JAMES HOGG, commonly called "The Ettrick Shepherd," was born on the 25th of January, 1772, in a cottage on the banks of the Ettrick, a tributary of the Tweed, in Selkirkshire, a mountainous and picturesque part of Scotland. He died on the 21st November, 1835, in the sixty-fourth year of his age. His family had long been settled in the district of Ettrick, as shepherds. Robert Hogg, his father, who lived to the age of ninety, had married Margaret Laidlaw, a woman of considerable common sense, familiar knowledge of the traditionary ballads of Scotland, and a clear judgment. Of this marriage four sons were born. James was the second, and greatly prided himself, in mature years, on having had the same birthday (all but the year) as Robert Burns.
At the time when Robert Hogg married, he had saved what, in those days, was considered sufficient to authorize his taking a farm. He took two commenced dealing in cattle, gave credit, suffered from a great fall in the price of sheep and the dishonesty of his principal debtor, — and became a ruined man, — homeless, almost hopeless, before his son James was six years old. Robert Hogg then became shepherd on one of the farms which he had recently occupied.
James Hogg's mother, who literally had taught herself to read the Bible, which she then thoroughly understood, had a natural taste for poetry. The wandering minstrels, whose last "Lay" was sung by Scott, had not vanished in her youth. From their lips, she stored her quick memory with many thousand lines of the old Border ballads; — one of these wanderers, over whose head the changes of ninety years had rolled, communicated a great deal to her, which he alone knew. With Mrs. Hogg perished this, and much more that "the world would not willingly let die."
From such a mother, James Hogg unquestionably received his first impulses towards Song. It was her habit daily to read from the Bible such passages as she thought likely to interest and improve her sons; and, daily also, followed her recitations of the Border ballads, in a manner between chant and song. Sometimes she would tell them stories of romantic incidents in the world of action and passion, into which none of them yet had launched; and she often would win them to tears by the simple relation of tales of sorrow and tenderness, in days not far remote and within their own locality.
When James Hogg was seven years old, he was compelled to go to service. His occupation was to herd a few cows for a neighboring farmer. His wages for the half year were a ewe lamb and a pair of new shoes. In the first winter he returned home, and had three months' schooling. He got into a class so far advanced that they could read the Bible. He tried writing, but each letter was nearly an inch in length. Nor, to his dying day, did he write well. His whole course of education was obtained in six months at this time. "After this," he says, "I was never another day at any school whatever." When the severity of the season abated, when gentle Spring felt the kiss of Summer on her roseate lips, James Hogg again became a cow-herd. So he continued for some years, under various masters, until he finally arrived at the dignity of shepherd's assistant. The care of large flocks of sheep requires probity, skill, and self-reliance. The character which Hogg obtained from his successive masters, (he had a dozen before he was fifteen,) placed him in this rank, where the wages and other pecuniary advantages are comparatively good, and the opportunities for those who wish to acquire knowledge are great. A man, who is in the open air by himself, for twelve hours a-day during many months, able to read, (as nearly every Scottish peasant is,) can scarcely help becoming contemplative, and more or less imaginative.
But, during the whole of Hogg's novitiate as a herdsman, he had no book to read except the Bible, and the version of the Psalms of David which is used by the Scottish Church. He had purchased an old violin out of his small earnings, and determinedly taught himself to play some favorite Scotch times. Afterwards, as we shall see, he became a very passable player.
Among the farmers who employed Hogg to attend their sheep-flocks, the kindest were the family of the Laidlaws, (probably some relations of his mother,) with whom he remained several years. It was while in the employ of one of these that, at the age of eighteen, he first got the perusal of a versified Life of Sir William Wallace, the great Scottish patriot, and of the pastoral comedy of "The Gentle Shepherd," by Allan Ramsay. Oddly enough, the future poet (as he has related) "deeply regretted that they were not in prose, that everybody might have understood them." He had got so much out of the habit of reading, that the Scottish dialect quite confounded him! After this, Mrs. Laidlaw lent him some theological books, which he subsequently was glad he did not understand. A newspaper fell into his hands now and then, "which I pored on with great earnestness," he says, "beginning at the date, and reading straight on, through advertisements of houses and lands, Balm of Gilead, and every thing; and, after all, was often no wiser than when I began." At this time he had to write a letter to his elder brother, and, not having used a pen for several years, some of the letters of the alphabet were so much forgotten, that he had to put them in a sort of print copied from books!
On Whitsunday, 1790, being then only eighteen, Hogg hired himself to Mr. Laidlaw, of Black House, whom he served, as shepherd, for ten years; of this gentleman's kindness — one of God's own nobility — Hogg's brief report is sufficient: "Indeed, it was much more like that of a father than a master."
In the spring of 1796, at the age of twenty-four, Hogg made his first regular attempt at verse-writing. (Long before that, however, while yet early in his teens, his mother would often say to him, "Jamie, my man, gang ben the house, and mak me a sang.") Mr. Laidlaw, his employer, had a good store of books, which he kindly allowed Hogg to read. Thus the early defects, or rather the almost total want of education, were in due course of being somewhat remedied. He read a great deal, and with considerable attention; but, (he says,) "no sooner did I begin to read so as to understand, than, rather prematurely, I began to write."
