1891 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Hogg

Samuel Smiles, "The Ettrick Shepherd" A Publisher and his Friends: Memoir of John Murray (1891) 1:344-49.



James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, was another of Murray's Scottish correspondents, with whom he had some interesting intercourse.

The publication of "The Queen's Wake" in 1813 immediately brought Hogg into connection with the leading authors and publishers of the day. Hogg sent a copy of the volume to Lord Byron, his "brother poet," whose influence he desired to enlist on behalf of a work which Hogg wished Murray to publish.

The poem which the Ettrick Shepherd referred to was "The Pilgrims of the Sun," and the result of Lord Byron's conversation with Mr. Murray was, that the latter undertook to publish Hogg's works. The first letter from him to Murray was dated "Grieve and Scott's, Edinburgh, 26th December, 1814," though the post-mark shows it was not delivered until the 12th of January, 1815.

Mr. Hogg to John Murray.

"DEAR MURRAY,

What the deuce have you made of my excellent poem that you are never publishing it, while I am starving for want of money, and cannot even afford a Christmas goose to my friends? I think I may say of you as the country man said to his friend, who asked him when his wife had her accouchement, 'Troth, man,' said he, 'she's aye gaun aboot yet, and I think she'll be gaun to keep this ane till hirsel a thegither.' However, I dare say that, like the said wife, you have your reasons for it; but of all things a bookseller's reasons suit worst with a poet's board. I should be glad to know if you got safely across the Tweed and what number of the little family group you lost by the way betwixt Edinburgh and London, and how everything in the literary world is going on with you since that time.... Be sure to let me hear from you, and tell me how you are likely to come on with the copies of 'The Queen's Wake' which I sent you. It has been a losing business, and you must get me as much for it as you can. I hope you will soon find occasion for sending me an offer for a fifth edition. I am interrupted, so farewell for the present. God bless you!

JAMES HOGG."

A few days later Hogg again wrote a long letter, complaining that Blackwood's name was placed above Murray's in the advertisement of his book. This was followed by a third epistle.

Mr. Hogg to John Murray.

"January 21st, 1815.

MY DEAR SIR,

I wrote to you a few days ago terribly chagrined about the advertisement. You have now explained it, and above all things in this world, I love a man who tells me the whole simple truth of his heart, as you have done, and I freely forgive you, for if I had thought the same way I would have acted the same way. But I cannot help smiling at your London Critics. They must read it over again. I had the best advice in the three kingdoms on the poem — men whose opinions, even given in a dream, I would not exchange for all the critics in England, before I ever proposed it for publication. I will risk my fame on it to all eternity. You may be mistaken, and you may be misled, my dear Murray, but as long as you tell me the simple truth as freely, you and I will be friends. Will you soon need an edition of 'The Wake'? I think you should. Will our 'Repository' not go on? I have at least a volume of very superior poetry.

Yours very truly,

JAMES HOGG."

The "Repository," which Hogg refers to in his letter, was intended to be a miscellaneous collection, edited by himself, of pieces written by the principal popular poets of the day. He afterwards altered the proposed name to "The Thistle and the Rose," or "The Poetic Mirror," and requested Byron and Scott to write for the "Miscellany," but they both eventually declined his proposition.

Mr. Hogg to John Murray.

"March 15th, 1815.

I want Lord Byron's promised assistance. If I had but thirty lines from him, I would be content; but I cannot consent to put the book to press without something from him. Though it would be a material loss to me to want his name engraved on 'The Thistle and Rose,' yet I would not for the world pester or dun him. Think seriously of these things, my dear friend; tell me, as usual, freely what you think; the conditions shall always be of your own making, for though I am somewhat needy I am not greedy.... The Duke of Buccleuch has been so kind as, all unsolicited, to give me a farm on Yarrow, rent free for life. I have that farm to stock, and a cottage to build this summer; so that you need not think it strange that I would like to raise a few pounds as soon as I can. However, do not let any casualty induce you to enter upon anything that appears contrary to your interest; for, as you shrewdly hinted formerly, whatever is against that will prove much more against mine finally. But let me hear from you soon...."

Another letter followed (31st March, 1815), requesting an answer-wishing to know what number of copies of "The Queen's Wake" were on hand. At length, Murray answered:

John Murray to Mr. Hogg.

"London, April 10th, 1815.

