It would be impossible in any record of "Blackwood" to leave out the Shepherd, who, whatever he might be in himself, was one of the most characteristic figures in the group which brought it into being — as he also takes a very definite place, in his often rude and rustic individuality, in that which surrounds Scott. This is immortality enough, one would think, for such a man, and extreme and extraordinary promotion; but the Shepherd would not have thought so, who held his head as high as any, and thought himself badly treated, and was apt to babble about envy and injury, when the first place was not open to him. In his mature age Wilson (and indeed Lockhart too, and the other hands which worked at first on the "Noctes") gave him a fictitious importance in that brilliant record, putting the most beautiful speeches into his mouth, though sometimes, it must be added, holding him up on the keen spear of ridicule for the amusement of the world. But he gained much more than he lost, and the Shepherd is perhaps the personage who best survives through the mists which have closed over that laughing company, half fictitious, half genuine, a truly characteristic and individual figure, with his head often among the stars, though his feet are the devious heavy feet of a son of the soil. His appearances amid the mass of papers which have been collected respecting the origin and early history of the Magazine are manifold: in letters innumerable, but rendered of little use from the fact that they are very often about money, and the shifts and scrapes of his not very fortunate career; in songs, all, I presume, published at the time, but sunk into deepest oblivion now; in scraps of proofs, of manuscripts, — a chiffonier's heap of rubbish, in which survive a few relics which retain a likeness of the man. There is no want of information respecting James Hogg, for he himself published an Autobiography, the quite naive and simple vanity of which is more remarkable than the facts narrated. "I must apprise you," he says in a prefatory note addressed to Scott, "that whenever I have occasion to speak of myself and my performances, I find it impossible to divest myself of an inherent vanity." The confession is made very complacently, as from one who knows and feels that he has occasion to be vain, and it is fully carried out in the pages that follow. He had scarcely begun to rhyme when "I told my friend, the Rev. James Nichol, that I had an inward consciousness that I should yet live to be compared with Burns; and though I might never equal him in some things, I thought I might excel him in others." The friend "reprobated the idea"; but yet, when Hogg's first poem was made known to the world, the assumption did not perhaps seem so audacious, for there are passages in "The Queen's Wake" which are of a delicate and visionary beauty, such as Burns never attempted. The poem of "Bonnie Kilmeny," for instance, in my own case one of the objects of a child's adoration, has still to my ear an exquisite sweetness and purity, a feeling which I think most readers must share.
Mr. Blackwood's first connection with the Shepherd was, as we have seen, on the occasion of the failure of the publisher, an Edinburgh man, unknown except locally, who published "The Queen's Wake." Blackwood had acted as trustee in the bankruptcy of Goldie, and did his best to secure the amount of his just remuneration to Hogg, who seems even at that period to have already been an acquaintance at least, and who was also known to Constable, to whom he took his first volume. He himself reports a conversation of his with Constable on the subject, which shows something of the mingled familiarity and rudeness for which the Shepherd was afterwards distinguished. Constable very naturally asked to see the manuscript which he was requested to publish. "What skill have you about the merits of a book?" asked Hogg. "It may be so, Hogg," said he; "but I know as well how to sell a book as any man, which should be some concern of yours; and I know how to buy one, too!" Hogg, on the whole, made not a bad thing of "The Queen's Wake." The particulars I have unfortunately mislaid: but so far as my recollection serves me, the sum realised was £240: which, indeed, as the profits on a small book of poetry, — well known as a generally unsaleable article, and which was his first introduction to the world, — was comparatively a large sum, and would, we think, dazzle a provincial poet now; but the age was one which, in the flush of a poetic revival, read much poetry, and, what is perhaps of more importance, bought it. Even at this beginning of his career Hogg was not a young man. "I was forty," he says, "before I wrote 'The Queen's Wake';" and he had already had sharp experience of life, having been a farm-servant, a shepherd, and a small farmer, one after the other. At the time his first poem was written he was a resident in Edinburgh; but soon after he was presented by the Duke of Buccleuch, in memory of the Duchess, who had died a short time before, with "the small farm of Altrive Lake, in the wilds of Yarrow." The Duchess had wished to give the poet a house, and this was the manner in which her husband carried out her wish. "In the letter he said, 'The rent shall be nominal'; but it has not even been nominal, for such a thing as rent has never once been mentioned." There was never a more pretty mode of patronage, nor a more touching way of paying regard to the wishes of the dead.
This gift enabled the Shepherd to resume the mode of life that was natural to him, and one of the first letters we find gives a very pleasant picture of the household and habits of the farmer-poet, to whom his poetry was not only a crown but a solid foundation, meaning at this period of life prosperity and honour, as well as admission to a class of society quite inaccessible to any other man of his degree. "I was a frequent guest at his Grace's table," he says, "and as he placed me always next him on his right hand, I enjoyed a great deal of his conversation." Hogg's position at the Duke's right hand may perhaps require authentication; but he had unquestionably a still higher advancement, being received familiarly and kindly into his most intimate circle by Scott; and in the young group of the Blackwood men he was at first an important figure. The following letter is dated from his little farmhouse among the hills, August 12, 1816, before as yet the great enterprise of the Magazine had been taken up:—
"James Hogg to W. Blackwood.
You may think me ungrateful in not writing to you as I promised, especially when you have been so mindful of me; but once you see how barren my letter is, you will think different. There is not an article here that can have any interest to a citizen; for though there are a number of blackcocks, muirfowl, on our hills, there are such a crew of idle fellows (mostly from Edinburgh, I daresay) broke loose on them to-day, that it seems to a peaceful listener at a distance like me as if the French were arrived at the Forest. Yet all this, and everything I have it in my power to mention, you know must take place of course. In fact, the people of Edinburgh should always write to their friends in the country, and never expect any answer. For my part, I know that all the letters I ever received from the country while I was there were most insipid, nor can it otherwise be. We converse only with the elements, and our concerns are of the most trivial and simple nature. For my part, I feel myself so much at home here, and so much in the plain rustic state in which I spent my early years, that I have even forgot to think or muse at all, and my thoughts seem as vacant as the wilderness around me. I even wonder at some of my own past ideas. I have neither written nor corrected a line since I left Edinburgh, and as I never intend returning to it for any length of time, I think I may safely predict without the spirit of prophecy that you have seen the best, and most likely all, of my productions that you ever will see. They have gained me but little fame and far less profit; and certainly the most graceful way of giving up the contest is to retire indignant into my native glens, and consort with the rustic friends of my early youth. This is no rhodomontade, my dear sir, but the genuine sentiments of my heart at this time. Do not, however, neglect to favour me still with a reading of all new works in my own way. I will return the 'Melodies,' but I will keep this and the future Nos. of the 'Review,' and you or Murray may debit me with it as cheap as you like. The 'Melodies' bear a few striking touches of a master's hand, but there are some of them feeble, and I think they must be Lady B.'s. She is not equal to Moore for Melodies. I am still harassed with visitors, most of them what you Edinburgh people would call great skemps; but there have been a few here whom I was truly glad to see, among whom I may mention Wilson, and Ballantyne in Kelso, whom you know I very much admire: but though the weather was delightful, and though he testified the highest delight with the scenery of our lakes, he was not at all in his usual spirits. Pray let me hear from you on every emergency, if it were but two or three lines; the oftener the better. We have no post nor any carrier from this, and I neither know how nor when I am to get this letter carried. Query, Am I to get any new editions betwixt this and the New Year? Is 'The Thistle and the Rose' abandoned for ever?"
