1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Hogg

William Clarke and Robert Shelton Mackenzie, in The Georgian Era: Memoirs of the most eminent Persons who have flourished in Great Britain (1832-34) 3:432-33.



JAMES HOGG, known by the soubriquet of The Ettrick Shepherd, was born in 1771, and is the son of a respectable farmer and sheep-dealer, of Ettrick, in Scotland. He received but a scanty education, and, at the early age of seven, became a cowherd, and was afterwards raised to the more dignified post of shepherd. During his progress in these callings, he suffered many hardships, in describing which, in his published autobiography, he says, "Time after time, I had but two shirts, which grew often so bad, that I was obliged to quit wearing them altogether; for, when I put them on, they hung in long tatters as far as my heels. At these times," he adds, "I certainly made a very grotesque figure; for, on quitting the shirt, I could never induce my breeches to keep up to their proper sphere." It was not till his eighteenth year, that he began to read poetry; at this time, he was in the service of Mr. Laidlaw, whose lady lent him The Gentle Shepherd, besides some theological books, and, occasionally, a newspaper, which, he says, he "pored over with great earnestness; beginning at the date, and reading straight on, through advertisements of houses and lands, balm of Gilead, and every thing." In 1790, he hired himself to a new master, of the same name, with whom he lived nine years in the capacity of shepherd, and by whom he was treated with the kindness of a parent. This gentleman possessed many valuable books, all of which Hogg was allowed to read; and, in the spring of 1793, he made his first essay in verse, which, in his literary career, was followed by some pastorals and ballads, and a comedy, entitled The Scotch Gentleman. In allusion to the composition of this comedy, he says, in his autobiography, "Whether my manner of writing it out was new, I know not; but it was not without singularity. Having very little spare time from my flock, which were unruly enough, I folded and stitched a few sheets of paper, which I carried in my pocket. I had no inkhorn; but, in place of it, I borrowed a small vial, which I fixed in a hole in the breast of my waistcoat; and, having a cork, affixed by a piece of twine, it answered the purpose full as well."

In 1801, he ventured to publish a volume of his poems; and, afterwards, whilst still in the capacity of a shepherd, being encouraged by Walter Scott, to publish The Mountain Bard, which was succeeded by his work on the management of sheep, he became master of nearly 300; a sum, he says, which made him "perfectly mad:" and it may be taken as a proof of his temporary insanity, observes his biographer, "that he hired two extensive farms, the management of which required ten times the capital he possessed." The consequence was, that at the end of three years, he found himself pennyless, and was compelled to return to his old associates at Ettrick, but, being unable to obtain occupation, he, in 1810, took his departure for Edinburgh, determined, as he says, "to force himself into notice as a literary character." Fortune, however, was not yet propitious; a volume of songs, called The Forest Minstrel, added nothing to his coffers; and he was unsuccessful in attempting to establish a periodical paper, called The Spy. His abilities, however, were not wholly unknown in Edinburgh, where he became one of the principal conductors of a debating society, called The Forum; and the publication of his Queen's Wake, in 1813, at once established his reputation in the Scottish metropolis. His Pilgrims of the Sun, and Mador of the Moor, which followed successively, were not so popular, though he himself thought both of them superior to The Queen's Wake. His next scheme was to publish a volume, containing a poem from every living poet in Great Britain; but this being frustrated by Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron declining to contribute, he published a volume of imitations, called The Poetic Mirror, which was well received, and had a profitable sale. In addition to the works already mentioned, he published Perils of Man; Perils of Woman; The Brownie of Bodsbeck, and other tales; Winter Evening Tales; and Jacobite Relics of Scotland. These works were followed, in 1825, by his Queen Hynde, a poem, which made some noise in the literary world. In 1829, he printed his Shepherd's Calendar, in two volumes. Besides these, he has been a considerable contributor to the various annuals and magazines: but his greatest celebrity, as a periodical writer, is in connexion with Blackwood's Magazine, of which he was the principal founder.

Mr. Hogg is now married, and comfortably settled on a considerable farm, but it is doubtful whether his emoluments have not fallen far short of the merits of a man of his genius and celebrity. Lord Byron was one of those who thought highly of Hogg; and used to call him a strange being, of great, though uncouth, powers.