In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section James Hogg

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Bibliographies
  • Collected Editions
  • Autobiography, Biography, and Letters
  • The Queen’s Wake
  • Other Long Narrative Poems
  • Ballads, Parodies, and Mock-Heroic Verse
  • Songs
  • Drama and Theater
  • Overseas Reception

British and Irish Literature James Hogg
Gillian Hughes
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 August 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0065


James Hogg (b. 1770–d. 1835) was known as the Ettrick Shepherd because of his original occupation as a shepherd and the place of his birth, Ettrick Valley in Selkirkshire in the Scottish Borders. Hogg had only a few months’ schooling and largely educated himself as an adolescent and in early adulthood. Hogg originally worked as a shepherd, with various failed attempts at raising his status to that of tenant-farmer. After 1810 he was primarily a writer, earning a steady income from periodicals as well as various lump sums for his volume publications, though the literary earnings of his later years were swallowed up by farming. His self-presentation as peasant poet following Robert Burns was embodied in various autobiographical writings, in numerous songs, and in poetry such as The Mountain Bard (1807) and The Queen’s Wake (1813). It was also distorted into the quasi-fictional Shepherd by the writers of the long-running Noctes Ambrosianae symposia in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, while Hogg’s lower-class status made his work vulnerable to censorship and led to the undervaluation of his more unconventional prose fiction. Hogg is now best known for his novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), frequently invoked in discussion of Gothic fiction and the literature of the double. Far from being a one-book wonder, however, Hogg wrote in a variety of genres including travel writing and drama, while The Poetic Mirror (1816) reveals a brilliant Romantic parodist. Hogg’s reputation has risen with the provision of unexpurgated editions of his work within a critical context of postmodernism and magical realism, focusing attention on the wizardry of The Three Perils of Man (1822), for instance, and on the circular narrative of The Three Perils of Woman (1823). Although Sir Walter Scott is still the point of comparison for criticism of Hogg’s historical fictions such as The Brownie of Bodsbeck (1818), they are now seen as embodying an alternative worldview to Scott’s or as issuing a challenge to him rather than as ineffective imitations of the Waverley novels. A rapidly developing interest in periodical culture and in the magazine as the birthplace of the short story has revealed the range and extent of Hogg’s contributions to annuals and to monthly magazines, particularly Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. A burgeoning interest in life writing has stimulated critical interest in Hogg’s Memoir of the Author’s Life (1832) and its earlier versions, particularly in his snapshot portraits of contemporary writers, a strain of his work also embodied in the two versions of his Anecdotes of Scott (1834).

General Overviews

A useful overview serving as an introduction to the general or undergraduate reader is Duncan and Mack 2012, consisting of sixteen essays devoted to major works, genres, and themes. The Alker and Nelson 2009 collection of fourteen essays is also an effective modern introduction to the variety of Hogg’s work and recent critical approaches to it. (There is a substantial overlap of contributors to the two collections.) O’Halloran 2016 represents a valuable shift of emphasis, building on work that has established Hogg’s significance to Scottish Romanticism, to review and establish a key place for him in British Romanticism, and in its trope of the kaleidoscope pays detailed attention to several hitherto relatively neglected works. Book-length studies in the 19th century are now more useful as indicators of reception than as critical introductions, Hogg’s work being heavily mediated by interpretations of his life and often judged pejoratively or approvingly without textual evidence or detailed substantiation. Studies in the 20th century tend to be unbalanced, biasing the general account toward elucidating either poetry or prose. Of these, however, Simpson 1962 gives a poet’s sensitive evaluation of Hogg’s major poems, in particular his later short meditative pieces such as “The Monitors,” while drawing attention to Hogg’s novella-length picaresque prose tales. Gifford 1976 focuses almost exclusively on the prose fiction in a narrative that leads up to The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner and views Hogg’s subsequent writings as anticlimactic. Groves 1988, in contrast, is a study of the poetry in terms of personal myth and allegory inherited from Northrop Frye. Bold 2007 is largely restricted to Hogg’s poetry as the focus of a key legacy to subsequent Scottish autodidact poets. Miller 2003 mixes biography and criticism in a stimulating though idiosyncratic “likeness” of James Hogg, a personal tribute by an eminent critic and journalist best appreciated by the reader with some general familiarity with Hogg’s writings. For the reader new to Hogg, Crawford 1988 is a succinct and roughly chronological account of his major works, emphasizing his debt to regional oral tradition.

  • Alker, Sharon, and Holly Faith Nelson, eds. James Hogg and the Literary Marketplace: Scottish Romanticism and the Working-Class Author. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2009.

    Fourteen essays covering Hogg’s prose fiction, songs, and poetry, with an introduction placing him accordingly as a professional author, working-class poet, and within Scottish Romanticism.

  • Bold, Valentina. James Hogg: A Bard of Nature’s Making. Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2007.

    Places Hogg within a tradition of the natural bard formed by Ramsay’s Gentle Shepherd and Ossian, and his role-playing responses in his poetry and song collection, together with an account of his Victorian successors.

  • Crawford, Thomas. “James Hogg: The Play of Region and Nation.” In The History of Scottish Literature. Vol. 3, Nineteenth Century. Edited by Douglas Gifford, 89–105. Aberdeen, UK: Aberdeen University Press, 1988.

    Provides brief descriptions of Hogg’s major works, first, in poetry and, second, in prose: characterizes him as a Romantic author who has made creative use of the folk and popular literature of Lowland Scotland.

  • Duncan, Ian, and Douglas S. Mack, eds. The Edinburgh Companion to James Hogg. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012.

    A useful introduction comprising sixteen essays plus summary introduction, on individual key works, novels, poems, and short stories as well as topics such as music, publication history, theater, the nation, gender, and reception.

  • Gifford, Douglas. James Hogg. Edinburgh: Ramsay Head, 1976.

    Contrasts Hogg of Ettrick with Hogg of Edinburgh as the source of a split creative identity embodied particularly in his prose fiction, notably Confessions and the picaresque novellas.

  • Groves, David. James Hogg: The Growth of a Writer. Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1988.

    Traces, chiefly in the poetry, a personal myth of descent into confusion and subsequent return to community, with emphasis on journey poems such as The Pilgrims of the Sun.

  • Miller, Karl. Electric Shepherd: A Likeness of James Hogg. London: Faber and Faber, 2003.

    A partly thematic, partly chronological account of Hogg’s work as negotiating contradictory class identities, with emphasis on Hogg’s Edinburgh circle, parody, and tropes such as cannibalism.

  • O’Halloran, Meiko. James Hogg and British Romanticism A Kaleidoscopic Art. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 2016.

    Argues for Hogg’s central place in British, not only Scottish, Romanticism, through his radical experimentation with literary form and genre-mixing, and places works such as Tales of the Wars of Montrose and The Hunting of Badlewe alongside better-known ones.

  • Simpson, Louis. James Hogg: A Critical Study. Edinburgh and London: Oliver and Boyd, 1962.

    After a brief biographical section, gives separate consideration, first, to Hogg’s poetry, with detailed analysis of its structure, and then his prose, with emphasis on the antiheroic and on Hogg’s imaginative animal tales.

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