James Hogg.

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James Hogg, ' The Ettriek Shepherd.'

toy kind permission of Messrs, Blackwood & Sons, Edinburgh,
















INDEX, - 121



FEW parts of Scotland have been more glorified
by the Muses than has the Ettrick Forest, with
its twin streams, the Ettrick and the Yarrow.
Wherever the English language is spoken or its
literature read will Wordsworth's " Yarrow Revisited "
be prized; wherever Lowland Scots is sung will
the sorrows of Ettrick, made desolate by Flodden,
find a voice in " The Floo'rs o' the Forest." Among
its round and grassy hills, hiding in its bosky dells, the
Queen of Faery has held her court, nay, held converse
with men whose memory was yet fresh in the beginning
of last century. At the middle of the century preced-
ing, witches and warlocks, wraiths and warnings, were
common, and elves and brownies far from rare. It was
the chosen home of ballad poetry, especially that of the
weird and mysterious sort. Some of the most romantic
figures in Scottish history have been connected with
Selkirkshire in critical points in their career. After
his victory of Stirling Bridge, Wallace met the notables
of Scotland in St. Mary's Kirk, and was chosen by
them Guardian of the Realm. Near where the Yarrow
joins the Ettrick is the fatal field of Philiphaugh, which

10 Memoir :

put a period to the victories of the ill-fated Montrose.
Given but a suitable soil in the soul of the youth, these
were the surroundings to foster the growth of romance
and poetry.

There is, however, another side to this picture. While
to one who in the height of summer drives along the
beautiful tree-sheltered road that follows the course of
the Yarrow or the Ettrick everything presents visions of
quiet loveliness, verdant holms embraced by softly
murmuring streams, and shaded by full-foliaged trees,
further up both valleys become much barer. This
bleakness and bareness were more pronounced less than
a century ago. Washington Irving, who visited Sir
Walter Scott in the month of August, 1816, and was
taken by him to some height which commanded an
extensive prospect, tells how his host pointed out place
after place famous in Border legend or poetry. While
Sir Walter was going on with his localisation of poetic
memories, Irving confesses: "I gazed about me with
mute surprise ; I may say disappointment. I beheld a
mere succession of grey waving hills, line beyond line
as far as my eye could reach, monotonous in their
aspect, and so destitute of trees that one could almost
see a stout fly walking along their profile; and the
far-famed Tweed appeared a naked stream flowing
between hills, without a tree or a thicket on its banks."
Quarter of a century earlier we have in the first
" Statistical Account of Scotland " a description of the
Parish of Ettrick, by the Rev. Robert Russell, the then
recently appointed parish minister, afterwards Dr.

Life of the Ettrick ShepJierd. 11

Russell, of Yarrow. He declares the district to be
desolate in the extreme : it is made up of hills, mostly
bare the few trees mainly pines little agriculture, few
crops reared, and these only come to perfection in hot
dry years. There are only 17 ploughs and 20 carts in
the parish ; no waggons or carriages. The roads are
almost impassable, the bridges few and in bad repair.
The best road is that to Selkirk, which is so indifferent
that although the distance is only sixteen miles it takes
a horseman four hours to traverse it. Snow is at times
a great inconvenience. The writer says : " Often for
many months at a time we can have no intercourse with
mankind." The whole scene is one of chill, mist, and
misery grey, inhospitable hills, treacherous bogs, and
roaring, impassable streams. In winter, when snow or
sleet are not falling in driving, drifting showers, the
landscape is covered with a hard mail of ice or a soft
garment of snow in mountainous wreaths. On it all the
melancholy face of the incumbent looks out from a
window of his somewhat dilapidated manse. The truth
is, Mr. Russell had come from being tutor in the house
of Napier of Merchiston Hall, where for four years he had
been meeting distinguished society. The change from
the fertile carse to the wilds of Ettrick was a violent

From the end window of his manse Mr. Russell could
see, a little way down the side of the Ettrick water,
between his house and the parish school, a thatched
cottage a hovel, rather, it would be called now. The
thick walls, built of rough irregular stones, cemented

