HotFreeBooks.com
The Modern Scottish Minstrel, Volume II. - The Songs of Scotland of the past half century
Author: Various
1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

* * * * *



THE ETTRICK SHEPHERD

Lithographed from an original Portrait in the possession of his widow by Schenck & McFarlane, Edinburgh.]

* * * * *



THE

MODERN SCOTTISH MINSTREL;

OR,

THE SONGS OF SCOTLAND OF THE PAST HALF CENTURY.

WITH

Memoirs of the Poets,

AND

SKETCHES AND SPECIMENS IN ENGLISH VERSE OF THE MOST CELEBRATED MODERN GAELIC BARDS.

BY

CHARLES ROGERS, LL.D. F.S.A. SCOT.

IN SIX VOLUMES.

VOL. II.

EDINBURGH: ADAM & CHARLES BLACK, NORTH BRIDGE, BOOKSELLERS AND PUBLISHERS TO HER MAJESTY.

M.DCCC.LVI.

EDINBURGH: PRINTED BY BALLANTYNE AND COMPANY, PAUL'S WORK.



TO

JOHN BROWN, ESQ., OF MARLIE.

My dear Sir,

I dedicate to you this second volume of "THE MODERN SCOTTISH MINSTREL," as a sincere token of my estimation of your long continued and most disinterested friendship, and of the anxiety you have so frequently evinced respecting the promotion of my professional views and literary aspirations.

I have the honour to be, My dear Sir, your most obliged, and very faithful servant, CHARLES ROGERS.

Argyle House, Stirling, December 1855.



INTRODUCTION

TO

The Modern Gaelic Minstrelsy.[1]

The suspicion which arose in regard to the authenticity of Ossian, subsequent to his appearance in the pages of Macpherson, has unjustly excited a misgiving respecting the entire poetry of the Gael. With reference to the elder poetry of the Highlands, it has now been established[2] that at the period of the Reformation, the natives were engrossed with the lays and legends of Bards and Seanachies,[3] of which Ossian, Caoillt, and Cuchullin were the heroes. These romantic strains continued to be preserved and recited with singular veneration. They were familiar to hundreds in different districts who regarded them as relics of their ancestors, and would as soon have mingled the bones of their fathers with the dust of strangers, as ventured on the alteration of a single passage. Many of the reciters of this elder poetry were writers of verses,[4] yet there is no instance of any attempt to alter or supersede the originals. Nor could any attempt have succeeded. There are specimens which exist, independent of those collected by Macpherson, which present a peculiarity of form, and a Homeric consistency of imagery, distinct from every other species of Gaelic poetry.

Of an uncertain era, but of a date posterior to the age of Ossian, there is a class of compositions called Ur-sgeula,[5] or new-tales, which may be termed the productions of the sub-Ossianic period. They are largely blended with stories of dragons and other fabulous monsters; the best of these compositions being romantic memorials of the Hiberno-Celtic, or Celtic Scandinavian wars. The first translation from the Gaelic was a legend of the Ur-sgeula. The translator was Ierome Stone,[6] schoolmaster of Dunkeld, and the performance appeared in the Scots Magazine for 1700. The author had learned from the monks the story of Bellerophon,[7] along with that of Perseus and Andromeda, and from these materials fabricated a romance in which the hero is a mythical character, who is supposed to have given name to Loch Fraoch, near Dunkeld. Belonging to the same era is the "Aged Bard's Wish,"[8] a composition of singular elegance and pathos, and remarkable for certain allusions to the age and imagery of Ossian. This has frequently been translated. Somewhat in the Ossianic style, but of the period of the Ur-sgeula are two popular pieces entitled Mordubh[9] and Collath. Of these productions the imagery is peculiarly illustrative of the character and habits of the ancient Gael, while they are replete with incidents of the wars which the Albyn had waged with their enemies of Scandinavia. To the same period we are disposed to assign the "Song of the Owl," though it has been regarded by a respectable authority[10] as of modern origin. Of a portion of this celebrated composition we subjoin a metrical translation from the pen of Mr William Sinclair.

The Bard, expelled from the dwellings of men by plunderers according to one account, by a discontented helpmate according to another, is placed in a lone out-house, where he meets an owl which he supposes himself to engage in an interchange of sentiment respecting the olden time:—

HUNTER.

O wailing owl of Strona's vale! We wonder not thy night's repose Is mournful, when with Donegal In distant years thou first arose: O lonely bird! we wonder not, For time the strongest heart can bow, That thou should'st heave a mournful note, Or that thy sp'rit is heavy now!

OWL.

Thou truly sayest I lone abide, I lived with yonder ancient oak, Whose spreading roots strike deep and wide Amidst the moss beside the rock; And long, long years have gone at last, And thousand moons have o'er me stole, And many a race before me past, Still I am Strona's lonely owl!

HUNTER.

Now, since old age has come o'er thee, Confess, as to a priest, thy ways; And fearless tell thou unto me The glorious tales of bygone days.

OWL.

Rapine and falsehood ne'er I knew, Nor grave nor temples e'er have torn, My youthful mate still found me true— Guiltless am I although forlorn! I 've seen brave Britto's son, the wild, The powerful champion, Fergus, too, Gray-haired Foradden, Strona's child— These were the heroes great and true!

HUNTER.

Thou hast well began, but tell to me, And say what further hast thou known! E'er Donegal abode with thee, In the Fersaid these all were gone!

OWL.

Great Alexander of the spears, The mightiest chief of Albyn's race, Oft have I heard his voice in cheers From the green hill-side speed the chase; I saw him after Angus brave— Nor less a noble warrior he— Fersaid his home, his work he gave Unto the Mill of Altavaich.

HUNTER.

From wild Lochaber, then, the sword With war's dread inroads swept apace; Where, gloomy-brow'd and ancient bird, Was then thy secret hiding-place?

OWL.

When the fierce sounds of terror burst, And plunder'd herds were passing on, I turn'd me from the sight accurst Unto the craig Gunaoch lone; Some of my kindred by the lands Of Inch and Fersaid sought repose, Some by Loch Laggan's lonely sands, Where their lamenting cries arose!

Here follows a noble burst of poetical fervour in praise of the lonely rock, and the scenes of the huntsman's youth. The green plains, the wild harts, the graceful beauty of the brown deer, and the roaring stag, with the banners, ensigns, and streamers of the race of Cona,—all share in the poet's admiration. The following constitutes the exordium of the poem:—

Oh rock of my heart! for ever secure, The rock where my childhood was cherish'd in love, The haunt of the wild birds, the stream flowing pure, And the hinds and the stags that in liberty rove; The rock all encircled by sounds from the grove, Oh, how I delighted to linger by thee, When arose the wild cry of the hounds as they drove, The herds of wild deer from their fastnesses free! Loud scream'd the eagles around thee, I ween, Sweet the cuckoos and the swans in their pride, More cheering the kid-spotted fawns that were seen, With their bleating, that sweetly arose by thy side, I love thee, O wild rock of refuge! of showers, Of the leaves and the cresses, all glorious to me, Of the high grassy heights and the beautiful bowers Afar from the smooth shelly brink of the sea!

The termination of the Sub-Ossianic period brings us to another epoch in the history of Gaelic poetry. The Bard was now the chieftain's retainer, at home a crofter and pensioner,[11] abroad a follower of the camp. We find him cheering the rowers of the galley, with his birlinn chant, and stirring on the fight with his prosnuchadh catha, or battle-song. At the noted battle of Harlaw,[12] a piece was sung which has escaped the wreck of that tremendous slaughter, and of contemporary poetry. It is undoubtedly genuine; and the critics of Gaelic verse are unanimous in ascribing to it every excellence which can belong either to alliterative art, or musical excitement. Of the battle-hymn some splendid specimens have been handed down; and these are to be regarded with an amount of confidence, from the apparent ease with which the very long "Incitement to Battle," in the "Garioch Battle-Storm," as Harlaw is called, was remembered. Collections of favourite pieces began to be made in writing about the period of the revival of letters. The researches of the Highland Society brought to light a miscellany, embracing the poetical labours of two contemporaries of rank, Sir Duncan Campbell[13] of Glenurchay, and Lady Isabel Campbell. From this period the poet's art degenerates into a sort of family chronicle. There were, however, incidents which deserved a more affecting style of memorial; and this appears in lays which still command the interest and draw forth the tears of the Highlander. The story of the persecuted Clan Gregor supplies many illustrations, such as the oft-chanted Macgregor na Ruara,[14] and the mournful melodies of Janet Campbell.[15] In the footsteps of these exciting subjects of poetry, came the inspiring Montrose wars, which introduce to our acquaintance the more modern class of bards; of these the most conspicuous is, Ian Lom[16] or Manntach. This bard was a Macdonald; he hung on the skirts of armies, and at the close of the battle sung the triumph or the wail, on the side of his partisans.[17] To the presence of this person the clans are supposed to have been indebted for much of the enthusiasm which led them to glory in the wars of Montrose. His poetry only reaches mediocrity, but the success which attended it led the chiefs to seek similar support in the Jacobite wars; and very animated compositions were the result of their encouragement. Mathieson, the family bard of Seaforth, Macvuirich, the pensioner of Clanranald, and Hector the Lamiter, bard of M'Lean, were pre-eminent in this department. The Massacre of Glencoe suggested numerous elegies. There is one remarkable for pathos by a clansman who had emigrated to the Isle of Muck, from which circumstance he is styled "Am Bard Mucanach."