The works that followed were scarcely so successful as "The Queen's Wake," and Hogg's letters are chiefly occupied by the announcement of ineffective volumes and negotiations for their publication. He was introduced to Mr. Murray by Blackwood, and apparently raised an interest in the mind of that gentleman — who took a share with Mr. Blackwood in several of his books, and was kind to the Shepherd, sending him books ("Emma," for instance, which Murray considered likely to be a pleasing and profitable present to the Shepherd), and showing him much of the indulgent and good-humoured patronage which Hogg met with everywhere. Hogg himself was familiar and easy in his communication with all; and even the great Murray did not daunt the outspoken poet. But Blackwood was his chief dependence and closest friend. Here is a proposal, however, of a kind which we may be sure the publisher, who took so conscientious a view of his own responsibility, did not accept:—
"My 'Cottage Winter Nights' is ready for the press: if you are for them, tell me. The conditions, of course, shall be of your own making for the first edition; but, as I want money particularly, I will give you the copyright for £63, 7s. per volume of 300 pages. The work consists of the Rural and Traditional Tales of Scotland. They are simple, carelessly and badly written, but said to be very interesting. 'The Bridal of Balwood,' which you read, is the longest tale; not the best, but a fair specimen. I tell you the honest truth, which you may depend on; but, to prevent you from plaguing me with alterations, you shall not see them till printed. Write me minutely about all these things. It is a great pity but that my poetry should have been published in three small neat volumes before this review had appeared. What the devil can be the risk in publishing 100 copies of the first vol., and 500 of each of the other two?"
It would seem from the following letters, which were written in the summer of 1817, that at the period already described, when Blackwood was in the utmost trouble about the early series of the Magazine, and the two unsuccessful editors, Pringle and Cleghorn, Hogg was one of those to whom he appealed for help and sympathy, though, in the light of after-events, he seems an unlikely adviser. But at that period the Shepherd — the author of "The Queen's Wake," who had not yet committed himself to any of the futilities of his after-life, but was considered to have a fine career before him — had perhaps more weight than at any after-period. The freedom and boldness of his opinions are amusing: he had at least no doubt in his own mind as to his qualifications as a literary adviser:—
"ALTRIVE LAKE, August 12, 1817.
My hay-harvest is but just commenced, and is this year large in proportion to the hands I have to work it. Next month the Highland cattle come, so that I cannot get to Edinburgh at present without incurring a loss, for which my literary labours, if they are as usual, would but ill remunerate me. I am greatly concerned about your Magazine; but I have some dependence on your spirit not to let it drop or relax till your literary friends gather again about you. Wilson's papers, though not perfect, have a masterly cast about them: a little custom would make him the best periodical writer of the age, — keep hold of him. I regret much that you have told me so little of your plan: if the name is to change, who is to be the editor, &c. For myself, I am doing nothing save working at hay, fishing, &c. Save two or three Hebrew Melodies, I have not written a line since I left Edinburgh. I cannot leave the country just now. Crafty always affirms that, of all classes ever he had to do with, the literary men are the worst and most ungrateful. I am very sorry to see this so often verified."
The next, which gives a lively picture of his own wellbeing, must have been written not very long after, though it is without date:—
"I take the half of my last sheet of paper to write you a few lines, and implore of you not to insist on my coming to town just yet. Believe me, you do not know what you ask. It is cruel in the extreme. Can I leave my fine house, my greyhounds, my curling-stones, my silver punch-bowl and mug, my country friends, my sister, and my sweetheart, to come and plunge into general dissipation? And, worst of all, can I leave Home, a house made by my own hand, and the most snug and comfortable that ever perhaps was made, to be a lodger in the house of another, my own ingle-cheek, dish, and night-gown, with my parents [waiting] assiduously on me — only to be a pest to others or to [pay] horridly for lodgings and keep the same establishment at home. I know it is all kindness and affection in you; but they are misdirected, for every one who wishes me to spend my life happily would wish me to spend it at home. Besides, I cannot take any hand in managing the publication, or pushing the sale of my own works. If delicacy even permitted it, I am the worst hand in the world to do such a thing. Further than the proofs, I can do nothing. You are right. The Magazine is a most excellent one. I never was so much diverted with anything as with the expedition to the Kirk of Shotts."
The next letter shows the very different regime which was now in operation, to which Hogg's advice was quite unnecessary, and himself sometimes treated with but scant courtesy, which, however, in the early days of the Magazine, and beginning of the wild pranks of the "Noctes," he had the discretion to take in very good part. It begins with an apology for not writing before a visit of Mr. Blackwood's to London:—
ALTRIVE, October 29, 1819.
I had nothing to write about that you did not know before. I knew you would make such arrangements with Murray about the Works, and Jacobite Relics, as you judged best for me; for though I am of late beginning to have some inward feelings of your remissness as a publisher, I have never had one of your truth and affection as a friend. I wrote a long letter to Wilson on the subject of 'The Tent'; though not a communication, it might be called a letter of localities, which he might have availed himself of. To my great regret that letter was lost. But really I had been so much mortified by the refusal of all my pieces that I cannot bear to think of writing for the Magazine now. And though I always praise it above all other periodical works, and wish it with all my heart every success, yet would I rather sit down and write for the shabbiest work in the kingdom, where everything I write is received. Indeed, I have always felt that to whatever I gave my desired adhesion, I might have disgraced myself, but my name now should not be a disgrace to any literary work.
"I think that all my friends, without exception, think that the editors have dealt cavalierly with me in 'The Tent' verses, and that their versification is meant to injure my literary character throughout. I have judged as impartially of the thing as I can, and I do not see it. I think it is excellent sport, and very good-natured sport besides. I might pretend to be angry — I could easily do that — but the truth is I am not. I do not see that the contrast between such an ignorant, blundering, good-natured fellow and his poetry can have anything but a good effect. I only wish the quiz on my worthy friend Dr. Russell had been left out, as I am universally blamed for it here, and it is likely to cherish a good deal of ill-will among friends that were formerly so happy together."
The Shepherd did not always continue so good-natured. He complains somewhere, and one must feel with very good reason, of having ballads and verses of all kinds which he had never seen put into his mouth; and this indeed was hard, even if the verses — as possibly was the case — were better than his own. One little criticism creeps in even into the above good-natured letter: "With all their cleverness and carelessness of composition (which has generally, I think, a good grace), I cannot help feeling that the two last numbers are too egoistical, which never has a good grace." This is very well said, though perhaps Hogg himself, the most egoistical of writers, was not the man to say it.
The following letter, addressed to Mr. Blackwood, but the beginning of which has been changed from "Dear Sir" into "Dear Christopher," as if intended for publication, though it has no appearance of having gone through any printer's hands, may be quoted as a good specimen of Hogg in prose, in one of the rustic stories of which he afterwards printed so many, and which are now absolutely forgotten. It will show what was the realism of that early day in comparison with the present much-prevailing Literature of the Kailyard, as it has been aptly called. Hogg has nothing ornamental or sentimental in his unvarnished tale:—
"I enclose you a very curious letter from a cousin-german of my own to his son, who still remains in this country.... The writer [Laidlaw] was a highly respected shepherd, and as successful as most men in the same degree of life; but for a number of years bygone he talked and read about America till he grew perfectly unhappy; and at last, when approaching his sixtieth year, actually set off to seek a temporary home and a grave in the New World: but some of his sons had formed attachments at home, and refused to accompany him.
