James Hogg, 1770-1835


Biographical note

Hogg, James (the Ettrick Shepherd) (1770–1835). — Poet, and writer of tales, belonged to a race of shepherds, and began life by herding cows until he was old enough to be trusted with a flock of sheep. His imagination was fed by his mother, who was possessed of an inexhaustible stock of ballads and folk-lore. He had little schooling, and had great difficulty in writing out his earlier poems, but was earnest in giving himself such culture as he could. Entering the service of Mr. Laidlaw, the friend of Scott, he was by him introduced to the poet, and assisted him in collecting material for his Border Minstrelsy. In 1796 he had begun to write his songs, and when on a visit to Edinburgh in 1801 he collected his poems under the title of Scottish Pastorals, etc., and in 1807 there followed The Mountain Bard. A treatise on the diseases of sheep brought him £300, on the strength of which he embarked upon a sheep-farming enterprise in Dumfriesshire which, like a previous smaller venture in Harris, proved a failure, and he returned to Ettrick bankrupt. Thenceforward he relied almost entirely on literature for support. With this view he, in 1810, settled in Edinburgh, published The Forest Minstrel, and started the Spy, a critical journal, which ran for a year. In 1813 The Queen’s Wake showed his full powers, and finally settled his right to an assured place among the poets of his country. He joined the staff of Blackwood, and became the friend of Wilson, Wordsworth, and Byron. Other poems followed, The Pilgrims of the Sun (1815), Madoc of the Moor, The Poetic Mirror, and Queen Hynde (1826); and in prose Winter Evening Tales (1820), The Three Perils of Man (1822), and The Three Perils of Woman. In his later years his home was a cottage at Altrive on 70 acres of moorland presented to him by the Duchess of Buccleuch, where he died greatly lamented. As might be expected from his almost total want of regular education, H. was often greatly wanting in taste, but he had real imagination and poetic faculty. Some of his lyrics like The Skylark are perfect in their spontaneity and sweetness, and his Kilmeny is one of the most exquisite fairy tales in the language. Hogg was vain and greedy of praise, but honest and, beyond his means, generous. He is a leading character, partly idealised, partly caricatured, in Wilson’s Noctes Ambrosianæ.

[From A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John W. Cousin, 1910]


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