The knights of Duart and Sleat, the chiefs of Clanranald and Glengarry, the Lochaber seigniory of Lochiel, and the titled chivalry of Sutherland and Seaforth,[18] formed subjects of poetic eulogy. Sir Hector Maclean, Ailein Muideartach, and the lamented Sir James Macdonald obtained the same tribute. The second of these Highland favourites could not make his manly countenance, or stalwart arm, visible in hall, barge, or battle,[19] without exciting the enthusiastic strain of the enamoured muse of one sex, or of the admiring minstrel of the other. In this department of poetry, some of the best proficients were women. Of these Mary M'Leod, the contemporary of Ian Lom, is one of the most musical and elegant. Her chief, The M'Leod, was the grand theme of her inspiration. Dora Brown[20] sung a chant on the renowned Col-Kitto, as he went forth against the Campbells to revenge the death of his father; a composition conceived in a strain such as Helen Macgregor might have struck up to stimulate to some deed of daring and vindictive enterprise.

Of the modern poetry of the Gael, Macpherson has expressed himself unfavourably; he regarded the modern Highlanders as being incapable of estimating poetry otherwise than in the returning harmony of similar sounds. They were seduced, he remarks, by the charms of rhyme; and admired the strains of Ossian, not for the sublimity of the poetry, but on account of the antiquity of the compositions, and the detail of facts which they contained. On this subject a different opinion has been expressed by Sir Walter Scott. "I cannot dismiss this story," he writes, in his last introduction to his tale of the "Two Drovers," "without resting attention for a moment on the light which has been thrown on the character of the Highland Drover, since the time of its first appearance, by the account of a drover poet, by name Robert Mackay, or, as he was commonly called, Rob Donn, i.e., Brown Robert; and certain specimens of his talents, published in the ninetieth number of the Quarterly Review. The picture which that paper gives of the habits and feelings of a class of persons with which the general reader would be apt to associate no ideas but those of wild superstition and rude manners, is in the highest degree interesting; and I cannot resist the temptation of quoting two of the songs of this hitherto unheard-of poet of humble life.... Rude and bald as these things appear in a verbal translation, and rough as they might possibly appear, even were the originals intelligible, we confess we are disposed to think they would of themselves justify Dr Mackay (editor of Mackay's Poems) in placing this herdsman-lover among the true sons of song."

Of that department of the Gaelic Minstrelsy admired by Scott and condemned by Macpherson, the English reader is presented in the present work with specimens, to enable him to form his own judgment. These specimens, it must however be remembered, not only labour under the ordinary disadvantages of translations, but have been rendered from a language which, in its poetry, is one of the least transfusible in the world. Yet the effort which has been made to retain the spirit, and preserve the rhythm and manner of the originals, may be sufficient to establish that the honour of the Scottish Muse has not unworthily been supported among the mountains of the Gael. Some of the compositions are Jacobite, and are in the usual warlike strain of such productions, but the majority sing of the rivalries of clans, the emulation of bards, the jealousies of lovers, and the honour of the chiefs. They likewise abound in pictures of pastoral imagery; are redolent of the heath and the wildflower, and depict the beauties of the deer forest.

The various kinds of Highland minstrelsy admit of simple classification. The Duan Mor is the epic song; its subdivisions are termed duana or duanaga. Strings of verse and incidents ([Greek: Rhapsodia]) were intended to form an epic history, and were combined by successive bards for that purpose. The battle-song (Prosnuchadh-catha) was the next in importance. The model of this variety is not to be found in any of the Alcaic or Tyrtaean remains. It was a dithyrambic of the wildest and most passionate enthusiasm, inciting to carnage and fury. Chanted in the hearing of assembled armies, and sometimes sung before the van, it was intended as an incitement to battle, and even calculated to stimulate the courage of the general. The war-song of the Harlaw has been already noticed; it is a rugged tissue of alliteration, every letter having a separate division in the remarkable string of adjectives which are connected to introduce a short exordium and grand finale. The Jorram, or boat-song, some specimens of which attracted the attention of Dr Johnson,[21] was a variety of the same class. In this, every measure was used which could be made to time with an oar, or to mimic a wave, either in motion or sound. Dr Johnson discovered in it the proceleusmatic song of the ancients; it certainly corresponds in real usage with the poet's description:—

"Stat margine puppis, Qui voce alternos nautarum temperet ictus, Et remis dictet sonitum pariterque relatis, Ad numerum plaudet resonantia caerula tonsis."

Alexander Macdonald excels in this description of verse. In a piece called Clanranald's Birlinn, he has summoned his utmost efforts in timing the circumstances of a voyage with suitable metres and descriptions. A happy imitation of the boat-song has been rendered familiar to the English reader by Sir Walter Scott, in the "Roderigh Vich Alpine Dhu, ho! ieroe," of the "Lady of the Lake." The Luineag, or favourite carol of the Highland milkmaid, is a class of songs entirely lyrical, and which seldom fails to please the taste of the Lowlander. Burns[22] and other song-writers have adopted the strain of the Luineag to adorn their verses. The Cumha, or lament, is the vehicle of the most pathetic and meritorious effusions of Gaelic poetry; it is abundantly interspersed with the poetry of Ossian.

Among the Gael, blank verse is unknown, and for rhyme they entertain a passion.[23] They rhyme to the same set of sounds or accents for a space of which the recitation is altogether tedious. Not satisfied with the final rhyme, their favourite measures are those in which the middle syllable corresponds with the last, and the same syllable in the second line with both; and occasionally the final sound of the second line is expected to return in every alternate verse through the whole poem. The Gael appear to have been early in possession of these coincidences of termination which were unknown to the classical poets, or were regarded by them as defects.[24] All writers on Celtic versification, including the Irish, Welsh, Manx, and Cornish varieties, are united in their testimony as to the early use of rhyme by the Celtic poets, and agree in assigning the primary model to the incantations of the Druids.[25] The lyrical measures of the Gael are various, but the scansion is regular, and there is no description of verse familiar to English usage, from the Iambic of four syllables, to the slow-paced Anapaestic, or the prolonged Alexandrine, which is not exactly measured by these sons and daughters of song.[26] Every poetical composition in the language, however lengthy, is intended to be sung or chanted. Gaelic music is regulated by no positive rules; it varies from the wild chant of the battle-song to the simple melody of the milkmaid. In Johnson's "Musical Museum," Campbell's "Albyn's Anthology," Thomson's "Collection," and Macdonald's "Airs," the music of the mountains has long been familiar to the curious in song, and lover of the national minstrelsy.[27]

[1] We are indebted for these observations on the Highland Muse to the learned friend who has supplied the greater number of the translations from the Gaelic poets, which appear in the present work.

[2] Highland Society's Report on Ossian, pp. 16-20.

[3] Genealogists or Antiquaries.

[4] Letter from Sir James Macdonald to Dr Blair.

[5] M'Callum's "Collection," p. 207. See also Smith's "Sean Dana, or Gaelic Antiquities;" Gillies' "Collection" and Clark's "Caledonian Bards."

[6] Highland Society's Report on Ossian, pp. 99, 105, 112.

[7] Boswell's "Life of Johnson," p. 320, Croker's edition, 1847.

[8] "Poems by Mrs Grant of Laggan," p. 395, Edinburgh, 1803, 8vo. The original is to be found in the Gaelic collections.

[9] Mrs Grant's Poems, p. 371; Mackenzie's "Gaelic Poets," p. 1.

[10] See Mrs Grant's "Highland Superstitions," vol. ii. p. 249. The original is contained in Mackenzie's "Gaelic Poets."

[11] See Johnson's "Journey to the Western Islands."

[12] Stewart's Collection, p. 1.

[13] Report on Ossian, p. 92. Sir Duncan Campbell fell at the battle of Flodden, Lady Campbell afterwards married Gilbert, Earl of Cassillis.

[14] Mrs Grant's "Highland Superstitions," vol. ii. p. 196.

[15] Mrs Ogilvie's "Highland Minstrelsy." For the original see Turner's Collection, p. 186.

[16] Reid's "Bibliotheca Scotica Celtica." Mackenzie's "Gaelic Poets," p. 36.

[17] Napier's "Memoirs of Montrose." In this work will be found a very spirited translation of Ian Lom's poem on the battle of Innerlochy.

[18] Mackenzie's "Gaelic Poets," pp. 24, 59, 77, 77, 151; Turner's "Gaelic Collection," passim.

[19] See the beautiful verses translated by the Marchioness of Northampton from "Ha tighinn fodham," in "Albyn's Anthology," or Croker's "Boswell."

[20] Mackenzie's "Gaelic Poets," p. 56.

[21] Johnson's Works, vol. xii. p. 291.

[22] Poems, Chambers' People's Edition, p. 134.

[23] Armstrong's "Gaelic Dictionary," p. 63.

[24] Edinburgh Review on Mitford's "Harmony of Language," vol. vi. p. 383.

[25] Brown's "History of the Highlands," vol. i. p. 89.