"He was always a singular and highly amusing character, cherishing every antiquated and exploded idea in science, religion, and politics. He never was at any school, and what scraps of education he had obtained had been picked up by himself. Nothing excited his indignation more than the theory of the earth whirling round on its axis and journeying round the sun: he had many strong logical arguments against it, and nailed them all with Scripture. When he first began to hear tell of North America, about twenty years ago, he would not believe that Fife was not it! and thought he saw it from the Castlehill of Edinburgh. I remember, and always will, a night that I had with him about nineteen years ago. He and one Walter Bryden, better known by the appellation of Cow Wat, along with James Hogg, the celebrated Ettrick tailor, and myself, were together in a little change-house one evening. After the whisky had begun to operate, Laidlaw and Cow Wat went to loggerheads about [free] will, on which their tenets of belief totally differed. The dispute was carried on with such acrimony on both sides that Wat had several times heaved his great cudgel, and threatened to knock his opponent down. Laidlaw, perceiving that the tailor and I were convulsed with laughter, joined us for some time with all his heart; but all at once he began to look grave, and the tear stood in his eye. 'Ay, ye may laugh,' said he; 'great gommerals! it's weel kent ye are just twae that laugh at everything that's good. You have mair need to pray for the puir auld heretick than laugh at him, when you see he's on the braid way that leads to destruction. I'm really sorry for the puir auld scoondrel, and troth I think we sude join and pray for him. For my part I sal lend my mite.' With that he laid off his old slouched hat, and kneeled down on the floor, leaning forward on a chair, where he prayed a long prayer for Cow Wat, as he familiarly termed him, when representing his forlorn case to his Maker. I do not know what I would give now to have a copy of that prayer. It was so cutting that before the end Wat rose up, foaming with rage, heaved his stick, and cried, 'I tell ye, gie ower, Jamie Laidlaw; I winna be prayed for that gate.' If there were different places and degrees of punishment, he said, as the auld hoary reprobate maintained — that was to say, three or four hells — then he prayed that poor Cow Wat might be preferred to the easiest ane. We couldna expect nae better a place for sic a man, and indeed we would be ashamed to ask it. But, on the ither hand, continued he, if it be true that the object of our petitions cheated James Cunningham and Sandy o' Bowershope out of from twa to three hunder pounds o' lamb-siller, why we can hardly ask such a situation for him; and if it be further true that he left his ain wife, Nanny Stothart, and took up with another (whom he named, name and surname), really we have not the face to ask any mitigation for him at a'.
"The tailor and I, and another — I forget who it was, but I think it was probably Adie o' Aberloch — were obliged to hold Wat by main force upon his chair till the prayer was finished."
Whether this letter and the other which it enclosed shared the fate of all the "pieces" which were so remorselessly refused by the authorities of the Magazine, we cannot tell; but we find presently that Hogg had been transferring his works to another publisher without Mr. Blackwood's knowledge, a practice which seems not to have been unusual with him. It would seem that Blackwood had remonstrated, and the Shepherd replies as follows. The manner in which, in defending himself against that just wrath, he suddenly introduces a hot blast of his own grievances, is clumsily skilful in its use of a well-known artifice
I do not know how to answer your letter: it has put me in my ill-humour. I see no right you nor the nearest friend has to interfere with my bargains with other men. It is a maxim with the trade to monopolise every author whom they once publish a book for, and that no other man may take a share on any conditions. If you do not remember the transaction of refusing to take 'The Mountain Bard' into the proposals for the small edition of my works, I do, which is quite sufficient for my purpose. I pressed the works on Boyd, so that he is blameless, and intend to give him, or rather the Company, more, as soon as I have them at command. I never doubted either your honour or your friendship, but friendship will not sell my editions. Oliver & Boyd have sold 1500 copies of my tales in five months, and have already given me a letter for the price of the next edition. One cannot help making comparisons in their own mind. If you are really my friend, will you not allow me this, that if Oliver & Boyd sell more of 'The Mountain Bard' in one year than you and your London friends do of 'The Queen's Wake' in seven, will you not allow that I do right in letting them have such editions as suit their sale?
"I am almost rueing the day that I ever saw you. I have had letters, newspapers, and magazines poured in upon me from every part of the country. No one has any right to publish aught in my name without consulting me. I cannot be embroiled with the public in this way, and far less right have others to intermeddle thus publicly with what liberties I think proper to allow my friends. It is confoundedly hard that I should be made a tennis-ball between contending parties. If you can find out by the write or otherwise who the shabby scoundrel is that writes the enclosed, pray return it to him in a blank cover.
"Remember, never more mention to me my bargain with any others. I will bargain with whom I please and when I please, and for you to tell me your mind on such a subject was anything but friendly, especially a work which you never had any connection with, and never wished any."
But, alas! the Shepherd's high-handed loftiness of tone soon breaks down in an urgent plea in respect to a fifty pounds which, whether it is due to him or not, as an advance upon future work, or on account of profits reckoned upon with much more confidence by author than by publisher, is at least very much wanted. Blackwood was on the eve of a journey to London, and "if you go away I may be left in the lurch, having no other certain resource." It would appear to have been Murray who ought to have paid this fifty pounds, and there is repeated discussion whether Mr. Scott should be asked to write to him, or Mr. Blackwood to speak to him, which the latter declines to do. "I dare not let you away without making sure of the cash," says Hogg. This fifty pounds, or another, is always cropping up to pull the Shepherd's spirits down, or to make him feel with greater bitterness the want of confidence shown in his gifts and in his power to please the public. For he was no thrifty Scot, unfortunately for himself, any more than Burns was, or, on a larger argument, Scott himself, the leader and head of his generation. It is curious, indeed, how little this supposed national characteristic appears in the greatest of Scotsmen, though we should not attempt to place Hogg in that category. The Shepherd was always in sore need of that fifty pounds.
Here, however, is a sketch in the first year of the Magazine, in a letter dated from Abbotsford, of a happier record. At that moment he was no neglected contributor, but, to his own consciousness, putting a powerful shoulder to the wheel, in cheerful confidence of being no insignificant member of the team. We think he had some hand in the suggestion of Will Laidlaw as one of the regular staff. And the glimpse he affords us of that homely workman, and of the kind master's hand which trimmed up and put in order the monthly Chronicle supplied by Laidlaw, is attractive and delightful:—
"Along with Scott's and Laidlaw's contributions to your miscellany, I also enclose my mite, a little Hebrew melody, which was written for a London work, but not yet published. Perhaps I may get my tale finished likewise before I leave this, which I will forward; but now when I see so much good original matter here I am not anxious. I actually pop'd in on Mr. Scott on Saturday in the very act of toiling for you, uncompanionable being that you are, taking up all the poets and men of genius in the country peddling at your small hard-wares! I have spoken to Laidlaw and Scott, both separately and together, about the detail business of the Magazine. The former is perfectly willing to do either way, but thinks that with a little attention on your part in forwarding papers, fixed instructions, &c., he might do it well enough, and he appears to me to be taking a good deal of pains to that. If the Register is defective, I will scarcely think it his blame. Scott spoke with so much impatience of it that I did not think meet to dwell on the subject. My own opinion is, since an arrangement between you is understood to exist, it should stand as it is for a season or a volume: at least it looks so unstable to propose alterations by the time things re well begun. If Scott sees the least symptom of your neglect of Laidlaw, I find he is off at a tangent at once; and it is not only that the want of his support would injure your work, but what his name would effect in your opponent's: policy is requisite even with the greatest heroes. Now that Laidlaw has furnished one anecdote of the shepherd's dog, mine will follow better next month. Go on with my Tales, so that I may not say you will not publish anything. If any sheets require to be sent to me, send them under cover to the Duke of Buccleuch."
The reader will see by reference to a previous chapter how little need there was for Hogg's supposed "menagement," and how simply Scott himself treated the difficulty of Laidlaw as to the monthly Register. The anecdote of the shepherd's dog referred to, and which has been already noted in these pages, is a piece of admirable composition, bearing very clear marks of the master's hand. In a postscript to this letter Hogg adds:—
"I spoke to Scott of our plan of an octavo edition of the works. He is decided on the plan, and thinks it should be put about immediately. He wishes for one copy of his prospectus before he writes the new advertisement, which please forward to him by next coach, reminding him shortly of the purpose for which it is sent, or he may forget it among so many concerns."