MY DEAR FRIEND,

I entreat you not to ascribe to inattention the delay which has occurred in my answer to your kind and interesting letter. Much more, I beg you not for a moment to entertain a doubt about the interest which I take in your writings, or the exertions which I shall ever make to promote their sale and popularity.... They are selling every day, and I have no doubt that they will both be out of print in two months. It is really no less absurd than malicious to suppose that I do not advertise, and by every other means strive to sell these works in which I am so much interested. Respecting the collection of poems, I really think Lord Byron may, in a little time, be relied upon as a contributor. He continues to be exceedingly friendly to you in all respects, and it will be reciprocity of kindness in you to make large allowance for such a man. Newly married — consider the entire alteration which it has occasioned in his habits and occupations, or the flood of distracting engagements and duties of all kinds which have attended this change.

"He has just come to town, and is in every respect very greatly improved. I wish you had been with me on Friday last when I had the honour of presenting Scott to him for the first time. This I consider as a commemorative event in literary history, and I sincerely regret that you were not present. I wish you had dashed up to London at once, and if you will do so immediately I will undertake to board you if you will get a bed, which can easily he obtained in my neighbourhood.

"Could you not write a poetical epistle, a lively one, to Lady Byron — she is a good mathematician, writes poetry, understands French, Italian, Latin and Greek — and tell her that as she has prevented Lord B. from fulfilling his promise to you, she is bound to insist upon its execution, and to add a poem of her own to it by way of interest.

———*———*———*———*———*———

I have forgotten to tell you that Gifford tells me that he would receive, with every disposition to favour it, any critique which you like to send of new Scottish works. If I had been aware of it in time I certainly would have invited your remarks on 'Mannering.' Our article is not good and our praise is by no means adequate, I allow, but I suspect you very greatly overrate the novel. 'Meg Merrilies' is worthy of Shakespeare, but all the rest of the novel might have been written by Scott's brother or any other body. Adieu for the present: pray write to me immediately to tell me that you forgive my silence, and believe me, dear Sir,

Your faithful friend,

JOHN MURRAY."

Hogg's reply was as follows:—

"April 17th, 1815.

MY DEAR SIR,

On reading your kind and enthusiastic letter, I determined to come to London and join the illustrious bards, but to my great grief I find I cannot accomplish it. I enter to my farm at May-day, which is fast approaching, and at that time I must be in Yarrow; and besides I have not money to spare. I am, however, much vexed and disappointed because I cannot accept your warm invitation; and I am only comforted by the hope that by-and-by I may be enabled to appear among you to more advantage than I could have done at present. I am obliged to you for your fair statement of the sale. Such a thing lets one see precisely what they may expect, and when to expect it. I never had the slightest apprehension that you were dilatory or careless about pushing the works, and I do not know how I came to mention it.

If Southey's 'Roderick' is not bespoke, I should be very happy to review it, but I must warn you that I am very partial to that bard's productions. It would be a most interesting thing to have a small piece of Lady Byron's in 'The Thistle and Rose,' and the thing which you propose for me to do is a good subject both for humour and compliment. But there is nothing I am so afraid of as teazing or pestering my superiors for favours. Lord B. knows well enough that without his support at first, the thing will not go on, and as I am sure he is a kind soul, I think I will for the present trust to himself.

Most truly,

JAMES HOGG.

Murray sent the Shepherd some "timeous" help, to which Hogg replied — still from Edinburgh — by asking a novel favour; no less than that Mr. and Mrs. Murray should look out for a wife for him!

Mr. Hogg to John Murray.

"May 7th, 1815.

MY DEAR SIR,

I thank you with all my heart for the little timeous supply you have lent me at present. I did intend shortly to have asked from you what little you could spare from the copies of 'The Wake' sold, but I had no thought that the final payment of 'The Pilgrims' would have been made to me sooner than November. You are the prince of booksellers, if people would but leave you to your own judgment and natural generous disposition.

"I leave Edinburgh on Thursday for my little farm on Yarrow. I will have a confused summer, for I have as yet no home that I can dwell in; but I hope by-and-by to have some fine fun there with you, fishing in Saint Mary's Loch and the Yarrow, eating bull-trout, singing songs, and drinking whisky. This little possession is what I stood much in need of — a habitation among my native hills was what of all the world I desired; and if I had a little more money at command, I would just be as happy a man as I know of; but that is an article of which I am ever in want. I wish you or Mrs. Murray would speer me out a good wife with a few thousands. I dare say there is many a romantic girl about London who would think it a fine ploy to become a Yarrow Shepherdess!

Believe me, dear Murray,

Very sincerely yours,

JAMES HOGG."

Here, for the present, we come to an end of the Shepherd's letters; but we shall find him turning up again, and Mr. Murray still continuing his devoted friend and adviser.