James Hogg.

Domestic manners of Sir Walter Scott online

. (page 2 of 8)
Online LibraryJames HoggDomestic manners of Sir Walter Scott → online text (page 2 of 8)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

in which Hogg was represented as addressing Scott as " Wattie," said
he never became more familiar than to call him " Shirra." Hogg said
of Lockhart that he never told the truth but once, and that was by
accident. Lockhart was a child when Hogg's visit occurred, moreover,
when he wrote his account of it, he was enraged at the publication by
Hogg of "The Domestic Manners of Sir Walter Scott."

Life of the Ettrick Shepherd. 25

literary ventures was such that Hogg found himself in
possession of 300. Of this more than 200 was due to
"The Mountain Bard."

The possession of so much money wrought a madness
in the mind of the Shepherd. Such a sum seemed
inexhaustible. The consequence was that he involved
himself in farming speculations in Dumfriesshire, so
unfortunate, that in less than three years he was once
more penniless. He returned to Ettrick and offered
himself for hire as a shepherd, but not a man would
engage him. His case was the reverse of that in the
parable : because he had mismanaged his own, no one
would entrust to him any other's wealth. With character-
istic philosophy Hogg recognised that the unfortunate
result of this last speculation was a cloud that had a
silver lining. He now definitely determined to devote
himself to literature.

He hastened to Edinburgh, and got Constable to
publish for him the "Forest Minstrel," containing,
though he himself spoke slightingly of them, some of
his very best songs. It did not prove a monetary
success, but the Countess of Dalkeith, to whom the
volume had been dedicated, presented the bard with
100. Of too sanguine a temper to be long discouraged,
Hogg determined to start a periodical devoted to
belles lettres, and the criticism of society and social
manners. One cannot feel much surprise that printers
and publishers fought shy of such a venture : a rough
shepherd setting himself up as the arbiter of politeness
and etiquette ! Was there ever a greater absurdity ?


26 Memoir :

After considerable difficulty, he got a genial, but some-
what drouthy bookseller to undertake the onus of
publishing the Spy, as Hogg called his paper. The
first few numbers were well taken up ; but, unluckily,
he was guilty of admitting something that to the
fastidious taste of Edinburgh seemed indecorous. The
result was a sad falling off in the subscribers. Never-
theless, the Spy continued for a whole year. During
the course of the life of this unlucky periodical Hogg
had two publishers. Robertson, as hinted above, was
fond of a " dram," and the printers he employed were
like himself. Hogg had to join in their potations, but
did not relish it. He tried to limit his share of the
liquor consumption, but, notwithstanding, he frequently
found himself giddy on leaving these symposia ; and, to
quote his own words, " the worst thing of all was, I felt
that I was beginning to relish it." It is a Rembrandt-
esque picture the dusky house in the Cowgate, its
dusty, cobweb-covered windows admitting but a small
portion of the scant light that reached them ; the
rubicund, untidy Robertson ; the lean, dirty printers ;
and the fresh-coloured, bright-eyed shepherd, engaged
in compiling the Spy, in intervals of lunching
on rolls and whisky. One cannot avoid noting here
the difference between the real James Hogg afraid of
drink getting the mastery of him, and the drouthy
" Shepherd " of the " Noctes Ambrosianae." Seeing,
as he says, that this association was " leading him
straight to the devil," he resolved to break with
Robertson and employ another printer. The result of

Life of the Ettrick Shepherd, 27

the whole thing was that, at the end of the year, the
Aikraans, his new printers, so far from handing over
any money to him, put in a claim for more, to cover
half the loss which they alleged they had sustained.
This was the end of the Spy. It, however, drew Hogg
into association with several literary people who were
of use to him. Several of these had aided him in filling the
columns of his reckless literary venture. One of them
was Robert Sym, the uncle of Professor Wilson, in
whom readers of the " Noctes " will recognise " Timothy

After occupying himself with a debating society
called the " Forum," he published the " Queen's Wake,"
the work on which his fame chiefly rests. Some of the
poetical pieces which had appeared in the Spy struck
the taste of his friend Grieve as excellent, and as there
was an increased interest in poetry at the time, he
urged Hogg to try his fortune with a volume of verse.
In consequence he set about collecting the poems he
had by him ; but in order to give more unity to the
composition, he devised the scheme of Queen Mary,
newly arrived from France, welcoming the bards of
her native land. As each bard repaid by song the
hospitality of the royal lady, Hogg had the opportunity
of reproducing his various ballads. This was the origin
of the " Queen's Wake." With his marvellous facility
for composition, a few months sufficed to construct the
framework. After it was composed and compiled, he
had to get a publisher. Constable fought shy of the
business, but at last, in a half-hearted way, consented,