This refers to a subscription edition of Hogg's works, which had been projected some time before. It had been originally intended to be printed in two volumes, but Murray strongly advised one as more saleable. The printed prospectus for the original scheme had therefore to be changed on this suggestion, and I have the amended prospectus, half printed, supplemented with a further advertisement in Scott's handwriting, pressing the Shepherd's claims. Thus, writing an article for one humble friend, drawing out the prospectus of another, cordial with both as a brother, we see Scott's benign shadow behind these two rustic writers, backing up both. Both of them liked to surround him with a halo of the unapproachable: Hogg finding him impatient, ready to start off at a tangent; Laidlaw professing himself afraid to bring some point of detail under his notice — while he, unconscious, and much the most ready to understand of all, gently brushes these cobwebs away. Scott appears constantly as the adviser and helper of the Shepherd, sometimes giving him advice that is not palatable, sometimes backing him up with the most friendly steadfastness. There is mention in another letter of a book, "a romance," which Hogg desires to publish anonymously:
And if you did not really consider it an object to you, I would rather have it in some respectable company's hands in London. I not only think that you make your general publishing a very subordinate consideration, but I do not like to have all my ventures, however small, in one hand. I was down on a long visit at Fleurs, Kelso, Abbotsford, &c., and saw a good deal of Scott. I told him of my work and of my plan, but he did not approve of it. He asked if you had dealt honourably by me? I said always like a brother; but I feared that you were so much engaged with your miscellany that you were careless as a publisher. This he would not admit of. A man's own interest, he said, would improve that: and finally said, if my work was an object to you, as my friend you should have it; if not, he would assist me in making any bargain. I do not suspect you, my dear friend, in that sense. I know that 'The Brownie' should have gone through more editions than either two or three. I have been assured of it again and again by gentlemen that had no interested motive in saying so, and who know better than either you or me. One gentleman told me that from the interest with which it was first read in London he considered it would have sold as well as any novel ever published; but that the work appeared to all men to have been suppressed, and was never yet to be had in a shop in England. I beg you will not mention this work to any one living, as I mean to send it to press in a different handwriting, and positively to deny it. But as I never met with anything but candour and truth from you, I am resolved not to do anything underhand.
"I wish you would publish the Jacobite Songs, and really let folk hear a little of the works you are going to publish and have published, if it were only on the cover of a Magazine. It will not do merely to get them printed and make Lesley bring them up in large bales to the shop. Mine are carefully kept out of all your lists. But enough of reflection: a dull author, I am aware, always blames his publisher. I have looked over the Magazine, which is a very commonplace one."
A second letter on the same subject shows still more fully the confidence of Hogg in the good-nature of the publisher whom he wishes to deprive of the advantage of producing his book, but who magnanimously takes in hand to procure another bookseller for him:—
"As the carrier has missed a week, I have time to add a few words more to those enclosed. There is really scarce a practicability of correspondence with any part of the world from this place, and to me it has no other fault whatever.
"I really would like better that my book were published in London, because my bookseller and stile are so well known that I may as well put my name to it as publish it with you. I do not know about the transaction. I myself will never try to do it, and I take it very kind in you offering your experienced hand, though it is only of a piece with all your doings formerly. It is, however, somewhat ticklish. Should I trust it solely to Mr. Scott, it would be conducted through the medium of Ballantyne, and would likely fall into hands I should not like, most probably Hurst & Robinson. I might as well give up all previous connections and publish it at home. With Murray and Cadell or Davies I should be in the same scrape as with yourself. I really think, then, that you should try your hand with Longman & Co., and if you cannot arrange matters, we shall try what can be done some other way. Be sure you keep them in the dark: I would not even tell them the name, but merely that it is a Romance or Tale of Chivalry, in two volumes, descriptive of the characters of the English and Scots Borderers in ancient times. I remember of having a letter once from Longman & Co., wherein they stated one-sixth to be their proportion of the author's profits, but that, indeed, was on a small edition. However, I leave this entirely to yourself. If you think proper to do this, the sooner you begin the correspondence the better, as I would like to have everything ready for throwing it off in the spring when I am in town."
This perhaps is a unique instance of the employment of one publisher to arrange terms with another for the publication of a book. The book in question was probably one called "The Three Perils of Man," published by Messrs Longman, apparently in 1822. "Lord preserve us! what a medley I made of it! for I never in my life rewrote a page of prose," says Hogg in his Autobiography; "and being impatient to get hold of some of Messrs Longman's money or their bills, which were the same, I dashed on, and mixed up with what might have been one of the best historical tales our country ever produced such a mass of 'dablerie' as retarded the main story, and rendered the whole perfectly ludicrous." Blackwood, it is clear, was well out of the undertaking, but it was not wholly unprofitable to the Shepherd, who received "one hundred and fifty pounds for the edition of one thousand copies as soon as it was put to the press." Another work, entitled "The Three Perils of Woman," seems to have had a similar measure of success.
All this press and eagerness of publication was intended to install Hogg in the new and larger farm of Mount Benger, which eventually ruined him, so far as a man in his position, with so little need for keeping up appearances, and so buoyant a spirit, could be ruined. He had the same object in his volume of Jacobite Relics, which was undertaken by Messrs Blackwood and Murray, and about which he writes a great many letters. Here is another characteristic grumble. It is evidently written on the occasion of one of Mr. Murray's visits to Scotland, when he was at Abbotsford, and engaged with a greater than Hogg. The Shepherd never was able to see any reason why he himself and his concerns should not be always interesting:—
I was vexed that I got so little cracking with Murray. Scott and he had so many people to crack about, whom nobody knows ought about but themselves, that they monopolised the whole conversation. Tell me seriously, is the sale of my Tales really sticked, that neither of you will mention them, either by writing or word of mouth? There is surely no impropriety in my making this inquiry."
Poor Hogg by this time, however, had grown into a general sense of injury with all the world. The free use made of his name in all the jests of the Magazine was quite enough to inflame a man of his temper, feeling himself at a disadvantage, even through the tough armour of his self-conceit. He threw forth freely complaints, criticisms, and threats. On one occasion he desires that various articles he had sent should be returned to him:—
"I have been quizzed too much by your chaps already; I will not so easily take again. I am writing for another Magazine, with all my birr, and intend having most excellent sport with it, as the editors will not understand what one sentence of my celebrated allegories mean till they bring the whole terror of Edinburgh aristocracy upon them. For the soul that is in your body mention this to no man living. You have quite forgot to send me a newspaper. I care not though they lie two or three days in the shop. A Saturday paper is soon enough to me by Wednesday's post, or a Wednesday paper by the Saturday one. There are some very able papers in the last Magazine, but I do not think the selection likely to add much to its popularity."
On another occasion:—
"This last number is not near so interesting as the former: there is too much of pompous fine writing in it, at least attempts at it. Such papers as that declamatory one on the state of parties are not the kind of political papers that will stand the test. But enough of that which is not agreeable: no wonder that I begin to feel a cold side to a work which holds such an avowed one to me."
An amusing little quarrel seems to have taken place about Hogg in the summer of 1821, which, as it shows something of the publisher's attitude, and is in itself a curious little passage of arms, may be given here. Hogg's Autobiography, a work very offensive to many persons, and open to the severest criticism, had been commented on very freely, and certainly with no delicacy of treatment, in the Magazine. James Ballantyne was at the time the printer employed by Blackwood. And here is his protest against the coarse and unlovely fun of the article. We imagine it would startle the publishers of to-day, almost as much as Balaam was startled by an unlooked-for remonstrance, did there proceed from any printing-office charged with their work an indignant appeal like this:—
"James Ballantyne to W. Blackwood.
Do you really mean to insert that most clever but most indecently scurrilous attack upon Hogg? For my own part, I do not stand up for Hogg's conduct; but such language as is applied to him appears to me absolutely unwarrantable, and in your Magazine peculiarly and shockingly offensive.
