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“What on earth,” it was once asked “will you make of Hogg?” I think that there is something to be made of Hogg, and that it is something worth the making.  In the first place, it is hardly possible, without studying “the Shepherd” pretty close, fully to appreciate three other persons, all greater, and one infinitely greater, than himself; namely, Wilson, Lockhart, and Scott.  To the two first he was a client in the Roman sense, a plaything, something of a butt, and an invaluable source of inspiration or at least suggestion.  Towards the last he occupied a very curious position, never I think quite paralleled elsewhere ­the position of a Boswell who would fain be a Boswell and is not allowed to be, who has wild notions that he is really a greater man than Johnson and occasionally blasphemes against his idol, but who in the intervals is truly Boswellian.  In the second place, he has usually hitherto been not criticised at all, but either somewhat sneered at or else absurdly over-praised.  In the third place, as both Scott and Byron recognised, he is probably the most remarkable example we have of absolute self-education, or of no education:  for Burns was an academically instructed student in comparison with Hogg.  In the fourth, he produced, amid a mass of rubbish, some charming verse and one prose-story which, though it is almost overlooked by the general, some good judges are, I believe, agreed with me in regarding as one of the very best things of its kind, while it is also a very curious literary puzzle.

The anecdotic history, more or less authentic, of the Ettrick Shepherd would fill volumes, and I must try to give some of the cream of it presently.  The non-anecdotic part may be despatched in a few sentences.  The exact date of his birth is not known, but he was baptized on 9th December 1770.  His father was a good shepherd and a bad farmer ­a combination of characteristics which Hogg himself inherited unimpaired and unimproved.  If he had any early education at all, he forgot it so completely that he had, as a grown-up man, to teach himself writing if not reading a second time.  He pursued his proper vocation for about thirty years, during the latter part of which time he became known as a composer of very good songs, “Donald Macdonald” being ranked as the best.  He printed a few as a pamphlet in the first year of the century, but met with little success.  Then he fell in with Scott, to whom he had been introduced as a purveyor of ballads, not a few of which his mother, Margaret Laidlaw, knew by heart.  This old lady it was who gave Scott the true enough warning that the ballads were “made for singing and no for reading.”  Scott in his turn set Hogg on the track of making some money by his literary work, and Constable published The Mountain Bard together with a treatise called Hogg on Sheep, which I have not read, and of which I am not sure that I should be a good critic if I had.  The two books brought Hogg three hundred pounds.  This sum he poured into the usual Danaids’ vessel of the Scotch peasant ­the taking and stocking of a farm, which he had neither judgment to select, capital to work, nor skill to manage; and he went on doing very much the same thing for the rest of his life.  The exact dates of that life are very sparely given in his own Autobiography, in his daughter’s Memorials, and in the other notices of him that I have seen.  He would appear to have spent four or five years in the promising attempt to run, not one but two large stock-farms.  Then he tried shepherding again, without much success; and finally in 1810, being forty years old and able to write, he went to Edinburgh and “commenced,” as the good old academic phrase has it, literary man.  He brought out a new book of songs called The Forest Minstrel, and then he started a periodical, The Spy.  On this, as he tells us, Scott very wisely remonstrated with him, asking him whether he thought he could be more elegant than Addison or Mackenzie.  Hogg replied with his usual modesty that at any rate he would be “mair original.”  The originality appears to have consisted in personality; for Hogg acknowledges one exceedingly insolent attack on Scott himself, which Scott seems, after at first resenting it (and yet Hogg tells us elsewhere that he never resented any such thing), to have forgiven.  He had also some not clearly known employments of the factorship or surveyorship kind; he was much patronised by two worthy hatters, Messrs. Grieve and Scott, and in 1813 the book which contains all his best verse, The Queen’s Wake, was published.  It was deservedly successful; but, by a species of bad luck which pursued Hogg with extraordinary assiduity, the two first editions yielded nothing, as his publisher was not solvent.  The third, which Blackwood issued, brought him in good profit.  Two years later he became in a way a made man.  He had very diligently sought the patronage of Harriet, Duchess of Buccleuch, and, his claims being warmly supported by Scott and specially recommended by the Duchess on her deathbed to her husband, Hogg received rent free, or at a peppercorn, the farm of Mossend, Eltrive or Altrive.  It is agreed even by Hogg’s least judicious admirers that if he had been satisfied with this endowment and had then devoted himself, as he actually did, to writing, he might have lived and died in comfort, even though his singular luck in not being paid continued to haunt him.  But he must needs repeat his old mistake and take the adjacent farm of Mount Benger, which, with a certain reckless hospitable way of living for which he is not so blamable, kept him in difficulties all the rest of his life and made him die in them.  He lived twenty years longer; married a good-looking girl much his superior in rank and twenty years his junior, who seems to have made him an excellent wife; engaged in infinite magazine- and book-writing, of which more presently; became the inspirer, model and butt of Blackwood’s Magazine; constantly threatened to quarrel with it for traducing him, and once did so; loved Edinburgh convivialities more well than wisely; had the very ill luck to survive Scott and to commit the folly of writing a pamphlet (more silly than anything else) on the “domestic manners” of that great man, which estranged Lockhart, hitherto his fast friend; paid a visit to London in 1832, whereby hang tales; and died himself on 21st November 1835.