How he first became a POETER may best be told as related by himself in his various autobiographies. He says:—
"For several years my compositions consisted wholly of songs and ballads, made up for the lassies to sing in chorus; and a proud man I was when I first heard the rosy nymphs chanting my uncouth strains, and jeering me by the still dear appellation of 'Jamie the poeter.'
"I had no more difficulty in composing songs then than I have at present; and I was equally well pleased with them. But then the writing of them! — that was a job! I had no method of learning to write save by following the italic alphabet; and though I always stripped myself of coat and vest when I began to pen a song, yet my wrist took a cramp, so that I could rarely make above four or six lines at a sitting. Whether my manner of writing it out was new, I know not, but it was not without singularity. Having very little spare time from my flock, which was unruly enough, I folded and stitched a few sheets of paper, which I carried in my pocket. I had no inkhorn, but in place of it I borrowed a small phial, which I fixed in a hole in the breast of my waistcoat; and having a cork fastened by a piece of twine, it answered the purpose fully as well. Thus equipped, whenever a leisure minute or two offered, and I had nothing else to do, I sat down and wrote out my thoughts as I found them. This is still my invariable practice in writing prose. I cannot make out one sentence by study without the pen in my hand to catch the ideas as they arise, and I never write two copies of the same thing. My manner of composing poetry is very different, and, I believe, much more singular. Let the piece be of what length it will, I compose and correct it wholly in my mind, or on a slate, ere ever I put pen to paper; and then I write it down as fast as the A B C. When once it is written, it remains in that state; it being with the utmost difficulty that I can be brought to alter one syllable, which I think is partly owing to the above practice.
"The first time I ever heard of Burns was in 1797, the year after he died. One day during that summer a half daft man, named John Scott, came to me on the hill, and, to amuse me, repeated Tam o' Shanter. I was delighted. I was far more than delighted — I was ravished! I cannot describe my feelings; but, in short, before Jock Scott left me, I could recite the poem from beginning to end, and it has been my favorite poem ever since. He told me it was made by one Robert Burns, the sweetest poet that ever was born; but that he was now dead, and his place would never be supplied. He told me all about him: how he was born on the 25th of January, bred a ploughman, how many beautiful songs and poems he had composed, and that he had died last harvest, on the 21st of August. This formed a new epoch of my life. Every day 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 to follow in the steps of Burns."
In 1812, before the appearance of "The Queen's Wake," the poem which made his reputation, he told a clergyman of his acquaintance, that he had an inward consciousness that he should yet live to be compared with Burns, and that though he might never equal him in some things, he thought he might excel him in others. This was repeated, and laughed at as a good jest; but time, which sets all things even, has made it a reality. Hogg certainly takes place next to, and very little below, Burns as a Scottish poet.
Not books alone, aiding and valuable as they were, constituted the advantages accruing to Hogg, at Mr. Laidiaw's. One of that gentleman's sons, William, was his friend and companion. Hogg says: "He was the only person who, for many years, ever pretended to discover the least merit in my essays, either in prose or verse; and, as he never failed to have plenty of them about him, he took the opportunity of showing them to every person, whose capacity he supposed adequate to judge of their merits, but all to no purpose; he could make no proselytes to his opinion of any note, save one, who, in a little time, apostatized and left us as we were." A higher critical authority was fortunately at hand.
The first of Hogg's published songs was called "Donald McDonald," composed, he says, "in 1800, on the threatened invasion by Bonaparte." He sang it to a party of social friends, one of whom got it set to music. It was published, and obtained great popularity. "Yet no one ever knew, or inquired who was the author." It was publicly sung at a grand Masonic Festival at Edinburgh, by Mr. Oliver of the publishing house of Oliver & Boyd. He was one of the best singers in Scotland, and was not only thrice encored, but the Earl of Moira (the Lord Rawdon of the War of Independence, and the Marquis of Hastings of a later day) made a long speech on the utility of such "loyal" songs at that period, thanked the singer, and proffered him his whole interest in Scotland. He never asked for, nor thought of the author of the words. There was then a General McDonald, commanding the army in Scotland, at whose regimental mess the song was part of the postprandial service. This old gentleman believed that it had been written to glorify himself — but neither he nor any of his friends asked who was the author. I subjoin the opening verse of this song — to show how a popular subject, half a century since, elevated what we should now call common-place jingle:
My name is Donald McDonald,
I live in the Highlands sae grand;
I hae followed our banner, and will do,
Wherever my Maker has land.
When rankit amang the blue bonnets,
Nae danger can fear me ava;
I ken that my brethren around me
Are either to conquer or fa'.
Brogues an' brochin' an' a',
Brochin' an' brogues an' a';
And is nae she very well aff,
Wi' her brogues an' brochin' an' a'?
At this time, Walter Scott, who was Sheriff ("Scottice" Shirra) of Selkirk, the native county of Hogg, was collecting materials for The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. In this he was assisted by John Leyden, afterwards distinguished as a poet and Oriental scholar, whose early death (in 1811, in Java) was much lamented. In his ballad-questing excursions, Scott had fallen in with William Laidlaw, then very young, but with a vigorous, original, and cultivated mind. He introduced Hogg to "the Shirra," who was in great doubt at the time, whether part of a ballad called Old Maitlan' was not forged. Hogg's mother chanted this ballad for him, and, as her version agreed with his, he was much pleased. The old lady, alluding to part of the first and published volume of the Minstrelsy, said: "Except George Warton and James Steward, there never was ane o' my sangs prentit till ye prentit them yonrsell, an' ye hae spoilt them a'thegither. They were made for singing, an' no for reading; and they're nouther right spelled nor right setten down."
