1858 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Hogg

Cyrus Redding, in Fifty Years' Recollections (1858) 3:17-19.



Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, I did not know in his own country. He was an extraordinary instance of the triumph of natural genius over obstacles. Tens of thousands have had more advantages. What is called so falsely "education," in other words "reading and writing," has been dispersed far and wide to the indigent in early youth, yet not one man equal to Hogg has appeared from the classes thus endowed, that were to produce a race according to some, to add to England's literary renown all over the world Hogg could scarcely read a letter at twenty years of age, yet at twenty-four he began to compose verses, those of Burns not letting him sleep. There is Clare, that beautiful poet of nature. Education given to the humble or the rich did not make the men, who surmounting all obstacles have become intellectually noted. Yet this was, and is expected by silly people. I speak not against education, for I believe in its utility, but against the vulgar idea of the vulgar minded in every rank of life, that reading and writing is alone wanting to give us a race of great men. Nature keeps their fabrication to herself, and will continue to do so as long as the world lasts. To myself Hogg conveyed the idea of one born in a higher grade of life. That which most betrayed his early position and habits was that his bearing, in any novelty of position, made him show not awkwardness, but apprehension. In London he was bewildered. He would sit and drink as Scotchmen do when in company within doors, full of confidence and somewhat of conceit, but things were so new and overwhelming to him in the metropolis, out of doors, that he would not venture to cross a street without holding by the arm of another. Even the frail arm of Murray, the bookseller, was a tower of strength to him, and yet he was a hardy man.

He complained to me that Wilson made a show of him in "Blackwood." This was coquetry, he did not really dislike it; he was eager for notoriety. I told him that but for Wilson, we Southerns should scarcely have known anything about him.

"Aye, but Wilson is too bad, for he makes me say things I could not dream of uttering."

Hogg was a much quieter man than Wilson made him out, and was reported to say things he was too well informed to utter. His writings are eminently Scotch, and were not adapted to make a sensation in this country. I confess in all I ever saw of Hogg, which was not much, I was greatly prepossessed in favour of his abilities. While he was in town, it was proposed to give him a dinner on the anniversary of the birth-day of Burns. I was named a steward with Lockhart and several friends. Campbell was nominated also, but he was in the country. On repairing to the Freemason's Tavern to make preparatory arrangements for a meeting of the stewards to provide the dinner, we found that the whole had been clandestinely done. The tickets were twenty-two shillings. One of the stewards, who went with me, was equally surprized at this intelligence, and we neither of us attended. Sir John Malcolm was in the chair. I had a note of excuse from Campbell, which, as I did not attend, I sent to the chairman for the purpose of its being read. Sir John declined doing so, saying he was in the hands of the stewards, but what stewards were his instructors we could never learn. I wrote to Sir John, who exonerated himself by a note, explaining the matter as far as he was concerned. Two or three out of the eight or ten stewards nominated, had secretly settled all, binding Sir John to their toasts, not having communicated with any others. Nor was this all, the dinner was paltry — the affair looked like a job — there was not enough food for the guests present, four shillings a head would have amply covered it. I sent an account of the whole disgraceful affair to the "Athenaeum," which had shrewdly enquired what was the reason myself and others were absent from the lenten affair. It had good ground for the question, but surmise would not prove the facts of a disgraceful character connected with that affair. Hogg was never in London afterwards.