Such, briefly but not I think insufficiently given, is the Hogg of history.  The Hogg of anecdote is a much more considerable and difficult person.  He mixes himself up with or becomes by turns (whichever phrase may be preferred) the Shepherd of the Noctes and the Hogg who is revealed to us, say his panegyrists, with “uncalled-for malignity” in Lockhart’s Life of Scott.  But these panegyrists seem to forget that there are two documents which happen not to be signed either “John Gibson Lockhart” or “Christopher North,” and that these documents are Hogg’s Autobiography, published by himself, and the Domestic Manners of Sir Walter Scott, likewise authenticated.  In these two we have the Hogg of the ana put forward pretty vividly.  For instance, Hogg tells us how, late in Sir Walter’s life, he and his wife called upon Scott.  “In we went and were received with all the affection of old friends.  But his whole discourse was addressed to my wife, while I was left to shift for myself....  In order to attract his attention from my wife to one who I thought as well deserved it, I went close up to him with a scrutinising look and said, ’Gudeness guide us, Sir Walter, but ye hae gotten a braw gown.’” The rest of the story is not bad, but less characteristic.  Immediately afterwards Hogg tells his own speech about being “not sae yelegant but mair original” than Addison.  Then there is the other capital legend, also self-told, how he said to Scott, “Dear Sir Walter, ye can never suppose that I belang to your school of chivalry!  Ye are the king of that school, but I’m the king of the mountain and fairy school, which is a far higher ane than yours!” “This,” says Professor Veitch, a philosopher, a scholar, and a man of letters, “though put with an almost sublime egotism, is in the main true.”  Almost equally characteristic is the fact that, after beginning his pamphlet by calling Lockhart “the only man thoroughly qualified for the task” of writing Scott’s life, Hogg elsewhere, in one of the extraordinary flings that distinguish him, writes:  “Of Lockhart’s genius and capabilities Sir Walter always spoke with the greatest enthusiasm:  more than I thought he deserved.  For I knew him a great deal better than Sir Walter did, and, whatever Lockhart may pretend, I knew Sir Walter a thousand times better than he did.”