[26] Armstrong's "Gaelic Dictionary," p. 64.

[27] See also Logan's "Scottish Gael," vol. ii. p. 252.



CONTENTS.

PAGE

JAMES HOGG, 1 Donald Macdonald, 48 Flora Macdonald's farewell, 50 Bonnie Prince Charlie, 51 The skylark, 52 Caledonia, 53 O Jeanie, there 's naething to fear ye, 54 When the kye comes hame, 55 The women folk, 58 M'Lean's welcome, 59 Charlie is my darling, 61 Love is like a dizziness, 62 O weel befa' the maiden gay, 64 The flowers of Scotland, 66 Lass, an' ye lo'e me, tell me now, 67 Pull away, jolly boys, 69 O, saw ye this sweet bonnie lassie o' mine? 70 The auld Highlandman, 71 Ah, Peggy, since thou 'rt gane away, 72 Gang to the brakens wi' me, 74 Lock the door, Lariston, 75 I hae naebody now, 77 The moon was a-waning, 78 Good night, and joy, 79

JAMES MUIRHEAD, D.D., 81 Bess the gawkie, 82 MRS AGNES LYON, 84 Neil Gow's farewell to whisky, 86 See the winter clouds around, 87 Within the towers of ancient Glammis, 88 My son George's departure, 90

ROBERT LOCHORE, 91 Now, Jenny lass, 92 Marriage, and the care o't, 94 Mary's twa lovers, 95 The forlorn shepherd, 96

JOHN ROBERTSON, 98 The toom meal pock, 99

ALEXANDER BALFOUR, 101 The bonnie lass o' Leven water, 104 Slighted love, 105

GEORGE MACINDOE, 106 Cheese and whisky, 108 The burn trout, 109

ALEXANDER DOUGLAS, 110 Fife, an' a' the land about it, 112

WILLIAM M'LAREN, 114 Now summer shines with gaudy pride, 116 And dost thou speak sincere, my love? 116 Say not the bard has turn'd old, 117

HAMILTON PAUL, 120 Helen Gray, 128 The bonnie lass of Barr, 129

ROBERT TANNAHILL, 131 Jessie, the flower o' Dumblane, 136 Loudon's bonnie woods and braes, 137 The lass of Arranteenie, 139 Yon burn side, 140 The braes o' Gleniffer, 141 Through Crockston Castle's lanely wa's, 142 The braes o' Balquhither, 143 Gloomy winter 's now awa', 145 O! are ye sleeping, Maggie? 146 Now winter, wi' his cloudy brow, 147 The dear Highland laddie, O, 148 The midges dance aboon the burn, 149 Barrochan Jean, 150 O, row thee in my Highland plaid, 151 Bonnie wood of Craigie lea, 153 Good night, and joy, 154

HENRY DUNCAN, D.D., 156 Curling song, 161 On the green sward, 163 The Ruthwell volunteers, 164 Exiled far from scenes of pleasure, 165 The roof of straw, 166 Thou kens't, Mary Hay, 167

ROBERT ALLAN, 169 Blink over the burn, my sweet Betty, 171 Come awa, hie awa, 171 On thee, Eliza, dwell my thoughts, 173 To a linnet, 174 The primrose is bonnie in spring, 174 The bonnie lass o' Woodhouselee, 175 The sun is setting on sweet Glengarry, 176 Her hair was like the Cromla mist, 177 O leeze me on the bonnie lass, 178 Queen Mary's escape from Lochleven Castle, 179 When Charlie to the Highlands came, 180 Lord Ronald came to his lady's bower, 181 The lovely maid of Ormadale, 183 A lassie cam' to our gate, 184 The thistle and the rose, 186 The Covenanter's lament, 187 Bonnie lassie, 188

ANDREW MERCER, 189 The hour of love, 190

JOHN LEYDEN, M.D., 191 Ode to the evening star, 196 The return after absence, 197 Lament for Rama, 197

JAMES SCADLOCK, 199 Along by Levern stream so clear, 201 Hark, hark, the skylark singing, 202 October winds, 203

SIR ALEXANDER BOSWELL, BART., 204 Jenny's bawbee, 208 Jenny dang the weaver, 210 The lass o' Isla, 211 Taste life's glad moments, 212 Good night, and joy be wi' ye a', 214 Old and new times, 215 Bannocks o' barley meal, 216

WILLIAM GILLESPIE, 218 The Highlander, 220 Ellen, 221

THOMAS MOUNSEY CUNNINGHAM, 223 Adown the burnie's flowery bank, 227 The hills o' Gallowa', 227 The braes o' Ballahun, 229 The unco grave, 230 Julia's grave, 231 Fareweel, ye streams, 232

JOHN STRUTHERS, 235 Admiring Nature's simple charms, 239 Oh, bonnie buds yon birchen tree, 240

RICHARD GALL, 241 How sweet is the scene, 243 Captain O'Kain, 243 My only jo and dearie, O, 244 The bonnie blink o' Mary's e'e, 245 The braes o' Drumlee, 246 I winna gang back to my mammy again, 248 The bard, 249 Louisa in Lochaber, 249 The hazlewood witch, 250 Farewell to Ayrshire, 251

GEORGE SCOTT, 253 The flower of the Tyne, 254

THOMAS CAMPBELL, 255 Ye mariners of England, 262 Glenara, 263 The wounded hussar, 264 Battle of the Baltic, 265 Men of England, 268

MRS G. G. RICHARDSON, 269 The fairy dance, 273 Summer morning, 274 There 's music in the flowing tide, 275 Ah! faded is that lovely broom, 276

THOMAS BROWN, M.D., 278 Consolation of altered fortunes, 281 The faithless mourner, 282 The lute, 283

WILLIAM CHALMERS, 285 Sing on, 286 The Lomond braes, 287

JOSEPH TRAIN, 288 My doggie, 293 Blooming Jessie, 295 Old Scotia, 296

ROBERT JAMIESON, 297 My wife 's a winsome wee thing, 299 Go to him, then, if thou can'st go, 300

WALTER WATSON, 302 My Jockie 's far awa, 304 Maggie an' me, 305 Sit down, my cronie, 306 Braes o' Bedlay, 307 Jessie, 308

WILLIAM LAIDLAW, 310 Lucy's flittin', 314 Her bonnie black e'e, 316 Alake for the lassie, 317



METRICAL TRANSLATIONS FROM THE MODERN GAELIC MINSTRELSY.

ALEXANDER MACDONALD, 321 The lion of Macdonald, 323 The brown dairy-maiden, 327 The praise of Morag, 329 News of Prince Charles, 335

JOHN ROY STUART, 340 Lament for Lady Macintosh, 341 The day of Culloden, 343

JOHN MORRISON, 346 My beauty dark, 347

ROBERT MACKAY, 349 The Highlander's home sickness, 349

* * * * *

GLOSSARY, 350



THE

MODERN SCOTTISH MINSTREL.



JAMES HOGG.

The last echoes of the older Border Minstrelsy were dying from the memory of the aged, and the spirit which had awakened the strains seemed to have sighed an eternal farewell to its loved haunts in the past, when, suddenly arousing from a long slumber, it threw the mantle of inspiration, at the close of last century, over several sons of song, worthy to bear the lyre of their minstrel sires. Of these, unquestionably the most remarkable was James Hogg, commonly designated "The Ettrick Shepherd." This distinguished individual was born in the bosom of the romantic vale of Ettrick, in Selkirkshire,—one of the most mountainous and picturesque districts of Scotland. The family of Hogg claimed descent from Hougo, a Norwegian baron; and the poet's paternal ancestors at one period possessed the lands of Fauldshope in Ettrick Forest, and were followers, under the feudal system, of the Knights of Harden. For several generations they had adopted the simple occupation of shepherds. On the mother's side, the poet was descended from the respectable family of Laidlaw,—one of the oldest in Tweeddale, and of which all the representatives bore the reputation of excelling either in intellectual vigour or physical energy; they generally devoted themselves to the pastoral life. Robert Hogg, the poet's father, was a person of very ordinary sagacity, presenting in this respect a decided contrast to his wife, Margaret Laidlaw, a woman of superior energy and cultivated mind. Their family consisted of four sons, of whom the second was James, the subject of this Memoir. The precise date of his birth is unknown: he was baptised, according to the Baptismal Register of Ettrick, his native parish, on the 9th of December 1770.[28]

