Drinking and Spewing

Sally Mapstone

  • ‘Heaven-Taught Fergusson’: Robert Burns’s Favourite Scottish Poet edited by Robert Crawford
    Tuckwell, 240 pp, £14.99, August 2002, ISBN 1 86232 201 5

Robert Fergusson died in Edinburgh’s Bedlam on 17 October 1774. He was 24 years old. He had been admitted to the asylum three months before, against his will, because his mother could no longer look after him. Having been persuaded by some friends that he was being taken out in a sedan chair to visit another acquaintance, he was conveyed instead to a cell in the asylum, a sepulchrous building abutting the old city wall. On discovering the ruse, a contemporary biographer wrote, Fergusson went into a ‘frantic rage’, wailing hideously, and stirring up shrieks from the other wretched inmates. The same biographer liked to assert the relative tranquillity of his death, but there is little evidence that his last months were anything other than confused and tragic.

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