Now be it remembered that these passages are descriptive of Hogg’s Hogg, to use the always useful classification of Dr. Holmes.  To complete them (the actual texts are too long to give here) it is only necessary to compare the accounts of a certain dinner at Bowhill given respectively by Hogg in the Domestic Manners and by Lockhart in his biography, and also those given in the same places of the one-sided quarrel between Scott and Hogg, because the former, according to his almost invariable habit, refused to collaborate in Hogg’s Poetic Mirror.  In all this we have the man’s own testimony about himself.  It is not in the least incompatible with his having been, as his panegyrists contend, an affectionate friend, husband, and father; a very good fellow when his vanity or his whims were not touched; and inexhaustibly fertile in the kind of rough profusion of flower and weed that uncultivated soil frequently produces.  But it most certainly is also not inconsistent, but on the contrary highly consistent, with the picture drawn by Lockhart in his great book; and it shows how, to say the least and mildest, the faults and foibles of the curious personage known as “the Shepherd of the Noctes” were not the parts of the character on which Wilson need have spent, or did spend, most of his invention.  Even if the “boozing buffoon” had been a boozing buffoon and nothing more, Hogg, who confesses with a little affected remorse, but with evident pride, that he once got regularly drunk every night for some six weeks running, till “an inflammatory fever” kindly pulled him up, could not have greatly objected to this part of the matter.  The wildest excesses of the Eidolon-Shepherd’s vanity do not exceed that speech to Scott which Professor Veitch thinks so true; and the quaintest pranks played by the same shadow do not exceed in quaintness the immortal story of Hogg being introduced to Mrs. Scott for the first time, extending himself on a sofa at full length (on the excuse that he “thought he could never do wrong to copy the lady of the house,” who happened at the time to be in a delicate state of health), and ending by addressing her as “Charlotte.”  This is the story that Mrs. Garden, Hogg’s daughter, without attempting to contest its truth, describes as told by Lockhart with “uncalled-for malignity.”  Now when anybody who knows something of Lockhart comes across “malignant,” “scorpion,” or any term of the kind, he, if he is wise, merely shrugs his shoulders.  All the literary copy-books have got it that Lockhart was malignant, and there is of course no more to be said. But something may be done by a little industrious clearing away of fiction in particulars.  It may be most assuredly and confidently asserted that no one reading the Life of Scott without knowing what Hogg’s friends have said of it would dream of seeing malignity in the notices which it contains of the Shepherd.  Before writing this paper I gave myself the trouble, or indulged myself in the pleasure (for perhaps that is the more appropriate phrase in reference to the most delightful of biographies, if not of books), of marking with slips of paper all the passages in Lockhart referring to Hogg, and reading them consecutively.  I am quite sure that any one who does this, even knowing little or nothing of the circumstances, will wonder where on earth the “ungenerous assaults,” the “virulent detraction,” the “bitter words,” the “false friendship,” and so forth, with which Lockhart has been charged, are to be found.  But any one who knows that Hogg had, just before his own death, and while the sorrow of Sir Walter’s end was fresh, published the possibly not ill-intentioned but certainly ill-mannered pamphlet referred to ­a pamphlet which contains among other things, besides the grossest impertinences about Lady Scott’s origin, at least one insinuation that Scott wrote Lockhart’s books for him ­if any one further knows (I think the late Mr. Scott Douglas was the first to point out the fact) that Hogg had calmly looted Lockhart’s biography of Burns, then he will think that the “scorpion,” instead of using his sting, showed most uncommon forbearance.  This false friend, virulent detractor and ungenerous assailant describes Hogg as “a true son of nature and genius with a naturally kind and simple character.”  He does indeed remark that Hogg’s “notions of literary honesty were exceedingly loose.”  But (not to mention the Burns affair, which gave me some years ago a clue to this sentence) the remark is subjoined to a letter in which Hogg placidly suggests that he shall write an autobiographic sketch, and that Scott, transcribing it and substituting the third person for the first, shall father it as his own.  The other offence I suppose was the remark that “the Shepherd’s nerves were not heroically strung.”  This perhaps might have been left out, but if it was the fact (and Hogg’s defenders never seem to have traversed it) it suggested itself naturally enough in the context, which deals with Hogg’s extraordinary desire, when nearly forty, to enter the militia as an ensign.  Moreover the same passage contains plenty of kindly description of the Shepherd.  Perhaps there is “false friendship” in quoting a letter from Scott to Byron which describes Hogg as “a wonderful creature,” or in describing the Shepherd’s greeting to Wilkie, “Thank God for it!  I did not know you were so young a man” as “graceful,” or in the citation of Jeffrey’s famous blunder in selecting for special praise a fabrication of Hogg’s among the “Jacobite Ballads,” or in the genial description, without a touch of ridicule, of Hogg at the St. Ronan’s Games.  The sentence on Hogg’s death is indeed severe:  “It had been better for his memory had his end been of earlier date; for he did not follow his benefactor until he had insulted his dust.”  It is even perhaps a little too severe, considering Hogg’s irresponsible and childlike nature.  But Lockhart might justly have retorted that men of sixty-four have no business to be irresponsible children; and it is certainly true that in this unlucky pamphlet Hogg distinctly accuses Scott of anonymously puffing himself at his, Hogg’s, expense, of being over and over again jealous of him, of plagiarising his plots, of sneering at him, and, if the passage has any meaning, of joining a conspiracy of “the whole of the aristocracy and literature of the country” to keep Hogg down and “crush him to a nonentity.”  Neither could Lockhart have been exactly pleased at the passage where Scott is represented as afraid to clear the character of an innocent friend to the boy Duke of Buccleuch.

He told me that which I never knew nor suspected before; that a certain gamekeeper, on whom he bestowed his malédictions without reserve, had prejudiced my best friend, the young Duke of Buccleuch, against me by a story; and though he himself knew it to be a malicious and invidious lie, yet seeing his grace so much irritated, he durst not open his lips on the subject, further than by saying, “But, my lord duke, you must always remember that Hogg is no ordinary man, although he may have shot a stray moorcock.”  And then turning to me he said, “Before you had ventured to give any saucy language to a low scoundrel of an English gamekeeper, you should have thought of Fielding’s tale of Black George.”

“I never saw that tale,” said I, “and dinna ken ought about it.  But never trouble your head about that matter, Sir Walter, for it is awthegither out o’ nature for our young chief to entertain ony animosity against me.  The thing will never mair be heard of, an’ the chap that tauld the lees on me will gang to hell, that’s aye some comfort.”

Part of my reason for quoting this last passage is to recall to those who are familiar with the Noctes Ambrosianae the extraordinary felicity of the imitation.  This, which Hogg with his own pen represents himself as speaking with his own mouth, might be found textually in any page of the Noctes without seeming in the least out of keeping with the ideal Hogg.

