We have had on our minds, for some time past, various things regarding sundry prominent men of our day, which our consciences press us strongly to let out upon the public, just to shew it, that what every body is thinking (who can think?), it is useful now and then to put into plain words, merely for the benefit and guidance of that worthy and numerous portion of the world who, with great good sense, never try to think at all, but always speak-and never even do speak any thing but what other people have put into their mouths. This is a portion of the world to which great attention ought always to be paid, seeing that, although its members are not exactly the awarders of justice or the judges of truth, they are very much the distributors of both. Moreover, there is this good quality about these worthy persons, that, when once they do get hold of an idea, it is pretty sure to stick to them until they get another (a thing which we cannot always say for your professed thinkers) and, where there is a general paucity in the head, it is something, after all, to have an idea.
Concerning these sundry celebrated men, which the world has got hold of, for better or for worse, just at present, we have, as was said, a few things to indite, which we shall do with all comely plainness of speech, and in that sober fireside fashion which shall at least save us from being misunderstood, and from hiding what light we have under the bushel of attempted or affected brilliancy. There are now, as there always has been, a number of men whose names connected with literature are as familiar to the public as household words, yet about whom there are either few leading ideas of what their claims to popularity really amount to, or their indiscriminate praise has become the cant of the multitude; while, as usual, the paltry hornets of literature, the small critics of the bookshops, are sneering and stinging at some whom the thousand chances of circumstances which affect the voice of public reputation, have yet kept back front receiving all their praise. There are other causes that deeply affect the characters of individuals (for a time), to which we can now but slightly allude, but which arise out of the great influence of certain channels of publicity in the shape of periodical literature, and to which the busy public are accustomed to look for ready-made opinions. As men of letters, when in power, are just as liable to abuse it as any other rulers over the fate of others, who have done it when they could in every age, it is little to be wondered at, that they should sometimes, on the one hand, stifle by neglect the rising voice of tardy reputation, or split the thousand ears of the world's groundlings by the endless vociferations of partial applause.
But these are trite matters, after all; and lest it should be said that we are either pretending to set the world right, or to make truth and justice as common as the causeway, which they never will be, we shall merely sit down familiarly at our reader's comfortable fireside, and say our say about men, from the thoughts of whom, as put forth in public, all have derived more or less pleasure and satisfaction. And who shall we begin with? To shew at once our independence and our creed, as respects talent, and talent alone, we shall take up one of the most commonplace names that are bandied about through the mouth of the public, — to wit, our old rough and round, hearty, wholesome friend, James Hogg.
If ever there was a man who proved that nature alone makes poets of the children of the earth, that man is James Hogg! If ever there was an individual whose career could prove that, bad as the gross world is admitted to be, and great as are the difficulties which poverty entails at first upon the best pretensions, genius — all-powerful genius — will ultimately be successful, that man is the Ettrick Shepherd! Could any thing else but that quality, for which the world is continually looking, that it may find relief from its own dulness, have brought a common shepherd from the forests of Ettrick, who, until upwards of twenty years of age, could hardly read or, write, into the very midst of the arena of a polite and fastidious world of letters, and have got his name trumpeted to the ends of the earth? Let the million of wealthy dolts whom the world has never heard of, and many of whom have vainly tried, by the power of money, to break through, with their feeble productions, the jealous monopoly of literary emolument and fame, — let such answer the question, and envy as they may the homely but talented Shepherd of the Tweed.
When Mr. Hogg, some dozen years ago, went, hat in hand, into the little counting-house behind Mr. Blackwood's shop, to sell a poem as he would sell a sheep, the good bibliopolist, having read his Pilgrims of the Sun, addressed him with, "Upon my word, James, you're a most extraordinary man." But the world have, of late, begun to forget that Hogg is an extraordinary man; and having been disappointed in its expectations of his evening tales, and being somewhat withal bored with floating poetry, to the thrusting of his very much out of view, it seems to have felt rather annoyed at seeing his name so much before the public as a neighbouring periodical has thought fit to bring it; and James has been somewhat going down with the million, from that sacredness which in reality belongs to his poetical character. There is a great portion, too, of "the reading public" that never do read poetry if they can possibly avoid it; and never therefore having, to their own loss, read his poems, no more than several others of the best of our day, they feel a grudging at hearing so often of a man who cannot write novels for every body to read, and songs, like Burns or Moore, for every body to sing. But, although this admitted fact will always confine Mr. Hogg's actual popularity within a narrower circle than either of the other two poets, still he is justly to be regarded as a remarkable man, and worthy to be talked of, even at this time of day, in terms less vague than serve to create a laugh in a bantering periodical, and with due reference to what
he has done hitherto as a poet and a public man of sundry literary pretensions.
