1823 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Hogg

Rev. Charles Burton, in The Bardiad; a Poem (1823) pp. 19, 118-21n.



Nurs'd by the Tweed, and pastoral Willenslee,
The ETTRICK SHEPHERD breathes sweet minstrelsy;
Shews to the world, for Caledonia's pride,
How genius blossoms on her mountains' side.

Modern times can furnish no example of native and exalted genius more truly astonishing, than the Ettrick Shepherd. The world must ever feel indebted to Sir Walter Scott, for introducing his countryman to the public: the conduct of the Baronet evinces a magnanimity of soul which shames the petty envies too often subsisting among rival authors. Hogg has, in many respects, taken the mould and manner of his patron. The "Harp of the Forest" has introduced it's songs like the "Harp of the North." We have given sufficient specimens of the powers of the latter; those of the former will very well bear to be presented in the same review. Whatever may be the merit of Sir Walter for the accuracy and delicacy of his particular touches, his genius must succumb to that of the Shepherd. Diffuseness is the great fault of the Bard of Dunedin. His beauties occur too seldom for the length of his pieces, and want that concentration and completeness which are found in Gray and Goldsmith. The pages of the Bard of Ettrick are like the constellations of Taurus and Cerberus, which seem to have usurped above their proportion of stars. His beauties are thickly strewed almost on every page. It would be difficult to say where such an amazing collection of highly poetical conceptions can be found, as in the first and second "Nights" of the "Queen's Wake." The third is much inferior to the other. It should, however, be observed, that the design of the Poem required inferiority and superiority to be obvious, in the different parts, as representing the performances of different Bards; but the interest would have been more powerfully kept up, if a greater proportion of brilliancy had been reserved to the latter part of the work. The scheme of the "Queen's Wake" is eminently beautiful on account of its simplicity; and yet, no genius, but one varied in character, potent in grasp, and wonderful in agency, could have produced the "Queen's Wake." The interest excited will, probably, with the generality of readers, be less than what the "Lady of the Lake" ensures, on account of the exquisite suspension in which the latter holds the sensitive reader till the developement of the plan. The "Bards" of the Ettrick Shepherd appear nearly on the same footing with the "Pilgrims" of Chaucer. The former sing for Queen Mary's harp, the latter for a gratuitous Supper. Mr. Hogg's performance excites a livelier interest than Chaucer's, because you are sooner brought to the consummation. Of Chaucer's Poem the termination is lost; and where, and what it would have been, who can tell? His merit was very extraordinary; but, for want of knowing how to read the old English versification, few get to the end of the first Prologue. His works are found in almost every circulating library; and the first page is very dirty, while all the rest are comparatively clean. A very few pages will take you beyond the obtrusion of thumb-marks. Moore's "Lalla Rookh" has the advantage of the "Queen's Wake," as far as plan is concerned, in two particulars. The same Bard sings on different themes, and therefore needs never to descend from the proper altitude of his conceptions; and, again, the Bard who sings is undiscovered, till the end of the poem, when you are introduced to the exalted personage, to whom the Persian Princess is given as a spouse. The device of this performance is exquisite. "Lalla Rookh" and the "Queen's Wake" are parallel works. What Moore has executed with all the luxuriance of Oriental, the Ettrick Shepherd has done with all the corruscation of Celtic, imagery. Moore's poem is like the garden of Persia; Hogg's like the domains of Fingal. If Moore's work is more polished and exquisite, Hogg's is more brilliant and transporting. Moore may have exhibited the treasures of the east; the Ettrick Shepherd has displayed his own. In delineating the character of the Bards of Caledon he has portrayed himself.

Their's the strains that touch the heart,
Bold, rapid, wild, and void of art.
Unlike the Bards, whose milky lays
Delight in these degenerate days.
———*———*———*———
So high his strain, so bold his lyre,
So fraught with rays of Celtic fire.