At the period of his marriage, Robert Hogg was in circumstances of considerable affluence; he had saved money as a shepherd, and, taking on lease the two adjoining pastoral farms of Ettrick-hall and Ettrick-house, he largely stocked them with sheep adapted both for the Scottish and English markets. During several years he continued to prosper; but a sudden depression in the market, and the absconding of a party who was indebted to him, at length exhausted his finances, and involved him in bankruptcy. The future poet was then in his sixth year. In this destitute condition, the family experienced the friendship and assistance of Mr Brydon, tenant of the neighbouring farm of Crosslee, who, leasing Ettrick-house, employed Robert Hogg as his shepherd. But the circumstances of the family were much straitened by recent reverses; and the second son, young as he was, and though he had only been three months at school, was engaged as a cow-herd, his wages for six months being only a ewe-lamb and a pair of shoes! Three months' further attendance at school, on the expiry of his engagement, completed the future bard's scholastic instructions. It was the poet's lot, with the exception of these six months' schooling, to receive his education among the romantic retreats and solitudes of Nature. First as a cow-herd, and subsequently through the various gradations of shepherd-life, his days, till advanced manhood, were all the year round passed upon the hills. And such hills! The mountains of Ettrick and Yarrow are impressed with every feature of Highland scenery, in its wildest and most striking aspects. There are stern summits, enveloped in cloud, and stretching heavenwards; huge broad crests, heathy and verdant, or torn by fissures and broken by the storms; deep ravines, jagged, precipitate, and darksome; and valleys sweetly reposing amidst the sublimity of the awful solitude. There are dark craggy mountains around the Grey-Mare's-Tail, echoing to the roar of its stupendous cataract; and romantic and beautiful green hills, and inaccessible heights, surrounding and towering over St Mary's Loch, and the Loch of the Lowes. To the sublimity of that vast academy, in which he had learned to invoke the Muse, the poet has referred in the "Queen's Wake":—

"The bard on Ettrick's mountain green, In Nature's bosom nursed had been; And oft had mark'd in forest lone The beauties on her mountain throne; Had seen her deck the wildwood tree, And star with snowy gems the lea; In loveliest colours paint the plain, And sow the moor with purple grain; By golden mead and mountain sheer, Had view'd the Ettrick waving clear, When shadowy flocks of purest snow Seem'd grazing in a world below."

Glorious as was his academy, the genius of the poet was not precocious. Forgetting everything he had learned at school, he spent his intervals of toil in desultory amusements, or in pursuing his own shadow upon the hills. As he grew older, he discovered the possession of a musical ear; and saving five shillings of his earnings, he purchased an old violin, upon which he learned to play his favourite tunes. He had now attained his fourteenth year; and in the constant hope of improving his circumstances, had served twelve masters.

The life of a cow-herd affords limited opportunities for mental improvement. And the early servitude of the Ettrick Shepherd was spent in excessive toil, which his propensities to fun and frolic served just to render tolerable. When he reached the respectable and comparatively easy position of a shepherd, he began to think of teaching himself to read. From Mrs Laidlaw, the wife of the farmer at Willinslee, on which he served, he was privileged with the loan of two works, of which the reputation had been familiar to him from childhood. These were Henry the Minstrel's "Life and Adventures of Sir William Wallace," and the "Gentle Shepherd" of Allan Ramsay. On these the future poet with much difficulty learned to read, in his eighteenth year. He afterwards read a number of theological works, from his employer's collection of books; and among others of a speculative cast, "Burnet's Theory of the Conflagration of the Earth," the perusal of which, he has recorded, "nearly overturned his brain."

At Whitsunday 1790, in his twentieth year, Hogg entered the service, as shepherd, of Mr James Laidlaw, tenant of Blackhouse,—a farm situate on the Douglasburn in Yarrow. This proved the most signally fortunate step which he had yet taken. Mr Laidlaw was a man of singular shrewdness and of a highly cultivated mind; he readily perceived his shepherd's aptitude for learning, and gave him the use of his library. But the poet's connexion with Blackhouse was especially valuable in enabling him to form the intimacy of Mr William Laidlaw, his master's son, the future factor and amanuensis of Sir Walter Scott. Though ten years his junior, and consequently a mere youth at the period of his coming to Blackhouse, young Laidlaw began early to sympathise with the Shepherd's predilections, and afterwards devoted a large portion of time to his society. The friendship which ensued proved useful to both. A MS. narrative of the poet's life by this unfailing friend, which has been made available in the preparation of this Memoir, enables us to supply an authentic account of this portion of his career. "He was not long," writes Mr Laidlaw, "in going through all the books belonging to my father; and learning from me that Mr Elder, bookseller, Peebles, had a large collection of books which he used as a circulating library, he forthwith became a subscriber, and by that means read Smollett's and Fielding's novels, and those voyages and travels which were published at the time, including those of Cook, Carteret, and others."

The progress of the Shepherd in learning was singularly tardy. He was, by a persevering course of reading, sufficiently familiar with the more esteemed writers in English literature, ere he attempted penmanship. He acquired the art upon the hill-side by copying the Italian alphabet, using his knees as his desk, and having his ink-bottle suspended from his button. In his twenty-sixth year he first essayed to write verses,—an effort attended, in the manual department, with amusing difficulty, for he stripped himself of his coat and vest to the undertaking, yet could record only a few lines at a sitting! But he was satisfied with the fame derived from his verses, as adequate compensation for the toil of their production; he wrote for the amusement of the shepherd maidens, who sung them to their favourite tunes, and bestowed on him the prized designation of "Jamie the Poeter." At the various gatherings of the lads and lasses in the different homesteads, then frequent in this pastoral district, he never failed to present himself, and had golden opportunities of winning the chaplet of applause, both for the strains of his minstrelsy, and the music of his violin. These reunions were not without their influence in stimulating him to more ambitious efforts in versification.

The Shepherd's popularity, while tending the flocks of Mr Laidlaw at Blackhouse, was not wholly derived from his skill as a versifier, and capabilities as a musician, but, among the fairer portion of the creation, was perhaps scarcely less owing to the amenity of his disposition, combined with the handsomeness of his person. As a candidate for the honour of feminine approbation, he was successful alike in the hall and on the green: the rumour of his approach at any rural assemblage or merry-meeting was the watchword for increased mirth and happiness. If any malignant rival had hinted aught to his prejudice, the maidens of the whole district had assembled to vindicate his cause. His personal appearance at this early period is thus described by Mr William Laidlaw:—"About nineteen years of age, Hogg was rather above the middle height, of faultless symmetry of form; he was of almost unequalled agility and swiftness. His face was then round and full, and of a ruddy complexion, with bright blue eyes that beamed with gaiety, glee, and good-humour, the effect of the most exuberant animal spirits. His head was covered with a singular profusion of light-brown hair, which he was obliged to wear coiled up under his hat. On entering church on a Sunday (where he was all his life a regular attender) he used, on lifting his hat, to raise his right hand to assist a graceful shake of his head in laying back his long hair, which rolled down his back, and fell below his loins. And every female eye was upon him, as, with light step, he ascended the stair to the gallery where he sat."

As the committing of his thoughts to paper became a less irksome occupation, Hogg began, with commendable prudence, to attempt composition in prose; and in evidence of his success, he had the satisfaction to find short essays which he sent to the Scots Magazine regularly inserted in that periodical. Poetry was cultivated at the same time with unabated ardour, though the bard did not yet venture to expose his verses beyond the friendly circle of his associates in Ettrick Forest. Of these, the most judicious was young Laidlaw; who, predicting his success, urged him to greater carefulness in composition. There was another stimulus to his improvement. Along with several shepherds in the forest, who were of studious inclinations, he formed a literary society, which proposed subjects for competition in verse, and adjudged encomiums of approbation to the successful competitors. Two spirited members of this literary conclave were Alexander Laidlaw, a shepherd, and afterwards tenant of Bowerhope, on the border of St Mary's Lake, and the poet's elder brother, William, a man of superior talent. Both these individuals subsequently acquired considerable distinction as intelligent contributors to the agricultural journals. For some years, William Hogg had rented the sheep-farm of Ettrick-house, and afforded shelter and support to his aged and indigent parents. In the year 1800, he resigned his lease to the poet, having taken another farm on the occasion of his marriage. James now established himself, along with his parents, at Ettrick-house, the place of his nativity, after a period of ten years' connexion with Mr Laidlaw of Blackhouse, whose conduct towards him, to use his own words, had proved "much more like that of a father than a master." It was during the course of a visit to Edinburgh in the same year, that an accidental circumstance gave a wider range to his poetical reputation. Spending an evening with a party of friends in the Crown Tavern, he was solicited for a song. He sung the last which he had composed; it was "Donald Macdonald." The reception was a roar of applause, and one of the party offered to get it set to music and published. The song was issued anonymously from the music establishment of Mr John Hamilton of Edinburgh. Within a few months it was sung in every district of the kingdom; and, at a period when the apprehended invasion of Napoleon filled the hearts of the nation with anxiety, it was hailed as an admirable stimulus to patriotism. In the preparation of the "Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border," Scott had been largely indebted to the intelligent peasantry of the south. He was now engaged in making collections for his third volume, and had resolved to examine the pastoral inhabitants of Ettrick and Yarrow. Procuring a note of introduction from his friend Leyden to young Laidlaw, Scott arrived at Blackhouse during the summer of 1801, and in his native home formed the acquaintance of his future steward. To his visitor, Laidlaw commended Hogg as the best qualified in the forest to assist him in his researches; and Scott, who forthwith accompanied Laidlaw to Ettrick-house, was more than gratified by an interview with the shepherd-bard. "He found," writes his biographer, "a brother poet, a true son of nature and genius, hardly conscious of his powers.... As yet, his naturally kind and simple character had not been exposed to any of the dangerous flatteries of the world; his heart was pure; his enthusiasm buoyant as that of a happy child; and well as Scott knew that reflection, sagacity, wit and wisdom, were scattered abundantly among the humblest rangers of these pastoral solitudes, there was here a depth and a brightness that filled him with wonder, combined with a quaintness of humour, and a thousand little touches of absurdity, which afforded him more entertainment, as I have often heard him say, than the best comedy that ever set the pit in a roar." Scott remained several days in the forest, daily accompanied in his excursions by Hogg and Laidlaw, both of whom rapidly warmed in his regard. From the recitation of the Shepherd's mother, he obtained important and interesting accessions to his Minstrelsy.

