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The Scottish Nation

HOGG, WILLIAM, an ingenious translator into Latin of English poems, lived in the seventeenth century, and was a native of Gowrie, In Perthshire. To better his condition he went to London, but being disappointed in his views, he was reduced to great distress. Dr. Birch states that he died of want in the streets. In 1690 he published at London ‘Paraphrasis Poetica in tria Johannis Miltonis viri clarissimi Poemata, viz. Paradisum Amissum, Paradisum Recuperatum, et Samsonum Agonistem,’ an edition of which was printed at Rotterdam in 1699. Of this version of Milton the notorious Lauder made considerable use in his dishonest attempt against the reputation of that great poet. The other principal translations of Hogg are, ‘Liber Primus Principis Arcturi,’ (a Rich. Blackmore, Esq. Aur.) Latine red. 1706; ‘Paraphrasis in Jobum Poetica,’ 1682; ‘Satyra Sacra, sive Paraphrasis in Ecclesiasten Poetica.’ Part of his sacred poetry is reprinted in the ‘Poetarum Scotorum Musae Sacrae.’

HOGG, JAMES, the Ettrick Shepherd, one of the most remarkable of Scotland’s self-taught poets, was born in a cottage on the banks of the Ettrick, Selkirkshire, January 25, 1772, the anniversary of the natal day of Burns. His progenitors were all shepherds, an occupation which his father, like himself, followed for many years. He received but a scanty education, and spent only about half a year at school. At seven years of age he was sent to herd cows, and his boyhood was devoted to keeping sheep upon the hills. Among the first books that he read were ‘The Life of Wallace,’ and ‘The Gentle Shepherd,’ which he was disappointed were not written in prose instead of verse. He also read Bishop Burnet’s ‘Theory of the Conflagration of the Earth,’ which he sates nearly “overturned his brain.” His first attempts at versification were made in the spring of 1796; and his first published song was ‘My name it is Donald M’Donald,’ composed, in 1800, on the threatened invasion of Bonaparte, which soon became very popular. In 1801, when attending the sheep market at Edinburgh, he ventured to publish a small volume of poems, which, however, was soon consigned to oblivion. The attention of Sir Walter, then Mr. Scott, being drawn to the poetical talent of Mr. Hogg, by his advice he published, in 1807, a volume of ballads, under the title of the ‘Mountain Bard.’ These compositions, emanating from a rough untutored mind, bore many latent indications of that high poetical imagination which afterwards shone out so brightly in ‘Kilmeny;’ and the work being successful, with its profits and a premium which he gained from the Highland Society for an ‘Essay on Sheep,’ published the same year, he was tempted to embark in an agricultural speculation, which unfortunately proved a failure.

Disappointed in his views, he now determined upon settling in Edinburgh, and following the precarious calling of an author. Accordingly he arrived in that city in February 1810, and the same year he published a volume of songs, called ‘The Forest Minstrel,’ from which, however, he derived no pecuniary benefit. At this period, when poverty was pressing hard upon him, he found kind and steady friends in Messrs. Grieve and Scott, hatters, whose well-timed benevolence, we are told, supplied all his wants. His next adventure was a literary publication called ‘The Spy,’ chiefly devoted to moral essays, tales, poetry, and sketches of life. But Hogg at this time knew nothing of men and manners, and very little of contemporaneous literature; and his periodical did not outlive the year of its birth.

      In the spring of 1813 he produced his ‘Queen’s Wake,’ a legendary poem, which consists mainly of a series of metrical tales written in imitation of the old Scottish ballads, and connected and diversified by a fiction of considerable ingenuity, in which the bards and minstrels of Scotland are represented as contending for prizes before Mary Queen of Scots and her court at Holyrood. Overlooking a few defects of style, the ‘Queen’s Wake’ is undoubtedly one of the finest poems in the language; and by far the best and most imaginative piece in the volume is the beautiful episodical tale of ‘Kilmeny,’ which for sweetness and simplicity cannot be excelled. In the course of a short time the ‘Queen’s Wake’ went through several editions, and at once secured for the author a degree of popularity and fame that has seldom fallen to the lot of a modern writer. His portrait is subjoined.