28 Memoir :

if Hogg would get 200 subscribers. However, as one
of his friends of the " Forum," named Goldie, had set
up as a bookseller, he showed his poem to him.
Charmed with the poem, and ambitious to become a
publisher, Goldie offered Hogg much better terms than
Constable. After a little hesitation, Hogg agreed to
hand over his poem to Goldie, by whom it was issued
in the year 1813, and dedicated to the Princess
Charlotte, a young lady of seventeen, in whom the
hopes of the nation were centred. The " Queen's
Wake " secured an instant popularity. Friends met the
author on the street, and stopped to congratulate him ;
the reviews, with the sole exception of the " Eclectic,"
were commendatory. This may be regarded as Hogg's
high watermark in poetic achievement; certainly he
never attained at any later time as high a degree of
popular recognition. The reason of this success is not
far to seek. Here the Shepherd entered into his
kingdom, the realm of faery ; and, further, the relative
shortness of each ballad did not betray his weakness in
construction. The finest, by universal consent, is the
ballad of " Bonnie Kilmeny." The soft, crooning music
of the verse suits the twilight beauties of fairyland.
Although it is so well known, we will quote some of the
lines of the lovely tale :

" Bonnie Kilmeny gaed up the glen ;
But it wisna tae meet wi' Duneira's men,
Or the rosy monk of the isle to see,
For Kilmeny was pure as pure could be.

Life of the Ettrick Shepherd. 29

But lang may her minny look ower the wa',

An' lang may she seek in the greenwood shaw ;

Lang the Laird o' Duneira blame,

An' lang, lang greet or Kilmeny come hame.

Quhan mony a lang day had comit an' fled ;

Quhan grief grew calm an' hope was dead ;

Quhan mass for Kilmeny's soul had been sung ;

Quhan the bedesman had prayed an' the deid bell rung,

Late, late in the gloamin', quhan a' was still ;

Quhan the freenge was reid on the wastlin' hill,

The wudde was sere, the mune i' the wane,

The reek o' the cot hung ower the plain

Like a little wee clud in the lift its lane ;

Quhan the ingle lowed wi' an' eerie leme,

Late, late in the gloamin' Kilmeny cam' hame.

Kilmeny lukit up wi' a lovely grace,

But nae smile Avas seen on Kilmeny's face,

As still was her luke, an' as still was her e'e,

As the stillness that lies on the emerant lea,

Or the mist that sleeps on a waveless sea,

But it seemed as the harp of the sky had rung,

An' the airs of Heaven played round her tongue,

Quhan she spak' o' the lovely forms she had seen

In a land where sin had never been,

A land of love and a land of licht,

Withouten sun, or mune, or nicht."

Then there follows an account of the Land of Faery too
long to quote. We are told how the fairies dealt with
Kilmeny to fit her to become a denizen of that misty
and mysterious realm. She had given her in vision
what was coming on the earth the fate of the luckless
queen before whom her history was sung the outburst
of the French Revolution, and the terrible wars that

30 Memoir :

followed, ending up with the final defeat of the eagle
by the lion, when,

" Wi' a mootit wing an' a waefu' maen
The eagle socht her eerie again.
But lang may she cour in her bluidy nest,
An' lang, lang sleik her oundit breast,
Afore she assay another flicht
Tae play wi' the norlan' Lion's micht."

It almost seems as if the poet had antedated his work,
and we should read 1815 instead of 1813 in the
dedication ; but poets are seers.

" Then Kilrueny beggit again to see
The friends she had left in her ain countrie,
To tell of the place quhair she had been,
An' the wonders that lay in the land unseen.
Wi' distant musik, soft and deep,
They lullit Kilmeny sound asleep ;
And quhan she waukint she lay her lane,
A' happit wi' floo'rs in the green wudde wain.
Quhan seven lang years had comit an' fled,
Quhan grief was calm and hope was dead,
Quhan scarce was remembered Kilmeny's name,
Late, late in the gloamin' Kilmeny cam' hame."