With the exception of the song of "Donald Macdonald," Hogg had not yet published verses. His debut as an author was sufficiently unpropitious. Shortly after Scott's visit, he had been attending the Monday sheep-market in Edinburgh, and being unable to dispose of his entire stock, was necessitated to remain in the city till the following Wednesday. Having no acquaintances, he resolved to employ the interval in writing from recollection several of his poems for the press. Before his departure, he gave the pieces to a printer; and shortly after, he received intimation that a thousand copies were ready for delivery. On comparing the printed sheets with his MSS. at Ettrick, he had the mortification of discovering "many of the stanzas omitted, others misplaced, and typographical errors abounding in every page." The little brochure, imperfect as it was, sold rapidly in the district; for the Shepherd had now a considerable circle of admirers, and those who had ridiculed his verse-making, kept silent since Scott's visit to him. A copy of the pamphlet is preserved in the Advocates' Library; it consists of sixty-two pages octavo, and is entitled, "Scottish Pastorals, Poems, Songs, &c., mostly written in the Dialect of the South, by James Hogg. Edinburgh: printed by John Taylor, Grassmarket, 1801. Price One Shilling." The various pieces evince poetic power, unhappily combined with a certain coarseness of sentiment. One of the longer ballads, "Willie and Keatie," supposed to be a narrative of one of his early amours, obtained a temporary popularity, and was copied into the periodicals. It is described by Allan Cunningham as a "plain, rough-spun pastoral, with some fine touches in it, to mark that better was coming."

The domestic circumstances of the Shepherd were meanwhile not prosperous; he was compelled to abandon the farm of Ettrick-house, which had been especially valuable to him, as affording a comfortable home to his venerated parents. In the hope of procuring a situation as an overseer of some extensive sheep-farm, he made several excursions into the northern Highlands, waiting upon many influential persons, to whom he had letters of recommendation. These journeys were eminently advantageous in acquainting him with many interesting and celebrated scenes, and in storing his mind with images drawn from the sublimities and wild scenery of nature, but were of no account as concerned the object for which they were undertaken. Without procuring employment, he returned, with very reduced finances, to Ettrick Forest. He published a rough narrative of his travels in the Scots Magazine; and wrote two essays on the rearing and management of sheep, for the Highland Society, which were acknowledged with premiums. Frustrated in an attempt to procure a farm from the Duke of Buccleuch, and declining an offer of Scott to appoint him to the charge of his small sheep-farm at Ashestiel, he was led to indulge in the scheme of settling in the island of Harris. It was in the expectation of being speedily separated from the loved haunts of his youth, that he composed his "Farewell to Ettrick," afterwards published in the "Mountain Bard," one of the most touching and pathetic ballads in the language. The Harris enterprise was not carried out; and the poet, "to avoid a great many disagreeable questions and explanations," went for several months to England. Fortune still frowned, and the ambitious but unsuccessful son of genius had to return to his former subordinate occupation as a shepherd. He entered the employment of Mr Harkness of Mitchel-Slack, in Nithsdale.

Dissatisfied with the imitations of ancient ballads in the third volume of "The Border Minstrelsy," Hogg proceeded to embody some curious traditions in this kind of composition. He transmitted specimens to Scott, who warmly commended them, and suggested their publication. The result appeared in the "Mountain Bard," a collection of poems and ballads, which he published in 1803, prefixed with an account of his life. From the profits of this volume, with the sum of eighty-six pounds paid him by Constable for the copyright of his two treatises on sheep, he became master of three hundred pounds. With this somewhat startling acquisition, visions of prosperity arose in his ardent and enthusiastic mind. He hastily took in lease the pastoral farm of Corfardin, in the parish of Tynron, Dumfriesshire, to which he afterwards added the lease of another large farm in the same neighbourhood. Misfortune still pursued him; he rented one of the farms at a sum exceeding its value, and his capital was much too limited for stocking the other, while a disastrous murrain decimated his flock. Within the space of three years he was again a penniless adventurer. Removing from the farm-homestead of Corfardin, he accepted the generous invitation of his hospitable neighbour, Mr James Macturk of Stenhouse, to reside in his house till some suitable employment might occur. At Stenhouse he remained three months; and he subsequently acknowledged the generosity of his friend, by honourably celebrating him in the "Queen's Wake." Writing to Mr Macturk, in 1814, he remarks, in reference to his farming at Corfardin, "But it pleased God to take away by death all my ewes and my lambs, and my long-horned cow, and my spotted bull, for if they had lived, and if I had kept the farm of Corfardin, I had been a lost man to the world, and mankind should never have known the half that was in me. Indeed, I can never see the design of Providence in taking me to your district at all, if it was not to breed my acquaintance with you and yours, which I hope will be one source of happiness to me as long as I live. Perhaps the very circumstance of being initiated into the mysteries of your character,[29] is of itself a sufficient compensation for all that I suffered in your country."

Disappointed in obtaining an ensigncy in a Militia Regiment, through the interest of Sir Walter Scott, and frustrated in every other attempt to retain the social position he had gained, he returned to Ettrick, once more to seek employment in his original occupation. But if friendship had somewhat failed him, on his proving unsuccessful at Ettrick-house, his prestige was now completely gone; old friends received him coldly, and former employers declined his services. He found that, till he should redeem his reputation for business and good management, there was no home for him in Ettrick Forest. Hogg was not a man who would tamely surrender to the pressure of misfortune: amidst his losses he could claim the strictest honesty of intention, and he was not unconscious of his powers. With his plaid over his shoulders, he reached Edinburgh in the month of February 1810, to begin, in his fortieth year, the career of a man of letters. The scheme was singularly adventurous, but the die was cast; he was in the position of the man on the tread-wheel, and felt that he must write or perish.

It affords no matter of surprise that the Shepherd was received coldly by the booksellers, and that his offers of contributing to their periodicals were respectfully declined. His volume, "The Mountain Bard," had been forgotten; and though his literary fitness had been undisputed, his lengthened want of success in life seemed to imply a doubt of his general steadiness. Mr Constable, his former publisher, proved the most friendly; he consented to publish a collection of songs and ballads, which he had prepared, two-thirds being his own composition, and the remainder that of his ingenious friends. This publication, known as "The Forest Minstrel," had a slow sale, and conferred no benefit on the unfortunate author. What the booksellers would not do for him, Hogg resolved to do for himself; he originated a periodical, which he designated "The Spy," acting as his own publisher. The first number of this publication—a quarto weekly sheet, price fourpence—was issued on the first of September 1810. With varied popularity, this paper existed during the space of a year; and owing to the perseverance of the conductor might have subsisted a longer period, but for a certain ruggedness which occasionally disfigured it. As a whole, being chiefly the composition of a shepherd, who could only read at eighteen, and write at twenty-six, and who, to use his own words, "knew no more of human life or manners than a child," the work presented a remarkable record in the annals of literature. As a business concern, it did not much avail the projector, but it served indirectly towards improving his condition, by inducing the habit of composing readily, and with undeviating industry. A copy of "The Spy" is now rare.

From his literary exertions, Hogg was long, subsequent to his arrival in the metropolis, in deriving substantial pecuniary emolument. In these circumstances, he was fortunate in the friendship of Mr John Grieve, and his partner Mr Henry Scott, hat manufacturers in the city, who, fully appreciating his genius, aided him with money so long as he required their assistance. These are his own words, "They suffered me to want for nothing, either in money or clothes, and I did not even need to ask these." To Mr Grieve, Hogg was especially indebted; six months he was an inmate of his house, and afterwards he occupied comfortable lodgings, secured him by his friend's beneficence. Besides these two invaluable benefactors, the Shepherd soon acquired the regard and friendship of several respectable men of letters, both in Edinburgh and elsewhere. As contributors to "The Spy," he could record the names of James Gray of the High School, and his accomplished wife; Thomas Gillespie, afterwards Professor of Humanity in the University of St Andrews; J. Black, subsequently of the Morning Chronicle; William Gillespie, the ingenious minister of Kells; and John Sym, the renowned Timothy Tickler of the "Noctes." Of these literary friends, Mr James Gray was the more conspicuous and devoted. This excellent individual, the friend of so many literary aspirants, was a native of Dunse, and had the merit of raising himself from humble circumstances to the office of a master in the High School of Edinburgh. Possessed of elegant and refined tastes, an enthusiastic admirer of genius, and a poet himself,[30] Mr Gray entertained at his table the more esteemed wits of the capital; he had extended the hand of hospitality to Burns, and he received with equal warmth the author of "The Forest Minstrel." In the exercise of disinterested beneficence, he was aided and encouraged by his second wife, formerly Miss Peacock, who sympathised in the lettered tastes of her husband, and took delight in the society of men of letters. They together made annual pedestrian excursions into the Highlands, and the narrative of their adventures proved a source of delightful instruction to their friends. Mr Gray, after a lengthened period of residence in Edinburgh, accepted, in the year 1821, the Professorship of Latin in the Institution at Belfast; he subsequently took orders in the Church of England, and proceeded to India as a chaplain. In addition to his chaplaincy, he held the office of preceptor to one of the native princes of Hindostan. He died at Bhoog, in the kingdom of Cutch, on the 25th of September 1830; and if we add that he was a man of remarkable learning, his elegy may be transcribed from the "Queen's Wake:"—

"Alike to him the south and north, So high he held the minstrel worth; So high his ardent mind was wrought, Once of himself he never thought."

