James Hogg in 2000 and Beyond [*][Record]

  • Douglas S. Mack

…more information

  • Douglas S. Mack
    University of Stirling

The call for submissions for the present special number of Romanticism on the Net posed a question: This question brings to mind various texts by James Hogg, whose Collected Works are currently being published by the Edinburgh University Press. Hogg was for long regarded as a minor writer, and this view of him can still be encountered. Margaret Russett, however, has argued: Hogg can indeed be seen as a 'disenfranchised marginal writer', but the present essay will suggest that his extraordinarily powerful and interesting texts nevertheless have a part to play at the heart of current discussion of British literature of the Romantic era. Hogg is significant partly because his texts seek to give voice to the insights, culture, and concerns of non-elite, subaltern Scotland. In attempting to let subaltern Scotland speak, Hogg's texts engage in sustained and creative debate with the novels and poems of Sir Walter Scott. A major new edition of Scott is currently being published, and a major conference on 'Scott, Scotland, and Romanticism' was held at the University of Oregon in the summer of 1999. Papers given at that conference by James Chandler, Jerome McGann and others confirmed that Scott is currently re-emerging as one of the major figures of British and European Romanticism. Hogg also featured strongly at the Oregon conference, and interest in his creative debate with Scott is being encouraged by the publication of the new Hogg Collected Works. James Hogg (1770-1835), known as 'The Ettrick Shepherd', was widely regarded in his own lifetime as one of the major British literary figures of the generation of Scott, Coleridge, and Wordsworth. Hogg's substantial reputation among his contemporaries had first been established by his book-length poem The Queen's Wake (1813), but the nature of his fame was influenced by the fact that, as a young man, he had been a self-educated farm worker in Ettrick Forest, a remote sheep-farming district in the south of Scotland. Hogg's unusual background for a writer provides the context in which George Goldie, the publisher of The Queen's Wake, made the following remarks in the second edition of the poem (1813): The view of Hogg taken by his contemporaries is also reflected in the various early reviews of his novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, which appeared anonymously in 1824. Gillian Hughes has shown that many of the early reviews identify Hogg as the author, and see the Justified Sinner as being typical of Hogg's writings in that it presents 'an incongruous mixture of the strongest powers with the strongest absurdities'. The 'Scotch Shepherd' was undoubtedly regarded by his contemporaries as a man of powerful and original talent, but it was felt that his lack of education caused his writings to be seriously marred by frequent failures in discretion, expression, and knowledge of the world. Worst of all was Hogg's lack of what was called 'delicacy', a failing which caused him to deal openly in his writings with subjects (such as prostitution) felt to be unsuitable for mention in polite literature. How could a novel mentioning such subjects be read aloud by modest young ladies in their family circles? The Ettrick Shepherd was widely regarded as a man of genius. Emphatically, however, his genius was felt to be damagingly flawed. Hogg was recognisable as a diamond, but he was felt to be a distinctly unpolished one. In the late 1830s Blackie & Son of Glasgow published a posthumous collected edition of the rough diamond's writings. As was perhaps natural in all the circumstances, the Blackie firm took ...