Wig-maker in Edinburgh who rapidly prospered. Joined the Jacobite “Easy Club” and there entertained his fellow members with his early poetry.
By 1718 he had given up wig-making and became a bookseller. In 1719 he published a volume of “Scots Songs” which soon ran to a second edition. Between 1724 and 1727, Ramsay published three volumes of collected English and Scottish traditional ballads, together with songs he and his friends wrote, under the title of “The Tea-Table Miscellany”. One of Ramsay’s own compositions was “The Lass o’ Patie’s Mill”, which can be found in William Thomson’s “Orpheus Caledonius”.
In 1725 he published “The Gentle Shepherd”, which brought Ramsay instant success. By 1750 “The Gentle Shepherd” had reached a tenth edition. This pastoral drama, at first without songs, caused Leigh Hunt to write “Ramsay is in some respects the best pastoral writer in the world” and Pope is known to have admired the work.
Ramsay started a circulating library, the first of its kind in Scotland and his shop was a favoured meeting place for literati. He corresponded with Gay and Pope and was much in demand in the drawing-rooms of Edinburgh.
After 1730 Ramsay virtually stopped writing, and with admirable and rare perception said that he preferred not to take the risk that “the coolness of fancy that attends advanced years should make me risk the reputation I had acquired”.
He died aged 72 and was buried in Old Greyfriars churchyard where there is a monument to his memory. In Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, there is a statue of Ramsay.