poet and novelist of humble background, associated with Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine from its inception, and one of the strongest imaginative writers in Scotland during the lifetime of his friend Sir Walter Scott.
BORN in humble circumstances near Ettrick in the Borders of Scotland, Hogg had little formal education and earned a precarious living as a shepherd – later as a small farmer – and was never far from poverty. Despite this, he acquired enough learning (though never social polish) to achieve wide publication. He published Scottish Pastorals in 1801 and was recruited by Walter Scott to collect ballads for The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1804). Hogg moved to Edinburgh in 1810 to start The Spy magazine, which failed the following year. His epic poem The Queen’s Wake led him to publisher William Blackwood, who would soon launch his Edinburgh Monthly Magazine (later Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine). Blackwood’s then became the primary engine for Hogg’s literary fame, with Hogg contributing over one hundred works and appearing as the character of ‘The Ettrick Shepherd’ in its Noctes Ambrosianae, a rambunctious serial symposium reflecting on all aspects of contemporary social and literary life. Hogg’s character, often the butt of Noctes’ cruel humour, was arguably the most popular of the literary figures represented in the series.
Hogg also published numerous poetry collections and novels, most famously The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), little regarded at the time but now widely recognised as his masterpiece. Here his knowledge of folklore, sensitivity to language, and dramatic and satiric gifts unite in a superb gothic tale of diabolic possession. A quarrel with Blackwood in 1831 sent him to other publishers, but the two reconciled shortly before Blackwood’s death in 1834. Hogg himself died on 21 November 1835.
Hogg’s ‘Epitaphs on Living Characters’, published in the Scots Magazine in June 1810, depicted Francisas ‘Bonaparte the second’: ‘The one kept the monarchs of Europe in awe; | But this to the genius of Europe gave law’. later reciprocated with a complimentary review of Hogg’s The Queen’s Wake in December 1814.
Ian Campbell and Brian Robert Wall, University of Edinburgh
Gillian Hughes, James Hogg: A Life (Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2007).
Thomas C. Richardson, “James Hogg and Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine: Buying
and Selling the Ettrick Shepherd,” in James Hogg and the Literary Marketplace: Scottish Romanticism and the Working-Class Author, ed. Sharon Alker and Holly Faith Nelson (Surrey: Ashgate, 2009), pp. 185-99.