More about this epitaph
Robert Fergusson (1750-1774) was a Scottish poet who towards the end of his life suffered from mental health problems and died in Edinburgh bedlam.
Although his life was short his poems were published a year before his death and had a significant impact on Robert Burns.
Horrified to learn that such a man lay in an unmarked grave, Burns applied to the Canongate Baillies in 1787, in order to erect a headstone. An architect, Robert Burn, was commissioned to produce one, and Burns composed the following epitaph.
The two additional stanzas were written in his Second Commonplace Book. The stanza form is based on Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, from which Burns borrows line 2.
Burns did not settle the bill until 1792, but explained the delay in a letter to the bookseller, Peter Hill: "He was two years in erecting it, after I commissioned him for it: and I have been two years paying him, after he sent me his account: so he and I are quits. He had the hardiesse to ask me interest on the sum: but considering that the money was due by one Poet, for putting a tombstone over another, he may, with grateful surprise, thank Heaven that he ever saw a farthing of it."