the lawen:

For weel wat they a skin leal het

For drinking needs nae hire;

At drumbly gear they take nae pet;

Foul water slockens fire

And drouth thir days.

They say, ill ale has been the deid

O’ mony a beirdly lown;

Then dinna gape like gleds wi’ greed

To sweel hail bickers down:

Gin Lord send mony ane the morn,

They’ll ban fu’ sair the time

That e’er they toutit aff the horn

Which wambles thro’ their weym

Wi’ pain that day.

The Buchan bodies thro’ the beech

Their bunch of Findrums cry,

An’ skirl out baul’, in Norland speech,

‘Gueed speldings, fa’ will buy.’

An’, by my saul, they’re nae wrang gear

To gust a stirrah’s mow;

Weel staw’d wi’ them, he’ll never spear

The price of being fu’

Wi’ drink that day.

Now wyly wights at rowdy powl,

An’ flingin’ o’ the dice,

Here brake the banes o’ mony a soul,

Wi’ fa’s upo’ the ice:

At first the gate seems fair an’ straught,

So they had fairly till her;

But wow! in spite o’ a’ their maught,

They’re rookit o’ their siller

An’ goud that day.

Around whare’er ye fling your een,

The haiks like wind are scourin’;

Some chaises honest folk contain,

An’ some hae mony a whore in;

Wi’ rose and lily, red and white,

They gie themselves sic fit airs,

Like Dian, they will seem perfite;

But it’s nae goud that glitters

Wi’ them thir days.

The lyon here, wi’ open paw,

May cleek in mony hunder,

Wha geck at Scotland and her law,

His wyly talons under;

For ken, tho’ Jamie’s laws are auld,

(Thanks to the wise recorder),

His lyon yet roars loud and bauld,

To had the Whigs in order

Sae prime this day.

To town-guard drum of clangor clear,

Baith men and steeds are raingit;

Some liveries red or yellow wear,

And some are tartan spraingit:

And now the red, the blue e’en-now

Bids fairest for the market;

But, ere the sport be done, I trow

Their skins are gayly yarkit

And peel’d thir days.

Siclike in Robinhood debates,

Whan twa chiels hae a pingle;

E’en-now some couli gets his aits,

An’ dirt wi’ words they mingle,

Till up loups he, wi’ diction fu’,

There’s lang and dreech contesting;

For now they’re near the point in view;

Now ten miles frae the question

In hand that night.

The races o’er, they hale the dools,

Wi’ drink o’ a’ kin-kind;

Great feck gae hirpling hame like fools,

The cripple lead the blind.

May ne’er the canker o’ the drink

E’er make our spirits thrawart,

’Case we git wharewitha’ to wink

Wi’ een as blue’s a blawart

Wi’ straiks thir days!