Next among the ballads, that make up the " Queen's
Wake," in point of popularity, is " The Witch of Fife."
Here there is the element of humour present, but it is
introduced in a way that somewhat jars with the rest
of the narrative. It would have maintained the
artistic feeling of unity if there had been some prepara-
tion for this dive into farce. Even the fun should have
been softened when the termination was to be the

Life of the Ettrick SItepherd. 31

burning of the misguided old man as a " warlock."
Sir Walter pointed out to Hogg the cruelty of the
termination, so he added the last dozen stanzas that tell
of the old man's escape. It might almost seem as if
the Shepherd had been stopped somehow in the middle
of his song, and a change come over his mood, ere he
recommenced. Whether ib was that the " sclate " on
which he composed was full, and he had not at the time
any convenience for engrossing his poem, or whether
the first portion was written before a symposium in the
Cowgate with the " drouthy " Robertson and the " lean
and dirty " printers, and the latter portion after, we know
not. Any reader will observe that after the stanza

" Awa', awa, ye ill woman,

An ill daith met ye dee,
Quhan ye have pruvit sae fause tae yer God
Ye can never pruve trew tae me "-

the poem assumes a new complexion. Such a verse
as that just quoted would naturally have been followed
by summary vengeance being inflicted by the aggrieved
and enraged husband on the recreant wife. Instead of
that the old man goes to Carlisle with his wife to booze
in the bishop's wine cellar. There are some stanzas in
Hogg's best manner in the first portion of this ballad,
as for instance

" An' quhan we cam tae the Lomond heicht,

Sae lythly we lichted doon ;
And we drank fra the horns that never grew,
The beer that never was brewn.

32 Memoir:

" Than up there rase a wee, wee man
Frae neath the moss grey stane ;
His face was wan like the collifloure,
For he nouthir had bluid nor bane.

" He set a reed pipe tae his mouth,

An' he played sae bonnilye,
Till the grey curlew and the blackcock flew
Tae list tae his melodye.

" It rang sae sweet through the green Lomond,

That the nicht wind lowner blew ;
And it soopit alang the Loch Leven
An' waukint the white sea mew.

" It- rang sae sweet through the green Lomond,

Sae sweetly but an' sae shill,
That the weasels lap oot o' their mouldy holes
An' danced on the midnicht hill.

" The corby craw cam gledgin' near,

An' the ern gaed veering bye,
An' the trouts lap oot o' the Leven Loch
Charmed wi' the melody."

Some of the other ballads would be worthy of
quotation did space permit. With perhaps less of mist
and marvel about them, they have more of the con-
densation and self-restraint which characterise the best
examples of the old ballad. Hogg was too garrulous,
and versified too easily, to rival the grim suggestiveness
of some of the models he set before him. There is,
however, no one of the ballads of the " Queen's Wake "
but will amply repay perusal.

Life of the Ettrick SJiepherd. 33

After two editions of the " Queen's Wake " had been
quickly disposed of, the question of a third was mooted.
Something of a commercial crisis occurred, and Hogg
was informed that Goldie was too deeply involved to be
able to keep afloat. This led him to think of offering
the publishing of this third edition to Constable.
However, when Goldie got word of this he bullied Hogg
into withdrawing from his arrangement with Constable,
and giving him the right to issue this new edition. It was
not long printed till Goldie fulfilled the presages of the
prophets of evil and became a bankrupt. This
disaster had one good effect, it introduced our poet to
Blackwood, who had only recently become a publisher.
He took over and succeeded in disposing of the copies
of the " Queen's Wake " still left in the hands of Goldie
at a very considerable advantage to the author.

During the summer of the following year, Hogg,
while the guest of Mr. Izett of Kinnaird, Athol, was
urged by his hostess to illustrate his stay there by some
poetical composition. The result of this was " Mador
of the Moor," a poem founded on the view seen from
the window of his room in Kinnaird House. Of course
there are many beauties in the poem, but the story is
too improbable. It is founded on the marriage of
Robert II. with Elizabeth Mure, with whom by
canonical law (but only by canonical law), his
marriage was not permissable. In Hogg's hands it
becomes an impossible story, in which minstrelsy and
magic play their part in a way that sets probability at
defiance. Another thing that hindered the success of

34 Memoir :

" Mador" was the Spenserian stanza in which it was
written. Hogg never seemed to catch the slow
majestic melody of the Alexandrine with which the
Spenserian stanza closes; and to this the Spenserian owes
more than half its beauty. Yet, strange to say, Hogg
could affirm : " There is no doubt whatever that my
highest and most fortunate efforts in rhyme are contained
in that poem."

His next literary venture was " The Pilgrims of the
Sun." Through it he was involved in squabbles with
various booksellers and printers, in which Constable,
Miller, Murray, and Blackwood all figure, the last mainly
as poet's friend. At length the poem did appear, but
enjoyed only a very moderate amount of popularity.
At the same time it received a number of highly
favourable reviews ; notably one from the " Eclectic,"
which had not been favourable to the " Queen's Wake."