12 Memoir:

with clay, were pierced by a door and two windows. The
low doorway admitted the visitor to a short narrow
passage, with the kitchen to the one hand and the ben
room to the other. This was the farm house of
Ettrickhall, where lived Robert Hogg and his wife,
Margaret Laidlaw. Robin was a somewhat notable
man in the parish the only ruling elder. He had
begun life as a shepherd, but having saved a little
money, he determined to be a store farmer on his own
account, and took the two adjacent small farms of
Ettrickhall and Ettrickhouse. To sheep farming he
added dealing in sheep, and sold many flocks in the
markets at St. Boswells and Carlisle. At first he
succeeded pretty well, but a fall in prices, accompanied
by the absconding of his principal debtor, made hirn
bankrupt. Everything he possessed was sold by public
auction, and he would have been reduced to penury had
the neighbour who took the farms not proved a friend,
and continued Robin in occupation as his grieve.
Although now so humble, Hogg seems to have been of
respectable ancestry. Professor Veitch claims for the
Hoggs a Scandinavian descent, and is confident that
not merely the name, but the personal appearance of
those who bore the name, confirmed this opinion.
Robert himself claimed to have a connection with the
Hoggs of Fauldshope, hereditary vassals of the Scotts
of Harden.

His wife was a remarkable woman; she was to a
great extent self-taught. Her mother dying when she
was quite a child, she, as eldest daughter, had to leave

Life of the Ettrick Shepherd. 13

school and assume the responsibilities of house-
mother. By and bye she began to feel painfully her
inferiority to her younger brothers and sisters. After
an interval of tears and despondency, she set herself
vigorously to the study of the Scriptures, and by this
means remedied the defects of her education. As she had
a vivid imagination and a retentive memory, she eagerly
heard, and scrupulously retained, the legendary ballads
that were floating about the Border district many of
these, it is to be feared, perished with her death.

This couple were the parents of James Hogg, the
Ettrick Shepherd. He, their second son, was born in
the end of November, 1770. Although his home was
so near the parish schoolhouse, James only had some
three months' teaching, as the financial disasters to
which we have referred had rendered it necessary that
he, little mite of seven as he was, had to be hired out to
herd cattle. In his autobiography he tells us that his
wages were a lamb and a pair of shoes. There, on the
solitary hillside, the child-poet conjured up opponents,
against whom he ran races, and to outstrip whom he
threw off article after article of his scanty clothing;
thus, naked and triumphant, he continued his herding
till some one collected his scattered garments. The
following winter he had another three months of
education, when there was an unsuccessful effort to
introduce him to the mysteries of penmanship, and this
ended his education so far as tuition was concerned.
There were, however, other educational influences at
work. His elder brother presents us with a picture of

14 Memoir:

home life which explains much: we see the house-
mother while baking, spinning, sewing, chant over the
wild, legendary ballads that she had heard from old
chroniclers of the past ; or tell the weird traditions of
wraiths, kelpies, brownies, fairies, and witches that filled
the Border air with mystery. Sometimes she repeated
the metrical Psalms to her boys, and taught them to
repeat them. James, especially, was ready and
receptive, and could repeat these before he could read.
We can see the eager blue-eyed urchin following
breathlessly now the ballad of "Auld Maitland," and
now the tales of " Wallace Wight," or of the hard times
when there were snow storms and floods in the hills,
while his golden hair assumed a more ruddy hue in the
glow of the peat fire. Her predilection for the mysterious
and supernatural Mrs Hogg probably inherited
from her grandfather, William Laidlaw, commonly
called Will o' Phaup, famous not only for feats of agility
and strength, but also as the last man who had seen the

The religious history of Ettrick during the 18th
century had been a somewhat peculiar one. Enshrined
in the memory of all the old people of Hogg's boyhood
stood the figure of Thomas Boston, minister from 1707
to 1732, and he, as a theologian, exercised a pro-
found influence on lowland Scotland and the north of
Ireland. In every farm house where there was any
tincture of religious culture were to be found one or
more of Boston's works. Hogg has introduced him
into his ballad of the " Pedlar " " The minister there

Life of the Ettrick Shepherd. 15

was a body o' skill." Succeeding him there had been,
till the short incumbency of Mr. Russell, no less than
eight ministers, most of whom seem to have fallen
before the temptation of qualifying their solitude by
potations. Potts, the last of them, especially on one
occasion, scandalised the natives by mounting a turf
dyke in a state of high inebriation, fancying himself on
horseback, and urging his steed on with his wig as a
riding whip. He was minister in Hogg's boyhood ; but
he vas relieved of the duties of his office, though
allowed to retain half the stipend. Notwithstanding
these untoward influences there was a deep vein of
piety in the natives of Ettrick, a vein which Hogg also

