A study of the relationship between Sir Walter Scott and James
Hogg (1770-1835), the Ettrick Shepherd, is important in the light
of the recent belated recognition of Hogg as a major Scottish writer.
Hogg's present standing, founded mainly on a new appreciation of
his most significant work The Private Memoirs and Confessions
of a Justified Sinner, is in stark contrast to the neglect that
he has suffered since Scott's day. Though Hogg did enjoy considerable
success and popularity during his lifetime, his fame was based on
his poetry, which is now all but forgotten and rarely read. His
success was also partly due to his association with Scott, whose
patronage and friendship was to provide Hogg with valuable contacts
and financial help.
The two writers were both raised in the Scottish Borders, although
in Scott's case only partly. Scott's upbringing in Sandyknowe
with his grandparents initiated and influenced his entire literary
career, which started with the publication of a collection of Border
ballads in The Minstrelsy
of the Scottish Border in 1802. It was while researching
this publication that he became acquainted with Hogg.
Hogg was born in 1770 in the parish of Ettrick, a remote and isolated
community. When six years old, his father, a tenant-farmer became
bankrupt. Hogg was forced to leave school and to spend the rest
of his childhood in service on varius farms. Between the ages of
six and fifteen, Hogg claims to have neither read nor written, and
to have had experienced great difficulty when trying to write again
in his late teens. Nonetheless, his first poem was published in
the Scots Magazine when he was only twenty-three. He did not achieve
poetic fame though until 1813 when his long poem The Queen's Wake,
made the 'Ettrick Shephard' a literary celebrity but with a fame
depending on curiosity value. His writings were seldom judged objectively
without reference to Hogg's humble origins. Fame increased through
the Noctes Ambrosianae of Blackwood's Magazine, which purported
to represent the table-talk of the Blackwood group. These were mainly
the work of John Wilson ('Christopher North') though Hogg himself
also contributed and further popularized the picture of Hogg as
an untutored child of nature. 'a boozing buffoon'. Prints showed
him with open mouth roaring drunkenly. Butt of Blackwood wits: reaction
varied from anger to good-natured enjoyment, enjoyed the wide publicity
and frequently encouraged interest in him as an autodidact.
His Familiar Anecdotes of Sir Walter Scott offended Lockhart who
was at that time engaged on the official biography of his father-in-law.
He find Hogg tactless in speculating about Lady Scott's parentage
and comparing Scott's condition in the final stage of his illness
to that of a drunken man. Comments too on Scott's excessive sympathies
for 'old aristocracy of the country. Lockhart vetoed UK publication
so it was published by Harper and Brothers in New York, April 1834.
It did though appear in June 1835 in a Glasgow reprint (John Reid
& Co.). Pirated edition: The Domestic Manners and Private Life
of Sir Walter Scott. Omitted passages objected to by Lockhart.
Hogg was a shepherd working on the land of Scott's friend William
Laidlaw, and it was Hogg, raised in the true Border tradition, who
supplied Scott with some of the poetry and ballads which appear,
albeit altered, in the Minstrelsy. Both writers demonstrated
astonishing narrative sophistication, some of it certainly intuitive,
some of it clearly derived from their knowledge of oral Border narrative
traditions. However, where Scott's Romanticism looked to some extent
towards German or European models, Hogg's was deeply rooted in and
reflective of his traditional Scottish rural background. This had
everything to do with class - Scott was a staunch Edinburgh Tory
with aristocratic aspirations, educated in Edinburgh, while the
self-educated Hogg could never shake off the tag of the rustic 'Ettrick
Hogg cut a rough figure among the Edinburgh intelligentsia, much
in the same way as Burns must have done a generation before, though
Hogg was never to achieve the latter's reputation during his lifetime.
This could be attributed to the fact that the Romantic fashion for
the peasant poet which had favoured Burns in the 1780s had all but
died out by the time Hogg was writing in the 1820s.
As with so many of Scott's acquaintances, Hogg remained a lifelong
friend, and Scott aided his career as a writer wherever possible.
Scott recognized and acknowledged Hogg's raw genius, but was guilty,
along with his contemporaries, of misunderstanding Hogg's objectives
in his later work, particularly in his prose. In a letter to John
Murray he writes:
"Hoggs Tales are a great failure to be sure. With a very considerable
portion of original genius he is sadly deficient not only in correct
taste but in common tact" (Letters V, p. 140).
