Like Charles Lamb, James Hogg was unfortunate in his surname. For Lamb, it reinforced notions of saintly gentle-heartedness that climaxed when Algernon Swinburne damned him with excessively sentimental praise: "no good criticism of Lamb, strictly speaking, can ever be written", Swinburne declared; "because nobody can do justice to his work who does not love it too well to feel himself capable of giving judgment on it." It took Lamb criticism most of the twentieth century to recover from such mawkishness. For Hogg, on the other hand, the surname triggered an endless series of banal porcine puns, and corroborated a view of him as a vulgar, rural outsider who did not possess the intellect to travel in the sophisticated literary circles of early nineteenth-century Edinburgh. Victorian editors dealt with Hogg's "coarseness" in the way that they usually dealt with such matters: bowdlerization. Hogg was sanitized and selectively presented for polite circles, with the result that most of the dark anxieties and insights that haunt his work remained virtually unknown until well into the twentieth century. The situation began to improve in the 1970s, and is now changing dramatically with the new Stirling / South Carolina Collected Works of James Hogg, a projected thirty-one volume edition under the general editorship of Douglas S. Mack. Nine volumes of the edition have already appeared, among which the most recent are Anecdotes of Scott, Hogg's frank account of his most famous friend and contemporary; The Spy, the weekly newspaper that Hogg produced in Edinburgh in 1810-11; and The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, Hogg's best known book, and a profoundly disturbing exploration of retribution, perversion, and fanaticism. Like the six previous volumes, these new titles are meticulously edited and filled with essential information that continually illuminates the complexities and tensions of Hogg's texts, including the ways in which he lamented, dismissed, condemned, and exploited the snobbish guffaws prompted by his surname.
Jill Rubenstein's edition of Anecdotes of Scott features two separate texts. The first, Anecdotes of Sir W. Scott, is a transcription of a manuscript belonging to the National Library of New Zealand that was first published in 1983. Hogg produced this account after the death of Scott in September 1832, and in response to a request from the opportunistic London publisher John M'Crone. "There are not above five people in the world who, I think, know Sir Walter better, or understand his character better, than I do", Hogg had written in 1829, and he used this inside knowledge to produce a lively and sometimes indiscrete account that included references to Lady Scott's opium addiction and "the thousands of lees" that Scott had told regarding his authorship of the Waverley novels (xxxi, 11; Hogg's italics). M'Crone was delighted, but when Scott's son-in-law J. G. Lockhart saw the manuscript he was furious, and Hogg withdrew it to placate him. Within weeks, however, Hogg accepted a tempting offer from an American publisher, and Familiar Anecdotes of Sir Walter Scott appeared in New York in April 1834. Predictably, pirated editions were published shortly thereafter in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and London. Hogg had made some conciliatory changes before he sent the manuscript to America, but Lockhart was still displeased, and seems to have colluded with William Maginn of Fraser's Magazine to produce a scathing thirty-two page review that vilified Hogg as a vulgar mediocrity with ideas well above his social station. "If by domestic manners [Hogg] had intended the manners of Sir Walter's domestics, there is no doubt that he is fully qualified", sneered Maginn. "But as to the manners of Sir Walter himself, as well might we expect from a costermonger an adequate sketch of the clubs in St. James's Street" (xxv).
Rubenstein's edition conveniently presents the Anecdotes and Familiar Anecdotes together for the first time. Her introduction provocatively surveys Hogg's relationship with Scott, and how in both texts "Scott is cast as Victor Frankenstein, glorying in domesticity and professional triumph, while Hogg plays the creature, alienated through manners, appearance, and poverty but desperately desiring what Scott possesses" (xxii-xxiii). There is a highly informative discussion of the genesis of the texts by Mack, which draws extensively on manuscript sources in Britain and America, as well as facsimile reprints of early songs by Scott and Hogg that feature in both texts. The Familiar Anecdotes open with a poem by Hogg that he had hoped would accompany the American edition, but that has not appeared with the text as Hogg wished until now: "Bootless the waste of empty words", Hogg writes in these "Lines to ... Scott", "Thy pen is worth ten thousand swords" (35). In the endnotes, Rubenstein details differences between the two Anecdote texts, links them to other works by Hogg, quotes extensively from apposite passages in Scott, and contextualizes Hogg's references to contemporaries such as William Blackwood, Francis Jeffrey, Joanna Baillie, Lord Byron, Susan Ferrier, William Wordsworth, Charles Maturin, and several others. Hogg knew Scott for thirty years and regarded him with a mixture of admiration, resentment, and awe, emotions which were all near the surface, and which the new edition brings vividly into focus. Like Thomas De Quincey's intimate Recollections of Wordsworth and Coleridge, Hogg's Anecdotes of Scott provide a candid assessment of a major contemporary, and frequently reveal as much about their author as they do about their ostensible subject.