Mr. Hogg has, ever since he came from the braes of Polmoody, and by perseveringly sticking to the cautious booksellers of Edinburgh, as well as by the exercise of his talents, made himself known to the world — manifested a characteristic readiness to relieve the anxiety of the public upon his private history, by writing lives of himself; so that, as to all these little matters in a poet's life, about which there is ordinarily so much curiosity, we have the means of judging out of his own mouth. Indeed, the naive candour of honest James in speaking of old times, when, from the infirmity of his shirts, he found it exceedingly difficult to make his lower garments do their duty in a seemly manner, is no small charm in tracing the character of an extraordinary shepherd, who was destined to draw the attention of all the world to his poetry, and has gone far to disarm that menacing rancour which is usually directed for a time at the unexpected brilliances of outstripping reputation. There is not upon record another instance of one of the irritable and generally discontented tribe, in speaking of himself, guarding his reader from making a false estimate of him by what he may in his own way communicate; because, as he says, "Whenever I have occasion to speak of myself or my performances, I find it impossible to divest myself of an inherent vanity," — for which, for the sake of righteous judgment, he humbly hopes his reader will make due allowance. Nor do we know any other poet of the day, greater or smaller, manfully pleading guilty to the charge of vanity, as he is known to do until this day, and fairly defending it as the real stimulant of all that the public have got by him; "for," says he, if you talk to him, "if it had not been for my vanity, I should never have done any thing but herded sheep."
Every body knows that our honest Shepherd, while Nature was silently preparing him for future distinction "on the bonnie banks of Yarrow," or some such poetical neighbourhood, was sorely scanty in reading and writing, and all other classical attainments. How Nature came to make a man of him, and twenty others, in her own way, without troubling Doctor Birkbeck, or either the aid of a Mechanics' Institute or "scientific knowledge," must certainly be a miracle to the raving speechifiers about useful knowledge and universal education. But so it was that, what with sitting for some twenty years on a hill-side watching his "silly sheep," and looking abroad over the green earth, and upwards to the clouds of a Scotch sky, drifting black, gray, and bright over his head — and what with studying, when he was about eighteen, that instructive book, Bishop Burnet's "Theory of the Conflagration of the Earth," — and what with scraping on an old fiddle, which, after some two or three years' saving, he was able to purchase at the extravagant price of five shillings, — Mr. James Hogg came into Edinburgh, and shewed the whole race of lean scholars and sneering literati, that he was already formed and fashioned into what few of them could pretend to be, — a very considerable poet. But with respect to the bishop's conflagration-book, which the poor shepherd lad had been studying until the very trees and hills began to run round and round him, and his poor sheep set-to a-dancing before his eyes like Tam o' Shanter's witches, "happy was it for me," he says, "that I did not understand it; for the little of it that I did understand had nearly overturned my brain altogether." — Life, Edin. 1806, p. 9. Happy would it be, in our humble opinion, for many of the silly followers of Dr. Birkbeck, if they were equally candid with the sensible Shepherd as to the real use and effects of many of the books put into their hands, which are just as likely to set their poor heads into "a tirevee," and not a whit more useful than Bishop Burnet's theory of the universal conflagration.
But in speaking of Mr. Hogg's poetry, which we are gradually coming round to do, it appears manifest to us that he never has got the conflagration perfectly out of his head, even until this day. It was clearly the spark that eventually kindled into the Pilgrims of the Sun, and sent our Ettrick Shepherd up wandering from home among the stars, which seem to have danced a merry-go-round before his dazzled eyes, as much as did aforetime the bobbing trees on Eskdale. Then he was in imminent danger of being singed like a Scotch sheep's head, when he got among the failing stars and fiery comets, which buzzed and "boomed" about his ears in a manner that absolutely frightened us to read, and we were really glad when we got our adventurous Shepherd home again; for we would far rather have him riding on a broom-stick behind a witch woman to Norway, or so, of a night, than see him away seeking his bread among the stars and suns, which seem almost to have blinded him, poor man!
