Amongst the many remarkable men which the humble walks of life in Scotland have furnished to the list of poets, Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, is one of the most extraordinary. There have been Allan Ramsay, the barber, Burns, the ploughman, Allan Cunningham, the stonecutter, Tannahill and Thom, the weavers. Had there been no Burns, Hogg would have been regarded as a miracle for a rural poet; yet how infinite is the distance between the two! Burns's poetry is full of that true philosophy of life, of those noble and manly truths which are expressions for eternity of what lives in every bosom, but cannot form itself on every tongue.
His lines are mottoes of the heart,
His truths electrify the sage.
Such a poet becomes at once and for ever enshrined in the heart of his whole country; its oracle and its prophet. To no such rank can James Hogg aspire. His chief characteristics are fancy, humour, a love of the strange and wonderful, of fairies and brownies, and country tradition, mixed up with a most amusing egotism, and an ambition of rivalling in their own way the greatest poets of his time. He wrote The Queen's Wake, in imitation of Scott's metrical romances, and bragged that he had beaten him in his own line. Byron, Wordsworth, Southey, Rogers, Campbell, all the great poets of the day he imitated, and that in a wonderful manner for any man, not simply for a poor shepherd of Ettrick. Scott had a poem on Waterloo, Hogg had a Waterloo too, and in the same metre; Byron wrote Hebrew Melodies, and Hogg wrote Sacred Melodies; and On Carmel's Brow, The Guardian Angels, The Rose of Sharon, Jacob and Laban, The Jewish Captive's Parting, etc., left no question as to the direct rivalry. His third volume was one published as avowed poems by Scott, Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Southey, and Wilson. He had conceived the scheme of getting a poem from each of these popular authors, and publishing them in a volume, by which to raise money for the stocking of a farm. Byron consented, and destined Lara for Hogg's benefit; but Scott at once refused, not approving the plan, for which Hogg most unceremoniously assailed him; and Byron being afterwards induced not to send Lara, Hogg set about at once, and wrote poems for them and the others named, and published them under the title of the Poetic Mirror. Of these poems, which were clever burlesques rather than serious forgeries, I may speak anon; here I wish only to point out one of the most striking characteristics of Hogg, that of imitation of style. This was also shown in the famous Chaldee Manuscript, which appeared in Blackwood's Magazine, and created so much noise. But this great versatility of manner; this ambition of rivalling great authors in their own peculiar fields, marked a want of a prominent caste of genius of his own. There was an absence of individuality in him. There was nothing, except that singular egotism and somewhat extravagant fancy, which could lead you on reading a poem of his to say, that is Hogg and can be no one else. His poems are generally extremely diffuse; they surprise and charm you on opening them, at the vigour, liveliness, and strength of the style, but they are of that kind that the farther you go the more this charm wears off; you grow weary, you hardly know why; you cannot help protesting to yourself that they are very clever, nay, wonderful; yet there wants a certain soul, a condensation, a something to set upon them the stamp of that genius which seizes on your love and admiration beyond question or control. Accordingly, while you find every man and woman in Scotland, the peasantry as much as the more cultivated classes, having lines and verses of Burns's treasured in their memories, as the precious wealth of the national mind, you rarely or never hear a similar quotation from Hogg. "A clever, ranting chiel was the shepherd," is the remark; his countrymen read, and admire, and do justice to his genius, but he cannot, with all his ambition, seat himself in their heart of hearts like Robert Burns.
There is nothing so amusing as Hogg's autobiography. His good-natured egotism overflows it. The capital terms on which he is with himself makes him relate flatteries and rebuffs with equal naivete; and the familiarity with which he treats the greatest names of modern literature, presenting the most grave and dignified personages as his cronies, chums, and convivial companions, is ludicrous beyond everything. He opens his narrative in this style: — "I like to write about myself: in fact, there are few things which I like better; it is so delightful to call up old reminiscences. Often have I been laughed at for what an Edinburgh editor styles my good-natured egotism, which is sometimes anything but that; and I am aware that I shall be laughed at again. But I care not: for this important memoir, now to be brought forward for the fourth time, at different periods of my life, I shall narrate with the same frankness as formerly; and in all relating either to others or myself speak fearlessly and unreservedly out. Many of those formerly mentioned are no more; others have been unfortunate; but of all I shall speak the plain truth, and nothing but the truth."
Immediately afterwards he adds — "I must apprise you, that, whenever I have occasion to speak of myself and my performances, I find it impossible to divest myself of an inherent vanity." Of this no one can doubt either the truth or the candour of the confession. He tells us that he was the second of four sons of Robert Hogg and Margaret Laidlaw, the wife in Scotland often retaining her maiden name. That his father was a shepherd, but, saving money, had taken the farms of Ettrick-house and Ettrick-hall. At the latter place Hogg was born, he says, on the 25th of January, 1772; but he assigns this date to his birth out of his desire to resemble Robert Burns, so much as even to have been born on the same day and month. He used to boast of this, and even of some similar occurrence, as of having been in some sort of danger at his birth through a storm, and the necessary help for his mother being difficult to procure in night and tempest. He has related, in his life, that he was born on the same day of the same month as Burns, but on referring to the parish registry it did not bear him out, but showed him to have been born on the 9th of December, 1770. He tells us that his father was ruined, and that they were turned out of doors without a farthing when he was six years old, but that a worthy neighbouring farmer, Mr. Brydon of Crosslie, took compassion on them, leased the farm of Ettrick-house, one of those Hogg's father had occupied, and put him as shepherd upon it. Here the embryo poet went to the parish school just by for a few months, and then at Whitsuntide was sent out to service to a farmer in the neighbourhood, as a herd-boy. The account that he gives of himself, as a lad of seven years old, in this solitary employment on the hills, is curious enough. "My wages for the half year were a ewe lamb and a pair of new shoes. Even at that early age my fancy seems to have been a hard neighbour for both judgment and memory. I was wont to strip off my clothes, and run races against time, or rather against myself; and in the course of these exploits, which I accomplished much to my own admiration, I first lost my plaid, then my bonnet, then my coat, and finally my hosen, for as for shoes, I had none."
The next winter, he tells us, he went to school again for a quarter, got into a class who read in the Bible, and "horribly defiled several sheets of paper with copy lines, every letter of which was nearly an inch long." This, he says, finished his education, and that he never was another day at school. The whole of his career of schooling he computes at about half a year, but says that his old schoolmaster even denied this, declaring that he never was at his school at all! What a stock of education on which to set up shepherd, farmer, and poet!
Like Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott, and other illustrious men, Hogg, of course, fell in love in his very childhood, and, to say truth, his relation of this juvenile passion is as interesting as that of any of theirs. "It will scarcely be believed that at so early an age I should have been an admirer of the other sex. It is, nevertheless, strictly true. Indeed, I have liked the women a great deal better than the men ever since I remember. But that summer, when only eight years old, I was sent out to a height called Broadheads, with a rosy-cheeked maiden, to herd a flock of new-weaned lambs, and I had my mischievous cows to herd besides. But as she had no dog, and I had an excellent one, I was ordered to keep close by her. Never was a master's order better obeyed. Day after day I herded the cows and lambs both, and Betty had nothing to do but to sit and sew. Then we dined together every day, at a well near to the Shiel-sike head, and after dinner I laid my head down on her lap, covered her bare feet with my plaid, and pretended to fall sound asleep. One day I heard her say to herself, 'Poor little laddie! he's joost tired to death:' and then I wept till I was afraid she would feel the warm tears trickling on her knee. I wished my master, who was a handsome young man, would fall in love with her, and marry her, wondering how he could be so blind and stupid as not to do it. But I thought if I were he, I would know well what to do."
By the time he was fifteen years of age he says he had served a dozen masters, being only engaged for short terms, and odd jobs. When about twelve years old, such was the flourishing state of his circumstances that he had two shirts, so bad that he could not wear them, and therefore went without, by this means falling into another difficulty, that of keeping his trousers up on his bare skin, there being no braces in those days. Yet he had a fiddle, which cost five shillings, with which he charmed the cow houses and stable lofts at night, after his work was done. In his eighteenth year he entered the service of Mr. Laidlaw, of Black-house, near St. Mary's Loch, on Yarrow. He had been in the service of two others of the same family, probably relatives by his mother's side, who was a Laidlaw, at Willensee, and at Elibank, on the Tweed; and he now continued with Mr. Laidlaw, of Black-house, ten years, as shepherd. William Laidlaw, the son of his master, and afterwards the bailiff of Sir Walter Scott, and also the author of the sweet song of "Lucy's Flitting," was here his great companion, and here they read much together, and stimulated in each other the flame of poetry. These must have been happy years for Hogg. The year after Burns's death he first heard Tam o' Shanter repeated, and heard of Burns, as a ploughman, who had written beautiful songs and poems. "Every day," says he, "I pondered on the genius and fate of Burns. I wept, and always thought with myself, what is to hinder me from succeeding Burns? I too was born on the 25th of January, and I have much more time to read and compose than any ploughman could have, and can sing more old songs than ever ploughman could in the world. But then I wept again, because I could not write. However, I resolved to be a poet, and follow in the steps of Burns!" A brave resolve, to be a poet, in a man that could not write. Nevertheless, he composed songs, and one of these, called M'Donald, had the luck to get sung at a great masonic meeting at Edinburgh, and was taken up by a General M'Donald, who fancied it was written upon him, and had it sung every week at his mess. Hogg, now thirty-one years of age, resolved to astonish the world with his genius, and the account of the way he took is not a little amusing.