"You will do as you think best certainly; but I must at once say that if it goes in I must withdraw, in all subsequent numbers, from the concern. How much I shall regret this on many accounts I need not say; but I cannot allow such an article to appear with even my implied approbation attached to it. It is hard, you may think, that an editor should be fettered by his printer; but I cannot help this. The printer must not be made to encounter what he considers to be disgrace."
Mr. Blackwood immediately replied as follows:—
"W. Blackwood to James Ballantyne.
The article on Hogg is to be very much altered indeed, else you may depend upon it that I could not allow it to appear. But really of this you must permit me to be judge, for, disagreeable and unpleasant as it would be for us to part, I cannot submit to be told what I must not insert in the Magazine. My character and interest are at stake, and you may depend upon it that nothing will appear in the Magazine but what it will be both for my credit and interest to publish, and, of course, for you to print.
"While I feel myself obliged to say this, I beg to assure you that nothing will give me greater pleasure than to receive any remarks from you at all times. As a friend, I will value them, as you know that no man is more open to reason than I am; but as your favourite Bard says, 'Not upon compulsion, Hal.'
"All I shall add is, that I hope we shall never have two words of difference upon this or any other subject that will be unpleasant to either of us."
But Signor Aldiborontiphoscophornio could not let well alone:—
Surely, my dear sir, I never could say or hint that you were not the sole and irresponsible judge of what is to be inserted in your own Magazine? Certain it is, at least, that I had no intention to convey any such absurd meaning, and I hereby disclaim it as strongly as possible. All that I meant to say was — and surely the earlier and the more explicitly it was said the better — that I regarded the article on Hogg, as it at present stands, as of such a nature that if it were published in its present shape I could not continue to be the printer. This, you are aware, is only exerting in my own case that power of judging and deciding which every man of independence must exert in order to secure the continuance of his independence.
"I assure you, my dear sir, I am far too well aware of the value of your employment and confidence hastily or rashly to forfeit it; and I think nothing is more likely than that in most cases that regard the feelings of honourable minds we shall agree; and I truly rejoice that great alterations are to be made in the article. You will allow that it needs them."
This ill-judged attempt to have the last word, and show his superiority, brought down the following thunderbolt upon Ballantyne's head. It is dashed off in a hurry, the "brouillon," according to Blackwoodian custom, hot and strong, being written upon the back of the culprit's letter:—
"W. Blackwood to J. Ballantyne.
All that I have to say in answer to your note, which I have this moment read, is that if your former letter meant anything, it certainly meant that you were to be the judge of what it was fitting for you to print. And while I think it is right and proper for every man to reject or retain any employment that may be offered to him, it quite revolts against all my feelings to be placed in such an alternative as you so positively announce to me in your letter. What I would have reckoned both kind and proper of you at any time was to tell me when any article struck you as objectionable, both on your account and my own; and if you then found me unreasonable, or thought at any rate I was so, and that you would be injured even by printing such a thing, though no way responsible as publisher, you could then act as you thought best. But really, in the first instance, to tell me plump that you must decline, &c., does not appear to me like what I should have expected from you.
"However, nothing more need be said."
Ballantyne seems to have conquered any desire he may have had to reply, and everything went on as before: but the little exhibition of character on both sides — the one, conscious of being no common printer, a little showy and explanatory, bent on flourishing his flag, the other decisive in cutting it down — affords an amusing episode. It is referred to in a letter from Blackwood to Hogg further on. The article in question was published, with a note appended from Christopher North, to the effect that it was all a joke, and possibly written by the Shepherd himself — which, we presume, was intended to be conciliatory. But fortunately it is not at all necessary to enter into so unattractive a subject. It adds, however, a fine variety to the too common situation to see behind the wild wits in the foreground and the clown of genius red and resentful in his clumsy exasperation — the plain man behind holding the reins, not without a strain and effort, and rather glad upon occasion to let loose his own provoked feelings upon any chance objector who came in his way.
We have said there was always a £50 which on some account or other Hogg was convinced that either Mr. Blackwood or Mr. Murray owed him, and which he was bent on extracting from the former, either directly or by a letter to be written by him to Murray. The transaction had been repeated so often, now on one ground, now on another, that the reader by degrees comes to think of it as a sort of floating property upon which the Shepherd could always calculate, which he called in from time to time, yet could always go back upon, finding it perennially available. We have little doubt that this had grown to be Hogg's own view. And he was always in want of £50. He was so constantly in want of it, and so many chances had occurred, softenings on the part of Blackwood, impulses of careless generosity on the part of Murray, to procure it for him, that he went on asking for it with a degree of innocency that obliterated the real facts of the case altogether. But a publisher's temper and nerves were not invulnerable any more than those of other men; and whether it was that the claim was less warranted than usual, or that Blackwood was completely tired out by its repetition, it is evident that he was moved to make a stand against it from time to time. Hogg's letters are the most curious medley of entreaty, remonstrance, and abuse, the latter predominating even when he had a favour to ask. We need not go more closely into the correspondence, which on this particular subject is voluminous: discussing in detail the ground upon which the claim is founded, the desirability, if not of paying it forthwith, at least of writing to somebody who must pay it: along with that perennial grievance of the author who cannot understand how it is that his books do not pay, and is convinced that some wickedness of the publisher, false accounts, or indolence in pushing, or a small edition instead of a larger one, or utter indifference to the success of a given book altogether, is the cause of it. Mr. Blackwood's replies to a great many of these troublesome demands become at last very decided though still friendly. Hogg, it will be seen, was very critical concerning other publications which were more fortunate than his own
"W. Blackwood to James Hogg.
15th May 1821.
It is very odd, indeed, that Mr. Murray has paid no attention to your letters. I would be very happy if it were in my power, but I regret that at present it is not, for as to interfering in any way with Mr. Murray, it is a thing that I could not think of doing. It would also be very indelicate in me to apply to Sir Walter Scott, who, if he were to do you the favour to make any advance on Mr. Murray's account, would most certainly expect you to apply to him direct yourself and not through another. At the same time, you cannot say that Mr. Murray is due you more than the £50 on account of 'The Queen's Wake,' for it depends upon the copies sold what may be due for 'The Brownie.'... If Sir Walter would write to him, I am sure he would not refuse to settle. I think you might draw a bill upon Mr. Murray for 'The Queen's Wake,' and send it through a banker, writing him at the same time that you have done so. This he would surely honour, and it would not trouble Sir Walter — a thing concerning which there can be no dispute or objection. It is with regard to 'The Brownie' that you require Sir Walter's assistance.
"As to giving you any assistance myself I am very sorry I cannot, for just now I have fully as much to do as I can well manage. You know I never in my life before refused you any money you ever asked from me, and therefore I hope you will excuse me for once.
"I am surprised at your having such a very humble opinion of the 'Parish Annals,' but I am happy to tell you that it is very differently estimated by Mr. Henry Mackenzie, Sir Walter Scott, Professor Wilson, Mr. Lockhart, and fifty others, who are all loud in its praises. I am also happy to say that you are mistaken as to its sale, for in three or four days there were nearly 500 copies sold in London, and I have already sold here nearly 400 copies. In short, I have seldom published a more popular or valuable book.
"I do not understand what you allude to when you say I let men of real genius slip through my fingers. I should be much obliged to you if you would tell me what you mean.
"Mrs. B. desires me to say that she thinks you are improvident in giving the young Christian two names, for you may perhaps, like us, run out of laddies' names. She begs to be remembered kindly to Mrs. Hogg.
This note, uneasily severe, redeemed by the amusing touch of family kindness at the end, shows the struggle with very natural resentment which was going on in Blackwood's breast. In the next his sentiments are more distinct and precise:—
June 6, 1821.
