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(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

James Hogg 1770-1835

Scottish poet, novelist, short story and song writer, journalist, editor, playwright, and essayist.

The following entry presents criticism on Hogg from 1979 through 1998. For further discussion of Hogg's life and career, see NCLC, Volume 4.

A well-known Scottish author of the early nineteenth century, Hogg established a persona as the “Ettrick Shepherd,” a rustic and provincial poet, and gained fame through his association with the influential Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine. Abundant in his literary output, Hogg wrote a variety of poetry, ballads, songs, short stories, and historical narratives, many of which feature his extensive knowledge of Scottish folklore. He is primarily remembered today for his experimental novel, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), which was largely dismissed by contemporaries as an obtuse satire on Christian fanaticism. Featuring Gothic and supernatural elements, including a schizophrenic narrator and a psychological double/devil figure, as well as a proto-modern narrative complexity, the work has been rediscovered by modern critics who have come to view it as a masterpiece of prose fiction. Though many of Hogg's works have been neglected for a century and a half, contemporary scholars have begun the process of reevaluating his literary achievements and are generally receptive to his work.

Biographical Information

Born to a pious tenant farmer, Hogg spent his early life as a shepherd in the Ettrick hills of Scotland following his family's bankruptcy in 1777. With minimal formal schooling, he taught himself to read using the only book available, a Bible, while his early interest in literature was founded on the Scottish oral tradition of ballads, songs, and fairy tales that were recited to him by his mother. As his self-education continued in his late teens, Hogg began to read the great works of English and Scottish literature and composed his first pieces of poetry, including verses imitative of John Milton, Alexander Pope, and others. By 1802 he had met Sir Walter Scott as the famous writer was collecting folk ballads for his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. Hogg later read the work and, largely unimpressed with its quality, determined to compose superior verse on the same subject. He subsequently sent several poems to Scott, both his own original ballads and adaptations of those his mother had taught him. Hogg's poetic abilities and his knowledge of Scottish lore impressed Scott, and in the following years a friendship grew between the two men that had an important influence on Hogg's career. Hogg's writings of this period appeared in his 1807 collection, The Mountain Bard: Consisting of Ballads and Songs, Founded on Facts and Legendary Tales. In February of 1810, after Hogg had lost two farms due to lack of funds, he departed the pastoral tranquility of Ettrick for several years and moved to Edinburgh. His weekly periodical, The Spy, containing articles, poems, and tales mostly written by Hogg himself, was published between 1810 and 1811, but collapsed following the printing of a particularly scandalous story. Meanwhile, Hogg began crafting his literary persona as the “Ettrick Shepherd,” a self-taught poet of provincial Scotland. He contributed poetry and prose to Scottish literary magazines and established himself as a national literary figure with his collection The Queen's Wake in 1813. The parodies of The Poetic Mirror; or, The Living Bards of Britain (1816) delighted audiences and maintained Hogg's popularity, though many of his other works of this period were ignored or denigrated by contemporary critics. In 1817 Hogg began a successful relationship with the newly founded Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, which published the collaborative “Translation from an Ancient Chaldee MS.” in October of that year. Coauthored with John Wilson and John Gibson Lockhart, the anonymous satire written in biblical form lampooned prominent Edinburgh Whigs and created a stir...

(The entire section is 93,492 words.)