After this last quarter of education, the early spring
saw Eogg again herding cattle. Here he fell in with a
rosy maiden, some half-a-dozen summers his senior, and
boyishly admired and loved her. After their frugal
dinner he was wont to lay his head in her lap and
pretend to fall asleep. One day he heard her say,
" Puir little lad ; juist tired to death." Then he tells us
such was the effect of this sympathy on him that he
wept till he was afraid she would feel the warm tears
trickling on her knee. That fine sensibility showed the
incipient poet.

After this he served with nearly a dozen masters in
course of fifteen years. One incident in this period is
worthy of mention. Having saved five shillings, he
expended them on a violin. On this he sawed away at
all the tunes he knew, and thus, not a little to the dis-

16 Memoir:

comfort of his auditors, he consoled himself for his hard
lot. A fiddler at a dance in a farm where Hogg was
employed as shepherd, going out to the farm court, was
amazed to hear the airs he had just been playing
grotesquely imitated by some unseen and unlocalisable
musician. Thinking he was a victim of Satanic
attentions, he fled for refuge back to the farm kitchen
in a state of abject terror. The farmer relieved his
mind by telling him the source of these mysterious

Towards the end of this period he was shepherd with
three farmers in succession of the name of Laidlaw, all
more or less distant relatives of his mother. With the
first of these he stayed eighteen months; with the
second two years ; but with the third he remained ten
years. While with the second of these Laidlaws, Hogg
became acquainted with Blind Harry's "Wallace" and
Ramsay's " Gentle Shepherd." Strange to saj, two
things proved stumbling blocks to him that the/ were
in rhyme and in Scots. At the same time he enjoyed
them greatly. When, however, he went to Blackhouse,
the farm of the third of those Laidlaws, he was free of a
more extensive collection of books/which comprised most
of the greater English classics. Even a greater boon to
him was the friendship which sprung up between him
and William Laidlaw, the son of his master. Much
better educated and more extensively read than the
Shepherd, he yet recognised the presence of genius, and
so, readily put what store he had of information and
culture at the service of his less-favoured friend. One

Life of tJie Ettrick Shepherd. 17

thing he urged on Hogg, which the poet would have
been well to have yielded to that was, careful polishing
of his verses. Hogg preferred to try to do better next

During these ten years, from 1790 to 1800, Hogg not
only occupied himself with the study of books and
music; he became a noted athlete. A local poetical
broadside, descriptive of the prowess of the different
competitors in some games in the upper ward of
Lanarkshire, had a verse like this :

" The Ettrick poet he cam' owre,

A cliftie, clever chiel, man ;
But Jamie Battie frae Daebeth,
Beat him by half a heel, man."

Dr. Russell, of Yarrow, quotes from a local poet of
Jnnerleithen a verse which shows that Hogg's interest
in these contests continued long after he had ceased to
be a contestant. Hogg evidently was of Plato's
opinion, that gymnastics as well as music was needed if
a man were to be truly educated. Certainly his
occupation of shepherd implied the possession of no
ordinary amount of agility and endurance. Every
sense had to be in keenest exercise, and every bodily
faculty had to be ready for work, if one would be a
successful shepherd.

In this period he began to compose verses. In
the year 1796, as he tells us in his autobiography,
he commenced writing verses, and was proud of
the title given him of "Jamie the Poeter." These

18 Memoir :

songs and ballads were intended to be sung by the
milk-maids and other lasses about the farms. Composed
and adjusted wholly in the mind of the poet, commit-
ting them to writing was a matter of great difficulty.
We have above referred to the unsuccessful attempt to
teach Hogg writing when he enjoyed that last quarter
of tuition ; he afterwards remedied this by copying the
italic letters, and did at length achieve a legible script.
He tells us how he improvised a notebook from a few
sheets of paper stitched together, and, filling a phial
with ink, which, having corked, he fastened by a string
to his waistcoat, he had now but to secure a quill pen
to go to the hills fully prepared for the visit of the Muse.
When in the house the necessity of writing came upon
him, he threw off coat and vest, as if to set about
shearing sheep on a hot day ; every few lines he had to
stop with a cramped wrist. Later, his habit was to write
the verses as they came to him on an ordinary school
slate ; then when the slate was full to engross them in
his improvised note books to be ready for publication.