Some of Hogg's poetry was shown to Scott, who warmly praised it. From that time, Hogg steadily applied himself to composition. Naturally enough, he turned to the imitation of the Border ballads. Scott, after spending some hours in his company, declared that he had never met a man with more undoubted originality of genius. From that first meeting sprang a life-long friendship — darkened by only a few passing clouds. Hogg always acknowledged his obligations to Scott, and, in the dedication of "The Mountain Bard" to him, thus publicly declared it:
Bless'd be his generous heart for aye;
He told me where the relic lay,
Pointed my way with ready will,
Afar on Ettrick's wildest hill;
Watched my first notes with curious eye,
And wondered at my minstrelsy:
He little weened a parent's tongue
Such strains had o'er my cradle sung.
In 1801, during a few days' interval of leisure in Edinburgh, Hogg determined to print a pamphlet containing some of his songs. He wrote down, not the best, but "Willie and Katie," and others, which he remembered best. He delivered the manuscript to a printer, and heard no more — until he received word that a thousand copies of "Poetical Trifles" had been thrown off. On examination, it was found (as might have been anticipated) that many of the stanzas were omitted, others misplaced, with countless "errors of the press." Still, the work had circulation and gained repute. Hogg confessed of those poems, in later days, "Indeed, all of them were sad stuff, although I judged them to be exceedingly good."
About this time, Hogg made an excursion into the Highlands, in hope of being employed as overseer of some large sheep farm. He failed in this object, but printed a prose account of his travels, (as Letters in the Scots' Magazine,) rugged and uncouth in diction, but gleaming with poetic fooling and natural shrewdness.
After a visit to England, in the summer of 1801, (probably as drover and vendor of sheep and cattle,) Hogg resumed the pen — or, strictly speaking, "the slate" — chiefly encouraged by Scott, who introduced and strongly recommended him to Constable, then the greatest publisher in Edinburgh. Scott did more — he took him home to his own family, and had him to dinner, in company with William Laidlaw and others. Hogg had never before been in any dwelling grander than that of the country minister. He saw Mrs. Scott, who was ill, reclining on a sofa, and, fancying that he could scarcely go wrong if he imitated the lady of the house, threw himself upon a sofa also. As the liquor began to operate, his familiarity increased. Lockhart says, he advanced from "Mr. Scott" to Shirra," thence to "Scott," — "Walter," and "Wattie," — until, at supper, he fairly convulsed the whole party by addressing Mrs. Scott as "Charlotte."
When he again resolved to try what a new volume of poems would do for him, he had nothing by him except the songs of his youth. Constable (a sweet kernel in a bitter husk, imperious in manner and kind in heart) again gave him a chance. "The Forest Minstrel," now all but forgotten, was published, on the half-profit principle — which yielded nothing to Hogg. Two thirds of the songs were Hogg's own; the remainder furnished by correspondents. With his usual candor, Hogg thus speaks of the whole collection: "In general they are not good, but the worst of them are all mine, for I inserted every ranting rhyme that I had made in my youth, to please the circles about the firesides in the country; and all this time I had never been in any polished society— had read next to nothing — was now in the thirty-eighth year of my age, and knew no more of human life or manners than a child."
One of the gems in "The Forest Minstrel," was a poem by William Laidlaw, called "Lucy's Flitting," which was a great favorite with Scott. It is described by Lockhart as a simple and pathetic picture of a poor Ettrick maid's feelings in leaving a service where she had been happy, and has long been, and must ever be a favorite, with all who understand the delicacies of the Scottish dialect, and the manners of the district in which the scene is laid. Some years after this, Laidlaw moved to Scott's land, at Abbotsford, there came his amanuensis and general supervisor, nor quitted that place until Scott's death, in September, 1832. Scott was greatly attached to him, and, returning to Abbotsford from Italy, the first person whom he recognised was his friend, "Ha! Willie Laidlaw!" he exclaimed; "O man, how often have I thought of you!" One advantage Hogg gained by his "Forest Minstrel." Scott sent a presentation copy of it to the Countess of Dalkeith, (afterwards Duchess of Buccleugh,) to whom Hogg had dedicated it, and that lady sent him, through Scott's hands, a present of one hundred guineas. This was the origin, also, of the interest she subsequently felt for him.
Hogg had imitated the old Border ballads, selecting traditionary stories for their subjects, and, by advice of Scott, who had seen several, he wrote some more. The collection, entitled "The Mountain Bard," was published by Constable, in the winter of 1803. He was in liberal hands, for this work realized for him nearly £300. He also had written a treatise "On Sheep," which had won the prize offered by the Highland Society, an sold this to Constable for £84: — not a bad bargain for the publisher, as it has turned out, for "Hogg on Sheep" is considered indispensable in the rural districts of Scotland, and has a steady sale of several hundreds annually.
The possession of so much money, (early in 1804,) he confesses, drove him "perfectly mad." He plunged into the business of sheep-farming without sufficient capital, knowledge of the world, experience, or prudence. Years of ruinous perseverance found him, in the winter of 1809-10, almost homeless, nearly penniless, and actually kept out of the humblest employment, by the reputation of being a poet and a ruined farmer. In utter desperation, he went to Edinburgh, in February, 1810, where he hoped to make a living by his pen.