"In 1801, believing that I was then become a grand poet, I most sapiently determined on publishing a pamphlet, and appealing to the world at once. Having attended the Edinburgh market one Monday, with a number of sheep for sale, and being unable to dispose of them all, I put the remainder into a park until the market on Wednesday. Not knowing how to pass the interim, it came into my head that I would write a poem or two from my memory, and get them printed. The thought had no sooner struck me than it was put in practice; and I was obliged to select, not the best poems, but those that I remembered best. I wrote several of these during my short stay, and gave them all to a person to print at my expense; and having sold off my sheep on Wednesday morning, I returned to the forest. I saw no more of my poems until I received word that there were one thousand copies of them thrown off. I knew no more of publishing than the man in the moon; and the only motive that influenced me was, the gratification of my vanity by seeing myself in print. All of them were sad stuff, although I judged them to be exceedingly good. Notwithstanding my pride of authorship, in a few days I had discernment enough left to wish my publication heartily at the devil, and I had hopes that long ago it had been consigned to eternal oblivion, when, behold! a London critic had, in malice of heart, preserved a copy, and quoted liberally out of it last year, to my intense chagrin and mortification;" i.e. while Hogg was, but four years before his death, lionizing in London.
His adventures afterwards in Edinburgh, publishing his subsequent poems, are equally curious. How he published by subscription, and one-third of his subscribers took his books but never paid for them. How he set up a weekly literary paper — The Spy, which he continued a year. How he became a great spouter at a debating club called "The Forum." How he wrote a musical farce, and a musical drama; all ending in ruin and insolvency, till he brought out the Queen's Wake, and won a good reputation. Here he with great simplicity tells us, that Mr. Jeffery never noticed the poem till it had got into a third edition, and having given offence to Mr. Anster by comparing the two poets, he never afterwards took any notice of any of his writings. Whereupon, Hogg says, proudly, he thinks that conduct can do him no honour in the long run; and that he would match the worst poem he ever published with some that Mr. Jeffery has strained himself to bring forward. But Hogg was now a popular man. His Queen's Wake went on into edition after edition. He was introduced to Blackwood, who became his publisher, and Hogg looked upon himself as on a par in fame with the first men of his time. The familiar style in which he relates his first acquaintance with Professor Wilson, will excite a smile.
"On the appearance of Mr. Wilson's Isle of Palms, I was so greatly taken with many of his fanciful and visionary scenes, descriptive of bliss and woe, that it had a tendency to divert me occasionally of all worldly feelings. I reviewed this poem, as well as many others, in a Scottish review then going in Edinburgh, and was exceedingly anxious to meet with the author; but this I tried in vain for the space of six months. All I could learn of him was, that he was a man from the mountains of Wales, or the west of England, with hairs like eagle's feathers, and nails like bird's claws, a red beard, and an uncommon degree of wildness in his looks. Wilson was then utterly unknown in Edinburgh, except slightly to Mr. Walter Scott, who never introduces any one person to another, nor judges it of any avail. However, having no other shift left, I sat down and wrote him a note, telling him that I wished much to see him, and if he wanted to see me, he might come and dine with me at my lodgings in the road of Gabriel, at four. He accepted the invitation, and dined with Grieve and me; and I found him so much a man according to my own heart, that for many years we were seldom twenty-four hours asunder when in town. I afterwards went and visited him, staying with him a month at his seat in Westmoreland, where we had some curious doings among the gentlemen and poets of the lakes."
It was now that Hogg wrote his Poetic Mirror, in which he passed off a number of poems as those of the most popular writers of the day. It must be confessed that the different compositions display uncommon ability, and if they were written as Hogg says, that is, a volume of nearly three hundred pages 8vo. in three weeks, they are wonderful. As is common with such poems, they catch the mannerisms of the authors rather than their spirit. To have risen to an equal height of sublime feeling and philosophical thought with such writers as Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, etc. would have been to place himself not on an equality with them, but far beyond, for he must in himself have combined the various lofty qualities of them all. Some of them, and especially those attributed to Wordsworth, are admirably grave quizzes. We may take one specimen:—
A boy came from the mountains, tripping light,
With basket on his arm, — and it appeared
That there was butter there, for the white cloth
That over it was spread, not unobserved,
In tiny ridges gently rose and fell,
Like graves of children covered o'er with snow;
And by one clumsy fold the traveller spied
One roll of yellow treasure, all as pure
As primrose bud reflected in the lake.
"Boy," said the stranger, "wilt thou hold my steed,
Till I walk round the corner of that mere?
When I return I will repay thee well!"
This stranger who has approached leaves the horse with the boy, and never does return. All the hot day the boy stands holding the horse on the dusty road, till the steed, taking alarm at a thunder storm, breaks away,—
And never more
Was in those regions seen.
As for the boy, he lifted up his basket, and he felt
With his left hand how it affected was
By the long day and burning sun of Heaven.
It was all firm and flat — no ridges rose
Like graves of children — basket, butter, cloth,
Were all one piece, coherent. To his home
The boy returned right sad and sore aghast.
According to Hogg, he had the honour of being the projector and commencer of no less a periodical than Blackwood's Magazine. This is his account of it. "From the time I gave up The Spy, I had been planning with my friends to commence the publication of a magazine on a new plan; but for several years we only conversed about the utility of such a work, without doing anything farther. At length, among others, I chanced to mention it to Mr. Thomas Pringle; when I found that he and his friends had a plan in contemplation of the same kind. We agreed to join our efforts, and try to set it a going; but as I declined the editorship, on account of residing mostly on my farm at a distance from town, it became a puzzling question who was the best qualified amongst our friends for that undertaking. We at length fixed on Mr. Gray as the fittest person for a principal department, and I went and mentioned the plan to Blackwood, who, to my astonishment, I found had likewise long been cherishing a plan of the same kind. He said he knew nothing about Pringle, and always had his eye on me as a principal assistant; but he would not begin the undertaking till he saw that he could do it with effect. Finding him, however, disposed to encourage such a work, Pringle, at my suggestion, made out a plan in writing, with a list of his supporters, and sent it in a letter to me. I enclosed it in another, and sent it to Mr. Blackwood, and not long after that period Pringle and he came to an arrangement. Thus I had the honour of being the beginner and almost sole instigator of that celebrated work — Blackwood's Magazine."
One cannot avoid smiling over this account in which Hogg cuts so great a figure, and especially at the idea of his becoming the editor of such a work; a man who, though a good poet, and wonderful, all things considered, could just write, and that was all. In the accounts given by Pringle and Lockhart of the origin of this famous magazine, we have little or no mention of James Hogg, far less of the probability of his editorship of it. In this account we must attribute the largeness of James's figure on the canvas to "that inherent vanity," which he says he could not for the life of him divest himself of when speaking of himself. It is true and notorious, however, that he became and continued for many years one of its chief contributors, and figured most conspicuously in those admirable papers, the Noctes Ambrosianae. In these, language of the most beautiful and poetical kind was often put into the Shepherd's mouth; but it must also be confessed, much oftener language of a very different kind. He was made to figure as a coarse toper and buffoon. That he was at once proud of figuring so largely in the Noctes, and yet felt acutely the degrading character fixed on him there, is evident from his own statement in his autobiography. In speaking of Professor Wilson, to whom he deservedly awards a noble nature, he says: "My friends in general have been of opinion that he has amused himself and the public too often at my expense but, except in one instance, which terminated very ill for me, and in which I had no more concern than the man in the moon, I never discerned any evil design on his part, and thought it all excellent sport. At the same time, I must acknowledge that it was using too much freedom with any author, to print his name in full to poems, letters, and essays, which he himself never saw. I do not say that he has done this; but either he or some one else has done it many a time."
But speaking of Blackwood, the publisher, he assumes a different tone. "For my part, after twenty years of feelings hardly suppressed, he has driven me beyond the bounds of human patience. That magazine of his, which owes its rise principally to myself, has often put words and sentiments into my mouth of which I have been greatly ashamed, and which have given much pain to my family and relations; and many of these, after a solemn written promise that such freedoms should never he repeated. I have been often urged to restrain and humble him by legal measures, as an incorrigible offender deserves. I know I have it in my power, and if he dares me to the task, I want but a hair to make a tether of."
It must be confessed that no justification can be offered for such treatment. Such was my own opinion, derived from this source, of Hogg, and from prints of him, with wide open mouth and huge straggling teeth, in full roars of drunken laughter, that, on meeting him in London, I was quite amazed to find him so smooth, well-looking, and gentlemanly a sort of person.