[portrait of James Hogg]

      In 1815, Mr. Hogg published ‘The Pilgrims of the Sun,’ a poem of unequal merit, although in some passages worthy of his now established reputation. In 1816 appeared ‘Mador of the Moor,’ in the Spenserian stanza, which is greatly inferior to its predecessor. The Shepherd next applied himself to collect original pieces from the principal living poets of Great Britain, but the refusal of Sir Walter Scott to assist him in the project, with other untoward circumstances, caused him to change his plan, and write imitations of the whole himself. The ‘Poetic Mirror,’ published anonymously, was the result of this bold attempt. It comprised many pieces of great excellence, and soon passed into a second edition. It was followed by ‘Dramatic Tales,’ in two volumes, a work which, with the exception of ‘The Hunting of Badlewe,’ a tragedy previously printed separately, contains little surpassing the ordinary standard. In 1818 he published ‘The Brownie of Bodsbeck, and other Tales in Prose,’ 2 vols. In 1819 he brought out the first volume of the ‘Jacobite Relics,’ the second volume of which appeared in 1821. In 1820 ‘Winter Evening Tales, collected among the Cottagers in the South of Scotland,’ made their appearance. This work was one of his most successful publications. In 1822, when George IV. Visited Scotland, Hogg welcomed his sovereign in ‘The Royal Jubilee, a Scottish Masque,’ which took no permanent hold of public attention.

      In 1814 the Shepherd had received, at a nominal rent, from the duke of Buccleuch, the small farm of Altrive Lake, in the wilds of Yarrow, which continued to be his residence till his death. After his marriage, in 1820, he determined once more to farm on a large scale, and accordingly took a lease for nine years of the adjoining farm of Mount Benger. Having lost about £2,000 by his agricultural speculations, to raise money, he wrote, in a few months, two extravagant Border romances, each in three volumes, the one entitled ‘The Three Perils of Man,’ for which he received £150; and the other ‘The Three Perils of Woman,’ which produced the same sum. In 1824 he published anonymously a book abounding in horrors, called “Confessions of a Fanatic,’ which had a tolerable sale, though he reaped no benefit from it. In 1825 he gave to the world ‘Queen Hynd,’ an epic poem, by no means one of his happiest efforts. About this time he wrote, for Blackwood’s Magazine, a series of interesting prose sketches under the title of ‘The Shepherd’s Calendar,’ published separately in two volumes in 1829.

      In 1832, in which year appeared his ‘Queer Book,’ Mr. Hogg visited London, and during his short sojourn in the metropolis, he was “the observed of all observers,” and was honoured with a public dinner. In 1834 he produced a volume of ‘Lay Sermons,’ and shortly after ‘Domestic Manners of Sir Walter Scott.’ In the following year, during the short period that the conservatives were in power, Sir Robert Peel transmitted to him £100 as an earnest of an annual pension to that amount, which he did not live to enjoy. His constitution had been long sinking under the united effects of pecuniary embarrassments and intense literary labour, and he died at Altrive Lake, November 21, 1835. He had married, in 1820, Margaret, youngest daughter of Mr. Phillips of Longbridgemoor, Annandale, who, with five children, survived him. In 1854, his widow received a pension from government of £50, in consideration of her husband’s services to literature.

      Hogg was fond of all athletic exercises and field sports, and was long made to figure conspicuously in the ‘Noctes Ambrosianae’ of Blackwood’s Magazine, which gave his name a celebrity beyond that acquired by his own writings. He wrote two interesting autobiographies of himself, which will be found published with his works.

The Works of the Ettrick Shepherd
Tales and Sketches
Revised at the instance of the Author's Family by the Rev. Thomas Thomson (1869)


Ox the Ettrick Shepherd and his Writings much comment is no longer necessary: his name has become a household word, and his works are known not only in his native Scotland, but wherever the English language or the Scottish dialect is understood. Next to Burns himself, who stands alone as our great national bard, no poet has so nearly approached him in his own peculiar walk, or won so high a reputation as James Hogg; while the merits of both are enhanced by the original lowliness of their station, and the difficulties that stood in their way to such high distinction. The one was only a ploughman, and the other a shepherd. But from the Thames to the Ganges, from the Clyde to the Nova, their songs are sung as the commemorations of social and domestic worth, or the incentives to patriotic and public nobleness; while prince and peasant cordially unite in applauding their productions and honouring their memory.

