James Hogg.

Domestic manners of Sir Walter Scott online

. (page 3 of 8)
Online LibraryJames HoggDomestic manners of Sir Walter Scott → online text (page 3 of 8)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

management of the magazine, differed from Blackwood,
left him, and, helped by a rival publisher, started " The
Edinburgh Monthly Magazine." Blackwood secured
the services of two young men of brilliant talent
Lockhart, the son-in-law of Sir Walter Scott, and John
Wilson, the redoubtable " Christopher North." In con-

Life of tJie Ettrick Shepherd. 41

nection with the defection of Pringle and Cleghorn.
Hogg wrote the so-called " Chaldee Manuscript." It is
an account of Pringle and Cleghorn's desertion of
Blackwood in language which suggests the Authorised
Version of the Bible, the book of Daniel being specially
imitated. This jeu d'esprit shocked some, amused
more, but seriously irritated those connected with the
" Edinburgh Monthly Magazine," the rival to that of
Mr. Blackwood, or, to give him the name by which he was
known among the young Parliament-house men, "Old
Ebony." Hard-hitting as was the "Chaldee Manuscript"
as it came from the pen of Hogg, it was made venomous
by the additions to it by Lockhart and others. The
result of this irritation was that it was withdrawn from
a large number of the issue of " Blackwood " in which
it appeared, and its place taken by another article. In
consequence of this withdrawal of the "Chaldee
Manuscript," it is a piece but little known, hence we
shall give a few verses of it as a specimen.

"Chapter I. 1. And I saw in my dream and
behold one like the messenger of a King came
toward me from the east ; and he took me
up and carried me into the great city that looketh
toward the north and toward the east, and ruleth
over every people and kindred and tongue that handle
the pen. 2. And he said unto me ' Take heed what
thou seest for great things shall come of it the moving
of a straw shall be as a whirlwind, and the shaking of a
reed as a great tempest.' 3. And I looked, and behold a
man in plain apparel stood in the door of the house, and


42 Memoir :

I saw his name and the number of his name ; and his
name was as it had been the colour of ebony, and his
number that of a maiden when the days of the years of her
virginity have expired. 4. And I turned mine eyes, and
behold two beasts came from the land of the borders of
the south, and when I saw them I wondered with great
admiration. 7. And they said unto him, Give us of
your wealth that we may eat and live and thou shalt
enjoy the fruit of our labours for a time, times, and half
a time. ... 16. Now in these days there lived a man
who was crafty in counsel. ... 21. And he hated
the book. ... 22. And he said unto the two beasts :
' Come ye and put your trust under the shadow of
my wings, and we will destroy the man whose name is
Ebony, and his book with him ' ... 29. And the two
beasts gave ear to him, and they came over unto him,
and bowed down before him, with their faces to the

It must be said that Pringle, to whom Hogg
had shown the manuscript before it was printed,
never became unfriendly to the Shepherd. At
this point we must refer to the persistent caricature of
Hogg that appeared in " Blackwood " under the heading
of " Noctes Ambrosianae." The Shepherd in them is at
once coarser and more bibulous than the real man.
Hogg, himself one of the most forgiving of men, was
once so stung by some of the things put in his
mouth that he consulted Sir Walter Scott as to what he
should do to right himself. Sir Walter advised
him to do nothing. Wilson, however, enraged Hogg

Life of the Ettrick Shepherd. 43

beyond endurance by parodying "The Field of
Waterloo," so our poet sent to Wilson a furious letter.
" There was scarcely an abusive epithet in our language,"
says Hogg, "that I did not call him by." Wilson,
however, laughed it off, and sent such a letter of
apology as not only secured forgiveness from the easily
placated Shepherd, but knit him closer to the culprit
than before. Although he yielded to the advice of his
friend Scott, Hogg felt sore at these travesties, not only
for his own sake, but for the sake of others dearer to
him than himself. Hogg had married in his fiftieth
year, after a somewhat hidden courtship, lasting nearly
ten years, Miss Margaret Phillips, the youngest daughter
of an Annandale farmer in good position. Both socially
and by education she was Hogg's superior, yet the
marriage was one of singular happiness. To her dying
day Mrs. Hogg could not hear of the " Noctes " repre-
sentation of her late husband and she survived him
thirty-five years without heightened colour and every
sign of lively indignation. At the same time Wilson
imagined the Shepherd of the " Noctes " to be a drama-
tisation of Hogg, standing much in the same relation to
the real Hogg as if the reader will pardon the
comparison the real Socrates stood to the interlocutor
who bears his name in the Platonic Dialogues. It has
therefore a certain historic value as showing Hogg as
Wilson understood him.