Scott was, however, a tireless and generous patron, helping his
friend through his own influence wherever possible. In one of several
letters to Lady Dalkeith on Hogg's behalf, Scott promises to assure
the Duke of Dalkeith, whose patronage Hogg was seeking, of Hogg's
"skill & character. His charge seems moderate and I will
answer for his honesty--" (Letters I, p. 300).
Scott's letters reveal his fondness for Hogg together with a patronizing
stance to his work and social demeanour. Hogg clearly did not assimilate
into fashionable Edinburgh society: a genius on the fringe, he struggled
for recognition and was eventually ridiculed by the very people
he worked for at Blackwoods Magazine. Scott's own son-in-law
and biographer, John Gibson Lockhart, a contributor to Blackwoods,
took a particular dislike to Hogg, not least when, following Scott's
death in 1832, Hogg published his Familiar Anecdotes of Sir Walter
Scott. Lockhart claimed that Hogg had 'insulted his [Scott's]
dust', though in exactly what way remains unclear, for Hogg displays
an unmistakable admiration for Scott:
"He was truly an extraordinary man; the greatest man in the
world. What are kings and Emperors compared with him? Dust and sand!"
Lockhart's dislike of Hogg is a reflection of Hogg's particular
difficulties with contemporary Edinburgh society. As Douglas Mack
points out, Lockhart's anger could be interpreted as that of a man
with aristocratic pretensions who finds the affairs of his father-in-law
and family discussed in print by a man of lowly social background.
Lockhart personified the gentrified, somewhat arrogant character
of Enlightenment Edinburgh which Hogg found so hard to penetrate,
and which to a large extent was responsible for the failure of his
work in the public eye.
Despite Scott's ambivalence to Hogg's later work, there was more
to unite Scott and Hogg artistically than to separate them. Their
subject matter for example often coincided, including Edinburgh,
folklore, sympathy for the working classes, music, antiquarianism
and Calvinism. Even their narrative techniques seemed to compliment
each other with Scott's Redgauntlet
and Hogg's Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified
Sinner (both published in 1824) - both are constructed through
fictional letters or diary entries with the voice of a fictional
editor interposed between the entries.
It is interesting to compare their developments as writers. Both
started their literary careers with a mutual fascination for Border
ballads and traditions, and both first wrote poetry in the context
of these traditions before gradually developing their own style
of literary prose. Although both are now primarily regarded as novelists,
they achieved fame through their narrative verse. Hogg's success
during his lifetime arose almost entirely from his poetry, which
included The Queen's Wake, while Scott's meteoric career
took off with now relatively little read poems such as Marmion,
The Lady of the Lake
and Rokeby. The
arrival of Byron on the literary scene, combined with the comparative
drop in interest in his poetry after 1813, convinced Scott to turn
his hand to prose. Waverley
was published in 1814. Hogg too saw the need to experiment with
new modes of narrative expression, which were to be found in the
novel form. This, though, is where their paths separated, as Scott's
success at novel writing was immediate and unconfined, while Hogg's
stature gradually diminished in the public eye.
Both writers have also suffered posthumously from shortsighted
criticism, heavy editing and changes in literary taste, particularly
at the beginning of the twentieth century. Scott was enormously
popular on a global scale during his lifetime, and Hogg enjoyed
success through his poetry. By the beginning of the twentieth century
however, Scott's work had suffered from critical snobbery - in schools,
only his medieval romances remained on the shelves, and those more
by way of children's books. Hogg however suffered far more seriously,
and for a greater period of time. His Confessions of a justified
Sinner were edited and re-edited to the point where they bore
little artistic relation to Hogg's original conception, and were
all but lost to the world until the 1960s. It is only now, with
the help of new enlightened criticism and recent publications such
as the Sterling/South Carolina editions, that Hogg is finally taking
his rightful place next to Scott as one of Scotland's greatest literary
figures. Both writers were accomplished poets as well as novelists,
and their reputations are being saved from niche criticism and selectivity.
Both writers also have a part to play in each other's careers. The
accounts Scott and Hogg wrote of each other also form part of the
Corson Collection. These provide an
insight into a fascinating partnership and rivalry.
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Last updated: 24-Oct-2003
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