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James Hogg

James Hogg James Hogg[1†]

James Hogg (1770 – 21 November 1835) was a Scottish poet, novelist, and essayist known for writing in Scots and English. Initially a shepherd and farmhand, he self-educated through reading. Hogg befriended notable writers like Sir Walter Scott and penned an unauthorized biography of him. Dubbed the "Ettrick Shepherd," he published some works under this pseudonym. His renowned novel is "The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner"[1†][2†].

Early Years and Education

James Hogg was born on a small farm near Ettrick, Selkirkshire, Scotland in 1770 and was baptised there on 9 December[1†]. His actual date of birth has never been recorded[1†]. His father, Robert Hogg (1729–1820), was a tenant farmer while his mother, Margaret Hogg (née Laidlaw) (1730–1813), was noted for collecting native Scottish ballads[1†]. Margaret Laidlaw’s father, known as Will o’ Phawhope, was said to have been the last man in the Border country to speak with the fairies[1†].

James was the second eldest of four brothers, his siblings being William, David, and Robert (from eldest to youngest)[1†]. Robert and David later emigrated to the United States, while James and William remained in Scotland for their entire lives[1†]. James attended a parish school for a few months before his education was stopped due to his father’s bankruptcy as a stock-farmer and sheep-dealer[1†]. Robert Hogg was then given the position of shepherd at Ettrickhouse farm by one of his neighbours[1†].

James worked as a farm servant throughout his childhood, tending cows, doing general farm work, and acting as a shepherd’s assistant[1†]. His early experiences of literature and storytelling came from the Bible and his mother’s and uncle’s stories[1†]. In 1784 he purchased a fiddle with money that he had saved, and taught himself how to play it[1†]. In 1785 he served a year working for a tenant farmer at Singlee[1†]. In 1786 he went to work for Mr. Laidlaw of Ellibank, staying with him for eighteen months[1†]. In 1788 he was given his first job as a shepherd by Laidlaw’s father, a farmer at Willenslee[1†]. He stayed here for two years, learning to read while tending sheep, and being given newspapers and theological works by his employer’s wife[1†].

Career Development and Achievements

James Hogg, known as the “Ettrick Shepherd”, spent most of his youth and early manhood as a shepherd[2†][3†]. Despite his humble beginnings and being almost entirely self-educated, Hogg became a prolific poet, songwriter, playwright, novelist, short story writer, and parodist[2†][3†]. He wrote with equal skill in Scots and English[2†][3†].

His talent was discovered early by Sir Walter Scott, to whom he supplied material for Scott’s "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border"[2†]. Before publishing “The Queen’s Wake” (1813), a book of poems concerning Mary Stuart, Hogg went in 1810 to Edinburgh, where he met Lord Byron, Robert Southey, and William Wordsworth[2†]. Of Hogg’s prolific poetic output, only a few narrative poems and ballads included in the Wake are of lasting value[2†]. Among them are “Kilmeny” and "The Witch of Fife"[2†].

Hogg’s most important work is his novel “The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner” (1824), a macabre tale of a psychopath that anticipates the modern psychological thriller[2†][3†]. This novel, which Hogg wrote when he was 53 years old, infused Calvinist doctrine with a brooding gothic mood[2†][3†]. A mysterious shapeshifting figure, Gil-Martin, goads the fanatical Robert Wringhim into taking extreme measures against the local sinners[2†][3†]. The novel leaves readers questioning whether Gil-Martin is a manifestation of madness or the devil himself[2†][3†].

Despite little formal education, Hogg wrote one of the finest novels in Scottish literature, a disturbing tale of the divided self that still resonates[2†][3†].

First Publication of His Main Works

James Hogg’s literary career was as diverse as it was prolific. Here are some of his main works, along with the year of their first publication:

  1. Scottish Pastorals (1801): This was one of Hogg’s earliest works[4†].
  2. The Mountain Bard (1807): This collection of poems further established Hogg’s reputation as a writer[4†].
  3. The Forest Minstrel (1810): This is another one of Hogg’s early collections of poems[4†].
  4. The Queen’s Wake (1813): This long poem is one of Hogg’s most famous works[4†][1†][4†][5†].
  5. The Three Perils of Man (1822): This novel is one of Hogg’s major works[4†][1†][4†][5†].
  6. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824): This is Hogg’s best-known work today[4†][1†][4†][5†].
  7. The Three Perils of Woman (1823): This novel is a companion to “The Three Perils of Man” and is another one of Hogg’s major works[4†][1†][4†].