Yesterday I received yours of the 2nd. As you say you had mislaid my letter, I conclude that you have forgotten its contents, else you would not have said that I wrote 'snapping at you.' I wrote to you simply and fairly that I consider it would be most indelicate of me to apply to Sir Walter, who, if he were inclined to do you a favour, would naturally expect you should apply for it yourself. I think so still, and so will any one who knows anything of the world or of common-sense. As to interfering with Mr. Murray, I have told you all along it is a thing which I cannot do.... You should write to Sir Walter Scott, and if he would have the goodness to apply to Mr. Murray for you, I have no doubt that he would get the accounts of 'The Brownie' closed with me, and whatever balance was due to you would be immediately paid.
"I must tell you frankly you need not have made such a supposition as that I had resolved to withdraw from you my confidence and friendship. I have never made any professions to you, either in words or by writing, but what you have had the most substantial evidence of their truth and sincerity. You never in your life asked anything from me but what I instantly granted, if in my power. You thought others could be of more use to you; and though I might have expected a little consideration for my feelings, if not for what I had done for you, yet you know this made no alteration in my conduct towards you; and I settled all our transactions as if nothing of the kind had occurred, and in a way which you were satisfied was highly liberal. It is most painful to me to allude to any of these things, and I never wish to think of them; but you force me to do so, by your seeming to expect that I should again make you advances of money. This I really cannot afford to do, and I hope you will be satisfied that in present circumstances you should no expect it.
"According to your desire I called last night at Mr. Grieve's, but found, most unfortunately, that he had gone to the country. I was very sorry for this, as I have never heard a syllable from him with regard to the bond of credit. I am as willing as ever to be security for the sum you proposed, provided, as I told you, that Mr. Grieve approves of it, and sees that it is really to be useful to you."
The bond of credit referred, as the Scottish reader will perceive, to the standing credit with his banker, which, when guaranteed by solvent persons, it is the system of the Scottish banks to give. It is also the traditionary means by which in many a story, and alas! in many incidents in real life, the unfortunate surety is ruined; but it still ranks in Scotland, we believe, as a service which a man can reasonably ask of his friends. Blackwood was surety to the Bank for James Ballantyne, and also for Hogg, and probably many more.
The quarrel went on in a way which is almost de rigueur between author and publisher — Hogg asserting that "The Brownie" ("Brownie of Bodsbeck," a collection of tales published by Blackwood and Murray which had not been successful — but this the author was naturally unwilling to believe) was to appear in an edition of 2000; Blackwood calmly proving by enclosure of the printer's account that it was nothing of the kind: Hogg insisting that by means of this mistake he had written imperatively to Mr. Murray, and been "too precipitate"; Blackwood replying that the mistake was entirely his own.
"It is a great misfortune to you [adds the publisher] that you allow your imagination to run away with your memory, and then, after allowing your mind to dwell on your own fancies, you positively assert them as truths. I am glad I have it in my power to put you right in a way you cannot dispute; but it is the first time I have been under the necessity of bringing forward a printer's account to substantiate any of my statements, either with authors or with any of my correspondents."
The correspondence after this becomes involved with other persons — a banker in Galashiels, who was to have retained in his hands a bill which was to be applied in payment of another bill, — an involved negotiation, of which it is as difficult as wholly unnecessary to follow through the weary evolution, — and who advised Hogg that Mr. Blackwood was "making a great deal of unnecessary fuss," an intimation which Mr. Blackwood naturally resented. Hogg's utter confusion of mind, as he endeavours to thread his way through the convolutions of a series of transactions quite beyond his capacity, is half pathetic and half laughable:—
I said I knew nothing about the routine of such business as how far an agent was entitled to give up any security he had received; but I begged that at all events he would satisfy you in the meantime until I could see you. Mr. Craig, though a most honourable and disinterested man, is noted for a sort of stubborn perverseness when in the least crossed; and what may make him more cautious, perhaps, he has advanced me money for the other two-thirds of the bill on his own acceptances. I had lifted all my money and paid it away for stock (so we term live stock), so that I could not relieve your bill, else I should have done it this day; for after you had given me your name so frankly to let me get the immediate use of that which was my own, you may guess how grieved I was at all this anger and jealousy, which was perfectly preposterous, for what effect has a letter on a bill?"
Poor Shepherd! what, indeed, had any of his explanations or complaints to do with that remorseless course of affairs which ordains that a man who has promised to pay should do so, whatever arguments, even of the most convincing character, he should be able to produce against it. This piteous letter, however, did have the effect on the bill which was so improbable; for Mr. Blackwood, in a very long and impatient letter, in which he announces that "it is from your total ignorance of business that you think I have made any fuss about this bill," ends by giving it up in despair. "I hope," he says, "from this explanation that you will see the thing in its proper point of view. All I have to add on this matter is that you need give yourself no further trouble about this bill in the meantime. I hope the money will be of use to you."
One more letter follows. It begins sternly:—
SIR, — You are so utterly ignorant of business that it is quite unnecessary for me to attempt to show you how completely you have misunderstood everything.... As to the very ludicrous affair of a prosecution I say nothing. The very idea of such a thing certainly does 'astonish' me, as it will every one who may happen to hear of it."
Thus the connection which had been so long and so kind would seem to have come to an end. So at first sight of these letters the writer believed: and so it did — for half a year, — at the end of which time Hogg appears again unconquerable, with something which he thinks "either of two friends whom you know" could make "glorious sport" out of; and which he sends to his dear Ebony, some one else whose name is undecipherable having "positively refused to take it on the score of sheer terror." Mr. Blackwood's letter in reply, we are glad to say, goes back to "Dear Hogg," and the old terms of friendship, though he is not tempted by the "glorious sport":—
"W. Blackwoocl to James Hogg.
24th May 1822.
On coming home four days ago I was glad to see your letter and article. I regret that we cannot make use of it, from its having been previously offered to your friend. Besides, we have had quite enough of Jeffrey and the 'Edinburgh Review' lately. Your idea is an excellent one, and many parts of the article are very happily executed. Had it been put into certain hands some months ago, nothing could have answered better. Along with 'Maga' I send Mrs. Hogg 'Lights and Shadows,' 'The Provost,' and 'Gillespie's Sermons.'"
The literary connection, however, was not quite so easy to renew as the kindnesses. Hogg had not outgrown the age of glorious sport, when to bait an unfortunate victim and pursue him about the world for the laughter of the reader was the inspiration of the moment; but the Magazine, not any longer a dashing and reckless adventurer, but a very important undertaking, meaning both fame and fortune, had outgrown it. The Shepherd desired to return to the days of the Chaldee Manuscript; but these days were as completely over as if a hundred years had elapsed. His appearance with his new satire, and his softened tone, both of criticism and of friendship, make the following letter interesting:—
"ALTRIVE LAKE, June 14, 1822.
I have revised and rewritten 'John Paterson's Mare,' which I send you for publication in the M., as No. I. of an allegorical history of our miscellaneous literature. I cannot conceive, even with its previous faults, why your editors rejected it, for I am sure that a more harmless good-natured allegory was never written. It is, besides, quite unintelligible without a key, which should never be given. I think it will be next to the Chaldee in popularity, as it is fully as injurious. You are at liberty to alter any of the names you do not like: your own, for instance, I took merely because oak was a black wood, which may be construed differently.
"I think very highly of both the books you have sent me, but far most highly of 'Lights and Shadows,' in which there is a great deal of very powerful effect, purity, and sentiment, and fine writing, but with very little of real nature as it exists in the walks of Scottish life. The feelings and language of the author are those of romance: still it is a fine and beautiful work. I send you the accompanying article merely as a token that I have forgiven all that is past, and that I wish all bygones to be bygones between us for ever. I cannot bear to live on terms of utter estrangement with a man from whom I experienced so many repeated kindnesses and obligations. There is no man so apt to err in judgment as I am, but I trust none of my friends shall find my heart wrong."
