Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 27.djvu/105

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


‘Gentle Shepherd’ and Blind Harry's ‘Wallace,’ in Hamilton of Gilbertfield's version, regretting that they were not in prose or in the stanza of the metrical psalms.

From 1790 to 1800 Hogg was shepherd to Mr. Laidlaw of Blackhouse, on the Douglas Burn, Yarrow, having as companions the farmer's sons, of whom William Laidlaw [q. v.] became Scott's friend and the author of ‘Lucy's Flittin'.’ Hogg found books here that stimulated his intelligence, and the intercourse with his young friends was likewise valuable. He began to be known as ‘the poeter,’ having made songs, as he says in his ‘Autobiography,’ ‘for the lasses to sing in chorus.’ In 1793 he first saw the Perthshire highlands, having gone to Strathfillan with sheep, and he retained a lasting impression of their beauty. In 1796 he began with great difficulty to write his verses, his school training having merely introduced him to large text, and soon after Burns's death, in that year, hearing ‘a half daft man, Jock Scott by name,’ recite ‘Tam o' Shanter,’ and learning from the reciter that the poem was by the ‘sweetest poet that ever was born,’ whose place would never be filled, he conceived it possible that he might become Burns's successor as a Scottish singer. His first printed piece was the spirited patriotic song ‘Donald m'Donald,’ written in reference to Napoleon's project of invasion, and widely popular as soon as printed in 1800.

In this year, owing to his brother's marriage, Hogg settled at Ettrick, with his aged parents, to superintend their farm during the three remaining years of the lease. In 1801, while in Edinburgh with stock, he rashly collected his poetical pieces from memory, and they were roughly printed as ‘Scottish Pastorals, Poems, Songs, &c.’ In 1802 he made the acquaintance of Scott, who was in quest of further materials for his ‘Border Minstrelsy,’ of which two volumes had appeared. Both Hogg and his mother supplied him with ballads, the old lady being justifiably jealous of her rich store, and Hogg resolving to produce original material in the old style. When the lease of the farm expired in 1803, Hogg arranged with a neighbouring farmer to settle on a large sheep farm in Harris, writing in the prospect his ‘Farewell to Ettrick.’ The farm, however, turned out to be a disputed property, and possession was refused. Hogg, who lost much by this transaction, went to Mitchelstacks, Nithsdale, as a shepherd, and first met Allan Cunningham there. In 1807 Constable, through Scott's good offices, published for him his miscellaneous poems (the original ballads suggested by Scott's quest) under the title of ‘The Mountain Bard,’ and the proceeds of this and a treatise on diseases of sheep, published at the same time, amounted to about 300l., which he straightway lost in unsuccessful farming in Dumfriesshire. Failing to secure a commission in the militia, or a post in the excise, he returned a discredited bankrupt to Ettrick.

Finding himself shunned owing to his misfortunes, and seeing no prospect of occupation in his native district, Hogg determined to try a literary career, and in 1810 settled in Edinburgh. Here he received substantial help from various friends, especially Messrs. Grieve & Scott, hatters, Grieve being an Ettrick man, and an ardent admirer of Hogg. The first literary project was the publication in 1810 of ‘The Forest Minstrel,’ a miscellany of which he himself contributed about two-thirds—‘every ranting rhyme,’ he says, ‘that I had made in my youth’—the rest being furnished by Thomas M. Cunningham and other friends. The Countess of Dalkeith, to whom the work was dedicated, presented Hogg with one hundred guineas, which was all the money that came of the venture. In September 1810 he started ‘The Spy,’ a weekly critical journal, which deteriorated after its earlier numbers, and expired at the end of a year. Hogg now joined the Forum, an Edinburgh debating club, to which he attributed a considerable improvement in his literary style. As member of the club he composed several musical dramas and tragedies of no consequence. At Grieve's suggestion he wrote in 1813 his most picturesque and imaginative work, ‘The Queen's Wake,’ which was at once a great poetical if not financial success. In 1814 the third edition was published by John Blackwood. Hogg was thus brought into contact with Wilson and other literary men of Edinburgh, through whom he afterwards formed lifelong friendships with Wordsworth and Southey. He sent a copy of ‘The Queen's Wake’ to Byron, who recommended it to John Murray. Murray undertook the publication in England of that and other of Hogg's works, and from 1813 corresponded with the poet on very friendly terms, lending him money and entertaining him in London. In 1815 he published the ‘Pilgrims of the Sun,’ designed as the first of a series of ‘Midsummer Night Dreams’ (which he was not encouraged to continue), and in 1816 he issued ‘Madoc of the Moor,’ a poem in Spenserian stanza, embodying a slender narrative, but of fine descriptive quality, written two years before at Kinnaird House on the Tay, Perthshire. Neither produced much money; Hogg meditated a return to farming, and in an ingenious and charac-