It was a vain hope. He could find insertion, but no payment, for whatever he chose to send to Magazines and Reviews. He had ceased to woo the Muse during his recent years of speculative farming, and Hogg's next experiment was to commence a weekly periodical, of literature and manners, which he called "The Spy." His incompetency for this, in one respect, (for up to this time he "never once had been in any polished society, and knew no more of human life or manners than a child,") was evident; but the attempt, by a man of genius, was far less absurd than living examples, now before the world, of inferior men who write what they call novels of every-day life, and have never yet mingled in the scenes which they ambitiously describe!
"The Spy," which continued for twelve months, gave Hogg little more than mere subsistence, but much increased his literary reputation. It was a melange of prose and poetry. Whenever Hogg essayed to describe society, of which he knew nothing, he failed; but his sketches of rural life were delightful, because natural and true. Hogg had several voluntary contributors. Among these were Mr. James Gray (of the High School) and his wife; Professor T. Gillespie; John Black, afterwards Editor of the Morning Chronicle, in London; and Robert Sym, maternal uncle to Professor Wilson, and, a few years later, the redoubted Timothy Tickler of The Noctes. But the greater part of "The Spy," consisting of 415 quarto pages, double-columned, was written by Hogg himself — certainly a large quantity of labor in one year.
In conjunction with other literary men, all of them greatly younger than himself, Hogg next established a debating society, called The Forum, of which he was solemnly appointed Secretary, with the magnificent salary of £20 a year — which, however, was never paid. With his usual energy, Hogg — contrary to the advice of his friends — plunged into the debates, and used to make a speech (sometimes two) every night. He says, "Though I sometimes incurred pointed disapprobation, I was in general a prodigious favorite." This debating society did not last long, but Hogg has very sensibly remarked, that all the speaking members greatly increased their general knowledge, at the weekly meetings of The Forum. Where proper subjects are selected for discussion each speaker will naturally read, to increase his information, and the habit of putting the best words in the best places, which alike belongs to what is written for the press and spoken for the ear, has a natural tendency to improve the judgment. Hogg afterwards said that he might and could have written "The Queen's Wake," had The Forum never existed, but without the weekly lessons that he got there, he could not have succeeded as he did.
At this time, the poetry of Scott and Byron was making a noise in the land. Hogg had a friend in Edinburgh, himself of literary tastes and habits, who carried on the business of a hat-manufacturer. He thought so well of some of the poems in The Spy, that he strongly urged Hogg to attempt a regular poem. Mr. and Mrs. James Gray, whose taste and judgment were good, also urged him to do this. The result was that, in the spring of 1813, he produced "The Queen's Wake."
This consists of a series of ballads, purporting to be sung for the amusement of the young Mary Queen of Scots, on her arrival from France at the ancient palace of Holyrood. The design was a good one — the competitors for glory were Poets, the judges and spectators were a beautiful young Queen, and her proud Nobility. The introduced poems were as various in merit as in style, but the narrative part of the poem was flowing, pure, and graceful. None expected such from Hogg. There were some days of wonder, — of doubt how the poem should be estimated, — but it got well spoken of, and Hogg received, in no stinted measure, the meed of popular applause. From that time, "The Queen's Wake" has been very popular. In Scotland, as compared with other long poems, it ranks only below The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Marmion, and The Lady of the Lake.
One of the poems in "The Queen's Wake," the most popular of the collection, and that by which Hogg is best known out of Scotland, was called "KILMENY," and is founded on the tradition, common alike to Scotland and Ireland, of a child being stolen by the fairies. I cannot convey the entire poem, consisting of 300 lines, into these pages, but subjoin a few passages to show the peculiar beauty of the rhythm, the adroit use of the Scottish dialect, the musical flow of harmony, the extent of fancy which covers it like a visible atmosphere, and the remarkable purity of thought and expression which pervades the whole.
"Kilmeny" opens thus:—
Bonny Kilmeny gaed up the glen;
But it wasna to meet Duneira's men,
Nor the rosy monk of the isle to see,
For Kilmeny was pure as pure could be.
It was only to hear the yorlin sing,
And pu' the blue cress-flower round the spring,
The scarlet hypp and the hindberrye,
And the nut that hang frae the hazel-tree;
For Kilmeny was pure as pure could be.
But lang may her minny look o'er the wa',
And lang may she seek in the greenwood shaw;
Lang the laird of Duneira blame,
And lang, lang greet, ere Kilmeny come hame!
When many a day had come and fled,
When grief grew calm, and hope was dead,
When mess for Kilmeny's soul had been sung,
When the beadsman had prayed, and the dead-bell rung,
Late, late in a gloamin', when a' 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 o'er the plain
Like a little wee cloud in the world its lane;
When the ingle lowed with an eiry leme,
Late, late in the gloamin', Kilmeny cam' hame!
"Kilmeny, Kilmeny, where have you been?
Lang has we sought baith holt and dean,
By linn, by ford, and greenwood tree,
Yet ye are halesome and fair to see.
Where gat ye that joup o' the lily sheen?
That bonny snood of 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 ee,
As the stillness that lay on the emerant lea,
Or 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 never crew,
Where the rain never fell, and the wind never blew.
But it seemed as the harp of the sky had rung,
And the airs of heaven played round her tongue,
When she spake of the lovely forms she had seen,
And a land where sin had never been—
A land of love and a land of light,
Withouten sun, or moon, or night;
Where the river swa'd a living stream,
And the light a pure celestial beam;
The land of vision it would seem,
A still, an everlasting dream.
