1831 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Hogg

John Gibson Lockhart, in Review of Southey, Lives of Uneducated Poets; Quarterly Review 44 (January 1831) 81-82.



The proud name of Robert Burns does not occur in this Essay; Mr. Southey estimates him too justly to class him, on any pretext, with uneducated poets. That extraordinary man, before he produced any of the pieces on which his fame is built, had educated himself abundantly; and when he died, at the age of thirty-seven, knew more of books, as well as of men, than fifty out of a hundred in any of the learned professions in any country of the world are ever likely to do. We might speak in nearly the same way of Burns' two popular successors in Scottish minstrelsy [James Hogg and Allan Cunningham]. When the Ettrick Shepherd was first heard of, he had indeed but just learned to write by copying the letters of a printed ballad, as he lay watching his flock on the mountains; but thirty years or more have passed since then, and his acquirements are now such, that the Royal Society of Literature, in patronizing him, might be justly said to honour a laborious and successful student, as well as a masculine and fertile genius. We may take the liberty of adding, in this place, what may not perhaps be known to the excellent managers of that excellent institution, that a more worthy, modest, sober and loyal man does not exist in his Majesty's dominions than this distinguished poet, whom some of his waggish friends have taken up the absurd fancy of exhibiting in print as a sort of boozing buffoon; and who is now, instead of revelling in the licence of tavern-suppers and party politics, bearing up, as he may, against severe and unmerited misfortunes, in as dreary a solitude as ever nursed the melancholy of a poetical temperament.