As the circle of the poet's friends increased, a scheme was originated among them, which was especially entertained by the juniors, of establishing a debating society for mutual improvement. This institution became known as the Forum; meetings were held weekly in a public hall of the city, and strangers were admitted to the discussions on the payment of sixpence a-head. The meetings were uniformly crowded; and the Shepherd, who held the office of secretary, made a point of taking a prominent lead in the discussions. He spoke once, and sometimes more frequently, at every meeting, making speeches, both studied and extemporaneous, on every variety of theme; and especially contributed, by his rough-spun eloquence, to the popularity of the institution. The society existed three years; and though yielding the secretary no pecuniary emolument, proved a new and effective mean of extending his acquaintance with general knowledge.

Hogg now took an interest in theatricals, and produced two dramas, one of which, a sort of musical farce, was intended as a burlesque on the prominent members of the Forum, himself included. This he was induced, on account of the marked personalities, to confine to his repositories; he submitted the other to Mr Siddons, who commended it, but it never was brought upon the stage. He was about to appear before the world in his most happy literary effort, "The Queen's Wake,"—a composition suggested by Mr Grieve. This ingenious individual had conceived the opinion that a republication of several of the Shepherd's ballads in "The Spy," in connexion with an original narrative poem, would arrest public attention as to the author's merits; while a narrative having reference to the landing of the beautiful and unfortunate Queen Mary, seemed admirably calculated to induce a general interest in the poem. The proposal, submitted to Allan Cunningham and Mr Gray, received their warm approbation; and in a few months the entire composition was ready for the press. Mr Constable at once consented to undertake the publication; but a more advantageous offer being made by Mr George Goldie, a young bookseller, "The Queen's Wake" issued from his establishment in the spring of 1813. Its success was complete; two editions were speedily circulated, and the fame of the author was established. With the exception of the Eclectic Review, every periodical accorded its warmest approbation to the performance; and vacillating friends, who began to doubt the Shepherd's power of sustaining the character he had assumed as a poet and a man of letters, ceased to entertain their misgivings, and accorded the warmest tributes to his genius. A commendatory article in the Edinburgh Review, in November 1814, hailed the advent of a third edition.

By the unexpected insolvency of his publisher, while the third edition was in process of sale, Hogg had nearly sustained a recurrence of pecuniary loss. This was, however, fortunately prevented by the considerate beneficence of Mr Goldie's trustees, who, on receiving payment of the printing expenses, made over the remainder of the impression to the author. One of the trustees was Mr Blackwood, afterwards the celebrated publisher of Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine. Hogg had now attained the unenviable reputation of a literary prodigy, and his studies were subject to constant interruption from admirers, and the curious who visited the capital. But he gave all a cordial reception, and was never less accessible amidst the most arduous literary occupation. There was one individual whose acquaintance he was especially desirous of forming; this was John Wilson, whose poem, "The Isle of Palms," published in 1812, had particularly arrested his admiration. Wilson had come to reside in Edinburgh during a portion of the year, but as yet had few acquaintances in the city. He was slightly known to Scott; but a peculiarity of his was a hesitation in granting letters of introduction. In despair of otherwise meeting him, Hogg, who had reviewed his poem in the Scots Magazine, sent him an invitation to dinner, which the Lake-poet was pleased cordially to accept. That dinner began one of the most interesting of the Shepherd's friendships; both the poets were pleased with each other, and the closest intimacy ensued. It was on his way to visit Wilson, at Elleray, his seat in Cumberland, during the autumn of 1814, that the Shepherd formed the acquaintance of the Poet-laureate. He had notified to Southey his arrival at one of the hotels in Keswick, and begged the privilege of a visit. Southey promptly acknowledged his summons, and insisted on his remaining a couple of days at Greta Hall to share his hospitality. Two years could not have more firmly rivetted their friendship. As a mark of his regard, on returning to Edinburgh Hogg sent the Laureate the third edition of "The Queen's Wake," then newly published, along with a copy of "The Spy." In acknowledging the receipt of these volumes, Southey addressed the following letter to the Shepherd, which is now for the first time published:—

"Keswick, December 1, 1814.

"Dear Hogg,—Thank you for your books. I will not say that 'The Queen's Wake' has exceeded my expectations, because I have ever expected great things from you, since, in 1805, I heard Walter Scott, by his own fireside at Ashestiel, repeat 'Gilmanscleuch.'[31] When he came to that line—'I ga'e him a' my goud, father'—the look and the tone with which he gave it were not needed to make it go through me. But 'The Wake' has equalled all that I expected. The improvements in the new edition are very great, and they are in the two poems which were most deserving of improvement, as being the most impressive and the most original. Each is excellent in its way, but 'Kilmeny' is of the highest character; 'The Witch of Fife' is a real work of fancy—'Kilmeny' a fine one of imagination, which is a higher and rarer gift. These poems have given general pleasure throughout the house; my eldest girl often comes out with a stanza or two of 'The Witch,' but she wishes sometimes that you always wrote in English. 'The Spy' I shall go through more at leisure.

"I like your praise both of myself and my poem, because it comes from a good quarter. You saw me where and how a man is best seen—at home, and in his every-day wear and tear, mind and manners: I have no holiday suit, and never seek to shine: such as it is, my light is always burning. Somewhat of my character you may find in Chaucer's Clerk of Oxenford; and the concluding line of that description might be written, as the fittest motto, under my portrait—'Gladly would he learn, and gladly teach.' I have sinned enough to make me humble in myself, and indulgent toward others. I have suffered enough to find in religion not merely consolation, but hope and joy; and I have seen enough to be contented in, and thankful for, the state of life in which it has pleased God to place me.

"We hoped to have seen you on your way back from Ellery. I believe you did not get the ballad of the 'Devil and the Bishop,' which Hartley transcribed for you. I am reprinting my miscellaneous poems, collected into three volumes. Your projected publication[32] will have the start of it greatly, for the first volume is not nearly through the press, and there is a corrected copy of the ballad, with its introduction, in Ballantyne's hands, which you can make use of before it will be wanted in its place.

"You ask me why I am not intimate with Wilson. There is a sufficient reason in the distance between our respective abodes. I seldom go even to Wordworth's or Lloyd's; and Ellery is far enough from either of their houses, to make a visit the main business of a day. So it happens that except dining in his company once at Lloyd's many years ago, and breakfasting with him here not long afterwards, I have barely exchanged salutations once or twice when we met upon the road. Perhaps, however, I might have sought him had it not been for his passion for cock-fighting. But this is a thing which I regard with abhorrence.

"Would that 'Roderick' were in your hands for reviewing; I should desire no fairer nor more competent critic. But it is of little consequence what friends or enemies may do for it now; it will find its due place in time, which is slow but sure in its decisions. From the nature of my studies, I may almost be said to live in the past; it is to the future that I look for my reward, and it would be difficult to make any person who is not thoroughly intimate with me, understand how completely indifferent I am to the praise or censure of the present generation, farther than as it may affect my means of subsistence, which, thank God, it can no longer essentially do. There was a time when I was materially injured by unjust criticism; but even then I despised it, from a confidence in myself, and a natural buoyancy of spirit. It cannot injure me now, but I cannot hold it in more thorough contempt.

"Come and visit me when the warm weather returns. You can go nowhere that you will be more sincerely welcomed. And may God bless you.

"Robert Southey."

In waging war with the Lake school of poetry, the Edinburgh Review had dealt harshly with Southey. His poems of "Madoc" and "The Curse of Kehama" had been rigorously censured, and very shortly before the appearance of "Roderick," his "Triumphal Ode" for 1814, which was published separately, had been assailed with a continuance of the same unmitigated severity. The Shepherd, who knew, notwithstanding the Laureate's professions of indifference to criticism, that his nature was sensitive, and who feared that the Review would treat "Roderick" as it had done Southey's previous productions, ventured to recommend him to evince a less avowed hostility to Jeffrey, in the hope of subduing the bitterness of his censure. The letter of Southey, in answer to this counsel, will prove interesting, in connexion with the literary history of the period. The Bard of Keswick had hardly advanced to that happy condition which he fancied he had reached, of being "indulgent toward others," at least under the influence of strong provocation:—

"Keswick, 24th Dec. 1814.

"Dear Hogg,—I am truly obliged to you for the solicitude which you express concerning the treatment 'Roderick' may experience in the Edinburgh Review, and truly gratified by it, notwithstanding my perfect indifference as to the object in question. But you little know me, if you imagine that any thoughts of fear or favour would make me abstain from speaking publicly of Jeffrey as I think, and as he deserves. I despise his commendation, and I defy his malice. He crush the 'Excursion!!!'[33] Tell him that he might as easily crush Skiddaw. For myself, popularity is not the mark I shoot at; if it were, I should not write such poems as 'Roderick;' and Jeffrey can no more stand in my way to fame, than Tom Thumb could stand in my way in the street.