In you greenwood there is a waik,
And in that waik there is a wene,
And in that wene there is a maike
That neither hath flesh, blood, nor bane;
And down in you greenwood he walks his lane!
In that green wene Kilmeny lay,
Her bosom happed wi' the flow'rets gay;
But the air was soft, and the silence deep,
And bonny Kilmeny fell sound asleep.
She kend nae mair, nor opened her ee,
Till waked by the hymns of a far country.
She has awakened in fairy-land, to which, at the age of twenty, (and here Hogg has deviated from the ordinary tradition of a mere child being taken away,) she had been conveyed, as being so stainless, in soul and body, where she never may know sin nor death: welcomed by the immortal spirits of "the better land," who desire her, should she again seek the mortal world, to tell of the signs which should be shown her, — portentous of the times that are and that shall be.
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 kend not where, but so sweetly it rung,
It felt on her ear like a dream of the morn:
"Oh blest be the day 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 sae bright—
A borrowed gleid frae the fountain of light—
And the moon that sleeks the sky sae dun,
Like a gouden bow, or a beamless sun,
Shall wear away, and be seen nae mair,
And the angels shall miss them travelling the air
But lang, lang after baith night and day,
When the sun and the world have elyed away,
When the sinner has gone to his waesome doom,
Kilmeny shall smile in eternal bloom!
From the top of a mountain green, in "the land of thought," Kilmeny sees a succession of visions, chief among which are her own Scotland, with bonny Queen Mary, and her misfortunes; there, too, the foreshadowing of the Revolution which deluged France with blood, and other signs of the coming time. The conclusion is too beautiful to be abridged:
Then Kilmeny begged again to see
The friends she had left in her own country,
To tell of the place where she had been,
And the glories that lay in the land unseen;
To warn the living maidens fair—
The loved of Heaven, the spirits' care—
That all whose minds unmeled remain,
Shall bloom in beauty when time is gane.
With distant music, soft and deep,
They lulled Kilmeny sound asleep;
And when she wakened, she lay her lane,
All happed with flowers in the greenwood wene
When seven lang years had come and fled,
When grief was calm, and hope was dead,
When scarce was remembered Kilmeny's Dame,
Late, late in the gloamin', Kilmeny cam hame!
And oh her beauty was fair to see,
But still and steadfast was her ee;
Her seymar was the lily flower,
And her cheek the moss-rose in the shower;
And her voice like the distant melody
That floats along the twilight sea.
But she loved to raik the lanely glen,
And kept afar frae the haunts of men;
Her holy hymns unheard to sing,
To suck the flowers, and drink the spring.
But wherever her peaceful form appeared,
The wild beasts of the hill were cheered;
The wolf played lithely round the field,
The lordly bison lowed and kneeled,
The dun-deer wooed with manner bland,
And cowered aneath her lily hand.
And when at eve the woodlands rung,
When hymns of other worlds she sung,
In ecstasy of sweet devotion,
Oh then the glen was all in motion!
The wild beasts of the forest came,
Broke frae their bughts and faulds the tame,
And goved around, charmed and amazed;
Even the dull cattle crooned and gazed,
And murmured, and looked with anxious pain
For something the mystery to explain.
The buzzard came with the throstle-cock,
The corby left her houf in the rock,
The blackbird alang wi' the eagle flew,
The hind came tripping o'er the dew;
The wolf and the kid their raik began,
And the ted, and the lamb, and the leveret ran;
The hawk and the hern attour them hung,
And the merl and the mavis forhooyed their young;
And all in a peaceful ring were hurled—
It was like an eve in a sinless world!
When a month and a day had come and gane,
Kilmeny sought the greenwood wene;
There laid her down on the leaves sae green;
But Kilmeny on earth was never mair seen.
But oh 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 knew not whether she was living or dead.
It wasna her hame, she couldna remain;
She left this world of sorrow and pain,
And returned to the land of thought again.
Three editions of the Queen's Wake went off in a few months. Goldie, its publisher, failed, and Hogg's share of profits appeared likely to be small. But William Blackwood undertook the disposal of the work, treating Hogg so generously, that the poet actually received double what be was to have had from Goldie.
At this time (1813) John Wilson was in Edinburgh, personally known only to Scott and a few others. Hogg, who much admired his "Isle of Palms," wrote to him inviting him to dinner. He accepted the invitation, dined at Ambrose's (a small tavern where Hogg lodged.) and, says Hogg, "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." He afterwards visited Wilson, in Westmoreland, where he met Wordsworth, Southey, and Coleridge.
After vain efforts to obtain a commission in the militia, or an appointment as Excise-officer, Hogg wrote to the late Duchess of Buccleugh, entreating her to speak a word to the Duke's agent to take him (Hogg) as tenant for a small farm in Ettrick. It was considered impossible to grant this request, but the Duke and Duchess intimated an intention of bearing him in mind. The Duchess died very unexpectedly, in August, 1814, and shortly after, when Scott happened to mention the Ettrick Shepherd, the Duke said, "My friend, I must now consider this poor man's case as her legacy." Soon after, the Duke presented him with the rent-free life-occupancy of the farm of Altrive Lake, in his well-beloved Braes of Yarrow. That he might stock his farm properly, and start free of debt, a subscription copy of The Queen's Wake, in 4to, and with illustrations, was published for his benefit. After Hogg became his nominal tenant, he frequently dined with the Duke of Buccleugh, who appeared greatly to enjoy his society. By his death, in 1819, Hogg lost a powerful patron and friend.