Gillian Hughes's edition of The Spy reprints for the first time the fifty-two numbers of the eight-page weekly newspaper that Hogg produced every Saturday from 1 September 1810 until his farewell to his readers on 24 August 1811. When he began the task, he was the author of three books published by the important firm of Constable, but this was not enough to establish the paper on a firm footing. Securing a publisher proved difficult, and at the start Scott was Hogg's only promised subscriber. There was initial success, but money was always tight, and Hogg fought an uphill battle to demonstrate that his paper was respectable: after the second issue he told Scott that his subscription list had "upwards of 100 esq's" but "not yet an honourable save two and they are both ladies" (xxii-xxiii; Hogg's italics). Hogg's hopes in this regard were badly damaged only two weeks later when his "Story of the Berwick-shire Farmer" contained an "indelicate" scene of seduction that caused seventy-three people to cancel their subscriptions. Hogg persevered, changing printers after issue thirteen, widening the circle of contributors, and rebuilding his subscription list. Yet snobbery prevailed. Hogg wrote in the last number that "as his name became known the number of his subscribers diminished. The learned, the enlightened, and polite circles ... disdained either to be amused or instructed by the ebullitions of humble genius" (514). As he knew from the start, Hogg wrote to please a society that actively sought to exclude him. He was thus the spy: insightful, envious, isolated.
Yet despite these many setbacks, Hogg was able for a full year to write, edit, market, and manage a remarkably vibrant newspaper, one that looked back to the tradition of Addison, Steele, and Johnson, and forward to the satirical thrust and exuberance of Blackwood's Magazine, which was founded only six years after The Spy collapsed, and which from the outset was heavily indebted to Hogg's journalistic flare. Hogg produced most of the copy for The Spy himself, honing and diversifying his talent in a series of poems and prose tales, many of which he would later revise for other publications. Contributions from several minor Edinburgh literary figures gave the paper a decidedly liberal turn: Hogg's good friend James Gray, for example, was "not quite certain that, with Mary Wollstonecraft, I would choose to see a member of parliament in petticoats, yet I see no reason why women should be excluded from many of the advantages of education enjoyed by men" (333). John Leyden's "The Battle of Assaye" appeared in The Spy, where it was read by a rapturous eighteen-year-old Thomas Carlyle: "Can any thing be grander?—what fire! what energy!". Scott contributed to the paper, as did Robert Southey, who sent Hogg his lines "To Mary": "In sleep I saw you still, and long / Made you the theme of secret song" (221). Hughes's edition comes with facsimile reprints of the first and last issues, a glossary, and useful notes on contributors. Her endnotes demonstrate the ways in which Hogg subverted different periodical conventions, drew on the language and legacy of Burns, and sought to establish his place in the world of literary Edinburgh, and beyond. Like Coleridge in The Friend and De Quincey in The Westmorland Gazette, Hogg in The Spy confronted the demands of weekly journalism. His venture failed almost as soon as theirs did, but not before it forced from him a varied and highly characteristic body of work, now made easily accessible for the first time.