But seriously, considering the extraordinary fancy of Mr. Hogg, it is wonderful how he has kept down the effects of this dangerous early impression; and how well, even in his perilous adventure among worlds unknown, he has contrived to bring himself off, although lie was occasionally unable to distinguish between "the light that led astray," and "light from heaven," and substitutes glitter and gleam for power and grasp, which are a good step above him. We are induced to dwell more on this poem than we know its rank among Mr. Hogg's other pieces deserves, from perceiving in it much more of that straining after glare and glitter and effect, by means of fine meaningless words, which is the characteristic of our ordinary Magazine poetry, than the Shepherd is guilty of in any other of his works.
To speak, however, more comprehensively of Mr. Hogg's genius. His two great characteristics are (we cannot help the alliteration) fancy and facility; and to a man whose outward senses never had opportunity of meeting with. any thing to feed his inward thoughts, but "the banks and braes, and streams around" the straggling forest of Ettrick, till towards thirty years of age — or what he might see when he "got to go" as far as Edinburgh to sell his sheep in the Grass Market, and who scarcely could make use of language by pen-and-ink dexterity until he was twenty-one or two — these qualities possessed in abundance is no ordinary matter for a common shepherd, or, indeed, anybody else. The richness and range of fancy of this inspired Shepherd are truly astonishing; and are often united with a delicacy of thought and perception, which increases the wonder at the creative exuberance and electric power of that thing we call Genius, even when implanted in the bosom of the coarsest hind upon the hills. When this quality is applied to the Shepherd's favourite theme, the dreamy superstitions of his country, and the dim shapes and indefinite thoughts that steal through the fancies of ignorant minds, while secluded afar in the wild glens of the land of the mountain and the flood, James is confessedly inimitable, and will probably preserve his poetry long in the land of his fathers, notwithstanding the heavy drawbacks upon it as calculated for posterity in several other important respects. In regard of this his grand excellence, as applied to the outward forms of nature, and the rich poetics of half-informed superstition, Mr. Hogg is hardly equalled by any of his contemporaries (of whom we mean hereafter to speak); and had he only the other qualities of his denomination in a degree approaching this, he would occupy a very different niche than he now does, or ever will do, among the poets of our time.
The next great excellence of the poet of Ettrick is his evident facility of thought and composition, and his great command of language, which, in some of his poems, particularly Queen Hynde, absolutely runs away both with him and his reader; and though the sparkling current is of no great depth, it flows from the pen of the mountain-bard like the rapt prophesyings of a voice from the wilderness, and in a genuine stream of heaven-born poetry. His delighted reader, who partakes in any measure of the spirit of bardship himself, is hurried along, until he forgets to be critical, from catching the heat and flow of the honest Shepherd and his Muse; and, losing sight of the poet's redundancy in the felicity of his expression, away they both go together, o'er moor and mountain and dale, like his own "gude gray katt," or his "witch of Fyfe," from the top of Benlomond to the shores of Norway, on a moonlight night, until the transformed reader wakes from his poetic dream at midday, and scarcely can recognise the boundaries of his own snug study; for the very figures and busts that topple above his book-shelves seem to be dancing a reel round him!
Yet, after all, this pleasing facility, which makes the reader forget that there is such a thing as art in "making" poetry at all, is the very cause of the greatest defects, which tend to lighten the value of the productions of the good Shepherd of Ettrick. Had he his thoughts and words further to seek, or were his taste more cultivated, so as to cause him to suppress and to select, we should have had, from a man with his general gifts, poetry more concentrated, and language more terse and forcible, than is to be found in his numerous productions. Moreover, this is the chief cause, perhaps, of his worst faults; for the ease with which he obtains smooth verse and neat expression, makes him often pleased with the most common-place thoughts, which render powerless and valueless his better passages, and will probably sink his Mador the Moor, and many other pieces, into speedy oblivion. Not having the force of mind and natural penetration of Burns, or the greater poets, he occasionally shews the rawness of the uneducated man and the poetaster, in mistaking sounding and glittering words put together, for the majesty and simplicity of true poetry. Whether Bishop Burnet's conflagration-book helped this false taste, we shall decline offering an opinion; but it is amusing to trace it from the very earliest of his productions, shining through much real poetry, and troubling him and his reader until the very latest.
