Fergusson’s first appearance in the Weekly Magazine – and, indeed, in the Scottish periodical press – is characteristically considered and appropriately proclaimed, while his choice of persona illustrates his subtle yet shrewd approach to the literary marketplace. On 7 February 1771, Weekly Magazine readers are introduced to the first of three pastorals, ‘Pastoral I: Morning’,2 with the following editorial note:
Although Fergusson’s English language pastorals are generally dismissed as sterile imitations of outmoded English Augustan works by many of today’s critics and editors, Ruddiman’s introductory flourish demonstrates contemporary response to pastoral form. As we have seen, several twentieth-century critics see Fergusson’s work in English as slavish parroting of existing tradition. For Ruddiman however, ‘Pastoral I: Morning’ is ‘natural’. Rather than being a mechanical simulation of ‘English’ forms, Ruddiman sees the pastoral’s style as ‘picturesque’ and certainly equal to the ‘modern’ pastorals currently being published and voraciously consumed by the British reading public. In this first introduction to his ready-made literary audience, Fergusson presents himself as a young apprentice poet who is beginning his poetic journey apparently humbly and conventionally. Emulating the career of Alexander Pope (1688-1744), whose early pastorals were exercises in poetic facility, Fergusson demonstrates that he is here embarking on his literary training, and that he will follow the conventional route of literary evolution. Although he would utilize pastoral tropes throughout his career, his considered poetic introduction to his Weekly Magazine audience with a trio of ‘Pastorals’ demonstrates a knowledge of poetic decorum and obligation but, simultaneously, firm artistic confidence.