1829 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Hogg

William Gilmore Simms, in "The Shepherd's Calendar" Southern Literary Gazette [Charleston] NS 1 (15 June 1829) 52.



The Ettrick Shepherd is now well known to the reader of Blackwood. To him, are we indebted for many of those fine off-hand and graphic delineations of character; those phrenzies of wit and buffoonery which have made that Journal what it is, though occasionally low and immoral, a rich receptacle of humor, and a perfect ark of varieties.

The life of Hogg, has been one of considerable interest. He has, amidst the fame acquired for him by his efforts in literature, still maintained the life of the Shepherd; and it has been in this capacity, that he has been enabled to gather up many of those touching and simple incidents that are always to be found in the life of adventure, common to the Scottish peasantry. The thunder storm in the mountains; the water-spout that breaks in the valley above the linn and rushes down to the destruction of the humble stock of the farmer; the frolic and festivity of a sheep shearing, and in the country of romantic and superstitious adventure, the fairy and brownie, the wraith and the second sight, have all contributed to the materials for the Shepherd's Calendar. The Shepherd appears as the narrator of what he has heard; the stories are generally such as naturally arise from the incidents of domestic and rustic life, and may be considered as illustrative of the life of the Scottish peasantry in particular. They have, generally, their moral, and the inculcation of meekness, humility and virtue; reproving with punishment, of the vicious, the vice; and where other and higher means are wanting, for refining and polishing the rough and uncouth peasant, by disposing his mind to the reception of that arcadian purity which delights not "to throw the shadow of the storm" on the dwelling of its neighbor. Love forms a principal ingredient in these stories, and is, in fact, a fine instrument in the hands of the great moralist, who thus prepares the vulgar for the reception of hospitality and good will to men. But the Shepherd is more at home in the "Tales of Faerie." There is a bewitching simplicity, a something of nature about all the fiction that is wonderfully touching; considered too as a matter of rigid belief among the Scottish peasantry, the existence of these wanton creatures, gives a coloring to the national character which, while we smile at what we consider an absurd fondness for the idlesse of superstition, nevertheless, goes very far towards raising them in our esteem. For our own part, we feel a newer sensation of pleasure, at the recital of any of these tales of goblin. There is a freshness about them, a wildness, and occasionally, a deep and sweet pathos, that we feel to be irresistible. Besides this, we are disposed to believe, that however wanting in the sterner characters of intellect, the superstition of men will be found to be, that which is most characterized by tenderness, passion, and the sweetest and gentlest emotions. It is in fact a lofty aspiration, though commonly held a weakness, which directs us to seek in our dull and "bank note" world for higher associations than truth is disposed to give us.