And this brings me to the second charge of Hogg’s friends, that Wilson wickedly caricatured his humble friend, if indeed he did not manufacture a Shepherd out of his own brain.  This is as uncritical as the other, and even more surprising.  That any one acquainted with Hogg’s works, especially his autobiographic productions, should fail to recognise the resemblance is astonishing enough; but what is more astonishing is that any one interested in Hogg’s fame should not perceive that the Shepherd of the Noctes is Hogg magnified and embellished in every way.  He is not a better poet, for the simple reason that the verses put in his mouth are usually Hogg’s own and not always his best.  But out of the Confessions of a Sinner, Hogg has never signed anything half so good as the best prose passages assigned to him in the Noctes.  They are what he might have written if he had taken pains:  they are in his key and vein; but they are much above him.  Again, unless any reader is so extraordinarily devoid of humour as to be shocked by the mere horse-play, it must be clear to him that the Shepherd’s manners are dressed up with extraordinary skill, so as to be just what he would have liked them to be.  As for the drinking and so forth, it simply comes to this ­that the habits which were fashionable when the century was not yet in its teens, or just in them, were getting to be looked on askance when it was entering or had entered on its thirties.  But, instead of being annoyed at this Socrates-Falstaff, as somebody has called it, one might have thought that both Hogg himself and his admirers would have taken it as an immense compliment.  The only really bad turn that Wilson seems to have done his friend was posthumous and pardonable.  He undertook the task of writing the Shepherd’s life and editing his Remains for the benefit of his family, who were left very badly off; and he not only did not do it but appears to have lost the documents with which he was entrusted.  It is fair to say that after the deaths, which came close together, of his wife, of Blackwood, and of Hogg himself, Wilson was never fully the same man; and that his strongly sentimental nature, joined to his now inveterate habit of writing rapidly as the fancy took him, would have made the task of hammering out a biography and of selecting and editing Remains so distasteful from different points of view as to be practically impossible.  But in that case of course he should not have undertaken it, or should have relinquished it as soon as he found out the difficulties.  Allan Cunningham, it is said, would have gladly done the business; and there were few men better qualified.

And now, having done a by no means unnecessary task in this preliminary clearance of rubbish, let us see what sort of a person in literature and life this Ettrick Shepherd really was ­the Shepherd whom Scott not only befriended with unwearied and lifelong kindness, but ranked very high as an original talent, whom Byron thought Scott’s only second worth speaking of, whom Southey, a very different person from either, esteemed highly, whom Wilson selected as the mouthpiece and model for one of the most singular and (I venture to say despite a certain passing wave of unpopularity) one of the most enduring of literary character-parts, and to whom Lockhart was, as Hogg himself late in life sets down, “a warm and disinterested friend.”  We have seen what Professor Veitch thinks of him ­that he is the king of a higher school than Scott’s.  On the other hand, I fear the general English impression of him is rather that given by no Englishman, but by Thomas Carlyle, at the time of Hogg’s visit to London in 1832.  Carlyle describes him as talking and behaving like a “gomeril,” and amusing the town by walking about in a huge gray plaid, which was supposed to be an advertisement, suggested by his publisher.

The king of a school higher than Scott’s and the veriest gomeril ­these surely, though the judges be not quite of equal competence, are judgments of a singularly contradictory kind.  Let us see what middle term we can find between them.

The mighty volume (it has been Hogg’s ill-fortune that the most accessible edition of his work is in two great double-columned royal octavos, heavy to the hand and not too grateful to the eye) which contains the Shepherd’s collected poetical work is not for every reader.  “Poets? where are they?” Wordsworth is said, on the authority of De Quincey, to have asked, with a want of graciousness of manners uncommon even in him and never forgiven by Hogg, when the latter used the plural in his presence, and in that of Wilson and Lloyd.  It was unjust as well as rude, but endless allowance certainly has to be made for Hogg as a poet.  I do not know to whom the epigram that “everything that is written in Scotch dialect is not necessarily poetry” is originally due, but there is certainly some justice in it.  Scotch, as a language, has grand accommodations; it has richer vowels and a more varied and musical arrangement of consonants than English, while it falls not much short of English in freedom from that mere monotony which besets the richly-vowelled continental languages.  It has an almost unrivalled provision of poetical cliches (the sternest purist may admit a French word which has no English equivalent), that is to say, the stock phrases which Heaven knows who first minted and which will pass till they are worn out of all knowledge.  It has two great poets ­one in the vernacular, one in the literary language ­who are rich enough to keep a bank for their inferiors almost to the end of time.  The depreciation of it by “glaikit Englishers” (I am a glaikit Englisher who does not depreciate), simply because it is unfamiliar and rustic-looking, is silly enough.  But its best practitioners are sometimes prone to forget that nothing ready-made will do as poetry, and that you can no more take a short cut to Parnassus by spelling good “guid” and liberally using “ava,” than you can execute the same journey by calling a girl a nymph and a boy a swain.  The reason why Burns is a great poet, and one of the greatest, is that he seldom or never does this in Scots.  When he takes to the short cut, as he does sometimes, he usually “gets to his English.”  Of Hogg, who wrote some charming things and many good ones, the same cannot be said.  No writer known to me, not even the eminent Dr. Young, who has the root of the poetical matter in him at all, is so utterly uncritical as Hogg.  He does not seem even to have known when he borrowed and when he was original.  We have seen that he told Scott that he was not of his school.  Now a great deal that he wrote, perhaps indeed actually the major part of his verse, is simply imitation and not often very good imitation of Scott.  Here is a passage: ­

    Light on her airy steed she sprung,     Around with golden tassels hung.      No chieftain there rode half so free,     Or half so light and gracefully.      How sweet to see her ringlets pale     Wide-waving in the southland gale,     Which through the broom-wood odorous flew     To fan her cheeks of rosy hue!      Whene’er it heaved her bosom’s screen     What beauties in her form were seen!      And when her courser’s mane it swung,     A thousand silver bells were rung.      A sight so fair, on Scottish plain,     A Scot shall never see again.