Hogg's literary activity was largely occupied with
writing prose tales, which were published in those
delights of our grandmothers, the " Annuals." They

44 Memoir :

were pretty books, well bound, and illustrated with
steel engravings, the prettiness of which was obvious,
and the contents were in harmony with the illustrations.
The popularity of these compilations was at its height
during the last decade of Hogg's life. He published
also several collections of " Tales." As usual he was
unfortunate in regard to his publishers. After long,
and on the whole kindly, business intercourse with
Blackwood, he quarrelled with him, and set off to
London in search of better terms for the publication of
his collected " Tales." He fell in with one Cochrane,
who promised much ; promises were the most that poor
Hogg got from Cochrane. At the same time he
became acquainted with a number of the brotherhood
of the pen, whose society afforded him much pleasure
if not much profit. In fact he was treated as a literary
lion, and so was petted and feasted almost beyond his
powers. The whole culminated in a feast in the Free
Masons' Hall, on the anniversary of the birth of Robert
Burns (and, according to his own mistaken idea, the
anniversary of his own birth also). Sir John Malcolm,
the most distinguished Borderer then living in London,
was in the chair. Two sons of Burns were present. At
this Hogg received what in newspaper phrase is called
"a perfect ovation." What connection the audience,
rising upon the entrance of one they desire to honour,
cheering themselves hoarse and singing " For he's a jolly
good fellow," has with the secondary Roman triumph,
when only a sheep, not a bull, was sacrificed, it is
difficult to see. Suffice it, Hogg was received with the

Life of tJie Ettrick Shepherd. 45

honour due to one who rightfully claimed to be the
legitimate successor to Burns as the songster-in-chief of
Scotland. This honour was done to Hogg in the
beginning of the year, the end of which saw Sir Walter
in his grave.

The commercial disaster that some six years
previously had befallen Scott, though it did not take
the heart out of him, sapped his strength. Something
like this happened to Hogg. He that had risen so
easily and light-heartedly, and got over the failure of
publishers, now seems to have lost heart in consequence
of the bankruptcy of Cochrane. Nothing of note
was published by him during the course of 1832 or
1833. Although he published nothing during both
the years in question, he probably would be occupied
with the composition of the two works " The
Domestic Manners and Private Life of Sir Walter
Scott " and the " Life of Burns " to which the
present biographical sketch is an introduction.
The " Life of Burns " was written in fulfilment of
an engagement he and Motherwell, another Scottish
poet, had entered into with Fullarton to edit the
works of Burns, and precede it with a life of the
poet. The opening chapter is taken up with a
criticism of previous biographies of Burns ; the next is
occupied with a panegyric of the peasantry of Scotland.
The third chapter, in which the life proper begins, is
largely drawn from Burns's own autobiography. While
there are few facts that are not the common property
of all the biographers of Burns, there is a racy way of

46 Memoir :

estimating these that is all Hogg's own a peasant
poet on a peasant poet. The selection of facts and
incidents are fitted to bring out a side of Burns's
character which harmonised most with that of Hogg
himself. It is a very living Burns that is presented
to us.

The other little work, here reprinted, " The Domestic
Manners and Private Life of Sir Walter Scott," caused
great wrath on the part of Lockhart, Scott's son-in-law
and biographer. The truth is that Lockhart regarded
himself as the high priest of the Scott cult, and, in
consequence, the judge of the correct and orthodox way
in which worship was to be offered to the immortal
memory. Hogg, however, with as real an adoration for
Scott, had known him from a different point of view.
The only thing in the short booklet that might be called
breach of taste is the passage about Lady Scott and her
parentage. Altogether Lockhart's words about Hogg's
death and these reminiscences " It had been better for
his fame had his end been of an earlier date, for he did
not follow his best benefactor until he had insulted his
dust " were cruel and utterly unwarranted. Scott was
not a plaster saint, and had a good many very human
weaknesses. That Hogg, whom Lockhart despised,
should presume to direct attention to these was not to
be endured ! No one reading " The Domestic
Manners" will fail to rise from the perusal with a
more loving appreciation of the sterling character
of the great novelist, despite his weaknesses, than
he had had before. It was issued in 1834 by Reid, a

Life of the Ettrick Shepherd. 47

Glasgow publisher, as a thin 12mo., preceded by a
somewhat patronising biography of Hogg. It does not
seem possible at this date to identify the writer of the
life, but some things in it rather point to Motherwell,
his coadjutor in editing the work of Burns, as the
author of it.