During the year 1797, while he was herding his
sheep on the hillside one summer's day, a half-witted
man, called John Scott, came to him, and to amuse
Hogg repeated the whole of " Tarn o' Shanter.'' He
did not allow his visitor to leave him till he could
repeat from his lips the whole poem. Scott informed
him that it was the work of Robert Burns, of whose
existence Hogg then heard for the first time. Burns
had died the previous summer. Hogg felt himself in
some sort his destined successor. This idea was the

Life of the Ettrick Shepherd. 19

more fostered by a mistake Hogg had made as to the
date of his own birth. He fancied he was precisely
twelve years the junior of the Ayrshire bard that he
was born on the 25th of January, 1772 whereas he
must have been born fourteen months earlier. The
admiration he had for the poem which he had just
heard, combined with his consciousness of his own
powers, induced feelings similar to those with which
Correggio first saw the paintings of Raphael. Hogg
felt he could say, " I also am a poet." While his
genius made his right to the succession indisputable,
his want of education and of the self-judgment which
results from it rendered him incapable of revising his
work, though this, as we have seen, was urged on him by
his friend Laidlaw; hence his productions are so unequal.
When this period of his stay with the Laidlaws of
Blackhouse was drawing to a close he published for the
first time one of his songs, " Donald Macdonald." We
shall give the first two verses :

" My name it is Donald JVJacdonald,

I leeve in the Hielands sae grand,
I hae followed our banner, and will do

Wherever my Maker has land.
When rankit amang the blue bonnets

Nae danger can fear me ava,
I ken that my brethren around me
Are either to conquer or fa'.
Brogues an' brochin an' a',
Brochin an' brogues an' a',
An' isna her vera weel aff
Wi' her brogues an' brochin an' a'

20 Memoir :

" What though we befreendit young Charlie ?

Tae tell it I dinna think shame,
Puir lad, he cam' tae us but barely,

An' reckoned oor mountains his hame.
; Tis true that oor reason forbad us,
But tenderness carried the day :
Had Geordie cam' friendless amang us
Wi' him we had a' gane away.
Sword an' buckler an' a',
Buckler an' sword an' a',
Noo for George we'll encounter the devil
Wi' sword an' buckler an' a'."

" The first time I sang it," says Hogg in his auto-
biography, "was to a party of social friends in the
Crown Tavern, Edinburgh. They commended it, on
which I proffered it to one of them for his magazine.
He said it was much too good for that, and advised me
to give it to Mr. John Hamilton, who would set it
to music and get it engraved. I did so, and went away
again to the mountains, where I heard from day to day
that the popularity of my song was unbounded; and yet
no one ever knew or enquired who was the author."
Hogg further tells how, when a Mr. Oliver sang it in the
hearing of the Earl of Moira, the Earl was so charmed
with it that he proffered the singer his whole influence
in Scotland, but never thought of enquiring about the
author. It seems there was a General MacDonald,
who, imagining the song was about himself, had it sung
every day at his mess, and, snapping his fingers, joined
enthusiastically in the chorus ; yet neither he nor any of

Life of the Ettrick Shepherd. 21

his officers ever knew, or apparently cared to know, who
had written it.

The popularity of " Donald Macdonald " emboldened
Hogg to another poetical venture. He had brought a
number of sheep to the Edinburgh market for sale, and
finding time hang heavy on his hands, he determined to
write down from memory some of his songs, and have
them printed and published at his own risk. Having
found a printer, he carried his intention into effect, and
then, having disposed of his sheep, took his departure
for the hills again. Never was poetry ushered into the
world more recklessly than was this poetical pamphlet,
for it was no more : none of the anxious care of
correcting the press bothered our happy Shepherd.
The result, as might be expected, was disappointing.
The poet was mortified to find some stanzas omitted,
others misplaced, and every page disfigured with typo-
graphical blunders. Although one of the compositions
which formed this casual concourse of poetical atoms
had the honour of being copied in some of the periodi-
cals of the day, the poet himself declares the whole to
have been sad stuff.