I think we know where this comes from.  Indeed Hogg had a certain considerable faculty of conscious parody as well as of unconscious imitation, and his Poetic Mirror, which he wrote as a kind of humorous revenge on his brother bards for refusing to contribute, is a fair second to Rejected Addresses.  The amusing thing is that he often parodied where he did not mean parody in the least, and nowadays we do not want Scott-and-water.  Another vein of Hogg’s, which he worked mercilessly, is a similar imitation, not of Scott, but of the weakest echoes of Percy’s Reliques: ­

    O sad, sad, was young Mary’s plight:        She took the cup, no word she spake,     She had even wished that very night       To sleep and never more to wake.

Sad, sad indeed is the plight of the poet who publishes verses like this, of which there are thousands of lines to be found in Hogg.  And then one comes to “Kilmeny,” and the note changes with a vengeance: ­

Bonny Kilmeny gaed up the glen; But it wasna to meet Duneira’s men, Nor the rosy monk of the isle to see, For Kilmeny was pure as pure could be.  It was only to hear the yorlin sing, And pu’ the cress-flower round the spring, The scarlet hip and the hindberry, For Kilmeny was pure as pure could be.

. . . . .

Kilmeny looked up with a lovely grace, But nae smile was seen on Kilmeny’s face; As still was her look and as still was her ee As the stillness that lay on the emeraut lea, Or the mist that sleeps on a waveless sea.  For Kilmeny had been she kent not where, And Kilmeny had seen what she could not declare; Kilmeny had been where the cock never crew, Where the rain never fell and the wind never blew.

No matter that it is necessary even here to make a cento, that the untutored singer cannot keep up the song by natural force and has not skill enough to dissemble the lapses.  “Kilmeny” at its best is poetry ­such poetry as, to take Hogg’s contemporaries only, there is none in Rogers or Crabbe, little I fear in Southey, and not very much in Moore.  Then there is no doubt at all that he could write ballads.  “The Witch of Fife” is long and is not improved by being written (at least in one version) in a kind of Scots that never was on land or sea, but it is quite admirable of its class.  “The Good Grey Cat,” his own imitation of himself in the Poetic Mirror, comes perhaps second to it, and “The Abbot McKinnon” (which is rather close to the imitations of Scott) third.  But there are plenty of others.  As for his poems of the more ambitious kind, “Mador of the Moor,” “Pilgrims of the Sun,” and even “Queen Hynde,” let blushing glory ­the glory attached to the literary department ­hide the days on which he produced those.  She can very well afford it, for the hiding leaves untouched the division of Hogg’s poetical work which furnishes his highest claims to fame except “Kilmeny,” the division of the songs.  These are numerous and unequal as a matter of course.  Not a few of them are merely variations on older scraps and fragments of the kind which Burns had made popular; some of them are absolute rubbish; some of them are mere imitations of Burns himself.  But this leaves abundance of precious remnants, as the Shepherd’s covenanting friends would have said.  The before-mentioned “Donald Macdonald” is a famous song of its kind:  “I’ll no wake wi’ Annie” comes very little short of Burns’s “Green grow the rashes O!” The piece on the lifting of the banner of Buccleuch, though a curious contrast with Scott’s “Up with the Banner” does not suffer too much by the comparison:  “Cam’ ye by Athole” and “When the kye comes hame” everybody knows, and I do not know whether it is a mere delusion, but there seems to me to be a rare and agreeable humour in “The Village of Balmaquhapple.”

    D’ye ken the big village of Balmaquhapple?      The great muckle village of Balmaquhapple?      ’Tis steeped in iniquity up to the thrapple,     An’ what’s to become o’ poor Balmaquhapple?

Whereafter follows an invocation to St. Andrew, with a characteristic suggestion that he may spare himself the trouble of intervening for certain persons such as

Geordie, our deacon for want of a better, And Bess, wha delights in the sins that beset her ­

ending with the milder prayer: 

But as for the rest, for the women’s sake save them, Their bodies at least, and their sauls if they have them.

. . . . .

And save, without word of confession auricular, The clerk’s bonny daughters, and Bell in particular; For ye ken that their beauty’s the pride and the stapple Of the great wicked village of Balmaquhapple!

“Donald McGillavry,” which deceived Jeffrey, is another of the half-inarticulate songs which have the gift of setting the blood coursing;

Donald’s gane up the hill hard an’ hungry; Donald’s come down the hill wild an’ angry:  Donald will clear the gowk’s nest cleverly; Here’s to the King and Donald McGillavry!

. . . . .

Donald has foughten wi’ reif and roguery, Donald has dinnered wi’ banes and beggary; Better it war for Whigs an’ Whiggery Meeting the deevil than Donald McGillavry.  Come like a tailor, Donald McGillavry, Come like a tailor, Donald McGillavry, Push about, in an’ out, thimble them cleverly.  Here’s to King James an’ Donald McGillavry!