"He knows that he has dealt unfairly and maliciously by me; he knows that the world knows it, that his very friends know it, and that if he attacks 'Roderick' as he did 'Madoc' and 'Kehama,' it will be universally imputed to personal ill-will. On the other hand, he cannot commend this poem without the most flagrant inconsistency. This would be confessing that he has wronged me in the former instances; for no man will pretend to say that 'Madoc' does not bear marks of the same hand as 'Roderick;' it has the same character of language, thought, and feeling; it is of the same ore and mint; and if the one poem be bad, the other cannot possibly be otherwise. The irritation of the nettling (as you term it), which he has already received [a portion of the letter is torn off and lost].... Whatever part he may take, my conduct towards him will be the same. I consider him a public nuisance, and shall deal with him accordingly.

"Nettling is a gentle term for what he has to undergo. In due season he shall be scorpioned and rattlesnaked. When I take him in hand it shall be to dissect him alive, and make a preparation of him to be exhibited in terrorem, an example to all future pretenders to criticism. He has a forehead of native brass, and I will write upon it with aqua-fortis. I will serve him up to the public like a turkey's gizzard, sliced, scored, peppered, salted, cayanned, grilled, and bedevilled. I will bring him to justice; he shall be executed in prose, and gibbeted in verse....[34]

.... "'Roderick' has made good speed in the world, and ere long I shall send you the poem in a more commodious shape,[35] for Ballantyne is at this time reprinting it. I finished my official ode a few days ago. It is without rhyme, and as unlike other official odes in matter as in form; for its object is to recommend, as the two great objects of policy, general education and extensive colonization. At present, I am chiefly occupied upon 'The History of Brazil,' which is in the press—a work of great labour.

"The ladies here all desire to be kindly remembered to you. I have ordered 'The Pilgrims of the Sun,' and we look for it with expectation, which, I am sure, will not be disappointed. God bless you.—Yours very truly,

"Robert Southey."

A review of "Roderick" appeared in the Edinburgh Review for June 1815, which on the whole was favourable, so that the wrath of the Laureate was appeased.

During the earlier period of his Edinburgh career, Hogg had formed the acquaintance of an estimable family in Athol, Mr and Mrs Izett, of Kinnaird House, and he had been in the habit of spending a portion of his time every summer at their hospitable residence. In the summer of 1814, while visiting there, he was seized with a severe cold, which compelled him to prolong his stay with his friends; and Mrs Izett, who took a warm interest in his welfare, suggested that he might turn his illness to account, by composing a poem, descriptive of the beauties of the surrounding scenery. The hint was sufficient; he commenced a descriptive poem in the Spenserian stanza, which was speedily completed, and given to the world under the title of "Mador of the Moor." It was well received; and the author is correct in asserting that it contains "some of his highest and most fortunate efforts in rhyme." "The Pilgrims of the Sun" was his next poem; it was originally intended as one of a series, to be contained in a poetical work, which he proposed to entitle "Midsummer Night Dreams," but which, on the advice of his friend, Mr James Park of Greenock, he was induced to abandon. From its peculiar strain, this poem had some difficulty in finding a publisher; it was ultimately published by Mr John Murray of London, who liberally recompensed the author, and it was well received by the press.

The circle of the Shepherd's literary friends rapidly extended. Lord Byron opened a correspondence with him, and continued to address him in long familiar letters, such as were likely to interest a shepherd-bard. Unfortunately, these letters have been lost; it was a peculiarity of Hogg to be careless in regard to his correspondence. With Wordsworth he became acquainted in the summer of 1815, when that poet was on his first visit to Edinburgh. They met at the house, in Queen Street, of the mother of his friend Wilson; and the Shepherd was at once interested and gratified by the intelligent conversation and agreeable manners of the great Lake-poet. They saw much of each other in the city, and afterwards journeyed together to St Mary's Loch; and the Shepherd had the satisfaction of entertaining his distinguished brother-bard with the homely fare of cakes and milk, in his father's cottage at Ettrick. Wordsworth afterwards made the journey memorable in his poem of "Yarrow Visited." The poets temporarily separated at Selkirk,—Wordsworth having secured the promise of a visit from his friend, at Mount Ryedale, prior to his return to Edinburgh. The promise was duly fulfilled; and the Shepherd had the pleasure of meeting, during his visit, Lloyd, and De Quincey, and his dear friend Wilson. A portion of the autumn of 1815 was spent by the Shepherd at Elleray. In the letter inviting his visit (dated September 1815), the author of "The Isle of Palms" indicates his opinion of the literary influence of his correspondent, by writing as follows:—"If you have occasion soon to write to Murray,[36] pray introduce something about 'The City of the Plague,' as I shall probably offer him that poem in about a fortnight, or sooner. Of course, I do not wish you to say that the poem is utterly worthless. I think that a bold eulogy from you (if administered immediately), would be of service to me; but if you do write about it, do not tell him that I have any intention of offering it to him, but you may say, you hear I am going to offer it to a London bookseller."

The Shepherd's intimacy with the poets had induced him to entertain a somewhat plausible scheme of bettering his finances. He proposed to publish, in a handsome volume, a poem by each of the living bards of Great Britain. For this purpose, he had secured pieces from Southey, Wilson, Wordsworth, Lloyd, Morehead, Pringle, Paterson, and some others; and had received promises of contributions from Lord Byron and Samuel Rogers. The plan was frustrated by Scott. He was opposed to his appearing to seek fresh laurels from the labours of others, and positively refused to make a contribution. This sadly mortified the Shepherd,[37] and entirely altered his plans. He had now recourse to a peculiar method of realising his original intention. In the short period of four weeks, he produced imitations of the more conspicuous bards, which speedily appeared in a volume entitled "The Poetic Mirror." This work, singularly illustrative of the versatility of his genius, was eminently successful, the first edition disappearing in the course of six weeks. The imitations of the bards were pronounced perfect, only that of Wordsworth was intentionally a caricature; the Shepherd had been provoked to it by a conceived slight of the Lake-poet, during his visit at Mount Ryedale.[38]

"The Poetic Mirror" appeared in 1816; and in the following year the Shepherd struck out a new path, by publishing two duodecimo volumes of "Dramatic Tales." This work proved unsuccessful. In 1813 he had dedicated his "Forest Minstrel" to the Countess of Dalkeith; and this amiable and excellent woman, afterwards better known as Harriet, Duchess of Buccleuch, had acknowledged the compliment by a gift of a hundred guineas, and several other donations. The Shepherd was, however, desirous of procuring the means of comfortable self-support, independently of his literary exertions; and had modestly preferred the request that he might receive a small farm in lease on the Buccleuch estates. The request was at length responded to. The Duchess, who took a deep interest in him, made a request to the Duke, on her death-bed, that something might be done for her ingenious protege. After her decease, the late Charles, Duke of Buccleuch, gave the Shepherd a life-lease of the farm of Altrive Lake, in Yarrow, at a nominal rent, no portion of which was ever exacted. The Duke subsequently honoured him with his personal friendship, and made him frequently share of his hospitality.

From the time of his abandoning "The Spy," Hogg had contemplated the publication of a periodical on an extended scale. At length, finding a coadjutor in Mr Thomas Pringle, he explained their united proposal to his friend, Mr Blackwood, the publisher, who highly approved of the design. Preliminaries were arranged, and the afterwards celebrated Blackwood's Magazine took its origin. Hogg was now resident at Altrive, and the editorship was entrusted to Pringle and his literary friend Cleghorn. The vessel had scarcely been well launched, however, on the ocean of letters, when storms arose a-head; hot disputes occurred between the publisher and the editors, which ultimately terminated in the withdrawal of the latter from the concern, and their connexion with the Edinburgh Magazine, an opposition periodical established by Mr Constable. The combating parties had referred to the Shepherd, who was led to accord his support to Mr Blackwood. He conceived the idea of the "Chaldee Manuscript," as a means of ridiculing the oppositionists. Of this famous satire, the first thirty-seven verses of chapter first, with several other sentences throughout, were his own composition, the remaining portion being the joint fabrication of his friends Wilson and Lockhart.[39] This singular production produced a sensation in the capital unequalled in the history of any other literary performance; and though, from the evident personalities and the keenness of the satire, it had to be cancelled, so that a copy in the pages of the magazine is now a rarity, it sufficiently attained the purpose of directing public attention to the newly-established periodical. The "Chaldee Manuscript" appeared in the seventh number of Blackwood's Magazine, published in October 1817. To the magazine Hogg continued to be a regular contributor; and, among other interesting compositions, both in prose and verse, he produced in its pages his narrative of the "Shepherd's Calendar." His connexion with this popular periodical is more generally known from the position assigned him in the "Noctes Ambrosianae" of Professor Wilson. In those interesting dialogues, the Shepherd is represented as a character of marvellous shrewdness and sagacity, whose observations on men and manners, life and literature, uttered, as they are, in the homeliest phrases, contain a depth of philosophy and vigour of criticism rarely exhibited in the history of real or fictitious biography. "In wisdom," writes Professor Ferrier, "the Shepherd equals the Socrates of Plato; in humour, he surpasses the Falstaff of Shakspeare; clear and prompt, he might have stood up against Dr Johnson in close and peremptory argument; fertile and copious, he might have rivalled Burke in amplitude of declamation; while his opulent imagination and powers of comical description invest all that he utters, either with a picturesque mildness or a graphic quaintness peculiarly his own." These remarks, applicable to the Shepherd of the "Noctes," would, indeed, be much overstrained if applied to their prototype; yet it is equally certain that the leading features of the ideal Shepherd were depicted from those of the living Shepherd of Ettrick, by one who knew well how to estimate and appreciate human nature.

