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Robert Burns Lives!
The Peculiar ‘Research’ of Patrick Scott Hogg


Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Dawsonville, GA, USA
Email: jurascot@earthlink.net

Questionable claims by Patrick Scott Hogg regarding membership of Robert Burns in the Friends of the People in Dumfries and who was a government spy and who was not has brought forth this reply from the highly recognized and international Burns scholar, Dr. Gerard Carruthers. The following articles, found on the Robert Burns Lives! website, will provide the necessary background for a more complete understanding of the subject matter. The first of these articles appeared on-line October 21, 2009 and along with these related writings the articles appear to have acquired a life of their own. Just click on http://www.electricscotland.com/familytree/frank/burns.htm for access to the articles by chapter and title.

  • Chapter 73, Was Robert Burns a Member of the Friends of the People in Dumfries? by Mark Wilson.

  • Chapter 79, A Reply to Mark Wilson’s Essay – Was Robert Burns a Member of the Friends of the People of Dumfries? by Patrick Scott Hogg.

  • Chapter 80, The Questions Patrick Scott Hogg Should Ask by Mark Wilson.

  • Chapter 81, Another reply to Paddy Hogg by a Scottish Historian

  • Chapter 83, Email from Patrick Scott Hogg to Frank R. Shaw and his Reply.

Below is an interesting article by Carruthers, who is also a Burns textual critic/expert with few peers. I’ve said about all I am going to say on the subject in some of the above chapters, particularly in Chapter 83, unless the need arises. But to be fair to all parties, Patrick Scott Hogg included, and others as well, anyone is invited to reply to this article and any of the others if they so choose. This commentary by Dr. Carruthers will become Chapter 88 on Robert Burns Lives! (FRS: 6.16.10)

The Peculiar ‘Research’ of Patrick Scott Hogg
By Gerard Carruthers

I have observed with interest Mark Wilson’s forensic dismantling of Patrick Scott Hogg’s claims that there was a branch of the Friends of the People at Dumfries and that Robert Burns was a member of this organisation. Mr Wilson’s perspicuity is new to me, but sadly Mr Hogg’s mangling of the facts is not. The latter’s asinine attempts over the years to trumpet supposedly new discoveries about the poet represent a sub-genre of Burns ‘scholarship’ (although actually shunned by real scholars). Part self-glorification, part bardolatry, Hogg’s fabrication of history is very familiar to me. In The Canongate Burns (2001) he tries to foist ‘new’ Burns poems on the public taken from the periodical press of the 1790s. In the case of one poem he removes the locus of ‘Airdrie’ found in its original publication, in another the signature ‘F’, from the bottom of the piece from his versions of the texts. All of this without Hogg acknowledging such removed information: a poet writing from a Lanarkshire town and a poet whose initial points to no connection with Robert Burns; these are serious impediments for Hogg desperate to convince us he has found ‘lost poems’ by the bard. And this is why he wishes to ‘lose’ such bothersome bits of text! In another instance, Hogg plants the initials ‘R.B’ to shore up his case of an allegedly ‘new’ poem put together by Burns for the periodical press.i Simply put, Hogg has shown himself to be ‘unreliable’ and, as Mark Wilson’s work demonstrates, repeatedly so at that. I am afraid the ‘convenient’ mixing up of ‘visitor’ with ‘delegate’ and Hogg’s other misinformation with regard to the Friends of the People shows the same old gauchely unreliable ‘methodology’ at large. We have now had nearly a decade of Hogg trying to sell his wares the public and I wonder what tiresome ploy he will come up with next since he is patently shameless.

