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James Hogg

  • Name  : Hogg
  • Born  : 1770
  • Died  : 1835
  • Category  : Writers
  • Finest Moment : Publication of Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824)

Born the son of a tenant farmer at Ettrick, in the Scottish Borders, in late November or early December 1770. There are quite a few parallels between Hogg and Robert Burns; both were born sons of poor tenant farmers, both were largely uneducated, yet both rose through their own energies and natural talents to be original writers.

Hogg spent his early years as a shepherd, and became known as 'the Ettrick Shepherd.' His father finally failed as a farmer, and so did James. By now he was writing poems and stories, so moved to Edinburgh to make a living there in 1810. He may have been born into poor farming stock, but was clever enough to manipulate the Edinburgh 'townies' with his stories of the rural way of life. He had the novelty, in those days, of being genuine in his knowledge through personal experience, and he also was possessed of a vivid imagination, obvious in his writings.

Before he had gone to Edinburgh, he was known to Walter Scott, and some years after meeting him published his own collection of ballad imitations, The Mountain Bard (1807). In 1829, in Blackwood's Magazine, he enthralled the largely ignorant urban reader with a series of rural tales, The Shepherd's Calendar.

His writings, like many Scots, were not fully recognised for their quality, either in their day, or for that matter now. His novel, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), is probably the most important Scottish novel of the 19th century. It is a tale out of time, predating the modern psychological thriller.

It contains a really neat description of a Brocken Spectre, the visual phenomenon normally only seen on a mountain. As a shepherd, Hogg will no doubt have seen this himself, and here he describes it as seen on Arthur's Seat, the hill which rises out of the city of Edinburgh. Hogg writes of the name given to it by shepherd boys 'the little wee ghost of the rainbow.' (Scots are quite often given to tautology, one of the funniest being when a short person is described as being a wee bit wee.)

Hogg must have done things late in life, he certainly only married when he was 50, living in the little farm of Altrive rent-free, courtesy of the Duke of Buccleuch. And there he died, after a 'uniformly happy married life', on 21 November 1835.

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