The same year in which the little pamphlet on " The
Domestic Manners of Sir Walter Scott " was published,
Hogg sent out to the public his " Lay Sermons." These
were intended not for the exposition of doctrine
or the expression of religious feeling and inculcation
of religious duty, but were devoted to duties on
the lower plane, as their title intimates, of "Good
Principles and Good Breeding." Although not exactly
the kind of reading worthy Scotch folk of the religious
type would betake themselves to of a Sunday, they
were well fitted to be useful ; had they been published
nowadays the amusing anecdotes would not have been
regarded as so much out of place. The late Mr.
Spurgeon, and still more, John M'Neill, have to a great
extent broken down the barrier which custom had
erected between laughter and Sunday sermons. At
the time he was engaged in the composition of
these " Sermons," he had another literary enterprise on
hand. Cochrane, the London publisher, whose failure
while he was in the Metropolis had been so sore a
disappointment to Hogg, again approached him and
induced Hogg to entrust to him the publication of a
collection of stories called the "Montrose Tales."
Again ill success followed both poet and publisher.

48 Memoir :

After the work above mentioned was just ready for
distribution to the booksellers, Cochrane failed. Not a
few of his letters about this time are taken up with
efforts to save something from the catastrophe
negotiating for the 2000 copies of the " Montrose
Tales " that were in Cochrane's premises, and so forth.

Although outwardly he kept his head erect, Hogg
felt this last disaster keenly, and he was not now so
young that he could hope for a much longer period of
literary activity he was on the confines of sixty-five. He
still betook himself to hill and stream with rod and
gun, but there was a loss of elasticity in step as well as
spirit. In the autumn of 1835 he began to be some-
what out of sorts: jaundice supervened; still that was
not thought much of; but the jaundice was really a
symptom of something more serious. He gradually
became worse, till, on the 21st of November, in close
proximity to the real anniversary of his birth 66 years
before James Hogg fell asleep. His friends and his
servants conveyed the body over the hills to the lonely
churchyard of Ettrick, where he was buried within a
stone's throw of the place where had stood the cottage
in which he had been born.

Seventy years have passed since that bleak November
day when all that was mortal of " The Ettrick Shep-
herd " was laid in the earth, and now we are beginning
to be able to form a truer estimate of his real worth.
Time works strange changes in the estimates of literary
values. While they were all in life, Wilson, Lockhart,
and Southey patronised the Shepherd ; yet who reads

Life of the Ettrick Shepherd. 49

the " Noctes Ambrosianse " now, except students of the
manners of the later Georgian days, and they find
them coarse, and even at times dull ? Nay, few read,
luscious as it is, " The Isle of Palms." Who cares about
Lockhart save as the biographer of Sir Walter Scott ?
And Southey, the poet laureate of the day, is as little
read as the " Keepsakes," " Forget-Me-Nots," and
" Amulets " of the period. Hogg, again, is still alive.
Never is there a Scottish concert, unless it is restricted
to the songs of Burns, but has in its programme some
one or other of Hogg's lyrics, " When the Kye Comes
Hame," or " Bonnie Prince Charlie." For reading, few
lyrics can equal " Bird of the wilderness, blithesome
and cumberless." Although so many beautiful poems
have been written on the sky-lark, it may be doubted
whether any other poet has to the same extent succeeded
in expressing, in the melody of the words, the upward
soaring of the lark, and his flood of music poured over the
wide waste of grassy hills. Hogg's defects were largely
the result of what may be called his fatal facility for
rhyming; and what followed, as a natural consequence,
an abhorrence of the labour of the file. His prose
suffered from the same defects, only to a greater extent.
If he sometimes, though but rarely, blotted out lines
of verse, he never did so with regard to prose. What
probably was a potent cause of defect was his inability
to think out the plan of a story carefully, so that each
part should have a due share in the working out of the
plot. At the same time, his marvellous facility of
invention kept the story going. Episodes are apt to