“Love is Like a Dizziness,” and the “Boys’ Song,”

    Where the pools are bright and deep,     Where the grey trout lies asleep,     Up the river and over the lea,     That’s the way for Billy and me ­

and plenty more charming things will reward the explorer of the Shepherd’s country.  Only let that explorer be prepared for pages on pages of the most unreadable stuff, the kind of stuff which hardly any educated man, however great a “gomeril” he might be, would ever dream of putting to paper, much less of sending to press.  It is fair to repeat that the educated man who thus refrained would probably be a very long time before he wrote “Kilmeny,” or even “Donald McGillavry” and “The Village of Balmaquhapple.”

Still (though to say it is enough to make him turn in his grave) if Hogg had been a verse-writer alone he would, except for “Kilmeny” and his songs, hardly be worth remembering, save by professed critics and literary free-selectors.  A little better than Allan Cunningham, he is but for that single, sudden, and unsustained inspiration of “Kilmeny,” and one or two of his songs, so far below Burns that Burns might enable us to pay no attention to him and not lose much.  As for Scott, “Proud Maisie” (an unapproachable thing), the fragments that Elspeth Cheyne sings, even the single stanza in Guy Mannering, “Are these the Links of Forth? she said,” any one of a thousand snatches that Sir Walter has scattered about his books with a godlike carelessness will “ding” Hogg and all his works on their own field.  But then it is not saying anything very serious against a man to say that he is not so great as Scott.  With those who know what poetry is, Hogg will keep his corner ("not a polished corner,” as Sydney Smith would say) of the temple of Apollo.

Hogg wrote prose even more freely than he wrote verse, and after the same fashion ­a fashion which he describes with equal frankness and truth by the phrases, “dashing on,” “writing as if in desperation,” “mingling pathos and absurdity,” and so forth.  Tales, novels, sketches, all were the same to him; and he had the same queer mixture of confidence in their merits and doubt about the manner in which they were written. The Brownie of Bodsbeck, The Three Perils of Man (which appears refashioned in the modern editions of his works as The Siege of Roxburgh), The Three Perils of Woman, The Shepherd’s Calendar and numerous other uncollected tales exhibit for the most part very much the same characteristics.  Hogg knew the Scottish peasantry well, he had abundant stores of unpublished folklore, he could invent more when wanted, he was not destitute of the true poetic knowledge of human nature, and at his best he could write strikingly and picturesquely.  But he simply did not know what self-criticism was, he had no notion of the conduct or carpentry of a story, and though he was rather fond of choosing antique subjects, and prided himself on his knowledge of old Scots, he was quite as likely to put the baldest modern touches in the mouth of a heroine of the fourteenth or fifteenth century as not.  If anybody takes pleasure in seeing how a good story can be spoilt, let him look at the sixth chapter of the Shepherd’s Calendar, “The Souters of Selkirk;” and if any one wants to read a novel of antiquity which is not like Scott, let him read The Bridal of Polmood.

In the midst, however, of all this chaotic work, there is still to be found, though misnamed, one of the most remarkable stories of its kind ever written ­a story which, as I have said before, is not only extraordinarily good of itself, but insists peremptorily that the reader shall wonder how the devil it got where it is.  This is the book now called The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Fanatic, but by its proper and original title, The Confessions of a Justified Sinner.  Hogg’s reference to it in his Autobiography is sufficiently odd.  “The next year (1824),” he says, “I published The Confessions of a Fanatic [Sinner], but, it being a story replete with horrors, after I had written it I durst not venture to put my name to it, so it was published anonymously, and of course did not sell very well ­so at least I believe, for I do not remember ever receiving anything for it, and I am sure if there had been a reversion [he means return] I should have had a moiety.  However I never asked anything, so on that point there was no misunderstanding.”  And he says nothing more about it, except to inform us that his publishers, Messrs. Longman, who had given him for his two previous books a hundred and fifty pounds each “as soon as the volumes were put to press,” and who had published the Confessions on half profits, observed, when his next book was offered to them, that “his last publication (the Confessions) had been found fault with in some very material points, and they begged leave to decline the present one until they consulted some other persons.”  That is all.  But the Reverend Thomas Thomson, Hogg’s editor, an industrious and not incompetent man of letters, while admitting that it is “in excellence of plot, concentration of language and vigorous language, one of the best and most interesting [he might have said the best without a second] of Hogg’s tales,” observes that it “alarmed the religious portion of the community who hastily thought that the author was assailing Christianity.”  “Nothing could be more unfounded,” says the Reverend Thomas Thomson with much justice.  He might have added that it would have been much more reasonable to suspect the author of practice with the Evil One in order to obtain the power of writing anything so much better than his usual work.