I note that in his email to Frank Shaw (which Hogg clearly never thought would be made public), Patrick Scott Hogg wishes to take credit for James Mackay’s scholarship being called into question.ii Is this the same Hogg who, following Dr Mackay’s death, started a discussion thread about him on the World Burns Club forum which revelled in the rubric, ‘Tribute to a Fellow Burnsian’. Yet again, the sincere Patrick Scott Hogg! I also note, having recently seen the promotional flier for Hogg’s book, The Patriot Bard (2008), some curious claims. In his response to Wilson on ‘Robert Burns Lives’, Hogg attempts to downplay his ‘findings’ on Burns and the Friends of the People. However, the flier boasts that the ‘Dumfries branch’ in which he locates Burns is ‘a fact that was previously unknown.’ I am afraid, as Wilson amply shows, it is a fact still unknown! The advance flier also promises a number of other treats including Hogg showing us ‘that “Tam o’ Shanter” was most definitely not written in a day’. Where in Burns criticism from the earliest days until now do we find any serious proponent of the ‘theory’ that it was? We are also proffered in The Patriot Bard a different kind of man and poet from the ‘semi-confused, contradictory simpleton of previous biographies’. Now there are many biographies of the poet, some of them pretty awful, but I have yet to find one that proposes that Burns was a ‘simpleton’. However, such relatively harmless tosh, presumably written by the path-breaking Mr Hogg himself, is also accompanied by distortions of the truth such as the Friends of the People claim and the sleight of hand (clumsy as it is) that ‘Robert Heron, was actually a paid government hack who was asked to write anti-radical propaganda in the Scottish press, and who blackened Burns’s reputation by accusing him of being a “whore maister” and a drunkard’ (this again taken from the promotional flier). Yes, Heron did bend his pen to anti-radicalism and he also painted a less than flattering portrait of Burns’s morality soon after the poet died. Hogg’s attempt, however, to link Heron the anti-radical writer and Heron the biographer of the dead poet, so as to imply, clearly, a systematic government campaign against the poet is painting an untrue picture. Hogg is not original here as this view emanates (in its modern, entertaining but historically uninformed manifestation) in the bodice-ripping novel, The Clarinda Conspiracy (1989); suitably enough, the idea that the government was out to get Burns is pure fiction!

However, the substance of this article (having highlighted some sadly pertinent background) concerns the observations of another contributor to Robert Burns Lives, ‘Scottish Historian’ someone else who clearly has the measure of what he (I am assuming it is a ‘he’) is dealing with. I was particularly interested in Scottish Historian’s observation, ‘The Patriot Bard’s claim that the spy J.B. is Claud I. Boswell is not convincingly made, and Hogg’s documentation for his claim is badly garbled.’iii Spot on! For a start, when one looks at the ‘information’ pertaining to Boswell in The Patriot Bard, Hogg’s referencing is both inadequate and even plain wrong (faults strongly discerned by Mark Wilson also). I might add, and I would assume that this also comprises part of Scottish Historian’s doubt, that Claud Irvine Boswell (1742-1824) is not a very likely spy. By 1793, Boswell was in his fifties and had been since 1780 Sheriff-depute of Fife and Kinross. In other words, he was a prominent figure in legal circles (centred on the Scottish capital). This does not sound, either socially or practically, like the profile of a man sent to spy on Edinburgh reformers (who included among their number progressively minded individuals from the legal profession who would probably notice in their midst the man whose rising career lead to him becoming in 1798 a lord-of-session taking the title of Lord Balmuto). The case becomes even more doubtful when we consider that the spy, ‘J.B.’ at times in his correspondence with the authorities seems hard up for money and is somewhat bargain driving a propos the handing over of information. Actually, in his status as a Sheriff-Depute, Boswell would have been required not to withhold any information in the interests of financial gain, indeed not to sell his services at all against those supposed to be a threat to His Majesty, the king, as a matter of sworn duty. Primarily, Boswell was a crown official not an agent for hire!

Let me draw attention to some precise problems with Hogg’s case that J.B. is Claud Irvine Boswell. Hogg writes:

The identity of the spy 'JB' has been a mystery to historians for two centuries.
In my view, he was Claude Irvine Boswell, Depute Sheriff of Fife and cousin
of James Boswell. In early December 1792, Claude Irvine Boswell offered his
services to spy on the Edinburgh Friends of the People in a letter to
government and he is named as the source of the report on Edinburgh radicals
in papers RH2/4/64 f.255. (b) The mystery surrounding his identity has been
largely down to his signature where he employed only two initials, his middle
name and surname only. Claude Irvine Boswell signed his name with a long
slanted old fashioned 'I' for Irvine, which looks like a capital 'J' and his
identity has remained a mystery until now – if I am correct.
iv