There are many truths which James Hogg in his honest candour speaks out, that not one author in a thousand, stand as high and as strong as he may, dares speak out, for fear of the trade, as it is called. For instance, who will not set the seal of his authorly experience to this: — "I would never object trusting a bookseller, were he a man of any taste; for, unless he wishes to reject an author altogether, he can have no interest in asserting what he does not think. But the plague is, they never read works themselves, but give them to their minions, with whom there never fails to lurk a literary jealousy; and whose suggestions may be uniformly regarded as anything but truth. For my own part, I know that I have always been looked on by the learned part of the community as an intruder in the paths of literature, and every opprobrium has been thrown on me from that quarter. The truth is, that I am so. The walks of learning are occupied by a powerful aristocracy, who deem that province their own peculiar right; else, what would avail all their dear-bought collegiate honours and degrees?"
So true is James, so far as regards the practice of publishers never reading the MSS. submitted to them, but consigning them to readers; — i.e. publishers being the only dealers who never pretend to judge of the article they deal in; — that since the publication of the Book of Seasons, which was declined by half a dozen of the principal publishing houses in London, I never suffered a MS. of mine to be inspected by any publisher. What is more, finding that publishers in bargaining for copyrights never offered more than half the profits of a single edition, I have always persisted in refusing to sell copyrights, and sold only editions. This is a point that all authors should attend to. An author is not justified in selling the copyrights of his works, which should become the property of his family, especially as he may rest assured that he will, in nine cases out of ten, never get more for the whole copyright than he ought to have for a single edition. The late Mr. Longman once spoke to me a great truth, — a truth confirmed by all experiences of all authors, in all ages, the present forming no exception, — that "Authorship is an agreeable addition to a tolerable fixed income, but as a total dependence is a wretched reed." Scott, the most successful author of any age, though possessed of a good income independent of literature, died a bankrupt. Maginn, Hood, Blanchard, and a host of others, have yet to swell the history of the calamities of authors.
Speaking again of a certain publisher, James says, "The great fault of the man is, that the more he can provoke an author by insolence and contempt, he likes the better. Besides, he will never confess that he is in the wrong, else anything might be forgiven. No, no, the thing is impossible that he can ever be wrong! The poor author is not only always in the wrong, but, 'Oh! he is the most insufferable beast!'"
And the truth is, that authors are in the wrong. They are in the wrong not to have combined long ago, like other professions, for the maintenance of their common interests, and for the elevation of the character of the class. They are a rope of sand. Cliques and small coteries may and do congregate, but there has ever been wanting amongst authors a comprehensive plan of union. It is true that their body is continually swelled by adventurers, and often characterless adventurers. He who succeeds in nothing else, thinks he can succeed as an author, or the master of a school. These men, often unprincipled, or poor, bring great reproach upon the whole body, and accordingly you hear authors commonly spoken of by publishers, as a most reckless, improvident, unprincipled, and contemptible set of men. This is the tone in which publishers are educated, it is the tone that pervades their publishing houses, it is the spirit and gospel of the Row. The authors of the present day are regarded by publishers exactly as they were in the days of Grub-street. In their eyes, they are poor, helpless, and untractable devils. And whence arises this? It is because authors have taken no single step to place themselves on a different footing. Are authors now what authors were in the days of Grub-street? They are a far different body. They are a far more numerous, and far more respectable body. We may safely assert, that there is no profession which includes so much talent, as there is none which diffuses such a vast amount of knowledge and intelligence through the world. They are the class, indeed, which are the enlighteners, and modellers, and movers of society. Yet, strange to say, invincibly powerful in the public cause, they are weak as water in their own: capable of challenging offenders in the very highest places; arraigning at the public tribunal, lords, peers, or the very crowned heads themselves; and sure, when they have truth on their side, of being victorious: yet they lie prostrate in individual weakness at the foot of every well-fed seller of a book, and receive his kicks with an astonishing patience. Nay, they have not the shrewdness of our butchers and bakers, who hang together and grow rich; they are a set of Ishmaelites, whose hands are against every man of their own class, and every man's hand is against them. From behind the barricades of newspapers and reviews, they fire with murderous rage on each other, instead of turning their force on the common enemy.
When we call to mind he men who are now actually living as members of the great community of authors, rich bankers, men of titles and large estates, wealthy traders, ladies and gentlemen of the most respectable private fortunes, professional men, clearing large incomes by their professions, distinct from literature, it must be confessed that the world has no such instance of infatuation to show as that of authors. Combine, and they may defy poverty and the world. How small a sum, contributed annually by every author, would soon raise a fund capable of not only succouring all cases of professional need, without recourse to the present Literary Fund, which is a degrading charity towards those who should establish a claim on a proper professional fund for themselves! How small a sum would not only do this, but also present a noble fund for the support of every authorly interest, the defence of every authorly right! If the men of property, character, and influence in the body, would but bestow a very small portion of their time and attention to the general interests of the body, how soon would the whole body feel the animating and, I may add, reforming spirit of such coalition! The upright and honourable would acquire confidence, the unprincipled would be discountenanced, and the tone of publishers would rapidly alter towards men who had not only learned to respect themselves, but were resolved to establish respect for the body. "Get authors to combine! Sooner," exclaim both publishers and authors themselves, when such a notion is avowed — "chain the winds, or make granite slabs out of sea-sand!" Yet, spite of this humiliating opinion of authors, let but a number of the most respectable names once unite for the purpose, and it will be seen that the rest of the worthy will flock round them, and that few would venture to stand alone, as individuals improvident, or indifferent to the interests and the character of the body.
I have considered it my duty to corroborate the main opinions of James Hogg on this point. In the course of inquiries necessary for the writing of this work, I have had to stand on so many spots marked by the miseries of authors; in rooms where they have shed their own blood, or perished by poison in the hour of destitution and despair; by dismal pools, where they have plunged at midnight from starvation to death; or where, covered with fame, they have lain on their deathbeds with scarce any other covering; and I have vowed on those awful spots to call on my fellow-authors to come forward and vindicate their most glorious profession, and to found an association which shall give a motive to every member to respect the name he bears — that of a prophet and an apostle of truth to the world, — and a hope of ultimate aid to him and his, if such aid be needful, as a right and not a boon.
Nearly twenty years of authorship have shown me much and sad experience, but nothing ever revealed to me the low estimation in which authors are held by publishers, so much as a simple fact mentioned some time ago in Chambers' Journal, but which was witnessed by myself. I was in an eminent publisher's, when the principal addressed the head clerk thus:—
Principal. — "Mr. — wishes to open an account with us. He is a publisher of some standing, and seems getting on very well I think we may do it."
Clerk. — (Drawing himself up in an attitude of ineffable surprise) — "Sir! he is an author!"
Principal. — "Oh! that alters the question entirely. I did not know that. Open an account? Certainly not! certainly not!"
Is there an author who hears this, who does not ask himself the question, why they who ought to be regarded only with reverence, and whose talents should invest them with a panoply of salutary fear, should thus be the objects of uttermost contempt? But take another anecdote. The publisher of a celebrated review and myself were conversing on literary matters, when a very popular author was announced, who begged a word with the publisher, and they retired together. Presently the publisher came back.
Publisher. — "We were talking of the relative merits of authors and publishers just now."
Myself. — "Yes."
Publisher. — "Well, you authors regard yourselves as the salt of the earth. It is you who are the great men of the world; you move society, and propel civilization; we publishers are but good pudding eaters, and paymasters to you."
Myself. — "True enough; but you think that you are the master manufacturers, and we authors the poor devil artizans who really have no right to more than artizan wages."
Publisher. — "Ay, if you will take them as wages, and often before they are earned. Grant that you are the salt of the earth; methinks the salt has wonderfully lost its savour, when it has to come with a manuscript in one hand, and holds out the other for the instant pay, or the kettle cannot boil. See, there now is a man just gone, that will be a name these five hundred years hence; yet what does he come to me for? For a sovereign! I tell you candidly, that if no hero can be a hero to his valet de chambre, neither can an author be a hero to his publisher, when he comes in 'forma pauperis' every day before him. For the life of me I cannot maintain an admiration of a man, when, like a rat, he is always nibbling at my purse-strings, and especially when I know — and what publisher does not know it? — that give the coin before the work is done, and it never is done. I content myself with things as I find them, and I leave all homage to the reader."
Let the whole body of authors lay these things duly to heart, and there will not long be an association for the maintenance of its honour and its interests in every profession but theirs.
Of his cotemporary authors Hogg speaks in his life with the highest honour. He confesses that he used most unmeasured language towards both Sir Walter Scott and John Wilson, when they offended him, but records their refusal to be offended with him, and their cordial kindness. Of Southey, Lockhart, Sym, the Timothy Tickler of Blackwood, Galt, etc. his reminiscences are full of life and interest. Of Wordsworth's poetry he entertained the high notion that a true poet must do; but there occurred a scene at Rydal which James gives in explanation of his caricaturing Wordsworth, which, as it is his own account, is worth transcribing.