The Queen's Wake was not written until the poet was past forty. In the next six years, between 1813 and 1819, Hogg wrote and published The Pilgrims of the Sun, The Hunting of Badlewe, Mador of the Moor, and the Poetic Mirror, Dramatic Tales, The Brownie of Bodsbeck, Winter Evening Tales, Sacred Melodies, The Border Garland, and the Jacobite Relics of Scotland. That is, fifteen volumes of poetry and prose, in little more than six years.
The Poetic Mirror, as published, was a curious travesty upon the mere idea of a book. Hogg conceived the idea of obtaining a poem from all the living authors of Britain, and publishing them in one volume. He made very general applications, and among the poets who actually contributed were Southey, Wilson, Wordsworth, Lloyd and others. Byron and Rogers promised, (the former intimating that "Lara" was written expressly for him,) but Scott refused to send one line. Hogg, who knew that the Collection, minus Scott, would be valueless, earnestly urged him to reconsider his refusal. Scott continued firm. Hogg thereupon sent him "a very abusive letter," (which, Lockhart tells us, commenced, "Damned Sir," and ended with, "Believe me, sir, yours with disgust,") and all intercourse between them ceased for some months, until it was renewed on Hogg's solicitation, never again to be broken.
The poems which Hogg had received did not possess such striking merit as to lead to any hope of their publication being profitable. Hogg had mainly relied on Byron and Scott; the first did not, the other would not, write for him. In this dilemma, Hogg, who did things like nobody else, fancied that he could write "better poems than had been or would be sent, and this so completely in the style of each poet, that it should not be known but for his own production." Hence came The Poetic Mirror, or Living Bards of Britain. The imitation of Scott (an Epistle to Robert Southey) was written by Thomas Pringle. All the rest was dashed off by Hogg, in three weeks. The imitations of Byron and Wordsworth were capital, and so is Hogg's "Gude Greye Catte," an imitation of — himself!
The publication of "The Spy" had given Hogg such a taste for periodical literature, that he had long in view the commencement of a monthly magazine, in Edinburgh. Speaking to the late Mr. Thomas Pringle on the subject, he found that gentleman previously possessed with the same idea. They agreed to work together, with Mr. Gray as Editor — which would have been a good choice. But, on mentioning the matter to Blackwood, the publisher, they found that he, also, had a similar plan. What followed, more properly belongs to, and is related in my History of Blackwood's Magazine.
When commenced, in April, 1817, Pringle and a Mr. Cleghorn were editors, and Blackwood soon quarrelled with them; they went over to Constable, carrying contributors and subscribers with them. Hogg, who had jocosely written The Chaldee Manuscript, offered it to Blackwood, who had also obtained the support of Wilson's pen. About two-thirds of the Chaldee MS., as published in Blackwood, for October, 1817, was written by Hogg; the rest, chiefly consisting of bitter personalities on the Edinburgh Whigs, was chiefly supplied by Lockhart. It raised a terrible outcry, was withdrawn, apologized for, and ultimately boasted of. But the idea, and most of the execution, was Hogg's, and always claimed by him.
In 1820 Hogg married Miss Margaret Phillips — a sensible, affectionate woman. Of this marriage the now surviving fruits are three daughters. Upon the mother, after nearly twenty years of widowhood, in which poverty had ever been her companion, a pension of £50 a year has lately been settled, nominally by the Queen of England, but actually out of the public fund of £1200 a year upon which the government are allowed to draw to relieve suffering merit. It is out of this fund that Mademoiselle D'Este, daughter of the Queen's uncle (the Duke of Sussex) and now wife of Lord Truro, the ex-Chancellor of England, receives two annuities, each of £500, "in consideration of her just claims on royal beneficence," — a payment of £1000 a year for life, which, if made at all, should have been from the Queen's own means, and not out of the source (already too limited for a great nation) whence distressed literary, artistic and scientific merit is to be cared for.
Soon after his marriage, Hogg became tenant of Mount Benger, a farm which adjoined his own. He had realized £l000 by his pen. He earned £750 in the next two years. His farm-management did not succeed, and when most industrious men are well off, he had to begin the world again, without a sixpence. He left Mount Benger with scarcely a sigh, and retired to his little farm of Altrive. He had contributed largely, in the mean time, to Blackwood, and when introduced as an interlocutor and actor in the Noctes Ambrosianae, his name became a household word, wherever Maga was read. In one of his autobiographies, he complains, very bitterly, that words and sentiments have been put into his mouth of which he had been greatly ashamed, and which had much pained his friends and relations. On the other hand, however, he was somewhat proud of the position he was made to occupy; and, it may be noticed, though he figures as somewhat fond of plenteous eating and drinking, not one sentiment is attributed to him which a gentleman need hesitate to utter.