50 Memoir : Life of the Ettrick Shepherd.

put the main plot into the shade. The traditionary
stories introduced into that pretty tale, " The Wool-
gatherer," do not help the progress of events, but rather
hinder it, and, still more, withdraw the attention from
the central idea. Still, after making all allowance for
these and other defects, the Ettrick Shepherd's tales
are wonderful. For pure fancy, for portrayal of Scottish
character, he is equalled by few, and excelled by yet
fewer. It speaks well for the taste of the present day
that there is a revival of interest in the works of James

In his early manhood, Hogg, with his athletic figure,
his height of nearly six feet, his luminous blue eyes,
and his long auburn locks that fell to his shoulders, was
the cynosure of the eyes of all the maidens when of a
Sunday he entered the parish church. In later years,
while he lost much of this Adonis beauty, his was a
comely, striking figure in the streets of the northern
metropolis. His broad shoulders and capacious chest,
his well turned legs and ankles, spoke health and
activity. His face, which he declared to be out of all
drawing, was lighted up with kindly good nature, and
his blue eyes shone with that shrewd humour so often
seen in the faces of the peasantry of Scotland, while the
lofty white forehead removed the expression from the
category of the commonplace. It will be long ere
Scotland looks upon his like again.


IN the following miscellaneous narrative, I do not
pretend to give a life of my illustrious and
regretted friend. That has been done by half-a-
dozen already, and will be given by his son-in-law fully
and clearly the only man who is thoroughly qualified
for the task, and is in possession of the necessary docu-
ments. The whole that I presume to do is, after an
intimate acquaintance of thirty years, to give a few
simple and personal anecdotes, which no man can give
but myself. It is well known what Sir Walter was in
his study, but these are to show what he was in the
parlour, in his family, and among his acquaintances;
and, in giving them, I shall in nothing extenuate, or set
down aught through partiality, and as for malice, that
is out of the question.

The first time I ever saw Sir Walter was one fine day
in the summer of 1801. I was busily engaged working
in the field at Ettrick-house, when old Wat Shiel came
posting over the water to me and told me that I boud
to gang away down to the Ramsey-cleuch as fast as my

52 Domestic Manners of

feet could cany me, for there were some gentlemen
there who wanted to see me directly.

" Wha can be at the Ramsey-cleuch that want to see
me, Wat ? "

" I couldna say, for it wasna me they spake to i' the
bygangin', but I'm thinking it's the Shirra an' some o'
his gang."

I was rejoiced to hear this, for I had seen the first
volumes of "The Minstrelsy of the Border," and had
copied a number of ballads from my mother's recital, or
chaunt rather, and sent them to the editor preparatory
to the publication of a third volume. I accordingly
flung down my hoe and hasted away home to put on
my Sunday clothes, but before reaching it I met the
Shirra and Mr. William Laidlaw coming to visit me.
They alighted, and remained in our cottage a consider-
able time, perhaps nearly two hours, and we were
friends on the very first exchange of sentiments. It
could not be otherwise, for Scott had no duplicity about
him, he always said as he thought. My mother
chaunted the ballad of Old Maitlan' to him, with which
he was highly delighted, and asked her if she thought
it ever had been in print ? And her answer was, " O
na, na, sir, it never was printed i' the world, for my
brothers an* me learned it an' many mae frae auld
Andrew Moor, and he learned it frae auld Baubie Mettlin,
wha was housekeeper to the first laird of Tushielaw.
She was said to hae been another nor a gude ane, an'
there are many queer stories about hersel', but O, she
had been a grand singer o' auld songs an' ballads."

Sir Walter Scott. 53

" The first laird of Tushielaw, Margaret ? " said he,
" then that must be a very old story indeed ?"

" Ay, it is that, sir ! It is an auld story ! But mair
nor that, exceptin' George Warton an' James Stewart,
there war never ane o' my sangs prentit till ye prentit
them yoursel', an' ye hae spoilt them awthegither.
They were made for singin' an' no for readin' ; but ye
hae broken the charm noo, an' they'll never sung mair.
An' the worst thing of a', they're nouther richt spell'd
nor richt setten down."

" Take ye that, Mr. Scott," said Laidlaw.

Scott answered with a hearty laugh, and the quot-
ation of a stanza from Wordsworth, on which my mother
gave him a hearty rap on the knee with her open hand
and said, " Ye'll find, however, that it is a' true that I'm
tellin' ye." My mother has been too true a prophetess,
for from that day to this, these songs, which were the
amusement of every winter evening, have never been
sung more.