For, in truth, The Confessions of a Justified Sinner, while it has all Hogg’s merits and more, is quite astoundingly free from his defects.  His tales are generally innocent of the most rudimentary notions of construction:  this goes closely ordered, with a few pardonable enough digressions, from beginning to end.  He has usually little concentrated grasp of character:  the few personages of the Confessions are consistent throughout.  His dialogue is, as a rule, extraordinarily slipshod and unequal:  here there is no fault to find with it.  His greatest lack, in short, is the lack of form:  and here, though the story might perhaps have been curtailed, or rather “cut” in the middle, with advantage, the form is excellent.  As its original edition, though an agreeable volume, is rare, and its later ones are buried amidst discordant rubbish, it may not be improper to give some account of it.  The time is pitched just about the Revolution and the years following, and, according to a common if not altogether praiseworthy custom, the story consists of an editor’s narrative and of the Confessions proper imbedded therein.  The narrative tells how a drinking Royalist laird married an exceedingly precise young woman, how the dissension which was probable broke out between them, how a certain divine, the Reverend Robert Wringhim, endeavoured to convert the sinner at the instances of the saint, and perhaps succeeded in consoling the saint at the expense of the sinner; how the laird sought more congenial society with a certain cousin of his named Arabella Logan, and how, rather out of jealousy than forgiveness, such a union or quasi-union took place between husband and wife that they had two sons, George and Robert, the elder of whom was his father’s favourite and like, while the younger was pretty much left to the care of Mr. Wringhim.  The tale then tells how, after hardly seeing one another in boyhood, the brothers met as young men at Edinburgh, where on extreme provocation the elder was within an ace of killing the younger.  The end of it was that, after Robert had brought against George a charge of assaulting him on Arthur’s Seat, George himself was found mysteriously murdered in an Edinburgh close.  His mother cared naught for it; his father soon died of grief; the obnoxious Robert succeeded to the estates, and only Arabella Logan was left to do what she could to clear up the mystery, which, after certain strange passages, she did.  But when warrants were made out against Robert he had disappeared, and the whole thing remained wrapped in more mystery than ever.

To this narrative succeed the confessions of Robert himself.  He takes of course the extreme side both of his mother and of her doctrines, but for some time, though an accomplished Pharisee, he is not assured of salvation, till at last his adopted (if not real) father Wringhim announces that he has wrestled sufficiently in prayer and has received assurance.

Thereupon the young man sallies out in much exaltation of feeling and full of contempt for the unconverted.  As he goes he meets another young man of mysterious appearance, who seems to be an exact double of himself.  This wraith, however, presents himself as only a humble admirer of Robert’s spiritual glory, and holds much converse with him.  He meets this person repeatedly, but is never able to ascertain who he is.  The stranger says that he may be called Gil Martin if Robert likes, but hints that he is some great one ­perhaps the Czar Peter, who was then known to be travelling incognito about Europe.  For a time Robert’s Illustrious Friend (as he generally calls him) exaggerates the extremest doctrines of Calvinism, and slips easily from this into suggestions of positive crime.  A minister named Blanchard, who has overheard his conversation, warns Robert against him, and Gil Martin in return points out Blanchard as an enemy to religion whom it is Robert’s duty to take off.  They lay wait for the minister and pistol him, the Illustrious Friend managing not only to avert all suspicion from themselves, but to throw it with capital consequences on a perfectly innocent person.  After this initiation in blood Robert is fully reconciled to the “great work” and, going to Edinburgh, is led by his Illustrious Friend without difficulty into the series of plots against his brother which had to outsiders so strange an appearance, and which ended in a fresh murder.  When Robert in the course of events above described becomes master of Dalchastel, the family estate, his Illustrious Friend accompanies him and the same process goes on.  But now things turn less happily for Robert.  He finds himself, without any consciousness of the acts charged, accused on apparently indubitable evidence, first of peccadillos, then of serious crimes.  Seduction, forgery, murder, even matricide are hinted against him, and at last, under the impression that indisputable proofs of the last two crimes have been discovered, he flies from his house.  After a short period of wandering, in which his Illustrious Friend alternately stirs up all men against him and tempts him to suicide, he finally in despair succumbs to the temptation and puts an end to his life.  This of course ends the Memoir, or rather the Memoir ends just before the catastrophe.  There is then a short postscript in which the editor tells a tale of a suicide found with some such legend attaching to him on a Border hillside, of an account given in Blackwood of the searching of the grave, and of a visit to it made by himself (the editor), his friend Mr. L ­t of C ­d [Lockhart of Chiefswood], Mr. L ­w [Scott’s Laidlaw] and others.  The whole thing ends with a very well written bit of rationalisation of the now familiar kind, discussing the authenticity of the Memoirs, and concluding that they are probably the work of some one suffering from religious mania, or perhaps a sort of parable or allegory worked out with insufficient skill.

Although some such account as this was necessary, no such account, unless illustrated with the most copious citation, could do justice to the book.  The first part or Narrative is not of extraordinary, though it is of considerable merit, and has some of Hogg’s usual faults.  The Memoirs proper are almost wholly free from these faults.  In no book known to me is the grave treatment of the topsy-turvy and improbable better managed; although, by an old trick, it pleases the “editor” to depreciate his work in the passage just mentioned.  The writer, whoever he was, was fully qualified for the task.  The possibility of a young man of narrow intellect ­his passion against his brother already excited, and his whole mind given to the theology of predestination ­gliding into such ideas as are here described is undoubted; and it is made thoroughly credible to the reader.  The story of the pretended Gil Martin, preposterous as it is, is told by the unlucky maniac exactly in the manner in which a man deluded, but with occasional suspicions of his delusion, would tell it.  The gradual change from intended and successful rascality and crime into the incurring or the supposed incurring of the most hideous guilt without any actual consciousness of guilty action may seem an almost hopeless thing to treat probably.  Yet it is so treated here.  And the final gathering and blackening of the clouds of despair (though here again there is a very slight touch of Hogg’s undue prolongation of things) exhibits literary power of the ghastly kind infinitely different from and far above the usual raw-head-and-bloody-bones story of the supernatural.