"I dined with Wordsworth, and called on himself several times afterwards, and certainly never met with anything but the most genuine kindness; therefore people have wondered why I should have indulged in caricaturing his style in the Poetic Mirror. I have often regretted that myself; but it was merely a piece of ill-nature at an affront which I conceived had been put upon me. It was the triumphal arch scene. This anecdote has been told and told again, but never truly; and was likewise brought forward in the Noctes Ambrosianae, as a joke; but it was no joke; and the plain, simple truth of the matter was this:—
"It chanced one night, when I was there, that there was a resplendent arch across the zenith, from the one horizon to the other, of something like the Aurora Borealis, but much lighter. It was a scene that is well remembered, for it struck the country with admiration, as such a phenomenon had never before been witnessed in such perfection; and, as far as I can learn, it had been more brilliant over the mountains and pure waters of Westmoreland than anywhere else. Well, when word came into the room of the splendid meteor, we all went out to view it; and on the beautiful platform at Mount Rydal, we were walking in twos and threes, arm-in-arm, talking of the phenomenon, and admiring it. Now, be it remembered, that there were present, Wordsworth, Professor Wilson, Lloyd, De Quincy, and myself, besides several other literary gentlemen, whose names I am not certain that I remember aright. Miss Wordsworth's arm was in mine, and she was expressing some fears that the splendid stranger might prove ominous, when I, by ill luck, blundered out the following remark, thinking that I was saying a good thing: — 'Hout, me'em! it is neither mair nor less than joost a triumphal airch, raised in honour of the meeting of the poets.'
"'That's not amiss. Eh? eh? — that's very good,' said the Professor, laughing. But Wordsworth, who had De Quincy's arm, gave a grunt, and turned on his heel, and leading the little opium chewer aside, he addressed him in these disdainful and venomous words: — 'Poets? Poets? What does the fellow mean? — Where are they?'
"Who could forgive this? For my part, I never can, and never will! I admire Wordsworth, as who does not, whatever they may pretend? But for that short sentence I have a lingering ill-will at him which I cannot get rid of. It is surely presumption in any man to circumscribe all human excellence within the narrow sphere of his own capacity. The 'Where are they?' was too bad. I have always some hopes that De Quincy was leeing, for I did not myself hear Wordsworth utter the words."
Whether Wordsworth did utter these words, or De Quincy only quizzed Hogg with them, it is a great pity that poor Hogg's mind was suffered to the last to retain the rankling supposition of it. The anecdote appeared in the Noctes; it was made the subject of much joke and remark, and must have reached Wordsworth's ears. What a thousand pities then, that, by a single line to Hogg, or in public, he did not take the sting out of it. Nobody was so soon propitiated as Hogg. To have been acknowledged as a brother-poet by Wordsworth would have filled his heart with much happiness. Immediately after his death, Wordsworth hastened to make such a recognition but of how little value is posthumous praise! Hogg died on the 21st of November, and on the 30th Wordsworth sent the following lines to the Athenaeum, which I quote entire, because they commemorate other departed lights of the age.
THE ETTRICK SHEPHERD.
Extempore Effusion, upon reading, in the Newcastle Journal, the notice of the death of the poet, James Hogg.
When first descending from the moorland,
I saw the stream of Yarrow glide
Along a fair and open valley,
The Ettrick Shepherd was my guide.
When last along its banks I wandered,
Through groves that had began to shed
Their golden leaves upon the pathways,
My steps the Border Minstrel led.
The mighty minstrel breathes no longer,
'Mid mouldering ruins low he lies:
And death upon the braes of Yarrow
Has closed the shepherd-poet's eyes.
Nor has the rolling year twice measured
From sign to sign his steadfast course,
Since every mortal power of Coleridge
Was frozen at its marvellous source.
The rapt-one of the godlike forehead,
The heaven eyed creature sleeps in death;
And Lamb, the frolic and the gentle,
Has vanished from his lonely hearth.
Like clouds that robe the mountain summits,
Or waves that own no curbing hand,
How fast has Brother followed Brother,
From sunshine to the sunless land!
Yet I, whose lids from infant slumbers
Were earlier raised, remain to hear
A timid voice that asks in whispers,
"Who next will drop and disappear?"
Our haughty life is crowned with darkness,
Like London with its own black wreath,
On which with thee, O Crabbe, forth-looking,
I gazed from Hampstead's breezy heath.
As if but yesterday departed,
Thou, too, art gone before; yet why
For ripe fruit, seasonably gathered,
Should frail survivors heave a sigh?
No more of old romantic sorrows,
The slaughtered youth and love-torn maid;
With sharper grief is Yarrow smitten,
And Ettrick mourns with her their shepherd dead.
These extracts throw a deal of light on the peculiar character of Hogg's mind. Simple, candid to an astonishment, vain without an attempt to conceal it, sensitive to an extreme, with such a development of self-esteem, that no rebuffs or ridicule could daunt him, and full of talent and fancy. But to estimate the extent of all these qualities, you must read his prose as well as his poetry; and these, considering how late he began to write, and that he did not die very old, are pretty voluminous. During the greater part of his literary life he was a very popular contributor to various magazines. Of his collected works he gives us this list.
The Queen's Wake 1
Pilgrims of the Sun 1
The Hunting of Badlewe 1
Poetic Mirror 1
Dramatic Tales 2
Brownie of Bodsbeck 2
Winter Evening Tales 2
Sacred Melodies 1
Border garland 1
Jacobite Relics of Scotland 2
The Spy 1
Queen Hynde 1
The Three Perils of Man 3
The Three Perils of Woman 3
Confessions of a Sinner 1
The Shepherd's Calendar 2
A Selection of Songs 1
The Queer Book 1
The Royal Jubilee 1
The Mountain Bard 1
The Forest Minstrel 1
It may be imagined that while the produce of his literary pen was so abundant, that of his sheep-pen would hardly bear comparison with it. That was the case. Hogg continually broke down as a shepherd and a farmer. He "Tended his flocks upon Parnassus hill;" his imagination was in Fairyland, his heart was in Edinburgh, and his affairs always went wrong. To give him a certain chance of support, the Duke of Buccleugh gave him, rent free for life, a little farm at Altrive in Yarrow, and then Hogg took a much larger farm on the opposite side of the river, which he called Mount Bengen. From this, it will be recollected that he often dated his literary articles. The farm was beyond his capital, and far beyond his care. It brought him into embarrassments. To the last, however, he had Altrive Lake to retreat to; and here he lived, and wrote, and fished, and shot grouse on the moors. Let us, before visiting his haunts, take a specimen or two of his poetry, that we may have a clear idea of the man we have in view.
In all Hogg's poetry there is none which has been more popular than the Legend of Kilmeny in the Queen's Wake. It is the tradition of a beautiful cottage maiden, who disappears for a time, and returns again home, but, as it were, glorified and not of the earth. She has, for her purity, been transported to the land of spirits, and bathed in the river of immortal life.
They lifted Kilmeny, they led her away,
And she walked in the light of a sunless day:
The sky was a dome of crystal bright,
The fountain of vision and fountain of light:
The emerald fields were of dazzling glow,
And the flowers of everlasting blow.
Then deep in the stream her body they laid,
That her youth and beauty never might fade;
And they smiled on Heaven when they saw her lie
In the stream of life that wandered by.
And she heard a song, she heard it sung,
She kenned not where, but so sweetly it rung,
It fell on her ear like a dream of the morn;
O! blest be the day that Kilmeny was born.
Now shall the land of the spirits see,
Now shall it ken what a woman may be!
The sun that shines on the world sac bright,
A borrowed gleid frae the fountain of light;
And the moon that sleeks the sky sae dun,
Like a gowden bow, or a beamless sun,
Shall wear away, and be seen nae mair,
And the angels shall miss them travelling the air.
But long, long after baith night and day,
When the sun and the world have elyed away;
When the sinner has gaed to his waesome doom,
Kilmeny shall smile in eternal bloom!
But Kilmeny longs once more to revisit the earth and her kindred at home, and,
Late, late in a gloaming, when all was still,
When the fringe was red on the westlin hill,
The wood was sere, the moon i' the wane,
The reek of the cot hung over the plain,
Like a little wee cloud in the world its lane;
When the ingle glowed with an eiry leme,
Late, late in the gloaming Kilmeny came hame!
"Kilmeny, Kilmeny, where have you been?
Lang hae we sought baith holt and den;
By linn, by ford, and greenwood tree,
Yet ye are hailsome and fair to see.
Where gat ye that joup o' the lily scheen?
That bonny snood o' the birk sae green?
And these roses, the fairest that ever were seen?
Kilmeny, Kilmeny, where have you been?"
Kilmeny looked up with a lovely grace,
But nae smile was seen on Kilmeny's face;
As still was her look, and as still was her so,
As the stillness that lay on the emerant lea,
As the mist that sleeps on a waveless sea.
For Kilmeny had been she knew not where,
And Kilmeny had seen what she could not declare;
Kilmeny had been where the cock ne'er crew,
Where the rain never fell, and the wind never blew!
But on earth the spell of heaven was upon her. All loved, both man and beast, the pure and spiritual Kilmeny; but earth could not detain her.
When a month and a day had come and gone,
Kilmeny sought the greenwood wene;
There laid her down on the leaves so green,
And Kilmeny on earth was never mair seen.
But O the words that fell from her mouth
Were words of wonder, and words of truth!