We were all to dine at Ramsey-cleuch with the
Messrs. Brydon, but Scott and Laidlaw went away to
look at some monuments in Ettrick churchyard, and
some other old thing, I have forgot what, and I was to
follow. On going into the stable-yard at Ramsey-
cleuch I met with Mr. Scott's groom, a greater original
than his master, at whom I asked if the Shirra was
come ?

" Oo ay, lad, the Shirra's come," said he. " Are ye
the chap that mak's the auld ballads, an' sings them sae

54 Domestic Manners of

I said, I fancied it was I that he meant, though I
could not say that I had ever made ony very auld

" Ay, then, lad, gang your ways into the house, and
speir for the Shirra. They'll let ye see where he is, an'
he'll be very glad to see ye, that I'll assure you o'."

During the sociality of the evening, the discourse ran
very much on the different breeds of sheep, that ever-
lasting drawback on the community of Ettrick Forest.
The original black-faced forest breed being always
denominated the short sheep, and the Cheviot breed the
long sheep. The disputes at that time ran very high
about the practicable profits of each. Mr. Scott, who
had come into that remote district to visit a bard of
Nature's own making and preserve what little fragments
remained of the country's legendary lore, felt himself
rather bored with the everlasting question of the long
and short sheep. So, at length, putting on his most
serious calculating face, he turned to Mr. Walter
Brydon, and said, "I am rather at a loss regarding the
merits of this very important question. How long
must a sheep actually measure to come under the
denomination of a loiig sheep ? "

Mr. Brydon, who, in the simplicity of his heart,
neither perceived the quiz nor the reproof, fell to
answer with great sincerity, " It's the woo', sir ; it's the
woo' that mak's the difference, the lang sheep hae the
short woo' an' the short sheep hae the lang thing, an'
these are just kind o' names we gie them, ye see."

Laidlaw got up a great guffaw, on which Scott could

Sir Walter Scott. 55

not preserve his face of strict calculation any longer; it
went gradually awry, and a hearty laugh followed.
When I saw the very same words, repeated near the
beginning of the Black Dwarf, how could I be mistaken
of the author? It is true that Johnnie Ballantyne
swore me into a nominal acquiescence to the contrary
for several years, but in my own mind I could never get
the better of that and several other coincidences.

The next day we went off, five in number, to visit the
wilds of Rankleburn, to see if, on the farms of Buccleuch
and Mount Comyn, the original possession of the Scotts,
there were any relics of antiquity which could mark out
the original residence of the chiefs whose distinction it
was to become the proprietors of the greater part of the
border districts. We found no remains of either tower
or fortalice, save an old chapel and churchyard, and the
remnants of a mill-kiln and mill-dam, where corn never
grew, but where, as old Satchells very appropriately

"Had heather bells been corn o' the best,
The Buccleuch mill would have had a noble grist."

It must have been used for grinding the chiefs black
mails, which it is well known were all paid to him in
kind; and an immense deal of vitual is still paid to him
in the same way, the origin of which no man knows.

Besides having been mentioned by Satchells, the most
fabulous historian that ever wrote, there was a remain-
ing tradition in the country that there was a font-stone
of blue marble, out of which the ancient heirs of

56 Domestic Manners of

Buccleuch were baptized, covered up among the ruins
of the old church. Mr. Scott was curious to see if
we could discover it, but on going among the ruins
where the altar was known to have been, we found the
rubbish at that spot dug out to the foundation, we knew
not by whom, but it was manifest that the font had
either been taken away, or that it had never been there.
I never heard since that it had ever been discovered by
any one.

As there appeared, however, to have been a sort of
recess in the eastern gable, we fell a-turning over some
loose stones, to see if the baptismal font was not there,
when we came to one half of a small pot encrusted thick
with rust. Mr. Scott's eyes brightened, and he swore it
was part of an ancient consecrated helmet. Laidlaw,
however, fell a picking and scratching with great
patience until at last he came to a layer of pitch inside,
and then, with a malicious sneer, he said, "The truth is,
Mr. Scott, it's nouther mair nor less than an auld tar-
pot, that some of the farmers hae been buisting their
sheep out o' i' the kirk lang syne." Sir Walter's shaggy
eye-brows dipped deep over his eyes, and, suppressing
a smile, he turned and strode away as fast as he could,
saying, that "we had just rode all the way to see that
there was nothing to be seen."

He was at that time a capital horseman, and was
riding on a terribly high-spirited grey nag, which had

1 3 5 6 7 8

Online LibraryJames HoggDomestic manners of Sir Walter Scott → online text (page 3 of 8)