Now, who wrote it?

No doubt, so far as I know, has been generally entertained of Hogg’s authorship, though, since I myself entertained doubts on the subject, I have found some good judges not unwilling to agree with me.  Although admitting that it appeared anonymously, Hogg claims it, as we have seen, not only without hesitation but apparently without any suspicion that it was a particularly valuable or meritorious thing to claim, and without any attempt to shift, divide, or in any way disclaim the responsibility, though the book had been a failure.  His publishers do not seem to have doubted then that it was his; nor, I have been told, have their representatives any reason to doubt it now.  His daughter, I think, does not so much as mention it in her Memorials, but his various biographers have never, so far as I know, hinted the least hesitation.  At the same time I am absolutely unable to believe that it is Hogg’s unadulterated and unassisted work.  It is not one of those cases where a man once tries a particular style, and then from accident, disgust, or what not, relinquishes it.  Hogg was always trying the supernatural, and he failed in it, except in this instance, as often as he tried it.  Why should he on this particular occasion have been saved from himself? and who saved him? ­for that great part of the book at least is his there can be no doubt.

By way of answer to these questions I can at least point out certain coincidences and probabilities.  It has been seen that Lockhart’s name actually figures in the postscript to the book.  Now at this time and for long afterwards Lockhart was one of the closest of Hogg’s literary allies; and Hogg, while admitting that the author of Peter’s Letters hoaxed him as he hoaxed everybody, is warm in his praise.  He describes him in his Autobiography as “a warm and disinterested friend.”  He tells us in the book on Scott how he had a plan, even later than this, that Lockhart should edit all his (the Shepherd’s) works, for discouraging which plan he was very cross with Sir Walter.  Further, the vein of the Confessions is very closely akin to, if not wholly identical with, a vein which Lockhart not only worked on his own account but worked at this very same time.  It was in these very years of his residence at Chiefswood that Lockhart produced the little masterpiece of “Adam Blair” (where the terrors and temptations of a convinced Presbyterian minister are dwelt upon), and “Matthew Wald,” which is itself the history of a lunatic as full of horrors, and those of no very different kind, as the Confessions themselves.  That editing, and perhaps something more than editing, on Lockhart’s part would have been exactly the thing necessary to prune and train and direct the Shepherd’s disorderly luxuriance into the methodical madness of the Justified Sinner ­to give Hogg’s loose though by no means vulgar style the dress of his own polished manner ­to weed and shape and correct and straighten the faults of the Boar of the Forest ­nobody who knows the undoubted writing of the two men will deny.  And Lockhart, who was so careless of his work that to this day it is difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain what he did or did not write unassisted, would certainly not have been the man to claim a share in the book, even had it made more noise; though he may have thought of this as well as of other things when, in his wrath over the foolish blethering about Scott, he wrote that the Shepherd’s views of literary morality were peculiar.  As for Hogg himself, he would never have thought of acknowledging any such editing or collaboration if it did take place; and that not nearly so much from vanity or dishonesty as from simple carelessness, dashed perhaps with something of the habit of literary supercherie which the society in which he lived affected, and which he carried as far at least as any one of its members.

It may seem rather hard after praising a man’s ewe lamb so highly to question his right in her.  But I do not think there is any real hardship.  I should think that the actual imagination of the story is chiefly Hogg’s, for Lockhart’s forte was not that quality, and his own novels suffer rather for want of it.  If this be the one specimen of what the Shepherd’s genius could turn out when it submitted to correction and training, it gives us a useful and interesting explanation why the mass of his work, with such excellent flashes, is so flawed and formless as a whole.  It explains why he wished Lockhart to edit the others.  It explains at the same time why (for the Shepherd’s vanity was never far off) he set apparently little store by the book.  It is only a hypothesis of course, and a hypothesis which is very unlikely ever to be proved, while in the nature of things it is even less capable of disproof.  But I think there is good critical reason for it.

At any rate, I confess for myself, that I should not take anything like the same interest in Hogg, if he were not the putative author of the Confessions.  The book is in a style which wearies soon if it be overdone, and which is very difficult indeed to do well.  But it is one of the very best things of its kind, and that is a claim which ought never to be overlooked.  And if Hogg in some lucky moment did really “write it all by himself,” as the children say, then we could make up for him a volume composed of it, of “Kilmeny,” and of the best of the songs, which would be a very remarkable volume indeed.  It would not represent a twentieth part of his collected work, and it would probably represent a still smaller fraction of what he wrote, while all the rest would be vastly inferior.  But it would be a title to no inconsiderable place in literature, and we know that good judges did think Hogg, with all his personal weakness and all his literary shortcomings, entitled to such a place.