Richard Gall (1779 – 1801)

Richard Gall was born in December 1776, to (probably) George Gall and his spouse Mary Burn(s), at Linkhouses near Dunbar. His father was reputedly a notary, but the family does not seem to have been well-to-do. They moved to Haddington, where Richard went to learn his 3Rs at Richard Hay’s school. At 11 he was set apprentice to his mother’s brother, a house carpenter and builder, but during his training, while the firm was working at Gosford House, he gave up his position and went to Edinburgh, where his parents were then living.

Thy cheek is o’ the rose’s hue.
My only jo an’ dearie, O;
Thy neck is like the siller dew.
Upon the banks sae briery, O;
Thy teeth are o’ the ivory, O,
sweet’s the twinkle o’ thine ee!
Nae joy, nae pleasure, blinks on me.
My only jo an’ dearie, O.

Family connections found him a new post as a printer’s apprentice under David Ramsay, proprietor of the Edinburgh Evening Courant. When his training was complete he became a travelling agent for the Courant.

This second job gave Gall the time to study Scottish literature and to develop his love of writing. He won the attention of Robert Burns (and the two exchanged letters) and others of Scotland’s literary set. Some of Gall’s songs were set to music and became popular. Such was the quality of some of his poetic works, that they were often wrongly attributed to Burns himself.

How bonny spreads the Haugh sae green.
Near yonder haly ruins seen!
The Briery Bauk how sweet at e’en,
Wi’ music’s sound,
Whare weel the wandering e’e may glean
Ilk landscape round!

Gall was still employed by Ramsay when he contracted blood poisoning from an abscess on his chest. He died on 10 May 1801, before he was even 25, and is buried in the Calton Graveyard in Edinburgh. A posthumous edition of Poems and Songs was assembled and published in 1819. The introduction to this work refers to Gall’s refined and delicate sensibility and notes that his poems … display, in a very favourable manner, the peculiar excellences of our native tongue. George Miller also published a Memoir of Richard Gall in volume 1 of the East Lothian Magazine. Both can be consulted at the John Gray Centre, if you visit us.

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