Mr. Hogg, it will be observed, poet though he be, is of that sort of temperament, that he never has been, all his life, very backward in coming forward; "so, as early as 1801, he went into Edinburgh, and published his first attempts, called Scottish Pastorals, Poems, and Songs, price one shilling;" for which, although he regrets it himself now when he is a notable man, we are not a little obliged to him, as giving us the means, of judging by what gradual steps a shepherd may become a poet. The Shepherd (for the poem we are about to speak of is, as he says, founded upon an early amour of his own) is lying on a bank in the evening, fretting about his mistress; but, in the true spirit of Mr. Hogg's mind, his love is not so intense but that he can look at "Orion's radiant circle beaming" over his head, and, as it grows dark, he looks up, saying, "Hail, ye stars!" &c.; but mark in what terms he even then could speak of
That pow'r divine,
Who those fluid films, that wheeled
Loosely through primeval night,
By a breath to worlds congealed,
Masses of illuvid light!
From His hand then bowl'd you flaming
Through old dreary Night's domain, &c.
Pretty well for a shepherd-lad on Ettrick that could hardly read or write, and mighty appropriate for a pastoral poem called Willie and Keatie, written in the tasteful measure and suitable style of Watty and Meg, or the Loss of the Pack; but if it is not admitted to smack of the Conflagration of the Earth, we know not what is. This was written about the time when the Shepherd was, as he says, "exceedingly scarce of shirts" — an old complaint among poets and those that are liable to fall in love — for we consider it a fact, to be proven by the mouth of many witnesses, that the favourites of the Muse have ever been more plenty of words than shirts in all past generations.
Passing over a good deal of creditable poetry, written between the above and the Pilgrims of the Sun, we find he never could get this flashy conflagration entirely out of his head; and when our Shepherd took a flight among the stars, and comets, and suns, and so forth, in that astonishing production which celebrated it, see how he deals with one of his worlds, which, as it was spinning about like a top among the others, gets knocked off from its perihelion for the poet's amusement, and that he may be able to describe such a piece of business to the world, which he does thus:
Just in the middle of its swift career
Th' Almighty snapt the golden cord in twain
That hung it to the heaven. Creation sobbed,
And a spontaneous shriek rung on the hills
Of these regions. Down amain
Into the void the outcast world descended,
Whirling and thundering on! Its troubled seas
Were churned into a spray, and, whizzing, flurred
Around it like a dew. The mountain tops,
And ponderous rocks, were off, impetuous, flung,
And clattered down the steeps of night for ever!
Now, some may think this very poetical sort of balderdash, although Dr. Birkbeck and his learned friends might call it rather unphilosophical; but, not to be nice about words, when words is all we have, we think it rather dangerous for a shepherd, when in a course of training for a great poet, to be much given, while "tending the ewes," to books "chiefly theological;" and we way well account for the above, and sundry other pieces of splendour, when he confesses that, after studying theology, and in particular the conflagration, "all the day," says he, "I was pondering on the grand millennium, and the reign of the saints, and all the night dreaming of new heavens and a new earth — the stars in horror and the world in flames!" God preserve us! it is a wonder the man's head did not spin round like one of his worlds after all this. Had the poor Shepherd fallen in with that pious man, the Rev. Edward Irving, at this time, he would have been a rank Bedlamite long ago.
In further tracing the early impressions from which was afterwards formed the poetical character of this extraordinary man, we find him and two other shepherds actually contending together for a prize for writing poetry, and arbiters named to decide who should be entitled to it. Among ten subjects named, what should fall to the lot (for by lot it was decided) of these poetical shepherds but the stars for a theme; and here we see the concatenation (as Johnson would say) of the poet's training again; for to work he went upon "the stars," and in less than a week produced his poem. His opponents never came forward with theirs in a finished state; but what they did shew was, of course, inferior to our poet's, and he had his glory accordingly. His poem, which he has not thought fit to give to the world, was entitled, Reflections on a View of the Nocturnal Heavens; and was, with all its superiority "in sublimity of ideas," as he says, in a bad measure, and bombastical. We well believe it.