But all the land were in fear and dread,
For they kennedna whether she was living or dead.
It wasna her hame, and she couldna remain;
She left this world of sorrow and pain;
And returned to the land of thought again.
The Legend of Kilmeny is as beautiful as anything in that department of poetry. It contains a fine moral; that purity of heart makes an earthly creature a welcome denizen of heaven; and the tone and imagery are all fraught with a tenderness and grace that are as unearthly as the subject of the legend.
There is a short poem introduced into the Brownie of Bodsbeck, which is worthy of the noblest bard that ever wrote.
DWELLER IN HEAVEN.
Dweller in heaven high, Ruler below!
Fain would I know thee, yet tremble to know!
How can a mortal deem, how it may be,
That being can ne'er be but present with thee?
Is it true that then sawest me ere I saw the morn?
Is it true that thou knewest me before I was born?
That nature must live in the light of thine eye?
This knowledge for me is too great and too high!
That, fly I to noonday or fly I to night,
To shroud me in darkness, or bathe me in light,
The light and the darkness to thee are the same,
And still in thy presence of wonder I am!
Should I with the dove to the desert repair,
Or dwell with the eagle in cleugh of the air;
In the desert afar — on the mountain's wild brink—
From the eye of Omnipotence still must I shrink!
Or mount I, on wings of the morning, away,
To caves of the ocean, unseen by the day,
And hide in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there to he living and moving in thee!
Nay, scale I the clouds, in the heaven to dwell,
Or make I my bed in the shadows of hell,
Can science expound, or humanity frame,
That still thou art present, and all are the same?
Yes, present for ever Almighty! Alone!
Great Spirit of Nature! unbounded! unknown!
What mind can embody thy presence divine
I know not my own being, how can I thine
Then humbly and low in the dust let me bend,
And adore what on earth I can ne'er comprehend:
The mountains may melt, and the elements flee,
Yet an universe still be rejoicing in thee!
The last that we will select is one which was written for an anniversary celebration of our great dramatist; yet is distinguished by a felicity of thought and imagery that seem to have sprung spontaneously in the soul of the shepherd poet, as he mused on the airy brow of some Ettrick mountain.
TO THE GENIUS OF SHAKSPEARE.
Spirit all limitless,
Where is thy dwelling-place?
Spirit of him whose high name we revere!
Come on thy seraph wings,
Come from thy wanderings,
And smile on thy votaries who sigh for thee here!
Come, O thou spark divine!
Rise from thy hallowed shrine!
Here in the windings of Forth thou shalt see
Hearts true to nature's call,
Proud of their country, yet bowing to thee!
Here with rapt heart and tongue,
While our fond minds were young,
Oft thy bold numbers we poured in our mirth;
Now in our hall for aye
This shall be holiday,
Bard of all nature to honour thy birth.
Whether thou tremblest o'er
Green grave of Elsinore,
Stayest o'er the hill of Dunnsinnan to hover,
Bosworth, or Shrewsbury,
Egypt, or Philippi;
Come from thy roamings the universe over.
Whether thou journeyest far,
On by the morning star,
Dreamest on the shadowy brows of the moon,
Or lingerest in Fairyland,
Mid lovely elves to stand,
Singing thy carol, unearthly and boon:
Here thou art called upon,
Come, thou, to Caledon!
Come to the land of the ardent and free!
The land of the lone recess,
Mountain and wilderness,
This is the land, thou wild meteor, for thee!
O, never, since time had birth,
Rose from the pregnant earth
Gems, such as late have in Scotia sprung;—
Gems that in future day,
When ages pass away,
Like thee shall he honoured, like thee shall be sung!
Then here, by the sounding sea,
Forest, and greenwood tree,
Here to solicit thee, cease shall we never.
Yes, thou effulgence bright,
Here must thy flame relight,
Or vanish from nature for ever and ever!
Such strains as these serve to remind us that we go to visit the native scenes of no common man. To reach Ettrick, I took the mail from Dumfries to Moffat, where I breakfasted, after a fresh ride through the woods of Annandale. With my knapsack on my back, I then ascended the vale of Moffat. It was a fine morning, and the green pastoral hills rising around, the white flocks scattered over them, the waters glittering along the valley, and women spreading out their linen to dry on the meadow grass, made the walk as fresh as the morning itself. I passed through a long wood, which stretched along the sunny side of the steep valley. The waters ran sounding on deep below; the sun filled all the sloping wood with his yellow light. There was a wonderful resemblance to the mountain woodlands of Germany. I felt as though I was once more in a Swabian or an Austrian forest. There was no wall or hedge by the way, all was open. The wild raspberry stood in abundance, and the wild strawberries as abundantly clothed the ground under the hazel bushes. I came to a cottage and inquired, — it was Cragieburn Wood, where Burns met "The lassie wi' the lintwhite locks."
But the pleasure of the walk ceased with the sixth milestone. Here it was necessary to quit Moffat and cross over into Ettrick dale. And here the huge hills of Bodsbeck, more villanous than the Brownie in his most vindictive mood, interposed. I turned off the good road which would have led me to the Grey-Mare's-Tail, to the Inn of Innerleithing (St. Ronan's well), and St. Mary's lake on Yarrow, and at Capel-gill forsook Moffat Water and comfort at once.
And here, by-the-bye, as all the places in these dales are called gills and hopes and cleughs, as Capel-gill, Chapel-hope, Gamel-cleugh, etc., I may as well explain that a hope is a sort of slight ravine aloft on the hill-side, generally descending it pretty perpendicularly; a cleugh, a more deep and considerable one; and a gill, one down which a torrent pours, continuing longer after rains than in the others. At least, this was the definition given me, though the different terms are not, it seems, always very palpably discriminative.
Turning off at Capel-gill, I crossed the foot bridge at the farm of Bodsbeck, where the Brownie used to haunt, and began to ascend the hill, assuredly in no favour with the Brownie. These hills are long ranges, enclosing deep valleys between them; and there are but few entrances into the dales, except by crossing the backs of these great ridges. I found the ascent of the Bodsbeck excessively steep, rugged, boggy, stony, and wet, and far higher than I had anticipated. A more fatiguing mountain ascent I never made. I was quite exhausted, and lay down two or three times, resolving to have a good long rest and sleep on the grass, with my knapsack for a pillow; but the Brownie came in the shape of rain, and woke me up again. I suppose I was two hours in getting to the summit; and then I did lie down, and slept for a quarter of an hour, but the Brownie was at me again with a bluster of wind and rain, and awoke me.
Preparing to set forward, what was my astonishment to see a cart and horse coming over the mountain with a load of people. It was a farmer with his wife and child, and they were about to descend the rugged, rocky, boggy, steep hill-side, with scarcely a track. They descended from the cart, the man led the horse, the woman walked behind, carrying the child, and they went bumping and banging over the projecting crags, as if the cart was made of some unsmashable timber, the horse a Pegasus, and the people without necks to break. 'Tis to he hoped that they reached the bottom somehow.
I had supposed by my map that from Moffat to Ettrick kirk would be about six miles. Imagine, then, my consternation at the tidings these adventurous people gave me — that I had still eight miles to go! That, instead of six, it was sixteen from Moffat to Ettrick kirk! There was a new road made all down this side of the mountain; very fair to look at in the distance, but infamous for foot travellers, being all loose, sharp cubes of new-broken whinstone. My feet were actually strained with coming up the mountain, and were now so knocked to pieces and blistered in going down it, that I suppose I crawled on at about two miles an hour. In fact, I was seven hours and a half between Moffat and Ettrick kirk on foot. Down, down, down I went for eight weary miles, one long descent, with nothing on either hand but those monotonous green mountains which extend all over the south of Scotland. Soft they can look as the very hills of heaven under the evening light, with their white flocks dotting them all over, and the shepherds shouting, and their dogs barking from afar. And dark, beautifully dark they can look beneath the shadow of the storm, or the thundercloud. Wild, drearily wild they can look when the winds come sweeping and roaring like some broken-loose ocean, fierce and strong as ocean waters, and with this mighty volume fill the scowling valleys, and rush, without the obstacle of house or tree, over the smooth round heights; and men at ease, especially if in want of a stroll, and in good company, may, and no doubt do, find them very attractive. But to me they were an endless green monotony of swelling heaps; and Ettrick dale, with its stream growing continually larger in its bottom, an endless vale of bare greenness, with but here and there a solitary white house, and a cluster of fir-trees, with scarcely a cultured field even of oat or potatoes for eight miles. It was one eternal sheep-walk, and for me eight miles too much of it. Yet the truth is, that every one of these hills, and every portion of this vale, and every house with its hope, or its cleugh, or its plantation, and every part of the river where the torrent has boiled and raged for a thousand years, till it has worn the iron-like whinstone into the most hideous channels and fantastic shapes, has its history and its tradition. There is Phaup, and Upper Phaup, and Gamelshope, and Ettrick house, and all have their interest; but to me they were then only white houses with black plantations, many of them on the other side of the water, without bridge, or any visible means of access; and with huge flocks of sheep collected and collecting in their voids and pens, with the most amazing and melancholy clamour. It was the time when they prepare for the great lamb fairs, and were separating those they meant to sell: and there was one loud lamentation all through these hills. It s amazing what a sentiment of attachment and distress can exist in mutton!