In the same year, when the Shepherd made this
unlucky plunge into literature, two things occurred
which had a great influence on Hogg's future life : he
read Scott's " Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border,"
and, more important still, met Scott himself. When he
read the " Minstrelsy " he tells us he was dissatisfied
with the imitations he found there of the ancient
ballads, and proceeded to produce what he thought

22 Memoir :

worthier imitations. In " The Domestic Manners of Sir
Walter Scott," reprinted in the present volume, Hogg
gives an account of his first meeting with the "Wizard."
We shall leave our readers to his account of this.
From this booklet may be gathered the kindly, almost
fraternal interest Scott took in this child of genius,
whom circumstance had so little favoured, and with
what freedom Hogg availed himself of Scott's advice
and aid. On the other hand, Hogg's admiration for
Sir Walter, notwithstanding occasional outbursts of
petulance, amounted almost to idolatry.

Although Hogg was a poet he was also a shepherd,
and, like most lowland shepherds, was filled with the
desire to be a farmer on his own account. He paid
more than one visit to the Highlands, and in the course
of one of them had reached Harris. As during his
residence at Blackhouse he had saved 200, he
determined to take a sheep farm in the Island of
Harris. In prospect of this he penned his farewell to
Ettrick. This scheme fell through on account of some
legal difficulty, and the result was that our Shepherd
lost all his savings. One cannot but feel thankful to
Providence for this misfortune. Had Hogg's plans
succeeded we should have had a well-to-do Harris
farmer the more, but literature would never have been
enriched with " Bonnie Kilmeny." Buoyant by nature,
Hogg did not lose hope, but betook himself to his crook
again, and hired himself to a Xithsdale farmer, Mr.
Harkness, of Mitchelslack, and he was sent to keep
sheep on a lonely height called Queensberry Hill. For

Life of the Et trick SJtepJierd. 23

miles all round there was no human habitation, nor
even a pathway, save sheep tracks; rarely did any
wanderer intrude upon the solitude. Here, thus cut
off from neighbours, Hogg allowed his clothes to
become ragged, and was content to live in a bothy so
primitive that he could only enter it on all fours, and
when within could not stand upright, but could only
squat on the floor. There he was surprised and
inspirited by a visit from Allan Cunningham and his
brother. Allan was then a stonemason, but had already
written some songs, and felt in him the power of
penning more. There, in this solitude, were composed
most of the pieces which form " The Mountain Bard."
This was published for Hogg by Constable. Notwith-
standing that Hogg came to him with the introduction
of Sir Walter Scott, Constable demurred till the poet
agreed to get subscriptions for two hundred copies.
These, with the help of Scott, he succeeded in getting.
The ballads that make up this collection are very
unequal ; all are too long.* Although Hogg was so
familiar with the genuine ballads, he never seems to
have comprehended how much of their charm lies in the
condensation and reticence which characterise the
finest of them, notably the " Twa Corbies," to which he

* It was in connection with "The Mountain Bard" that Hogg paid
that visit to Scott's Edinburgh house, of which Lockhart gives such a
ludicrous description. Because Mrs. Scott, who was delicate, was
reclining on a couch, the Shepherd threw himself at length on another,
and at dinner increased in familiarity with Scott, till he was calling him
" Wattie." There probably was some truth in the story, but Lockhart

24 Memoir :

refers as having suggested the ballad with which he
opens. In spite of its defects, there are not a few
beautiful verses in " The Mountain Bard," as for instance
the opening verses of the " Pedlar : "

" Twas late, late, late on a Saturday's nicht,

The moon was set an' the wind was lown,
The lazy mist crap down f rae the height

An' the dim blue lowe glimmered laigh on the downe.

" O'er the rank scented fen the bleeter was warping,

High on the black muir the foxes did howl,
All by the lone hearth the cricket sat harping,
An' far on the air came the notes of the owl."

The picture is perfect in its " eeriness," and so in its
preparation for the intervention of the supernatural.
Unlike poetry in general, " The Mountain Bard " was a
commercial success. Almost simultaneously Hogg
achieved success in a literary work of a totally different
character. This was " The Shepherd's Guide." It was
a practical treatise on the diseases of sheep, with advice
as to the breeds of sheep most suitable for the different
soils and climatic conditions. It professed to be written
by a shepherd for shepherds. The result of the two

was an artist in mischievous fiction. Laidlaw, criticising another story

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