Peter Garside's edition of Confessions of a Justified Sinner throws a great deal of new light on a familiar text. His superb introduction is just under one hundred pages, and brings together the insights of previous editions and the finest scholarship on Hogg of the past twenty years, as seen particularly in the work of Mack, David Groves, and Garside himself. The introduction situates the Confessions within "the burgeoning field of Gothic studies" and in relation to "post-structuralist and deconstructionist criticism, which has focussed on the text's conflicting narratives, multiple dualities, and sliding signifiers" (xii). Garside provides detailed information on the religious context of the novel, and cites the preachers, controversies, and tomes that shaped Hogg's thinking on antinomianism and the Elect. Hogg's relationship with Blackwood's Magazine lynchpin John Wilson is central to Confessions, and while it would be "a gross simplification to suggest that Gil-Martin is a representation of Wilson", Hogg had been betrayed and bedevilled by Wilson enough to regard him with "an element of fear", and as "an ambivalent figure possessing supernatural-seeming powers" (xl). Hogg knew what it was like to have a double, for at the same time that he was writing sophisticated pieces for Blackwood's he was also appearing in the magazine's Noctes Ambrosianae series as "the Ettrick Shepherd", a fictive doppelganger created by Wilson and Lockhart that Hogg had no means of controlling, and that represented him as "inherently rustic and instinctual" (xliii-xliv). Hogg was undoubtedly aware of De Quincey's famous Confessions, published only three years before the appearance of his own Confessions, and the parallels between the two texts are felt most strongly "in Robert Wringhim's first-person narrative, which moves from apparent confidence to disintegration" (xlvi). Garside examines the material conditions of the text's original 1824 production, and closes his introduction with an analysis of the textual shortcomings of previous editions: "A stemma ... of modern editions ... would show a clear line running from the Campion edition in 1924, through the Cresset Press text of 1947, to several recent popular reprints, none of which accurately reflects the first edition state" (lxxx).
Garside's fine scholarship is equally evident in the informative sections that follow the meticulously presented text of the novel. He includes a "Historical and Geographical Note" as well as four facsimile maps in order to show the ways in which Confessions is rooted in Hogg's knowledge of Edinburgh's serpentine streets, and the local landmarks of his native Ettrick. "Seen one way, Confessions is a novel which moves from apparent certainties to accelerating narrative instabilities and unresolved mystery", Garside observes. "Seen another, however, the text can be seen to proceed from the semi-imaginary Scott-like world of Dalcastle, through the maze-like confusions of Edinburgh, to the abiding elements of locality in Hogg's own region" (209). Garside's endnotes total more than four hundred. They contain previously unpublished manuscript material, and link the Confessions to a series of other texts by Hogg, including The Brownie of Bodsbeck, A Queer Book, The Shepherd's Calendar, and A Lay Sermon. Marlowe's Dr Faustus, Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, and Burns's poetry are all cited to illuminate the text, as are a series of contemporary works, from Scott's Guy Mannering and Lockhart's Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk to John Galt's Ringan Gilhaize, and the Noctes series in Blackwood's. Scores of biblical references reveal how Robert inverts and perverts scripture for his own brutal ends; Gil-Martin is a Gaelic name for a fox; and Scott's actual visit to Ettrick in 1802 parallels in several ways the exhumation of the body in the Confessions's final section. Garside's endnotes add immensely to our knowledge of Hogg's most famous book, and cap a scholarly edition that is impressive from start to finish.
In January 1832 Carlyle met Hogg in London and after a lengthy description he concluded, "I do not well understand the man; his significance is perhaps considerable." Victorian pieties meant that Hogg's achievement was lost from view until well into the twentieth century, and it is still possible to find him described as a "disenfranchised marginal writer." But Carlyle's intuitive, if halting, sense of Hogg's considerable significance is forcefully demonstrated by the new Stirling / South Carolina edition. These three new titles reveal Hogg as a writer who assimilated, subverted, and fictionalised the rigid class structures of his day, and whose innovative and varied contributions make him a key Romantic auto/biographer, journalist, and novelist.
"Charles Lamb and George Wither" in The Complete Works of Algernon Charles Swinburne, eds. Edmund Gosse and Thomas James Wise, 20 vols (London: Heinemann, 1925-27) vol. XIV, p. 281. See also Jonathan Bate, "Introduction" in Charles Lamb, Elia and The Last Essays of Elia, ed. Jonathan Bate (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987) p. ix.
The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle, gen. eds. Charles Richard Sanders and Kenneth J. Fielding, 28 vols (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1970-continuing) vol. I, p. 11 (Carlyle's italics).
James Anthony Froude, Thomas Carlyle: A History of the First Forty Years of his Life, 2 vols (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1890) vol. II, p. 241.
Margaret Russett, De Quincey's Romanticism: Canonical minority and the forms of transmission (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997) p. 5 (Russett's italics).