The condition of life from which should have sprung a poet of Mr. Hogg's real excellence, excites, when his works are spoken of, a curiosity regarding the early development of powers so little to be looked for from that condition, and so, insensibly, joins criticism with a sort of necessary biography. To those, then, who are acquainted with his latter poems, it may be curious to observe the early groping of a poetical mind after distinct thoughts and suitable expressions, as may be seen in the following dreadfully incorrect stanzas, written shortly after the time when he, as he says, "had actually forgot how to make sundry of the letters of the alphabet," and published in the year 1801, in the shilling pamphlet before alluded to. The poem is entitled, a Dialogue in a Country Churchyard, and was written upon the death of a benefactor of his family.
Acknowledge, hast thou never yet,
When acting scenes in nature o'er,
An inward recollection met
Of having view'd the same before?
Nor is it strange. Futurity,
Though wrapt in mist to human ken,
Seems shapeless; yet a spirit's eye
Some giant features may discern.
And in the wild and dreary waste,
The village fair, or noisy lawn,
Wherever smiles the human face,
There spirits skim their airy round.
A guardian friend his fav'rite charge
May thus of hid events apprise
By great outlines, unfurI'd at large
In sleep to fancy's lidless eyes.
Excepting the above may be considered so, there is nothing in these early productions to indicate the extraordinary fancy and pure poetical thought that was afterwards exhibited by the Ettrick Shepherd. We are the more inclined to enlarge both upon Hogg's poetry and his biography, from the circumstance of his name being familiar to every body in England who reads a magazine, and yet extremely little is known on this side the Tweed either as to what he has written, or why this Shepherd, as a shepherd, is so much talked of. Nevertheless, although his merit is such that he ought to be much better known than he is, and will yet, probably, be far more read than at present, Mr. Hogg is, upon the whole, a very fortunate man; for what with his length of life -no small advantage even for fame (and the Shepherd is now fifty-nine), and what with the aid of a powerful periodical, his name is already more familiar to the English public than a far greater man, namely, Burns, was, until several years after his death. But to return to his claims to the attention of the public.
His Queen Hynde is his greatest poem, after the previous one called the Queen's Wake, which made him so well known and justly celebrated in his own country. It appeared just after the public had been delighted with the spirited poetical romances of Sir Walter Scott, and, as might naturally be expected, it is very much an imitation. But, although more highly fanciful, and often more strictly poetical, than even the favoured productions of the Baronet — though it runs on in a style of fluent harmony that makes the reader, as we before hinted, forget to be critical, and ashamed to be fastidious, in his general admiration, the poetical thoughts are spread out over too large a surface, which renders it often flimsy and common-place; and it has far less of picturesque reality and of sustained keeping than the animated pictures of its more tasteful patterns. The quality of the poetry of this effort, like that of most of Mr. Hogg's, is light and glittering, — fancy and airy richness of poetic thought swelling forth from the poet's brain in numbers as smooth and musical as they are evidently artless, and happy in their artlessness. The following we think very pretty, among a hundred passages about as good, and very much of a specimen of our poet's sort of excellence:
O well I know the enchanting mien
Of my loved Muse, my Fairy Queen!
Her rokley of green with its sparry hue,
Its warp of the moonbeam, and weft of the dew,
Her smile, where a thousand witcheries play,
And her eye, that steals the soul away.
There is a light and graceful point in this that is very much like Moore, and more intense in the conception. But further, — our imaginative tender of ewes is as fond of telling long stories, either about himself or the creatures of his vivid fancy, as any old wife in Eskdale; and so he has trotted away with his flighty Muse, until he has made his poem into six books, and out of all reasonable measure; for the days are gone by when a man might sit down and spin poetry as endless as the web of Penelope. The consequence is, that our friend James, in the incontinent plenitude of his versification, gets sometimes into a sort of running rhyme, that may be written by the ell by the sonsy Shepherd any morning after swallowing about seven pints of thick Scotch porridge. And then he sometimes drops the aerial form of his jaunty Muse, and comes upon us in the great dreadnought shaggy shape of the wild shepherd of the forest, as he came (saith the Professor) into the shop of Manners and Miller the booksellers, in Edinburgh, and offering to sell a MS. poem, naturally frightened every soul out of the shop by his worrikow appearance. For instance, in this poem of Queen Hynde we have the king sitting among his nobles as a king should sit, and passing round the winecup "with ready hand," &c. (for Sir Walter has set the example of making his kings and knights drink in a manner which would disgrace even the drunken literati of Ambrose's blue room), when a captain brings before his majesty an ill-favoured taciturn fellow, who wore a sulky and suspicious silence, and to whose face the king is made to address the captain and himself thus:—
Ay, Captain; doubtless one of those
Who, thrusting his officious nose
Into the affairs of other men,
Presume their notice to obtain.
Speak out, intruder! Say at once
Thy name, thy business, and from whence!
If thou'rt a Cotquean, by my soul
I'll split thy pruriginious noul!
Now, if we had the shaggy Shepherd within our reach at this precious instant, we might be tempted to let his "prurigenious noul" feel a reasonable taste of our pugnacity for outraging the prejudice to which we have always clung, that a king ought to be a sort of gentleman, by putting into his monarch's mouth the language of the butchers to whom he has been in the habit of selling his sheep. For shame of you, Shepherd! is that all your loyalty?
We come to the Queen's Wake last, for it is not our business to say much of those of the Shepherd's works which are best known, and the Wake is known to all the lovers of poetry, by name at least; for we have observed, in our sagacity, that even the lovers of the Muses themselves do not always read that which they greatly admire. In the course of Mr. Hogg's laborious researches, while engaged in the meritorious compilation of the Jacobite Relics, the idea naturally occurred to him of trying his hand at a string of songs or ballads in the olden manner, which, having executed very happily, he wove them into the texture of a long poem, introducing them — (we speak to the admirers of the Queen's Wake who never read it), — introducing them by the mouth of a succession of bards, who sung them in the grand banqueting hall
When royal Mary, blithe of mood,
Kept holyday at Holyrood,
somewhat after the fashion of the telling the tales of the hundred nights.
In turning over the leaves of this pretty poem, the reader cannot fail to be struck, wherever he may begin to read, by the abundant fancy of the poet, and the frequent grace of his measure. Let s have a few lines at random; and the first that strikes us is the beginning of the "Spectres Cradle Song."
Hush, my bonny babe! hush, and be still!
Thy mother's arms shall shield thee from ill.
Far have I borne thee in sorrow and pain,
To drink the breeze of the world again.
The dew shall moisten thy brow so meek,
And the breeze of midnight fan thy cheek,
And soon shall we rest in the bow of the hill:
Hush, my bonny babe! hush, and be still!
For thee have I travelled in weakness and woe,
The world above and the world below.
My heart was soft, and it fell in the snare:
Thy father was cruel, but thou wert fair.
I sinned, I sorrowed, I died for thee;
Smile, my bonny babe! smile on me!
Verily, this is no coarse-grained Shepherd! and if he has not a good ear for music, may we never lift another leg at Almack's till the day of our death. There never was better laid out money than that five shillings that he gave for the old fiddle which taught him such harmony. We never had the pleasure of seeing the Shepherd dance a Scotch reel; but if he would not wallop like a satyr, we are deaf and know nothing: and then with, what grace might he "allemand" in a quadrille, with his frieze coat and shepherd's brogues, or "chassez" in a "pas seul,"
or, like a fairy,
Trip along the green!
But we must say something of "bonny Kilmeny," for every body has heard of it, and every body calls it the best of the bard's songs in the Wake; but we are very sorry that we cannot agree with every body upon this point. It is the Pilgrims of the Sun over again (plague on that Conflagration of the Earth!), for Miss Kilmeny, falling into a swoon, like Mary Lee, is carried away, also, up among the stars, and suns and whirling worlds, and so forth, and sees such matters as the Shepherd himself had seen in his dreams in the forest of Ettrick, while his head was yet turning round from the effects of Bishop Burnet's book. Now, although the thing is very sweetly and poetically done in Kilmeny, yet, to us, it borders on the sugary mawkish of the magazine school; and the ballad has far less real beauty and originality than the "Witch of Fyfe," which it is impossible to read, for the tenth time, without immense admiration of the remarkable Shepherd, and an enthusiastic admission that it breathes the true spirit of genuine poetry of the imagination. We dare not try to squeeze in another extract after the length to which our remarks have already extended; but yet it is pleasant to gossip about so delightful a poet, and so naif a man of genius, as James Hogg. Let us just have a verse or two, when the witch-wyfe is off on one of her nightly excursions
The second nycht, quhan the new moon set,
O'er the roaring sea we flew,
The cockle-shell our trusty bark,
Our sailis of the green sea-rue.
And the bauld windis blew, and the fire-flauclitis flew,
And the sea run to the skie;
And the thunner it growlit, and the sea-dogs howlit,
As we gaid scouring bye.
And aye we mountit the sea-grein hillis,
While we brushit thro' the cludis of the hevin;
Then sousit downright like the starn-shot light
Frae the liftis blue casement driven.
But our tackil stood, and our bark was good,
And sae pang was our pearily prow;
When we couldna speil the brow of the wavis,
We nudlit them throu below.
This must have been written before Mr. Hogg learned orthography, — a branch of education which we would strenuously recommend all poets to attend to; for really this whole poem is so badly spelt, that it is in some passages quite puzzling to simple people like ourselves. And yet it must have been composed when shirts had become more plenty with the Shepherd than they were at that sad time (we cannot help again recurring to it), when he says, with pleasant minuteness, and all his characteristic delicacy, that he "made a very grotesque figure, for on quitting the shirt I could never induce my breeches to keep up to their proper sphere." — Life, p. 6. Edin. 1807. This is rich, for a good shepherd that has really so much genius (and so much good nature too); but how can we expect a man to be able to spell who was so situated with respect to inner garments? However, this "Witch of Fyfe" is a very remarkable poem; and we shall get many thousands and millions who could spell like a dominie, who could not write any thing half as good.
It is no disparagement to Mr. Hogg's genius to say, that, great as it unquestionably is, it is generally of a different and considerably inferior sort to that of Burns, with whom it is natural to bring him into comparison. Hogg's poetry is that of the imagination; Burns' of the understanding and the heart. Hogg's poetry is made for the readers of poetry only, the man of fancy and of numbers, the literary voluptuary; Burns' is emphatically made for mankind, and is equally delightful to the warm-hearted milkmaid, who sings it blithely o'er the lea, and feels every word of it as she sings, and to the man "clad in silken state," who has any perception of the deep emotions of nature. It is one of the wonders with which we justly regard the Ettrick Shepherd, that a man arising out of his humble condition should have so much of the quality least to be expected from one in his sphere, and so little of the very things which usually come out most prominently with the possession of talents in lower life, — that he should have so much fancy and delicacy of conception, and neither humour, sarcasm, nor passion. Hence, admired as he deserves to be, his poetry will never be sung from mouth to mouth, from the highest to the lowest, as Burns' is. He is often delightful, but never impressive; and mankind remember and dwell over that only which impresses the mind. He has no knowledge of mankind, no keen sensibility, except to the merely beautiful and imaginative. He never sits down to write, and cannot proceed, for laughing at his own ideas; nor does he ever by any chance blot the paper before him with his tears. He is not the poet of the passion; and all poetry is poor. comparatively, that is only that of fancy and of language.
His Queen's Wake itself is, like every thing else he has written, too much beaten out and weakened by wordiness. Had Hogg written "Death and Doctor Hornbook," he would have made it into three cantos. Had he had the story of "Tam o' Shanter" to tell, he would have made a volume of it, and then it would have had no pith, and fallen by its own weight. Yet our Shepherd is not entirely without power and spirit too; but his impressions are the impressions of a glaring picture exhibited for our amusement and our wonder. when we consider by whom it was produced, but which we never remember, from their want of whatever is touching, laughable, or instructive. We are fuller upon this point, because, as we have more than once hinted above, the faults of Mr. Hogg are the very faults which, in their greater aggravation, render valueless the larger portion of the current poetry of our day. But the Shepherd is, after all, a meritorious man; and his Jacobite Relics, about which the Edinburgh Review did not do him the justice he deserves, are highly creditable to him as a public man, into which, be it never forgotten, he has raised himself by his talents alone, assisted, doubtless, by a temperament which unites well with a degree of worldly-mindedness very necessary to advancement in life, but which is not often found with high poetical character.
It may be thought that we must be a sort of crony of the Shepherd's, because we have herein been so exceedingly complimentary, although of his prose tales, which, with all their faults, give indication of no mean talent, we have not said one word. We beg to clear ourselves of any such treachery to the public; for although we have in our time been hand and glove with his literary master, the celebrated Christopher North, of whom we mean hereafter to take upon us to speak, we have positively never happened to set eyes upon the Shepherd. We confess, however, to have seen his portrait hung up in Allan Cunningham's little front parlour, (and of Allan, also, something anon); and truly, if the truth must be drawn from us, he is not particularly distinguishable for personal beauty, and he scorned at us from his gilt frame as wickedly as if we bad not said a single good word of him.