1899 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Hogg

Rowland E. Prothero, in Byron, Letters and Journals, ed. Rowland E. Prothero (1898-1901) 3:115-16n.



James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd (1770-1835), was from 1790 to 1800 shepherd to Laidlaw of Blackhouse, whose son, William, was Scott's friend, and himself a poet. There he became known as the "poeter," from the songs which, in 1796, he began to write "for the lasses to sing in chorus." In the summer of that year (Memorials of James Hogg, by his daughter, Mrs. Garden, p. 25), the year of Burns's death, "a half-daft man, Jock Scott by name," repeated to Hogg "the poem of 'Tam o' Shanter' ... over and over again till the Shepherd had it all by heart." Fired by the ambition to succeed Burns as the singer of Scotland, he set himself seriously to the task of writing poetry. His song "Donald M'Donald" (1800) at once became popular; but his first volume of collected poems, Scottish Pastorals, etc. (1801), proved a failure. He helped Scott in the preparation of Border Minstrelsy, and, through Scott's influence with Constable, published, in 1807, The Mountain Bard.

Whatever money he made by his pen he lost in farming, and in 1810 he settled at Edinburgh as a literary man. Of his numerous works it is unnecessary to give a complete list. Neither his miscellany, The Forest Minstrel (1810), nor his weekly journal, The Spy (started in 1810), succeeded; but in 1813 The Queen's Wake deservedly brought him poetic fame. He was at this time (1814) projecting a volume of poetry by the most distinguished writers of the day. The project, in which Byron aided him by a promise of help and an introduction to Murray, fell through; but it produced The Poetic Mirror, or the Living Bards of Great Britain (1816), in which Hogg parodies Scott, Byron, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Southey, Wilson, and himself. Byron comes first in "The "Guerilla," of which the last stanza runs as follows:—

It was Alayni — dost thou wail his case?—
Beloved unhappy, restless unbeloved.
Oh, there are minds that not for happiness
Were fram'd here nor hereafter, who ne'er proved
A joy, save in some object far removed,
Who leave with loathing what they longed to win,
That evermore to that desired hath roved,
While the insatiate gnawing is within,
And happiness for aye beginning to begin.

Hogg's imitation of his own work is the admirable poem "The Gude Greye Katt." As a novelist, Hogg wrote The Brownie of Bodsbeck, and other Tales (1817); The Three Perils of Man: War, Women, and Witchcraft (1822); The Three Perils of Woman (1823), and other works. He was one of the original writers in Blackwood's Magazine (1817), and, besides contributing part of the famous "Chaldee Manuscript" and other articles, became a familiar figure to the public through Christopher North's idealized delineations of "The Shepherd."

Hogg's songs, many of the best of which appeared in Jacobite Relics (1819-20), are fresh, vigorous, and, like "When the Kye comes Hame," full of lyric passion; in such poems as "The Witch of Fife," or "The Abbot M'Kinnon," he shows his power over the weird and awful; while his "Kilmeny" is full of imagination and descriptive felicity. His epic poem, Queen Hynde (1826), was too ambitious a flight for his powers.

Among the Byron papers are preserved some letters from Hogg, three of which are given in Appendix II. Byron's letters to Hogg, which the Shepherd carefully treasured, were, it appears (Memorials of James Hogg, p. 188), stolen by a visitor.