A change, however, came over his fortunes from
another quarter. The itch of farming came back upon
him, and he applied to the Duke of Buccleuch for a
small pendicle to another farm. He did not get exactly
what he had craved, but he got a lease of the farm of
Altrive for a rent so absolutely nominal that it never
was so much as named. On this he erected a house
somewhat better than the hut that already stood there ;
to this he removed his aged parents. Although Provi-
dence had marked out James Hogg for a poet, and
though at times no one was more convinced of this than
Hogg himself, he yet was perpetually pursued by the
desire to be a store farmer ; the dreams of his boyhood

Life of the Ettrick Shepherd. 35

haunted his maturity. The farm of Mount Benger,
adjoining Altrive, some years after his removal to Altrive,
fell vacant, and Hogg was persuaded to become the
tenant of it. The fact that the preceding tenants had
failed and lost in it did not deter him. He thought,
and was encouraged in the idea by his friends, that he
could aid his sheep-farming by literature.

As we have to do with Hogg as a poet, not as a
sheep-farmer, we shall not take up time relating his
various commercial disasters. These disasters need
not seem strange when one remembers that
Altrive was a hotel without the pay. He also made
frequent and prolonged visits to Edinburgh.
These absences did not conduce to his success in
farming. But, further, he was ready to entertain
liberally in the inn where he stayed. Although Hogg
knew the points of a sheep as well as any man, he does
not seem to have had business talent the power of
estimating chances and working out for profits.

He very soon found occasion to betake himself to
literature ; more money was needed to stock Mount
Benger than he could easily furnish. He bethought
him of his literary friends, and it occurred to him, if
each of them would give him a poem, he might construct
a miscellany, with considerable profit to himself, yet
without much trouble. Some of his friends readily
promised to do what he asked. Among these was Lord
Byron, then at the height of his fame. He promised
him " Lara," but forgot to perform ; Hogg thinks, by
advice. One whom he reverenced more than any

36 Memoir :

other would afford him no assistance, Sir Walter Scott
declared, "Let every herrin' hang by its ain heid,"
and would have nothing to do with this scheme of the
Shepherd's. Hogg was furiously enraged at this, and
wrote to Scott in terms of unmeasured wrath,
renouncing his friendship. He now changed his plan,
and took up the idea of making it instead a series of
parodies of the styles of the leading poets of the day,
including, of course, himself. The whole was written
within three weeks, and thereafter duly published, under
the title of the " Poetic Mirror." In his parody of
Scott there is not much venom, though a good deal of
fun ; but venom there is in his imitation of the poet
Wordsworth. At the same time, Wordsworth at his
weakest irresistibly suggests parody; the solemn
insistence on the obvious, the profound conviction of
the poet's own superiority, most manifest when he is
most prosy, excites everyone with any sense of humour
in him to poke fun at him not that any one would
deny the exceeding beauty of much that Wordsworth
has written. The parody of his own style, in " The
Gude Greye Katte," had it been written by any other,
would have been most savage of all. Coleridge and
Southey are not so well imitated. The inferiority of
the " Poetic Mirror " to its contemporary the " Rejected
Addresses " is undeniable.

We know that " to be wroth with one we love doth
work like madness in the brain ; " so it proved with the
Shepherd in his wrath against his friend Sir Walter
Scott. He got in tow with some wild fellows and

Life of the Ettrick Shepherd. 37

formed a Bacchanalian Club. The principle of it seemed
to be to be continuously drunk or getting drunk day in
and day out. Hogg's habits had not fitted him for such
orgies, and the result of this escapade was a serious
illness. During this time of sickness, Sir Walter,
unknown to the wayward child of genius, was watching
over and caring for him. The discovery of this at once
sent the impulsive Shepherd to the feet of Scott. I do
not think anything in all Scott's history is fitted to give
us a higher idea of his generosity than his treatment of
Hogg at this time; whether we consider the request
so unduly pressed, the abusive letter, or the orgie of
drunkenness, Scott's conduct is above praise. Hogg's
account of his friend's treatment redounds to his credit.
He declares the quarrel to have been entirely on his side,
and that he was wholly in the wrong.