On taking possession of his farm of Altrive Lake, which extended to about seventy acres, Hogg built a small cottage on the place, in which he received his aged father, his mother having been previously called to her rest. In the stocking of the farm, he received very considerable assistance from the profits of a guinea edition of "The Queen's Wake," of which the subscribers' list was zealously promoted by Sir Walter Scott. At Altrive he continued literary composition with unabated ardour. In 1817, he published "The Brownie of Bodsbeck," a tale of the period of the Covenant, which attained a considerable measure of popularity. In 1819, he gave to the world the first volume of his "Jacobite Relics," the second volume not appearing till 1821. This work, which bears evidence of extensive labour and research, was favourably received; the notes are lengthy and copious, and many of the pieces, which are set to music, have long been popular. His "Winter Evening Tales" appeared in 1820: several of them were composed on the hills in early life.

The worldly circumstances of the Shepherd now were such as rendered him abundantly justifiable in entering into the married state. On the 28th April 1820, he espoused Miss Margaret Phillips, the youngest daughter of Mr Phillips, late of Longbridgemoor, in Annandale. By this union he became brother-in-law of his friend Mr James Gray, whose first wife was a sister of Mrs Hogg. At the period of his marriage, from the profits of his writings and his wife's dowry, he was master of nearly a thousand pounds and a well-stocked farm; and increasing annual gains by his writings, seemed to augur future independence. But the Shepherd, not perceiving that literature was his forte, resolved to embark further in farming speculations; he took in lease the extensive farm of Mount Benger, adjoining Altrive Lake, expending his entire capital in the stocking. The adventure proved almost ruinous.

The coronation of George IV. was fixed to take place on the 19th of July 1821; and Sir Walter Scott having resolved to be among the spectators, invited the Shepherd to accompany him to London on the occasion. Through Lord Sidmouth, the Secretary of State, he had procured accommodation for Hogg at the pageant, which his lordship had granted, with the additional favour of inviting both of them to dinner, to meet the Duke of York on the following day. The Shepherd had, however, begun to feel more enthusiastic as a farmer than a poet, and preferred to attend the sheep-market at St Boswells. For this seeming lack of loyalty, he afterwards made ample compensation; he celebrated the King's visit to Scotland, in August 1822, in "a Masque or Drama," which was published in a separate form. A copy of this production being laid before the King by Sir Walter Scott, Sir Robert Peel, then Secretary of State, received his Majesty's gracious command suitably to acknowledge it. In his official communication, Sir Robert thanked the Shepherd, in the King's name, "for the gratifying proof of his genius and loyalty." It had been Scott's desire to obtain a Civil List pension for the Shepherd, to aid him in his struggles at Mount Benger; and it was with something like hope that he informed him that Sir Robert Peel had expressed himself pleased with his writings. But the pension was never obtained.

Harassed by pecuniary difficulties, Hogg wrote rapidly, with the view of relieving himself. In 1822, he published a new edition of his best poems, in four volumes, for which he received the sum of L200; and in this and the following year, he produced two works of fiction, entitled, "The Three Perils of Man," and "The Three Perils of Women," which together yielded him L300. In 1824, he published "The Confessions of a Fanatic;" and, in 1826, he gave to the world his long narrative poem of "Queen Hynde." The last proved unequal to his former poetical efforts. In 1826, Mr J. G. Lockhart proceeded to London to edit the Quarterly Review, taking along with him, as his assistant, Robert Hogg, a son of the Shepherd's elder brother. The occasion afforded the poet an opportunity of renewing his correspondence with his old friend, Allan Cunningham. Allan wrote to him as follows:—

"27 Lower Belgrave Place, 16th Feb. 1826.

"My dear James,—It required neither present of book, nor friend, nor the recalling of old scenes, to render your letter a most welcome one. You are often present to my heart and fancy, for your genius and your friendliness have secured you a place in both. Your nephew is a fine, modest, and intelligent young man, and is welcome to my house for his own sake as well as yours. Your 'Queen Hynde,' for which I thank you, carries all the vivid marks of your own peculiar cast of genius about her. One of your very happiest little things is in the Souvenir of this season—it is pure and graceful, warm, yet delicate; and we have nought in the language to compare to it, save everybody's 'Kilmeny.' In other portions of verse you have been equalled, and sometimes surpassed; but in scenes which are neither on earth, nor wholly removed from it—where fairies speak, and spiritual creatures act, you are unrivalled.

"Often do I tread back to the foot of old Queensberry,[40] and meet you coming down amid the sunny rain, as I did some twenty years ago. The little sodded shealing where we sought shelter rises now on my sight—your two dogs (old Hector was one) lie at my feet—the 'Lay of the Last Minstrel' is in my hand, for the first time, to be twice read over after sermon, as it really was—poetry, nothing but poetry, is our talk, and we are supremely happy. Or, I shift the scene to Thornhill, and there whilst the glass goes round, and lads sing and lasses laugh, we turn our discourse on verse, and still our speech is song. Poetry had then a charm for us, which has since been sobered down. I can now meditate without the fever of enthusiasm upon me; yet age to youth owes all or most of its happiest aspirations, and contents itself with purifying and completing the conceptions of early years.

"We are both a little older and a little graver than we were some twenty years ago, when we walked in glory and joy on the side of old Queensberry. My wife is much the same in look as when you saw her in Edinburgh—at least so she seems to me, though five boys and a girl might admonish me of change—of loss of bloom, and abatement of activity. My oldest boy resolves to be a soldier; he is a clever scholar, and his head has been turned by Caesar. My second and third boys are in Christ's School, and are distinguished in their classes; they climb to the head, and keep their places. The other three are at their mother's knee at home, and have a strong capacity for mirth and mischief.

"I have not destroyed my Scottish poem. I mean to remodel it, and infuse into it something more of the spark of living life. But my pen has of late strayed into the regions of prose. Poetry is too much its own reward; and one cannot always write for a barren smile, and a thriftless clap on the back. We must live; and the white bread and the brown can only be obtained by gross payment. There is no poet and a wife and six children fed now like the prophet Elijah—they are more likely to be devoured by critics, than fed by ravens. I cannot hope that Heaven will feed me and mine while I sing. So farewell to song for a season.

"My brother's[41] want of success has surprised me too. He had a fair share of talent; and, had he cultivated his powers with care, and given himself fair play, his fate would have been different. But he sees nature rather through a curious medium than with the tasteful eye of poetry, and must please himself with the praise of those who love singular and curious things. I have said nothing all this while of Mrs Hogg, though I might have said much, for we hear her household prudence and her good taste often commended. She comes, too, from my own dear country—a good assurance of a capital wife and an affectionate mother. My wife and I send her and you most friendly greetings. We hope to see you both in London during the summer.

"You have written much, but you must write more yet. What say you to a series of poems in your own original way, steeped from end to end in Scottish superstition, but purified from its grossness by your own genius and taste? Do write me soon. I have a good mind to come and commence shepherd beside you, and aid you in making a yearly pastoral Gazette in prose and verse for our ain native Lowlands. The thing would take.

"The evil news of Sir Walter's losses came on me like an invasion. I wish the world would do for him now what it will do in fifty years, when it puts up his statue in every town—let it lay out its money in purchasing an estate, as the nation did to the Duke of Wellington, and money could never be laid out more worthily.—I remain, dear James, your very faithful friend,

"Allan Cunningham."

One of the parties chiefly aggrieved in the matter of the Chaldee MS. was Thomas Pringle, one of the original editors of Blackwood. This ingenious person had lately returned from a period of residence in Southern Africa, and established himself in London as secretary to the Slave Abolition Society, and a man of letters. Forgetting past differences, he invited the Shepherd, in the following letter, to aid him in certain literary enterprises:—

"London, May 19, 1827.

"My dear Sir,—I wrote you a hasty note some time ago, to solicit your literary aid for the projected work of Mr Fraser. I now address you on behalf of two other friends of mine, who are about to start a new weekly publication, something in the shape of the Literary Gazette, to be entitled The London Review. The editors are Mr D. L. Richardson, the author of a volume of poems chiefly written in India, and a Mr St John, a young gentleman of very superior talents, whose name has not yet been (so far as I know) before the public, though he has been a contributor to several of the first-rate periodicals. I have no other interest in the work myself than that of a friend and contributor. The editors, knowing that I have the pleasure of your acquaintance, have requested me to solicit your aid to their work, either in verse or prose, and they will consider themselves pledged to pay for any contributions with which you may honour them at the same rate as Blackwood. May I hope, my dear sir, that you will, at all events, stretch a point to send them something for their first number, which is to appear in the beginning of June....

1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse