1862 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Hogg

Mary Wilson Gordon, in Christopher North (1862; 1894) 179-81.



The Shepherd himself was not the least remarkable among that set of remarkable men. In spite of qualities that made it impossible perfectly to respect him, his original genius and good-natured simplicity made him a favorite with them all, until his vanity had become quite unendurable, he plumed himself immensely on being the real originator of the Magazine, and of the Chaldee MS. He was a very frequent contributor, but, in addition to his own genuine compositions, he got the credit of numberless performances, both in prose and verse, which he had never beheld till they appeared under his name in the pages of the Magazine. This was a part of that system of mystification practised in the management, which has never been carried so far in any other publication, and undoubtedly contributed very greatly to its success. The illustrious example of Sir Walter Scott had given encouragement to this species of deception, and the editor and writers of Blackwood thought themselves quite at liberty, not only to perplex the public by affixing all sorts of fictitious names and addresses to their communications, but to put forth their jeux d'esprit occasionally under cover of the names of real personages who had never dreamed of so distinguishing themselves. This was certainly carrying the system to a most unwarrantable length; but it must be allowed that in the ease of the two individuals most played upon in this respect, the liberty was taken by no means amiss. "The Shepherd" was one of these, and he rather enjoyed the fame which was thus thrust upon him in addition to his own proper deserts. He gives a most amusing account of his sufferings at the hands of Lockhart, whom he describes as "a mischievous Oxford puppy, dancing after the young ladies, and drawing caricatures of every one who came in contact with him." "I dreaded his eye terribly," he says, "and it was not without reason, for he was very fond of playing tricks on me, but always in such a way that it was impossible to lose temper with him. I never parted company with him that my judgment was not entirely jumbled with regard to characters, books, and literary articles of every description." Lockhart continued to keep his mind in the utmost perplexity for years in all things that related to the Magazine. The Shepherd was naturally anxious to know whose the tremendous articles were that made so much sensation monthly, and having found by experience that he could extract no information out of Sym or Wilson, he would repair to Lockhart to ask him, awaiting his reply with fixed eye and a beating heart: "Then, with his cigar in his mouth, his one leg flung carelessly over the other, and without the symptom of a smile on his face, or one twinkle of mischief in his dark gray eye, he would father the articles on his brother, Captain Lockhart, or Peter Robertson, or Sheriff Cay, or James Wilson, or that queer, fat 'body,' Dr. Scott, and sometimes on James and John Ballantyne, and Sam Anderson, and poor Baxter. Then away I flew with the wonderful news to my other associates, and if any remained incredulous, I swore the facts down through them; so that before I left Edinburgh I was accounted the greatest liar that was in it except one." The simple Shepherd by and by found out that these conspirators had made up their minds to act on O'Doherty's principle, of never denying any thing they had not written, or ever acknowledging any thing they had. He accordingly thought himself safe in thenceforth signing his name to every thing he published. "But as soon," he says, "as the rascals perceived this, they signed my name as fast as I did. They then continued the incomparable Noctes Ambrosianae for the sole purpose of putting all the sentiments into the Shepherd's mouth which they durst not avowedly say themselves, and these, too, often applying to my best friends."