Hogg’s works often explored themes of Scottish identity, history, and folklore[4†][1†]. His writing style was unique, blending elements of traditional Scottish storytelling with a more modern literary sensibility[4†][1†]. Despite the challenges he faced in his personal life, Hogg’s dedication to his craft resulted in a body of work that continues to be celebrated for its creativity and originality[4†][1†].

Analysis and Evaluation

James Hogg’s works are celebrated for their creativity, originality, and unique blend of traditional Scottish storytelling with a more modern literary sensibility[1†][7†]. His writings often explored themes of Scottish identity, history, and folklore[1†][7†].

Hogg’s most famous work, “The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner” (1824), is a macabre tale of a psychopath that anticipates the modern psychological thriller[1†][7†]. This novel had a significant influence on later writers and is seen as a precursor to the Tartan Noir genre[1†][7†]. Novelist James Robertson, for example, used it as a model for the structure of his novel “The Testament of Gideon Mack”, which was long-listed for the 2006 Man Booker Prize[1†][7†].

Hogg’s writings also teach about a possible integrity or identity of doubleness, about how some one thing or person can be two and how two things or persons can be one[1†][8†]. This exploration of duality is a recurring theme in his works[1†][8†].

Despite the initial lack of success of some of his works, including “The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner”, Hogg’s influence has increased over the years[1†][7†]. His work was well received in the United States and all over the world in his lifetime[1†][7†]. It is only in the early to mid 20th Century it has started to become available in the way he published it first[1†][7†].

Personal Life

James Hogg was born on a small farm near Ettrick, Selkirkshire, Scotland in 1770 and was baptised there on 9 December[1†]. His father, Robert Hogg (1729–1820), was a tenant farmer while his mother, Margaret Hogg (née Laidlaw) (1730–1813), was noted for collecting native Scottish ballads[1†]. Margaret Laidlaw’s father, known as Will o’ Phawhope, was said to have been the last man in the Border country to speak with the fairies[1†].

James was the second eldest of four brothers, his siblings being William, David, and Robert (from eldest to youngest)[1†]. Robert and David later emigrated to the United States, while James and William remained in Scotland for their entire lives[1†].

In 1784, he purchased a fiddle with money that he had saved, and taught himself how to play it[1†]. His early experiences of literature and storytelling came from the Bible and his mother’s and uncle’s stories[1†].

Conclusion and Legacy

James Hogg, known as the “Ettrick Shepherd”, was a prolific poet, songwriter, playwright, novelist, short story writer, and parodist. He wrote with equal skill in Scots and English. His life spanned the 18th and 19th centuries, and he befriended many of the great writers of his day, including Walter Scott, John Galt, and Allan Cunningham.

Hogg defied categorization. It’s not enough to call Hogg an experimental writer ahead of his time or a genre hopper who challenged the conventions of his day. His best work, “The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner” (1824), is deliberately left with holes. Dark, humorous, violent, sweet, light, weird, wild, celebratory, and cruel, the book has many tones, often all at once. Hogg was 53 years old when he created his finest and most unsettling work.

Despite lacking in formal education, Hogg never lacked in confidence. His body of work is made up of mountains of bits and pieces – and must be enjoyed on those terms. Seeking conclusions or definitive statements will only frustrate. Tales can drift off into fragments of poetry both familiar and new. Within stories, he flips perspectives with little warning.

Hogg’s legacy is that of one of Scotland’s greatest and most experimental storytellers. His influence continues to be felt in Scottish literature and beyond.

Key Information

References and Citations:

  1. Wikipedia (English) - James Hogg [website] - link
  2. Britannica - James Hogg: Scottish poet [website] - link
  3. The Conversation - James Hogg at 250: the farmhand who became one of Scotland’s greatest storytellers [website] - link
  4. University of Stirling - James Hogg - James Hogg [website] - link
  5. Academy of American Poets - About James Hogg [website] - link
  6. Goodreads - Author: Books by James Hogg (Author of The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner) [website] - link
  7. BBC News UK - James Hogg: The shepherd who helped to shape Scottish fiction [website] - link
  8. The Guardian - Star of the Borders [website] - link
  9. Edinburgh University Press - The Stirling / South Carolina Research Edition of the Collected Works of James Hogg [website] - link
  10. Poetry.com - A Boy's Song Poem Analysis [website] - link
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