There are a number of solecisms in this passage (which is also so badly written that Hogg’s ‘meaning’ is perhaps out of control), something I discovered on looking into Hogg’s sources. Firstly, RH2/4/64 f.255 is a letter from Robert Dundas dated 6th August 1792, which has nothing to do with the case in hand. The reference in general pertains to government correspondence held in London but with copies of this material in the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh. Now we all make mistakes, and so I assumed this must be a slip of Hogg’s pen and next worked through the subsequent volumes in the sequence, RH2/4/65 and RH2/4/66. Two letters by Claud Irvine Boswell show up for 5th & 9th December 1792 in the second of these volumes. The first of these letters is about grain supply, over which serious political riots could and did occur; the second seems to be the one to which Hogg refers. In his letter of 9th December, Boswell writes to the Lord Advocate that he has never attended any of the reformers’ ‘Delegates’ meetings ‘but if I can be of any use I shall after tomorrow’ [this is f.260, in the interests of accuracy]. In his letters Boswell talks of potential riot, Excisemen being assaulted and unrest generally. And discussing these letters the Lord Advocate writes to London [in RH2/4/66 f.256] that he hopes that ‘the accounts in Boswell’s hand are exaggerated’.

Boswell is offering certainly to maintain vigilance over reformers, but he is not offering to ‘spy’, in some necessarily secret capacity. And the generalised intelligence that he did provide, however accurate or not, does not represent, as Hogg pretends, any kind of very precise ‘report on Edinburgh radicals’. Sadly, the miasma of garbled reference and phrases taken out of context then vaguely summarised represents Hogg’s stock-in-trade of making big claims based on negligible evidence that, seemingly, he would rather no-one else followed up. (I suspect too that Hogg signals something of his actual ‘uncertainty’ with that weasel phrase above masquerading as sweet reason: ‘if I am correct’.)

Curious too is Hogg’s claim that ‘Claude Irvine Boswell signed his name with a long slanted old fashioned 'I' for Irvine, which looks like a capital “J”.’ In the two letters by Boswell I have just mentioned, he signs himself ‘Claud Boswell.’ If Boswell’s signature does feature ‘IB’, as he claims Hogg does not tell us where such a signature is to be found, and I cannot find any such documents of Boswell’s so signed. Is Hogg simply remiss in failing to reveal the source for his ‘I.B.’ contention or is something worse going on? The question is understandable given Hogg’s track record with missing and added texts (including signature initials!).

There is one other important point about the manuscript evidence: has Hogg compared the handwriting of ‘J.B’ and Claud Boswell? One might have expected The Patriot Bard to reproduce the hand of both to show that this is one and the same, but for some peculiar reason it does not. As well as the two letters mentioned above, I looked at a letter written by Boswell from 12th September 1780 (in the research collections of Edinburgh University Library). Boswell’s hand has not changed much, if at all, between this date and the two 1790s letters. When we compare the Boswell hand with that of ‘J.B.’ we find that the handwriting is very different.v At this point (assuming he did compare the hands) Hogg had a choice: going back to the drawing board, or not letting the evidence get in the way of his argument. It is very clear what he did!

i For full details of this situation and how dubious Hogg’s entire ‘lost poems’ project is, see my article, 'The Canongate Burns: Misreading Robert Burns & the Periodical Press of the 1790s' in Review of Scottish Culture 18 (2006), pp.41-50 .

ii Robert Burns Lives!, Chapter 83.

iii Robert Burns Lives!, Chapter 81.

iv P S Hogg, The Patriot Bard (Mainstream: Edinburgh, 2008), pp.347-8.
 

v Unless Hogg is saying that the ‘J.B.’ reports are merely copies in another hand (a phenomenon that would not be uncommon in espionage situations prior to the invention of the typewriter); however, this returns us to the problem of Hogg’s claims about the signatures of Boswell and ‘J.B.’ He can’t have it both ways!


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