That Hogg was not so very indignant at being put into the Noctes may be judged from an anecdote related to me by one who knew him well, and loved him dearly as a brother. "One autumn," he says, "while Hogg lived at Mount Benger, I spent some days with him. One of said days was a rainy Saturday, during which we were put to our in-door resources. Having exhausted songs and stories, puns and punch, we went to the parlor-window, on the look-out for the Peebles carrier, who was expected to bring some bales of literary ware for the Shepherd. The man and his cart appeared in sight, slowly zig-zagging from side to side down the steep hill. After fifteen minutes' delay, which seemed fifty to us, the packages were landed and cut open, and we were deep in books, pamphlets, and newspapers; — but the gleg eye of the Shepherd singled out Blackwood, just issued for the month. The Noctes were laid open in a moment, and presently Hogg's mirth exploded in a loud guffaw, as he exclaimed, slapping his thigh, 'Gad, he's a droll bitch, that Wulson! an' as wonderfu' as he's droll!' He had alighted upon one of Wilson's raciest personifications of himself, and could not restrain his appreciation of its skill and genius."
In 1826, "Queen Hynde," a poem, on the plan of, but not quite equal in execution to the Queen's Wake, followed The Jacobite Relics, of which it may be said that, when reviewed by Jeffrey, the one poem selected as original, while doubt was thrown upon others, was "Donald McGillavry," written by Hogg himself, who immediately spread the fact, far and near, to the discomfiture and horror of the Lord of the Blue and Yellow.
Hogg also wrote, at Mount Benger, a succession of rustic prose tales, under the titles of Three Perils of Man, and Three Perils of Woman, and a dark story of tragic interest, called Confessions of a Justified Sinner. To these followed The Shepherd's Calendar, from Blackwood — a Selection of Songs — The Queer Book, and Tales of the Wars of Montrose. He also wrote The Royal Jubilee, a Masque, suggested by the visit of George IV, to Scotland, in 1822. The year before, when the King was crowned, Scott, who thought that the cause of loyalty and the Shepherd's worldly interests might gain by his attending and writing something for the popular ear of England, offered to take him to London. Lord Sidmouth, then Home Secretary, was written to. He promised select places at Westminster Abbey, during the Coronation. and in Westminster Hall, at the Banquet, (which ended in a scramble!) provided that Hogg and Scott would dine with him, on the following day, with "the Duke of York, [the King's next brother and heir-presumptive to the Throne,] and a few other Jacobites." It was expected that Hogg would be delighted at this chance. But the Coronation was fixed for July 19, while the St. Boswell's annual fair was on the 18th, and Hogg preferred the Fair to the Coronation. This, as much as any thing, throws light on the Shepherd's independent character. Scott was annoyed — as a man of the world might be — but did not abate his regard. At this time, and years later, he vainly endeavored to obtain for Hogg the £100 a year grant, from the Royal Society of Literature, to eminent but not wealthy men of mind.
At the close of 1829, Fraser's Magazine was commenced. To this, Hogg became a constant and well-paid contributor. For some years before and after this time, the Annuals were in full bloom. Hogg wrote for most of them, and must have received a large amount, yearly, from this source. I judge by myself — I had eight to ten guineas ($40 to $50) for a single poem or prose tale, and suppose that Hogg would be paid higher. I know that, in one year, he wrote for a dozen of these beautiful but fleeting works.
In 1829, was commenced the publication of the first collective series of the Waverley Novels, illustrated by the first artists, and enriched with Scott's own autobiographical prefaces and notes. The sale was unexpectedly great, — in the first year it reached 35,000 a month. This success, no doubt, (indeed, he told me so himself,) induced Hogg to try whether a re-issue of his own prose tales, suitably corrected and well illustrated, might not be lucrative to himself also.
Accordingly, bearing in mind that neither prophet nor poet is respected in his own country, Hogg proceeded to London, to do business with publishers there. His reception in society was far beyond his expectation. To crown all, a public dinner was given to him, in January, 1832, Sir John Malcolm in the chair, at which the only trouble was that the provision of food made was only for half the number of guests. It is pleasant to record that, in the bibacious line, there was no scarcity; so that scores of gentlemen who had to dine on a roll, finished off with champagne — which is rather exciting, on an empty stomach. Soon after, Vol. I. of "The Altrive Tales" was published by Mr. Cochrane, with illustrations by George Cruikshank. Immediately after, the publisher failed.
Hogg bore the disappointment nobly. It disturbed not his serenity. In 1832 and 1833, no new book of his appeared, but he was a large contributor to Magazines and Annuals. In 1834, Mr. Fraser, of London, brought out a volume of his Lay Sermons, which sold largely. He determined then to collect his unpublished prose stories and publish them, in three volumes, as "The Montrose Tales." Cochrane, who had resumed business, was again his publisher. The work appeared in April, 1835, but Cochrane failed a second time.
In the autumn of 1835, James Hogg had an attack of jaundice, which ended in an affection of the liver, and, after a month's illness, he breathed his last, at Altrive, on November 21, 1835.
His last pseudo appearance in Noctes was in February, 1835, and his conversation, as there reported, is brilliant with wit and eloquence. His dream of pre-existence, as a Lion, is one of the finest pieces of modern composition.
Hogg has stated, in one of his many autobiographies, (in which he said, "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,") that he had received five letters from Lord Byron, all of which had been lost, and were unpublished, of course. One of these is before me, announcing the birth of Byron's daughter, and is dated March 1st, 1816 — only a few weeks before the writer's final retreat from England. As, however, I am writing the Life of Hogg, and not of Byron, it will be more germain to my present purpose to give an original letter from Hogg, written only seven weeks before his death.
It is addressed to myself, in reply to a letter requesting him to contribute to one of the American Magazines in which I then interested myself.