But while Burns stands so proudly alone, and Hogg occupies a considerably lower pedestal, it must not be forgot, that the latter possessed excellencies of his own which are wanting in the former. If in deep emotion and correspondent power of language the songs of Burns have hewn for themselves an indelible imprint into the living rock of time—if in the vivid brilliancy with which, by a single line, he could reveal an unnoticed sentiment as with a flash of lightning, the Ettrick Shepherd cannot be compared with his great prototype,—this deficiency in power is all but compensated by the superior wideness of his range. His faculties expanded over a more ample field than that of the Bard of Coila, and in this way accomplished more than Burns could have effected. In the imaginative of poetry, could the latter have pictured such a union of the supernaturally bright and beautiful as that of Kilmeny? Could he have sustained himself so long upon the wing as Hogg has done in his larger productions! And in that inventiveness which is so essential an attribute in poetry, could he have created so wide and so varied a world of scenery and incident as has been done by the Ettrick Shepherd!

But abandoning such questions, which may be deemed too captious, we would now observe, that the fame of Hogg does not rest solely upon his merits as a poet. He was also a prose writer; and in this department the fervour of his imagination, and his originality, are almost as conspicuous as in his poetry. While the force of circumstances compelled him to adopt this course of authorship, the same necessity obliged him to write upon those subjects with which he was best acquainted, and which he had already so well illustrated in his poems. And hence his Tales, his Essays, and Sketches were conceived and expressed in the same poetical spirit, while they chiefly touch upon the same subjects. The short and simple annals of the poor—their social and domestic joys and sorrows—their daily occupations and stated festivals—their wild and wondrous legends and superstitions—their adventures as Scottish emigrants in search ol wealth or occupation—these have all found in him an able, faithful, and sympathizing recorder: his stories of mirth and glee describe events in which he had been an actor; while his narratives of fearful diablerie, or the mysteries of Fairyland, are told in the con amove spirit of one who was more than half persuaded ol their truth. Hence the freshness and air of sincerity with which they are invested, and which impart to fiction the charms of reality. Even had Hogg written nothing more than these, he would have been entitled to a high place among the prose writers of our country.

It is gratifying to think that such genuine excellence has obtained a correspondent ! recognition. The productions of the Ettrick Shepherd, by their own intrinsic excellence, have won their way, and secured their proper place among the lasting literary achievements of our countrymen. While they excited the admiration of the bygone period, and made the public to wonder that they could have been written by any one under such adverse circumstances as his, their popularity was not, like that of so many contemporaneous works, confined to their own day. They have stood the severest ordeal of criticism, and every year has only added to their reputation. Like the national characteristics of Scotland, which they so well illustrate, they have only been hardened into permanence by the trial through which they have passed unscathed; and they bid fair to endure as long as Scottish individuality continues to be prized and cherished. And although the fashion of things may change with the mutations of time, the Ettrick Shepherd’s writings, along with those of Scott and of Burns, will still continue to be valued as the faithful transcripts of an existence dear to memory, though its forms have become obsolete, as well as of those more solid and substantial national virtues which neither fashion can change nor time eradicate.

This edition of The Ettrick Shepherd’s Works is. in some respects, a reproduction, in a cheaper and more popular form, of the collection of his writings in poetry and prose, partly prepared by the Author himself, issued by the publishers in eleven volumes, foolscap 8vo. A new Life of the Shepherd has been supplied, in addition to the former Autobiography, and a fresh arrangement has been made of the larger Poems, while the smaller have been classed into distinct and appropriate groups. Hogg’s own contributions to the Forest Minstrel, many of which were omitted in the earlier edition of his works, are now restored, so that the present issue will be, more than any other, full and complete. To each of the larger poems a brief critical, explanatory, or analytical notice has been prefixed. While these re-arrangements and additions have been made in the Poetical works, those in Prose have been carefully revised, but chiefly for the purposes of a slight occasional pruning and verbal emendation, such as the Author, had he lived, would himself most probably have made.

In the work of revision, and in the preparation of the Memoir. the Editor has enjoyed the advantage of the co-operation of the Author’s widow, and the surviving members of his family. The Memoir and Autobiography accompany the volume containing the Poems.

Edinburgh, November. 1865.

Download The Works of the Ettrick Shepherd here

Tales and Sketches of the Ettrick Shepherd
Including several pieces not before printed with Illustrative engravings from real scenes by D.O. Hill in six volumes

Vol. 1  |  Vol. 2  |  Vol. 3.  |  Vol. 4.  |  Vol. 5  |  Vol.  6

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