James Hogg [1770-1835]., known as “the Ettrick Shepard,” was the best known Scots poet of his time, overshadowing even Robert Burns, but was disregarded for more than a century following his death, due, perhaps, to the great romantics in poetry and Walter Scott’s domination of prose. His darkly gothic novels came to the attention of the critical community in the late 1940s and early 1950s with the regard of Andre Gide. Hogg is a somewhat unique and influential figure in romanticism, portraying the tension between the romantic view and the Presbyterian/Scottish Calvanistic strain of Puritanism. His influence on contemporaries, such as Walter Scott and even Byron was rather profound. The dark hints of underlying supernaturalism in his work would influence English decadence at the turn of the 20th century and can clearly be seen in the work of Arthur Machen and Stevenson, notably in Jeckyll and Hyde. With the recognition of Gide, the embryonic threads of psychological realism, as well as the social implications of puritan/romantic tension, are also recognizable in his work.
Hogg’s novels were extensively bowdlerized throughout the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century, damaging his reputation and his position both in literature and in the collectible market. Original versions of his novels, while extremely scarce, have never commanded prices commensurate with his influence on literature or with lesser works by his contemporaries. A republication of the original unexpurgated novels by the University of South Carolina and the University of Edinburgh, has begun to revive interest in Hogg as a collectible and influential author.
The regard in which Hogg was held by his contemporaries is made clear in this letter from Byron, unearthed in 1887 and first published in The Archivist Volume 3 Number 1, October, 1888. It’s absence from Moore’s collections of Byron’s Journals and Correspondence, no doubt, abets Hogg’s obscurity.
13, Terrace. Piccadilly
March 1st, 1816
DEAR SIR, – I was never offended with you, and never had cause. At the time I received your last letters, I was “marrying and being given in marriage”; and since that period have been occupied or indolent; and am at best a very ungracious or ungrateful correspondent, – hardly ever writing letters, but by fits and starts.
At this moment my conscience smites me with an unanswered letter of Mr. W. Scott’s, on a subject which may seem to him to require an answer – as it is something relative to a friend of his for whose talents I have a sincere admiration.*
My family, about three months ago, was increased by a little girl, who is reckoned to be a fine child – I believe – though I feel loth to trust to my own partialities. She is now in the country. I will mention your wishes on the score of collection and publication to Murray – but I have not much weight with him, what I have I will use. As far as my approval of your intention may please you, you have it, and I should think Mr. Scott’s liking to your plan very ominous of its success.
The objections you mention to the two things of mine lately published are very just and true, not only with regard to them but to all their predecessors – some more and some less with regard to the quarter from which you anticipate a probable and public censure. On such points, I can only say that I am very sure there will be no severity but what is deserved, and were there ever so much it could not obliterate a particle of the obligation which I am already so much under, to that journal and its conductors )as the grocer says to his customers) “For past favors.”
And so you want to come to London ? It is a d__d place to be sure, but the only one in the world (at least the English world) for fun ; though I have seen parts of the globe that I like better, still upon the whole it is the completes either to help one in feeling oneself – alive – or forgetting that one is so.
I am interrupted, but will write you again soon.
Yours Very Truly,
P. S.- I forgot to thank you for your liking, etc., etc., but am much obliged to you, as well as for a former compliment in the inscription of your “Pilgrims of the Sun.”
With the new editions by both the University of South Carolina and University of Edinburgh, Hogg’s stock is sure to rise in the literary sphere. For the collector, his early editions of his novels, unexpurgated, are still relatively cheap, sitting at the lower end of the works contemporary to them. Right now they represent a target of opportunity for the dealer, and the collector of Gothic romance.