Hogg now betook himself to drama, but without
success. His genius was descriptive, not dramatic.
About this time he began, but stuck for some time,
" Queen Hynde." After an interval he completed it,
and, having shown it to Sir Walter and had his high
commendation, it was duly published. The versifica-
tion has a striking resemblance to Scott's own, and
proceeds in a smooth, equable flow ; but the tale is one
that somehow fails to interest. Perversely, Hogg
proclaimed this as his finest poem; unfortunately,
neither the reviews nor the public were of this opinion.
An amusing description occurs in the " Autobiography "
of a dinner given to Hogg by some admirers, where the
chairman was unlucky enough to give voice to the

38 Memoir:

common belief, persisted in to this day, that the
" Queen's Wake " was the finest of their guest's works.
At once Hogg flew into a rage, and declared vehemently
his own preference for " Queen Hynde," offering to bet
any money in support of his idea. Nobody took the bet.
This was Hogg's last serious poem of any length.

In 1817 Hogg commenced "The Brownie of Bods-
beck," in imitation of the world-famous Waverley
Novels. After lying for some time in MS., it had the
misfortune to be published a little later than " Old
Mortality," which it resembled so much in subject. It
threatened to occasion a second quarrel with Sir Walter,
who objected to the view Hogg presented of the
Episcopalian party, and especially of Claverhouse.
Although, thanks mainly to Andrew Lang, the contro-
versy has not quite died down, no serious historian will
now deny that there is greater truth in Hogg's view of
Claverhouse than in Scott's. The want of constructive
skill, the want, perhaps, rather of real effort after telling
construction, is the defect most patent in this story ;
yet it is full of interest, if only for its characterization
of types now disappeared, and its preservation of
vanished traditions and superstitions. The plot turns
on the efforts of some Covenanters in hiding near the
farm of Chapelhope to get food without revealing their
refuge among the hills. A curate had been murdered,
and the notorious Claverhouse had been sent to ferret
out the culprits, and, in the course of his investigations,
commits many atrocities quite in accordance with the
character assigned to him by tradition. The gudeman

Life of tJie Ettrick SJtepJierd. 39

of Chapelhope is suspected of being a Covenanter, and
treated with severity. However, as with all well-
ordered stories, everything comes right in the end.
The character Hogg gives to John Graham of Claver-
house is in perfect accord with tradition, which is more
than can be said for that presented to us by a greater
in "Old Mortality." The most striking, and at the
same time the best constructed, of Hogg's tales is " The
Confessions of a Fanatic." High critical authority has
declared against this being the unaided work of
Hogg. Grounding on the fact that the writers of
" Blackwood " had a free and easy way of attributing
their own work to other people, Professor Saintsbury,
in " Macmillan's Magazine," 1889, has decided that
the story was over-written curtailed and added to
by Lockhart. Certainly the hatred of the Whigs
had more of the scorpion sting of Lockhart than
the easy tolerance of Hogg ; further, there is not a
little that suggests Lockhart's best novel, "Adam
Blair," especially the mixture of sanctity and sin. Yet,
on the other hand, the style is different Lockhart was
a purist in all matters of that sort. Near the beginning
of the story, in what purports to be the preface, " The
Editor's Narrative," we find reference to " an unguent
hard to swallow." That is a statement Lockhart never
would have perpetrated. Moreover, Hogg tacitly
claimed it as his by publishing it among his collected
tales. The free use of the supernatural is decidedly in
Hogg's best manner. Professor Saintsbury's chief
argument is that this story is singularly free of Hogg's

40 Memoir :

worst faults. But this will prove Kilmeny also not to
be authentic.

About this time Hogg began to busy himself with
his " Jacobite Relics of Scotland." In search of these
relics he trudged through a great portion of the
Highlands of Scotland, interrogating all he met, and
enquiring for songs and fragments of songs about
Prince Charlie and his father. Sometimes his efforts
were baffled by the suspicions of those at whom
he made his enquiries. He was supposed to be an
agent of the Government engaged in gathering proofs
of complicity with the rebels. The first part of the
"Relics" was published in 1819, and the second two
years later. Hogg was by no means a purist; some-
times he admitted even manifest forgeries if they took
his fancy, and again doctored such fragments as he
picked up to suit some melody he knew, or his own
ideas of poetic propriety.

Despite the failure of the Spy, Hogg had always
had a hankering after the periodic press ; so when
Blackwood engaged his friend Pringle as editor of the
newly started " Blackwood's," Hogg readily agreed to
assist with occasional contributions. However, Pringle
and Cleghorn, who was associated with him in the

2 4 5 6 7 8

Online LibraryJames HoggDomestic manners of Sir Walter Scott → online text (page 2 of 8)