1827 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Hogg

J—y [plagiarized from Francis Jeffrey], "James Hogg, a Literary and Biographical Sketch" Living Poets of England: Specimens of the Living British Poets (1827) 2:324-25.



JAMES HOGG was born in Scotland, to the humble and romantic occupation of shepherd; and spent the better part of his life in tending his sheep in the pastoral solitudes of Ettrick. There are not many regions, however, even in that poetical land, more favorable for the development of poetical propensities, than this whole range of southern Highlands; where the scattered population the memory of the Border wars — the clanship which they tended to perpetuate — and the pastoral life of the greater part of the inhabitants, have produced a striking resemblance to the character or genius of the Celtic tribes that occupy the wilder deserts of the north. Though he had but little erudition, therefore, and few opportunities for reading or literary discussion, our shepherd was early familiar with song, — and had his memory replenished, and his imagination warmed by the innumerable ballads and traditional legends that are still current in that simple and sequestered district, many of which he had imitated or versified at a very early age. In a mind that had fed on such aliments, and expanded under such training, the earlier publications of Walter Scott must have produced a sensation, of which other beings can scarcely form a conception. They connected the pastimes of his humble and solitary leisure with the dazzling visions of general distinction and renown, and cast a gleam of poetical glory over the themes and the persons of his mountain bards, with which he could never have expected that they should be visited. It was not long, therefore, till the author of this exaltation became the object of his emulation, and drew forth his homage; and the mighty minstrel, with the liberality of true genius, embraced the cause of his rustic disciple, with a zeal that did more honour perhaps to his heart than to his judgment, and drew him forth to premature notoriety, at a moment when the public ear was almost satiated with his own rich and copious effusions. Under these honourable but hazardous auspices, Mr. Hogg put forth a volume of Border Ballads, about the year 1805, which, though respectably versified, and clearly narrated, certainly had not any distinguished success. The truth is, that they were tame and prolix, and occasionally vulgar; and while the splendid colouring of his great patron had made every thing look dim that was not excessively brilliant, the example of Burns had taught even the least fastidious readers to distinguish between simple homeliness and absolute vulgarity; and to feel dissatisfaction with what an age less skilled, and of course less difficult, would have received as fair specimens of ballad poetry. — Mr. Hogg, however, was not at all cast down by the equivocal success of his first poetical adventures; and in spite of the remonstrances of some prudent friends, came shortly after to Edinburgh, and commenced author by profession. Here, among other miscellaneous exertions, he attempted a periodical paper, under the name of The Spy, — in which, though there are frequent indications of a vigorous and aspiring mind, the defects of his education, and his late and limited intercourse with general society, are more apparent than in his former publication. The success of this work, therefore, was not very encouraging; and when it was found necessary to discontinue it, the more considerate part of his patrons began, we believe, to regret, that he had abandoned the peaceful and humble pursuits of his early life for the hazards and exertions of the more ambitions career upon which he had entered. Mr. Hogg himself, however, judged differently; and in the midst of various discouragements and disadvantages, produced the Queen's Wake so much superior to any thing he had before attempted, as to afford good ground for thinking, that he was yet doomed to justify his early election, and in some measure to realize the proudest of his early anticipations.