September 5th, 1833.
My Dear Sir:
I find my literary correspondence with the United States so completely uncertain, that I have resolved to drop it altogether. I learned from many sources, that my brethren beyond the Atlantic were sincere friends and admirers of mine, and I tried to prop several of their infant periodicals; but I never yet could learn if any of my pieces reached their destination, and I am convinced the half of them never did. But, on the other hand, there are nine or ten vols. of mine, which have been out of print these twenty years. We have a new set of readers altogether, since that period. Why may not your friends copy a tale out of these, every month, and just say, "By The Ettrick Shepherd," without saying how acquired? Every one of them will pass for originals. I can only at this instant mention a few of those exploded works — "Dramas," two vols., anon. "The Three Perils of Man," three vols. "The Three Perils of Woman," three vols. "The Confessions of a Justified Sinner," anon. I should think that these might be had from libraries, and many more, both of poetry and prose. I am, dear sir, yours most respectfully,
To DR. SHELTON MACKENZIE.
This letter bears a large seal which shows a harp encompassed with a laurel wreath, and surmounted with the words, "Naturae Donum."
It was expected that Professor Wilson would have written the life of Hogg, whom he knew very intimately, and for whom he had the warmest regard. This expectation was never realized. Lockhart could have written a suitable biography of the Ettrick Shepherd, but has shown so much pique at certain Recollections of Sir Walter Scott, contributed by Hogg to Fraser's Magazine, that it was well for the poet's reputation, perhaps, that the task did not fall into the hands of him of the "Quarterly." There are a couple of notices written in 1819, (in Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk,) brief, indeed, but very characteristic, seemingly written con amore by Lockhart, which I shall introduce here. Describing a dinner at Mr. Gillies' cottage at Hawthornden, (near Edinburgh,) he says: "The effect of the champagne on the Ettrick Shepherd, in particular, was quite delightful: accustomed, for the most part, to the ruder stimulus of whisky-toddy, this ethereal inspiration seemed to shoot life with subtler energy through a thousand less explored meanderings of his body and his brain. Among other good things he contributed to our amusement, music was one. Before the ladies left the dining-room, he insisted upon having a violin put into his hands, and really produced a measure of sweet sounds, quite beyond what I should have expected from the workmanship of such horny fingers. It seems, however, he had long been accustomed to minister in this way at the furs and penny-weddings in Ettrick, and we on the present occasion were well content to be no more fastidious than the Shepherd's old rustic admirers. He appears to be in very great favor among the ladies-and I thought some of the younger and more courtly poets in the company exhibited some symptoms of envying him a little of his copious compliment of smiles — and well they might."
Afterwards, speaking of the post-prandial amusements, Lockhart says: "In the conversation of this large party, and over the prime Chateau-Margout of Mr. Gillies, the time passed most agreeably till ten o'clock, at which hour we transferred ourselves to the drawing-room, and began dancing reels in a most clamorous and joyous manner, to the music sometimes of the Shepherd's fiddle — sometimes of the harpsichord. On these latter occasions the Shepherd himself mingled in the maze with the best of us, and indeed displayed no insignificant remains of that light-heeled vigor, which enabled him in his youth (ere yet he had found nobler means of distinction) to bear the bell on all occasions from the runners and leapers of Ettrick-dale. The great beauty of this man's deportment, to my mind, lies in the unaffected simplicity with which he retains, in many respects, the external manners and appearance of his original station — blending all, however, with a softness and manly courtesy, derived, perhaps, in the main, rather from the natural delicacy of his mind and temperament, than from the influence of any thing he has learned by mixing more largely in the world. He is truly a most interesting person — his conversation is quite picturesque and characteristic, both in its subjects and its expression — his good-humor is unalterable, and his discernment most acute — and he bears himself with a happy mixture of modesty and confidence, such as well becomes a man of genius, who has been born and bred in poverty, and who is still far from being rich, but who has forfeited, at no moment of his career, his claim to the noble consciousness of perfect independence."
There is another little bit too good to be omitted. Lockhart says: "As for the Ettrick Shepherd, I am told that when Spurzheim was here, he never had his paws off him — and some cranioscopical young ladies of Edinburgh are said still to practise in the same way upon the good-humored owner of so many fine bumps. I hear Mathews has borrowed for his 'At Home,' a saying which originally belongs to the Ettrick Shepherd. When Dr. Spurzheim (or, as the Northern Reviewers very improperly christened him in the rents of Edinburgh, Dousterswivel) — when the Doctor first began to feel out the marks of genius in the cranium of the pastoral poet, it was with some little difficulty that Mr. Hogg could be made to understand the drift of his curiosity. After hearing the Doctor's own story — 'My dear fellow,' quoth the Shepherd, 'if a few knots and swells make a skull of genius, I've seen mony a saft chield get a swapping organization in five minutes at Selkirk tryst.'"
In person Hogg was robust rather than stout. His stature was lofty, his carriage erect, his manners by no means polished, and
Upon his speech there hung
The accents of the mountain tongue.
His nature was kindly, and he was not deficient in natural courtesy. When first he met L. E. L., whose poetry he had somewhat ridiculed in a magazine article, he took her hand and apologetically said, "I did na think you had been sae bonny." Never again breathed he word against her. When introduced to Wilkie, the painter, whose works he greatly admired, he said, very earnestly, "I thank God that ye are sae young a man."