Mr. Blackwood's reply pointed out very decidedly the particular points of difference to which we have referred — the advancement of the Magazine in seriousness and sobriety, and the stationary character of the belated contributor, to whom there was no triumph higher than that of the Chaldee Manuscript. The publisher writes, with mingled consideration and superiority:—
EDINBURGH, 18th June 1822.
I have read 'John Paterson's Mare,' and I have laughed very heartily at many parts of it. I feel much obliged to you for sending it. I should be happy if you found it agreeable to you to give your aid to 'Maga,' as I am sure it would be both pleasant and advantageous to you. I am sorry, however, that 'John Paterson's Mare' cannot be accepted of. On this you will probably fall into a great passion; but I cannot help it, as I am convinced such an article could do neither yourself nor me any credit. In the first place, the whole affair about Pringle and Cleghorn is entirely forgotten, and it would be like slaughtering the long ago dead and buried. In the next place, Constable has long been away from business and in bad health: and being your publisher, it would neither be good taste nor good feeling in you to attack him or any of his concerns. Your worst enemy could not desire a fitter occasion for running you down than your publishing what would be cried out upon as a vile personal attack, &c., &c. For as to no key being given, that is sheer nonsense, as there are plenty of people who could at once give a key and proclaim you to be the author. Could anybody mistake Cobby, as you call him?
"I have thus given you my opinion very frankly, and I hope when you consider the matter coolly you will agree with me. But if not, I cannot help it, for the Magazine is now too serious a concern to be trifled with. It has got quite above attacks and malignities, and I shall take good care never again to give them any handle for saying that they were entitled to speak of it as they once did."
The distinction between the man who profits by experience, and him who does not, could not be better shown. Hogg seems to have been sufficiently well advised not again to lose his temper, notwithstanding the plainness of speech with which he is addressed. During the years that follow his letters continue dropping in from time to time, often bearing signs of the persistent failure which accompanied all his efforts — sometimes confident as of old. There is a "Shepherd's Calendar" of which he sends number after number. "I suppose it will meet the same fate as all my late attempts to serve you," says the unfortunate author; "but if it should, I shall not regard it at all. These trifles may come to be of value some time, with a little brushing up. I am sorry I have done so little to liquidate the debt, which I believe falls due next month. I will, however, come in and talk about it in some shape." One's heart aches, and yet one can barely resist a smile at the unconscious revelation. The debt is there, a very real fact; but the poor debtor is capable of nothing but to "come in and talk about it." The dusty annals of a publisher's office, the waste heap of yellow manuscripts, letters, memoranda of the many times in which a despairing writer — to whom yet it was so easy to persuade himself that the talk would be effectual, or the next contribution redeem everything — came in to discuss his own circumstances with that arbiter of fate, are full of such memorials. And Hogg is always Hogg, whatever happens. "I have been much to blame in writing so little," he says, though, alas! in fact the little was too much; "but I am the most easily discouraged being alive — whereas blowing me up will make me do anything."
"If you but knew the confusion I have been in since I saw you [he says in another letter], you would pity me rather than be angry with me. The making up a dear rent from nothing: the confusion of two fittings (that of my parents-in-law from the distance of sixty miles to this), their distress since then, the changing of servants, wedding, washings, and sheep-shearings, cattle-shows, fairs, sales, funerals, with all the [cares] of an extensive arable and sheep farm at this season, so that the truth is, if the loss of all my friends had depended on my composing or even correcting three pages, I could not have retained them, — not that I could not have found time for such a trifle, but I could not have forced my mind into a frame for its execution."
At another time Hogg expresses himself grateful for some bantering notices of his publications in the "Noctes":—
I am not only not angry, but highly satisfied and pleased. I had forgot to mention to you that I was afraid, terrified, for high praise in 'Maga,' because, our connection considered, it would have been taken for puffing — a thing of all things that I detest, and one that, I think, has ought but a good effect. A good-humoured thing like this was just what I wanted.... I think the article is Wilson's, as indeed I do every clever and every bitter thing in all the Magas of the kingdom. I have a strange indefinable sensation with regard to him, made up of a mixture of terror, admiration, and jealousy — just such a sentiment as one deil might be supposed to have for another."
At another time our Shepherd is so much himself again that he anxiously begs Mr. Blackwood to give "a new round of advertisement" to one of his works (apparently "Queen Hynde," which "we must try and get Sir W. Scott to review in the 'Quarterly'"), prefixing "a short note from some favourable review." He adds:—
"If you want a splendid characteristic one, I shall give you one from Dr. Burton's new work: 'Modern times can furnish no example of native and exalted genius more truly astonishing than the Ettrick Shepherd. His pages are like the constellations of Taurus and Cerberus, which seem to have usurped beyond their proportion of stars. His beauties are so thickly strewed almost on every page, it would be difficult to say where such an amazing collection of highly poetical conceptions can be found.' — Burton's 'Bardiad,' p. 118.
"This or any better thing you may know of would not cost much additional, and would give the works a little stimulus among a certain class ere the reading season again begins."
To this wonderful recommendation (which Mr. Blackwood, alas! did not accept, acknowledging restraints of good taste which did not occur to the Shepherd) Hogg adds a note in respect to the reception of Mr. Rees, one of the Longman firm—
Longman, Rees, & Co.,
Hurst, Orme, & Brown, our fathers in the Bow,
who apparently was then visiting Edinburgh:—
Although in the throng of my harvests, as well as of the moor sports, I will be in town again next week if possibly I can, or the next again at all events. But should I miss Mr. Rees [whom he had previously desired to meet, 'though merely to shake hands with him, and bring him in for a bottle of whisky made into toddy at Ambrose's'], tell him that I am going to publish two small works about Martinmas, 7s. 6d. each, 'The Shepherd's Calendar' and 'Some Passages in the Lives of Eminent Men,' and he must send the paper for both on the instant you and he agree about what share you are to have. His house and I never stand on any conditions, having an understood rule between us, which we subsequently alter or not as occasion requires."
The reader will remember that a few pages back the long-suffering Blackwood was employed, and good-humouredly consented to act, as intermediary between the Shepherd and the house of Longman, so that this free-and-easy reference to "his house and I" must have been an exceedingly good joke to the always kind and good-humoured man, open to a good joke in all circumstances, to whom it was addressed. Another very characteristic piece of reproach, not ill-natured, but very Shepherdish, follows. We have got by this time to the year 1826. The farm of Mount Benger, which never succeeded, was hanging very heavily upon Hogg, and his ventures in literature were uniformly unsuccessful:—
MOUNT BENGER, March 19, 1826.
I would send you plenty of things to 'Maga,' provided they were either inserted or returned, which they never are. Worse encouragement cannot be than that. I was chagrined that the Forest dialogue I sent was not inserted in the 'Noctes,' not for any intrinsic merit that it had, for it had none, but that it gave a truth, a locality to Ambrose's, which, without such a native touch, that ideal meeting never can possess. I sent a complete 'Noctes' once, which of course I never saw again — 'The Byron Letters,' 'The Cameronian in Love,' and I know not how many things that might be of value to me, though not to you. You will allow that these considerations are sufficient to deter me from writing, which otherwise I would do every month, for I well know it never will be otherwise with Mr. North. I would not have forgot the renewing of the promissory note, for I had a stamp ready, though only for a hundred pounds, which I meant to send this week; for, God help me! I am far from being in a condition to be able to do more. I think it is high time you were beginning some publication of mine to liquidate all or part of my debt; and I think the whole of my short Scottish Tales should be published in numbers, one every month, with the Magazine to be packed with it, and as part of the first No. sent gratis to some of your principal readers."