But no sentimental piece of mutton was ever more in distress than I was. I was quite famished and knocked up; and when at length I saw the few grey houses at Ettrick kirk, I actually gave a shout of exhultation. I shouted, however, before I was out of the wood; for Ettrick kirk was not, as I had fancied, a kirk Ettrick — that is, a village, — it was Ettrick kirk, and nothing more. I knew that Hogg was born and buried here, and that here I must stop: but unluckily I saw no village, no stopping place. To my left hand stood the kirk, a little elevated on the side of the valley, and what was clearly the manse near it, in a garden. A little farther on was a farm-house, and then a cottage or two, and that was all. I saw a large, queer sign over a door, and flattered myself that that at least must be, a public-house; but a gipsy with his stockings off in a little stream tickling trout, while his basket and his set of tea-trays stood oh the road, soon told me my fortune. "Is that an inn?" "No, Sir, the inn is three miles further down!"
Three miles further down! It was enough to have finished all Job's miseries! "What! is it not a public-house even?" "No, it is a shop."
And a shop it was; and when I hoped at least to find a shop that sold bread, it turned out to be a tailor's shop!
Just as I was driven to despair, I fancied that the next building looked like a school; in I went, and a school it was. I had hopes of a Scotch schoolmaster. He is generally a scholar and a gentleman. The master was just hearing his last class of boys: I advanced to him, and told him that I must take the liberty to rest, for that I was outrageously tired, and hungry, and was told that it was three miles to the next inn. He said it was true, but that it was not three hundred yards to his house, and he would have much pleasure in my accompanying him to tea. Never, of all the invitations to tea which I have received in the course of this tea-drinking life, did I ever receive so welcome a one as that! I flung off my knapsack, laid up my legs quite at my ease on a bench, and heard out the class with great satisfaction. Anon, the urchins were dismissed, and Mr. Tait, the master, a tall and somewhat thin young man, with a very intelligent and thoughtful face, declared himself ready to accompany me. I told him I wanted to visit the birth-place and grave of Hogg, and presented my card. "Ha!" exclaimed he, on reading the name, "why, we are not strangers, I find — we are old friends. A hearty welcome, Mr. Howitt, to Ettrick!" Mr. Tait was an old friend of Hogg's, too — the very man of all others that I should have sought out for my purpose. We were soon at a very handsome new cottage, with a capital garden, the upper end full of flowers, and the lower of most flourishing kitchen garden produce. Tired as I was, I could not avoid staying to admire this garden, which was the master's own work; and was then introduced to his mother and sister. The old lady was in a consternation that, by one of those accidents that sometimes in mountainous districts afflict a whole country, the baker had upset his cart, broken his leg, and by his absence deprived all the vales from Moffat to the very top of Ettrick, namely, Upper Phaup, of wheaten bread. It was a circumstance that did not in the least trouble me, except on account of the lady's housewifery anxiety. An old friend of mine once said that he never knew the want of bread but once in his life, and then he made a good shift with pie-crust, and I made an actual feast on barley cake and tea.
The schoolmaster and I were now soon abroad, and on our way up the valley to Hogg's birthplace. Ettrick-house, where Hogg saw the light, according to the people, though according to his tombstone it was Ettrick-hall, on the opposite side of the valley, is now a new-built farmhouse, standing within a square embankment, which is well grown with a row of fine trees. This marks the site of an old house, and no doubt was the site of Ettrick old house. But the house in which Hogg was born, or, if not born, where he lived as a child, was only a sort of hind's house, belonging to the old house. That, too, is now pulled clean down. Hogg, during his life-time, never liked to hear its demolition proposed. Here he had lived as a child, and here he lived when grown up, and rented the farm, before going to Altrive. He used always to inquire of people from Ettrick, if the house really were yet destroyed. I believe it stood till after his death, but is now quite gone. The bricklayers? There is no such thing here; all is built of the iron-like, hard whinstone of the hills; — the builders, then, with a sentiment which does honour to them, were reluctant to pull down the birth-place and home of the shepherd-poet; and, when obliged to do so, to mark and commemorate the exact spot, when they built the wall along the front of the ground which they cleared by the highway, built a large blue sort of stone upright in it. The stone is very conspicuous, by its singular hue and position, and on it they have inscribed the poet's initials, J. H. Ettrick-hall, as already said, lying on the opposite side of the valley, was in Hogg's father's hands. Afterwards, in Mr. Brydon's, of Crosslee, with whom Hogg was shepherd. This Mr. Brydon, who, Hogg says, was the best friend their family had in the world, died worth £15,000; and, indeed, these sheep-farmers generally do well. There was a Mr. Grieve here, who used to live up the valley, at a house where I saw a vast flock of sheep collected, who was also a most excellent friend of Hogg's. Hogg had lived as a herd-boy at most of the houses in this valley, and from that association he laid the scene of most of his poems and tales here.
Hogg's birth-place and his grave are but a few hundred yards asunder. The kirk-yard of Ettrick is old, but the kirk is recent; 1824 is inscribed over the door. Like most of the country churches of Scotland, it is a plan fabric, plainly fitted up within with seats, and a plain pulpit. Such a thing as "a kist full o' whitles" the Scotch cannot endure. It is a curious fact, that neither in Scotland nor Ireland do you find those richly-finished old parish churches that you do in England. This is significant of the ancient state of these countries. Catholic though they all were, neither Scotland nor Ireland could at any age pretend to anything like the wealth of England. Hence, in those countries, the fine abbeys and cathedrals are rare, the parish churches are very plain; while, in England, spite of all the ravages of puritanism, the country abounds with the noblest specimens of cathedral and convent architecture, and the very parish churches in obscure villages, are often perfect gems of architecture and carving, even of the old Saxon period.
Ettrick kirk lifts its head in this quiet vale with a friendly air. It is built of the native adamantine rock, the whinstone; has a square battlemented tower; and, what looks singular, has, instead of Gothic ones, square door-ways, and square very tall sash windows. Hogg's grave lies in the middle of the kirkyard. At its head stands a rather handsome headstone, with a harp sculptured on a border at the top, and this inscription beneath it: — "James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, who was born at Ettrick Hall, 1770, and died at Altrive Lake, the 21st day of November, 1835."
After a wide space, left for other inscriptions, as of the widow and children, this is added: "This stone is erected, as a tribute of affection, by his widow, Margaret Hogg."
As Hogg used to boast that he was born on the same day as Burns, and as this assertion was negatived by the parish register, we cannot but admire the thoughtful delicacy which induced the widow to omit the day of his birth altogether, though carefully inserting the day of his death.
On the right hand of the poet's headstone stands another, erected by the shepherd himself, as follows: "Here lieth William Laidlaw, the far-famed Will o' Phaup, who, for feats of frolic, agility, and strength, had no equal in that day. He was born at Ettrick, A.D. 1691, and died in the eighty-fourth year of his age. Also Margaret, his eldest daughter, spouse to Robert Hogg, and mother of the Ettrick Shepherd, born at Over Phaup in 1730, and died in the eighty-third year of her age. Also Robert Hogg, her husband, late tenant of Ettrick Hall, born at Bowhill in 1729, and died in the ninety-third year of his age."
There are several curious particulars connected with these stones. Those which I have pointed out — Hogg's birthday being omitted; Ettrick-hall being given as his birth-place, yet the people asserting it to be Ettrick-house; and the much shorter life of the poet than those of his parents and ancestors. His father died at the age of ninety-three, his mother at eighty-three, his grandfather at eighty-four; he died at sixty-three. The poet had lived faster than his kindred. What he lost in duration of life he had more than made up in intensity. They held the quiet tenor of their way in their native vale; he had spread his life over the whole space occupied by the English language, and over generations to come. In his own pleasures, which were of a far higher character than theirs, he had made thousands and tens of thousands partakers. Many of Hogg's family and friends were not pleased at the memorial he thus gives to Will o' Phaup; but it is very characteristic of the Shepherd, who gloried as much himself in the sports, feats, and exploits of the borders, as in poetry.
Hogg, in his younger years, displayed much agility and strength in the border games, and in his matured years was often one of the umpires at them. In Lockhart's Life of Scott are related two especial occasions in which James Hogg figured in such games. One was of a famous foot-ball match played on the classic mead of Carterhaugh, between the men of Selkirk and of Yarrow, when the Duke of Buccleugh, and numbers of other nobles and gentlemen, as well as ladies of rank, were present. When the different parties cause to the ground with pipes playing, the Duke of Buccleugh raised his ancient banner, called the banner of Bellenden, which being given by Lady Ann Scott to young Walter Scott, he rode round the field displaying it; and when Sir Walter led on the men of Selkirk, and the Earl of Home, with James Hogg as his aide-de-camp, led on the men of Yarrow. The other occasion was at the annual festival of St. Ronan's Well, when James Hogg used to preside as captain of the band of border bowmen, in Lincoln green, with broad blue bonnets; and when, already, verging on threescore, he used often to join at the exploits of racing, wrestling, or hammer-throwing, and would carry off the prizes, to universal astonishment; afterwards presiding, too, at the banquet in the evening with great eclat, supported by Sir Walter Scott, Professor Wilson, Dr. Adam Fergusson, and Peter Robertson.
