1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hogg, James

HOGG, JAMES (1770–1835), Scottish poet, known as the “Ettrick Shepherd,” was baptized at Ettrick in Selkirkshire on the 9th of December 1770. His ancestors had been shepherds for centuries. He received hardly any school training, and seems to have had difficulty in getting books to read. After spending his early years herding sheep for different masters, he was engaged as shepherd by Mr Laidlaw, tenant of Blackhouse, in the parish of Yarrow, from 1790 till 1799. He was treated with great kindness, and had access to a large collection of books. When this was exhausted he subscribed to a circulating library in Peebles. While attending to his flock, he spent a great deal of time in reading. He profited by the company of his master’s sons, of whom William Laidlaw is known as the friend of Scott and the author of Lucy’s Flittin’. Hogg’s first printed piece was “The Mistakes of a Night” in the Scots Magazine for October 1794, and in 1801 he published his Scottish Pastorals. In 1802 Hogg became acquainted with Sir Walter Scott, who was then collecting materials for his Border Minstrelsy. On Scott’s recommendation Constable published Hogg’s miscellaneous poems (The Mountain Bard) in 1807. By this work, and by The Shepherd’s Guide, being a Practical Treatise on the Diseases of Sheep, Hogg realized about £300. With this money he unfortunately embarked in farming in Dumfriesshire, and in three years was utterly ruined, having to abandon all his effects to his creditors. He returned to Ettrick, only to find that he could not even obtain employment as a shepherd; so he set off in February 1810 to push his fortune in Edinburgh as a literary adventurer. In the same year he published a collection of songs, The Forest Minstrel, to which he was the largest contributor. This book, being dedicated to the countess of Dalkeith (afterwards duchess of Buccleuch), and recommended to her notice by Scott, was rewarded with a present of 100 guineas. He then began a weekly periodical, The Spy, which he continued from September 1810 till August 1811. The appearance of The Queen’s Wake in 1813 established Hogg’s reputation as a poet; Byron recommended it to John Murray, who brought out an English edition. The scene of the poem is laid in 1561; the queen is Mary Stuart; and the “wake” provides a simple framework for seventeen poems sung by rival bards. It was followed by the Pilgrims of the Sun (1815), and Mador of the Moor (1816). The duchess of Buccleuch, on her death-bed (1814), had asked her husband to do something for the Ettrick bard; and the duke gave him a lease for life of the farm of Altrive in Yarrow, consisting of about 70 acres of moorland, on which the poet built a house and spent the last years of his life. In order to obtain money to stock his farm Hogg asked various poets to contribute to a volume of verse which should be a kind of poetic “benefit” for himself. Failing in his applications he wrote a volume of parodies, published in 1816, as The Poetic Mirror, or the Living Bards of Great Britain. He took possession of his farm in 1817; but his literary exertions were never relaxed. Before 1820 he had written the prose tales of The Brownie of Bodsbeck (1818) and two volumes of Winter Evening Tales (1820), besides collecting, editing and writing part of two volumes of The Jacobite Relics of Scotland (1819–1821), and contributing largely to Blackwood’s Magazine. “The Chaldee MS.,” which appeared in Blackwood’s Magazine (October 1817), and gave such offence that it was immediately withdrawn, was largely Hogg’s work.

In 1820 he married Margaret Phillips, a lady of a good Annandale family, and found himself possessed of about £1000, a good house and a well-stocked farm. Hogg’s connexion with Blackwood’s Magazine kept him continually before the public; his contributions, which include the best of his prose works, were collected in the Shepherd’s Calendar (1829). The wit and mischief of some of his literary friends made free with his name as the “Shepherd” of the Noctes Ambrosianae, and represented him in ludicrous and grotesque aspects; but the effect of the whole was favourable to his popularity. “Whatever may be the merits of the picture of the Shepherd [in the Noctes Ambrosianae]—and no one will deny its power and genius,” writes Professor Veitch—“it is true, all the same, that this Shepherd was not the Shepherd of Ettrick or the man James Hogg. He was neither a Socrates nor a Falstaff, neither to be credited with the wisdom and lofty idealizings of the one, nor with the characteristic humour and coarseness of the other.” The Three Perils of Woman (1820), and The Three Perils of Man (1822), were followed in 1825 by an epic poem, Queen Hynde, which was unfavourably received. He visited London in 1832, and was much lionized. On his return a public dinner was given to him in Peebles,—Professor Wilson in the chair,—and he acknowledged that he had at last “found fame.” His health, however, was seriously impaired. With his pen in his hand to the last, Hogg in 1834 published a volume of Lay Sermons, and The Domestic Manners and Private Life of Sir Walter Scott, a book which Lockhart regarded as an infringement on his rights. In 1835 appeared three volumes of Tales of the Wars of Montrose. Hogg died on the 21st of November 1835, and was buried in the churchyard of his native parish Ettrick. His fame had seemed to fill the whole district, and was brightest at its close; his presence was associated with all the border sports and festivities; and as a man James Hogg was ever frank, joyous and charitable. It is mainly as a great peasant poet that he lives in literature. Some of his lyrics and minor poems—his “Skylark,” “When the Kye comes Hame,” his verses on the “Comet” and “Evening Star,” and his “Address to Lady Ann Scott”—are exquisite. The Queen’s Wake unites his characteristic excellences—his command of the old romantic ballad style, his graceful fairy mythology and his aerial flights of imagination. In the fairy story of Kilmeny in this work Hogg seems completely transformed; he is absorbed in the ideal and supernatural, and writes under direct and immediate inspiration.

See Hogg’s “Memoir of the Author’s Life, written by himself,” prefixed to the 3rd edition (1821) of The Mountain Bard, also Memorials of James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, edited by his daughter, Mrs M. G. Garden (enlarged edition with preface by Professor Veitch, 1903), and Sir G. B. S. Douglas, James Hogg (1899) in the “Famous Scots” series; also The Poems of James Hogg, selected by William Wallace (1903). John Wilson (“Christopher North”) had a real affection for Hogg, but for some reason or other made no use of the materials placed in his hands for a biography of the poet. The memoir mentioned on the title-page of the Works (1838–1840) never appeared, and the memoir prefixed to the edition of Hogg’s works published by Blackie & Co. (1865) was written by the Rev. Thomas Thompson. See also Wilson’s Noctes Ambrosianae; Mrs Oliphant’s Annals of a Publishing House, vol. i. chap. vii.; Gilfillan’s First Gallery of Literary Portraits; Cunningham’s Biog. and Crit. Hist. of Lit.; and the general index to Blackwood’s Magazine. A collected edition of Hogg’s Tales appeared in 1837 in 6 vols., and a second in 1851; his Poetical Works were published in 1822, 1838–1840 and 1865–1866. For an admirable account of the social entertainments Hogg used to give in Edinburgh, see Memoir of Robert Chambers (1874), by Dr William Chambers, pp. 263-270.