We should not refer to these details of debt, and his own very easy suggestions for getting rid of it, had not Hogg's affairs been very open to the world, and often before stated by himself and others; so that there is no betrayal of his private affairs in the whimsical arrangements which, now that there is no longer any sting of pain in them, are both amusing and characteristic, and will convey a thrill of sympathy and fellow-feeling to many a bosom. So many in all the generations know what it is to be thus involved, that the possibility of seeing a little fun in the matter, and all the transparent, piteous, laughable ways of getting rid of it, is a kind of advantage in its way. Not Hogg alone has been unable to understand why "Queen Hynde" should stick still," or any other book in the same position, or has been disposed to believe that it is only an inconceivable caprice of the publisher that makes his receipts for one work so much less than his receipts for another. "I cannot believe that she does not deserve notice, and think some expedient should be fallen on to draw notice to her," says poor Hogg; neither can he understand why Mr. Blackwood should reject Dr. Burton's remark on the poem because it is too flattering. "I have sought out several others, but none that pleases me so well," he adds, with delightful naivete. We writers have the best of reasons for being tender with the amazing simplicities of those who have gone before us.
The following is one of many grumbling letters, in which a not unnatural fury against his more successful competitors breaks in:—
MOUNT BENGER, March 28, '28.
At your desire I send you an article for the 'Agricultural Journal' and a poetical epistle for the Magazine, though I know as usual it will only be giving the carrier the trouble of bringing them out again; and as you are the only man who ever does me this honour, the oftener you do it the better, but I want to establish this fact to your own conviction that our friendship shall not fail on my part.
"I am exceedingly disgusted with the last beastly 'Noctes,' and as it is manifest that the old business of mocking and ridicule is again beginning, I have been earnestly advised by several of my best and dearest friends to let you hear from me in a way to which I have a great aversion. But if I do, believe me, it shall be free of all malice, and merely to clear my character of sentiments and actions which I detest, and which have proved highly detrimental to me.
"I care nothing about More. Tweedie has not been half so severe upon him as me. I consider him the most monotonous and the least original of all poets, bating his harmony of numbers, which is delightful. As to his great goodness of heart I dispute that: do you remember showing me a letter of his advising you to have nothing to do with a MS. publication of mine, for that I was incapable of producing any work that would go down with the public? Mr. A. A. Watts has written to me thrice respecting a parcel he sent to me to the care of Mr. More; but I despise the fellow so much I would not even inquire what became of it."
An author so much kept down by unfavourable criticism as the Shepherd, and so cruelly played with by all the wits, may perhaps be excused for believing that no one who considered him incapable of producing "any work that would go down with the public" was to be credited with a good heart; but this was the always kind and friendly Delta, most beloved perhaps of all the contributors, the excellent Dr. Moir (generally pronounced More in these days).
Hogg's opinion of himself, however, perhaps fortunately for him, never changed. "I wish," he says on one occasion, "the writers in 'Maga' would not borrow my incidents. Desire the author of 'Sir Frizzle Pumpkin' to look at Bazil Lee in the 'Winter Evenings.'" "I fear," he says again, "it is needless for me to attempt anything further for 'Maga' without giving up the London Magazines, which I would with great pleasure do could I please you; but one does not like to lose his little lucubrations altogether." At another time he praises the "twin Magas," the double number, which on more than one occasion Blackwood was bold enough to bring out. "They are excellent," Hogg says, "with the exception of 'La Petite Madeleine,' which to me is quite despicable. To slight your old friend for such feminine pribble-prabble! Wilson's poem is most splendid, but I have never been able to get straight through it, and I don't think any man ever will." "Scott's agents are only interested in one author in the world," he says, with fine contempt for such a mistake. "I have," says Lockhart on another occasion, "a line from Hogg saying he has made you drop him out of the Magazine: that the 'Noctes' will not be tolerable without his name, and concluding, 'The Baillie had better have given me £500 a-year'!" Such was his idea to the end of his life.
One of Mr. Blackwood's numerous lesser kindnesses to the Shepherd was a gun licence, with which he supplied him every year, and which is acknowledged from time to time by a present of game from Ettrick. "Tell Miss Steuart," he writes with one of these tributes, "that the blackcock must first be parboiled, and then stewed in the broo, to make him a real fine dish."
Hogg's spirits seem to have been revived by the publication of several short articles after this, and the reception of several small cheques in consequence, which made the life of the farmer more cheerful. But unfortunately in the year 1833 another quarrel arose, which was violent, and might have been final but for the intervention of Hogg's faithful friend, Mr. Grieve, who acted as mediator between the justly angry publisher and the hot-headed and foolish Shepherd, a man to whom no teaching of experience made any difference, and who never learned what things could be done and said, and what could not. "By the way, why do the young Blackwoods never write to me or visit me?" he says in his answer to a letter from Mr. Grieve, who had called upon him to sign a statement contradicting certain calumnious assertions he had made against the young men's father. "He is still standing out, as you see," says Mr. Grieve, enclosing the letter to Mr. Blackwood, "and has brought forward some new charges against you. The touch about your sons is very characteristic," adds the Shepherd's faithful friend. It is a pleasure, however, to find that this storm too blew over. In a letter to Professor Wilson, written in the year of Mr. Blackwood's death, we have the Shepherd's last utterance in respect to his lifelong friend. The Professor and other friends had been much occupied in patching up the breach between Hogg and the publisher:—
"James Hogg to Professor Wilson.
I will [would] be very sorry to object to any arrangement that so kind a friend has made manifestly for my benefit. It was what I wished and proposed last year, that all bygones should be bygones, and never once more mentioned. It is the far best way of settling a difference when so many alternate kindnesses have passed between the parties. For though Mr. Blackwood often hurt my literary pride, I have always confessed, and will confess to my dying day, that I know no man who wished me better, or was more interested in my success. It will be a great relief of mind to Mrs. Hogg, whose spirit was grieved at our break: for though terrified for the 'Noctes,' she always loved the Blackwoods as well as your family — nay, loved not only as benefactors, but as sisters and brothers."
These last words give us a curious glimpse of that pastoral house, full of poverty, full of guests, the life of the farm fluctuating between penury and occasional profusion — sometimes porridge and sometimes grouse forming the staple of the entertainment, the whisky always flowing freely, fun and wrath, and loud recrimination and louder jest and laughter going on continually. While the goodwife watched behind, "terrified for the 'Noctes,'" not knowing what outbursts of poetical nonsense might be put into the mouth of Wilson's whimsical creation, who was a being of fancy for the rest of the world, but to her the image of her husband, caricatured, as she thought, or travestied, — yet heart-stricken by the quarrels, the failure of their grand and almost only resource of literature, and the loss of the friendship of the publisher, who had been so patient and so kind. We are glad to leave Hogg here, in the wistful reflection from his wife's eyes, and the comfort of the reconciliation which was "a great relief of mind" to the struggling house.
How this tender-hearted woman suffered from other evidences of the breach between her husband and his best friend is evident from the following letter:—
"ELTRIVE LAKE, Nov. 3.
Mr. Hogg is better, after a severe illness, though not quite stout. When he was about the worst it fell to my lot to open your letter, and you may judge how much I was astonished at the style of it, [so different] from those of yours I had seen before. I shall make no comments on the article, which I am sorry to find has bred so serious a quarrel. As to literary disputes I have nothing to do with them, yet when anything appears prejudicial to Mr. H. I am not altogether callous. However, after a visit of a few days at Abbotsford, I am happy to find all animosity completely laid aside. I grieve for all misunderstandings between old friends, and I am resolved not to be in Edinburgh without calling upon Mrs. Blackwood, to whom I beg my kindest compliments."
Mrs. Blackwood, we may be sure, though she did not love the poetesses, would be kindness itself to the poet's wife, who must have been still more sorely "hadden doun" by the sins of authors than she felt herself to be.