Another curious thing is, that he states himself in his Life to be one of four sons, and, on the headstone, that his father and three sons lie there. Now he himself was living, of course, when he set up the stone, and his brother William still survives. There could then be but two, if he were one of four.
Hogg died at Altrive, but was buried here, as being his native parish; and, indeed, I question whether there be a nearer place where he could be buried, though Altrive is six miles off, and over the hills from one valley to another. His funeral must have been a striking thing in this solitary region — striking, not from the sensation it created, or the attendance of distinguished men, but from the absence of all this. The shepherd-poet went to his grave with little pomp or ceremony. Of all the great and the celebrated with whom he had associated in life, not an individual had troubled himself to go thus far to witness his obsequies, except that true-hearted man, Professor Wilson. An eye-witness says "No particular solemnity seemed to attend the scene. The day was dull and dismal, windy and cloudy, and everything looked bleak, the ground being covered with a sprinkling of snow. Almost the whole of the attendants were relatives and near neighbours, and most of them, with stolid irreverence, were chatting about the affairs of the day. Professor Wilson remained for some time near the newly-covered grave after all the rest had departed."
I walked over this road to Altrive the day after my arrival in Ettrick. But before quitting Ettrick, I must remark, that every part of it presents objects made familiar by the Shepherd. At the lower end are Lord Napier's castle, Thirlstane, a quaint castellated house with round towers, and standing in pleasant woodlands; and the remains of the old tower of Tushielaw, and its hanging-tree, the robber chief of which stronghold James VI. surprised, and hanged on his own tree where he had hanged his victims, treating him with as little ceremony as he did Johnny Armstrong and others of the like profession. All these the hearty and intelligent schoolmaster pointed out to me, walking on to the three-mile distant inn, and seeing me well housed there.
What is called Altrive Lake, the farm on the Yarrow, given for life by the Duke of Buccleugh to Hogg, and where he principally lived after leaving Ettrick, and where he died, stands in a considerable opening between the hills, at the confluence of several valleys, where the Douglas burn falls into the Yarrow. Thus, from some of the windows, you look up and down the vale of Yarrow, but where the vale has no very striking features. The hills are lower than on Ettrick, and at a greater distance, but of the same character, green and round. Shepherds are collecting their flocks; the water goes leaping along stony channels; you see, here and there, a small white farm-house with its clump of trees, and a circular enclosure of stone wall for the sheepfold. A solitary crow or gull flies past; there are black stacks of peat on the bogs, and on the hilltops — for there are bogs there too, and you perceive your approach to a house by the smell of peat. That is the character of the whole district.
Altrive Lake is, in truth, no lake at all. One had always a pleasant notion of Hogg's house standing on the borders of a cheerful little lake. I looked naturally for this lake in the wide opening between the streams and hills, but could see none. I inquired of the farmer who has succeeded Hogg, for this lake, and he said there never was one. Hogg, he said, had given it that dignified name because a little stream, that runs close past the house, not Douglas burn, but one still less, is called the Trive lake. The present farmer, who is an old weather-beaten Scotchman, eighty-two years of age, but hardy and pretty active, and well-off in the world, expressed himself as quite annoyed with the name, and said it was not Altrive Lake; he would not have it so called. It should be Aldenhope, for it was now joined to his farm, which was the Alden farm. I believe the Altrive farm is but about a hundred acres, including sheep-walk on the hills, and lets for £45 a year; but old Mr. Scott, the present tenant, has a larger and better farm adjoining; and in his old house, which is just above this, across the highway from Ettrick, but almost hidden in a hollow, he keeps his hinds. Hogg's house is apparently two white cottages, for the roof in the middle dips down like it, but it is really but one. It stands on a mound, in a very good and pleasant flower garden. The garden is enclosed with palisades, and the steep bank down from the house, descending to the level of the garden, is gay with flowers. It has another flower garden behind, for the tenant has his kitchen garden at his other house; and around lie green meadows, and at a distance, slope away the green pastoral hills. As you look out at the front door, the Yarrow runs down the valley at the distance of, perhaps, a quarter of a mile on the left hand, with a steep scaur, or precipitous earthy bank, on its further side, in full view, over the top of which runs the highway from Edinburgh to Galashiels. Down the valley, and on the other side of the water, lies, in full view also, the farm of Mount Benger, which Hogg took of the Duke of Buccleugh after he came to Altrive. It is much more inclosed and cultivated in tillage than Altrive. The house where Hogg lived, however, is now pulled down, all except one ruinous white wall, and a very capital farm-house is built near it; with a quadrangle of trees, which must have been originally planted to shelter a house long ago gone.
An old farmer and his wife in the neighbourhood, who seemed the last people in the world to admire poets or poetry, though very worthy people in their way, blamed Hogg extremely for taking Mount Benger. He was more fitted for books than for farming, said they. "Perhaps," I observed, "he did not find that little farm of Altrive enough to maintain him." "Why should he not?" asked they. "He had nothing to do there but look after his little flock — that was all he had to care for — and that was the proper business of a man that called himself the Ettrick Shepherd — as though there was never a shepherd in Ettrick besides himself. And if he wanted more income, had not he his pen, and was not he very popular with the periodicals? But he was always wanting to take great farms, without any money to stock them. He was hand and glove with great men in Edinburgh, Professor Wilson, and Scott, and the like; he was aye going to Abbotsford and Lord Napier's; and so he thought himself a very great man too, and Mrs. Hogg thought herself a great woman, and looked down on her neighbours. These poets think nothing's good enough for them. Hogg paid the duke no rent, but he caught his fish, and killed his game; he was a desperate fellow for fishing and shooting. If people did not do just what he wanted, he soon let them know his mind, and that without much ceremony. He wrote a very abusive letter to Sir Walter Scott, because he would not give him a poem to print when he asked him, and would not speak to him for months; and when he took Mount Benger he wrote to his generous friend Mr. Grieve, of Ettrick, and desired him to send him £350 to stock the farm, which Mr. Grieve refused, because he knew that the scheme was a ruinous one; on which he wrote him a very abusive letter, and would not speak to him for years. The upshot was that he failed, and paid eighteen pence in the pound; and yet the duke, though he got no rent, allows the widow the rental of Altrive."
It is curious to hear the estimation that a man is held in by his neighbours. It is generally the case, that a man who raises himself above those with whom he set out on equal or inferior terms in life, is regarded with a very jealous feeling. I found Grace Darling denied all merit by those of her own class in her own neighbourhood. Hogg, who is admired by the more intellectual of has countrymen, is still, in the eyes of the now matter-of-fact sheep farmers of Ettrick and Yarrow, regarded only as an aspiring man, and bad farmer. They cannot comprehend why he should be so much more regarded than themselves, who are great at market, great on the hills, and pay every man, and lay up hard cash. Yet these men who pay eighteen-pence in the pound, have farms for nothing, and their families after them, and associate with lords and dukes. That is very odd, certainly.
For worldly prudence, I am afraid, we cannot boast of Hogg; and he confesses that he did rate Sir Walter soundly for not giving him a poem for his Poetic Mirror, and that he would not speak to him, till Scott heaped coals of fire on his head by sending the doctor to him when he was ill, and by Hogg finding out that Scott had come or sent daily to inquire how he was going on, and had told his friends not to let Hogg want for anything. Hogg was a creature of the quickest impulse; he resented warmly, and he was as soon melted again by kindness. He had the spirit of a child, sensitive, quick to resent, but forgiving and generous. His imprudence in taking Mount Benger is much lessened, too, when we learn that he expected £1,000 from his wife's father, who, however, proved a bankrupt, and Hogg had already, through the intervention of Scott, obtained possession of the farm, and incurred the debt for the stocking of it, before he became aware of the disastrous fact. In truth, he was probably too good a poet to be a good farmer; nor need we wonder at the opinion yet held of him by some of his neighbours, when we find him relating in his Life that, when leaving Edinburgh once because his literary projects had failed, he found his character for a shepherd as low in Ettrick, as it was for poetry in the capital, and that no one would give him anything to do. Such are the singular fortunes of men of genius!
It is said in his own neighbourhood, that his last visit to London hastened his death. That the entertainments given him there, and the excitement he went through, had quite exhausted him. That he never afterwards seemed himself again. That he was listless and feeble, and tried to rally, but never did. Probably his breach with Blackwood might prey upon his spirits; for, on Blackwood declining to give a complete edition of his works, he had entered into arrangements with Cochrane and Johnstone of London, who commenced his edition, but failed on the issue of the first volume. By the act of quitting Blackwood, all the old associations of his life, its happiest and most glorious, seemed broken up. After that, his name vanished from the magazine, and was no more seen there, and the new staff on which he leaned proved a broken reed. Truly many are the verifications of the melancholy words of Wordsworth:—
We poets in our youth commence in gladness;
But thereof comes in the end, despondency and madness.
I have received the following account of his last days from one of his oldest and most intimate friends:—
"Innerleithen, 21st Feb. 1846.
Mr. Hogg, although apparently in good health, had been ailing for some years previous to his death, with water in the chest. When this was announced to him by his friend, Dr. W. Gray, from India, a nephew of Mr. Hogg's, he seemed to laugh at the idea, and pronounced it impossible, as one drop of water he never drank. Notwithstanding, he very shortly after had a consultation with some of the Edinburgh medical folks, who corroborated Dr. Gray's opinion. Mr. Hogg, on his return from town, called upon me in passing, and seemed somewhat depressed in spirits about his health. The Shepherd died of what the country folks call black jaundice, on the 21st November, 1833, and was buried on the 27th, in the churchyard of Ettrick, within a few hundred yards of Ettrick-house, the place where he was born. It was a very imposing scene, to see Professor Wilson standing at the grave of the shepherd, after every one else had left it, with his head uncovered, and his long hair waving in the wind, and the tears literally running in streams down his cheek. A monument has been erected to the memory of Hogg, by his poor wife. At this the good people of the forest should feel ashamed. Mr. Hogg was confined to the house for some weeks, and, if I recollect right, was insensible some days previous to his death. He has left one son and four daughters; the son, as is more than probable you are aware, went out to a banking establishment, in Bombay, some two years ago. Mr. Hogg left a considerable library, which is still in the possession of Mrs. Hogg and family. With regard to the state of his mind at the time of his death, I am unable to speak. I may mention, a week or two previous to his last illness, he spent a few days with me in angling in the Tweed; the last day he dined with me, the moment the tumblers were produced, he begged that I would not insist upon him taking more than one tumbler, as he felt much inclined to have a tumbler or two with his friend Cameron, of the inn, who had always been so kind to him, not unfrequently having sent him home in a chaise, free of any charge whatever. The moment the tumbler was discussed, we moved off to Cameron's; and by way of putting off the time until the innkeeper returned from Peebles, where he had gone to settle some little business matter, we had a game at bagatelle; but no sooner had we commenced the game, than poor Hogg was seized with a most violent trembling. A glass of brandy was instantly got, and swallowed; still the trembling continued, until a second was got, which produced the desired effect. At this moment, the Yarrow carrier was passing the inn on his way to Edinburgh, when Mr. Hogg called him in, and desired him to sit down until he would draw an order on the Commercial bank, for twenty pounds, as there was not a single penny in the house at home. After various attempts he found it impossible even to sign his name, and was, therefore, obliged to tell the carrier that he must of necessity defer drawing the order until next week. The carrier, however, took out his pocket-book, and handed the shepherd a five-pound note, which he said he could conveniently want until the following week, when the order would he cashed. A little before the gloaming, Mr. Hogg's caravan cart landed for him, which he instantly took possession of; but, before moving off, he shook hands with me, not at all in his usual way, and at the same time stated to me, that a strong presentiment had come over his mind that we would never meet again. It was too true. I never again saw my old friend, the shepherd, with whom I had been intimately acquainted since the year 1802.
I went over his house at Altrive with much interest. His little study is in the centre of the front of the house, and within that is the equally small bedroom where he died. The house has been much improved, as well as the garden about it, since his time, for all agree that Hogg was very slovenly about his place. However, as Lockhart has justly observed, there will never be another such a shepherd.
He has a brother still living, William Hogg, who has always been considered a very clever man. He lives somewhere in Peebleshire, as a shepherd. His widow and family live in Edinburgh.
In many of my visits to the homes and haunts of the poets, I have fallen in with persons and things which I regret that I could not legitimately introduce, and which yet are so full of life that they deserve to be preserved. Exactly such a person did I meet with at Altrive Lake, at Mr. Scott's, the successor of Hogg. It was a jolly wool-buyer. He was a stout, fine, jovial-looking man, one of that class who seem to go through the world seeing only the genial side of it, and drawing all the good out of it, as naturally as the sun draws out of the earth flowers and fruit. The hearty fellow was sitting at luncheon with Mr. Scott as I went in, and I was requested to join them. His large, well-fed person, and large handsome face, seemed actually to glow and radiate with the fulness of this world's joyousness and prosperity. His head of rich bushy black hair, and his smooth black suit, both cut in town fashion, marked him as belonging to a more thronged and bustling region than these tawny, treeless, solitary hills. The moment I mentioned Hogg, and my object in visiting Altrive and Ettrick, the stranger's countenance lit up with a thorough high-flowing tide of rosy animation. "Eh, but ye should ha' had me in Ettrick wi ye! I know every inch of all these hills and the country round. Haven't I bought the wool all over this country these twenty years? Hogg! why, Sir, I've bought his wool many a time, and had many a merry 'clash' and glass of toddy wi' him at this verra table." Nothing would do but I must accept half his gig thence to Galashiels that evening, a distance of twenty miles. It was a very friendly offer, for it saved me much time. Our drive was a charming one, and my stout friend knowing all the country, and apparently everybody in it, he pointed out everything, and had a nod, a smile, a passing word, for every one that we met or passed in their cottages by the road side. He pointed out the piece of a wall, the only remains of Hogg's old house at Mount Benger, adding — "Ay, I bought his wool!" We descended the vale of Yarrow, passing through the beautiful woods of Hangingshaw. "Ye'll remember," said he, "what was said by some English noblemen in the rising in '45, when they heard that the lairds of Hangingshaw and Gallowshiels were among the Scotch conspirators. These are ominous names, said they, we'll have nothing to do with 'em; and withdrew, and thereby saved their own necks." So we went on, every few hundred yards bringing new histories of my jolly friend's wool-buying, and of matters which seemed nearly as important in his eyes. There was Newark tower, a beautiful object, standing on a lofty green mound on the other side of the Yarrow, the banks of which are most beautifully wooded. The tower, indeed, is included in the pleasure grounds of Bowhill, a seat of the Duke of Buccleugh's, within sight; and you see neat walks running all along the river side for miles amid the hanging woods, and looking most tempting. Opposite to Newark my friend pointed out a farm-house. "Do you know what that is?" "A farm-house," I replied. "Ay, but what farm-house, that's the thing? Why, Sir, that's the house where Mungo Park lived, and where his brother now lives." He then related the fact recorded in Scott's Life, of Sir Walter finding Mungo Park standing one day in an abstracted mood, flinging stones into the Yarrow; and asking him why he did that, he told Scott that he was sounding the depth of the river, it being a plan he had discovered and used on his African tour; the length of time the bubbles took coming to the top indicating the comparative depth, and showing whether he might venture to ford the stream or not. Soon after Park again set out for Africa, never to return. "There, too, I buy the wool," added my companion. "But do you see," again he went on, "the meadow there below us, lying between those two streams?" — "Yes." — "Well, there meet the Ettrick and Yarrow and become the Tweed; and the meadow between is no other than that of Carterhaugh; you've heard of it in the old ballads. I buy all the wool off that farm." I have no doubt if the jolly fellow had fallen in with the fairies on Carterhaugh he would have tried to buy their wool.
Ever and anon, out of the gig he sprung, and bolted into a house. Here there was a sudden burst of exclamations, a violent shaking of hands. Out he came again, and a whole troop of people after him. "Well but Mr. —, don't you take my wool this time!" "Oh! why not? What is it? what weight? what do you want?" "It is so and so, and I want so much for it." "Oh, fie, mon! I'll gie ye so much!" "That's too little." " Well, that's what I'll gie — ye can send it, if ye like the price;" and away we brushed. The man all life and jollity, giving me a poke in the side with his elbow, and a knowing look, with — "He'll send it! It won't do to spend much time over these little lots;" and away we went. At one house, no sooner did he enter, than out came a bonny lass with a glass and the whisky-bottle, and most earnestly and respectfully pressing that I should take a glass! "What could the bonny girl mean by being so urgent that I should take some of her whisky?" "Oh," said he, laughing heartily, "it was because I told her that ye were a Free-church minister frae London, and they're mighty zealous Free-church folk here."
At Selkirk my jolly friend put himself and horse to a great deal of labour in ascending the steep hill into the town, which we might have avoided, that I might see the statue of Sir Walter Scott, by Richie, in the market-place. This, however, was but part of his object. Leaving the gig at the inn, he said we must just look in on a friend of his. It was at a little grocer's shop, and, in a little dusky parlour, he introduced me to a young lady, his wife's sister, and we must have some tea with her. The young lady was a comely, quiet, dark-complexioned person, who seemed to have a deal of quiet sense, and some sly humour; just such a person as Scott would have introduced into one of his stories as a Jenny Middlemass; or the like; and it was most amusing to sit and listen to all their talk, and jokes, and his mystifications and her quick detection of them, and their united mirth over them. The good man finally landed me in Galashiels, and there I had no little difficulty in getting away to my inn; as he thought of nothing less than my staying to supper with him, and hearing a great deal more of all the country round, of Scott and Burns, Hogg and wool buying, trading and tradition, the old glories of border reiving, and new glories of Galashiels, and its spinning and weaving, without end.