Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

ing, an' no for reading ; and they're nouther right spelled nor right setten down."

Some of Hogg's poetry was shown to Scott, who warmly praised it. From that time; Hogg steadily applied himself to composition. Naturally enough, he turned to the imitation of the Border ballads. Scott, after spending some hours in his company, declared that he had never met 'a man with more undoubted originality of genius." From that first meeting sprang a life-long friendship/darkened by only a few passing clouds. Hogg always acknowledged his obligations to Scott, ánd, in the dedication of “ The Mountain Bard” to him, thus publicly declared it: .

Bless'd be his generous heart for aye;

He told me where the relic lay,
"Pointed my way with ready will..

. . .
Afår on Ettrick's wildest hill;.
* ... Watched my first notes with curious eye, iv ...,"
in copie unser And wondered at my minstrelsy:

niin
He little weened a parent's tongue
Such strains had o'er my 'cradle sung. -

[ocr errors]

pt.* Pointed my way w

In 1801, during a few days' interval of leisure in Edinburgh, Hogg determined to print a pamphlet containing some of his songs. He wrote down, not the best, but “ Willie and Katie," and others, which he remembered best. He delivered the manuscript to a printer, and heard no more until he received word that a thousand copies of “ Poetical Trifles” had been thrown off. On examination, it was found (as might have been anticipated) that many of the stanzas were omitted, others misplaced, with countless “ errors of the press." Still, the work had circulation and gained repute. Hogg confessed of these poems, in later days, “ Indeed, all of them were sad stuff, although I judged them to be exceedingly good.”

About this time, Hogg made an excursion into the Highlands, in hope of being employed as overseer of some large sheep farm. He failed in this object, but printed a prose account of his travels, (as Letters in the Scots' Magazine,) rugged and uncouth in diction, but gleaming with poetic feeling and natural shrewdness. : :

After a visit to England, in the summer of 1801, (probably as drover and vendor of sheep and cattle,) Hogg resumed the pen-or, strictly speaking, the slate,-chiefly encouraged by Scott, who introduced and strongly recommended him to Constable, then the greatest publisher in Edinburgh. Scott did more he took him home to his own family, and had him to dinner, in company with William Laidlaw and others. Hogg had never before been in any dwelling grander than that of the country minister. He saw Mrs. Scott, who was ill, reclining on a sofa, and, fancying that he could scarcely · LIFE OF THE ETTRICK SHEPHERD. 1

do wrong if he imitated the lady of the house, threw himself upon a sofa aleo. As the liquor began to operate, his familiarity increased. Lockhart says, he advanced from “ Mr. Scott” to “ Shirra,” thence to “Scott,”—“Walter," --and“ Wattie,”-until, at supper, he fairly convulsed the whole party by addressing Mrs. Scott as “ Charlotte.". i. . .

When he again resolved to try what a new volume of poems would do for him, he had nothing by him except the songs of his youth. Constable (a sweet kernel in a bitter husk, imperious in manner and kind in heart) again gave him a chance." The Forest Minstrel,” now all but forgotten, was published, on the half-profit principle—which yielded nothing to Hogg. Two thirds of the songs were Hogg's own; the remainder furnished by correspondents. With his usual candor, Hogg thus speaks of the whole collection : “In general they are not good, but the worst of them are all mine, for I inserted every ranting rhyme that I had made in my youth, to please the circles about the firesides in the country; and all this time I had never been in any polished society-had read next to nothing-was now in the thirty-eighth year of my age, and knew no more of human life or manners than a child.” -- One of the gems in “ The Forest Minstrel," was a poem by William Laidlaw, called “ Lucy's Flitting," which was a great favorite with Scott. It is described by Lockhart as a simple and pathetic picture of a poor Ettrick maiden's feelings in leaving a service where she had been happy, and has long been, and must ever be a favorite, with all who understand the delicacies of the Scottish dialect, and the manners of the district in which the scene is laid. Some years after this, Laidlaw moved to Scott's land, at Abbotsford, there became his amanuensis and general supervisor, nor quitted that place until Scott's death, in September, 1832. Scott was greatly attached to him, and, on returning to Abbotsford from Italy, the first person whom he recognised was his friend. “Ha! Willie Laidlaw !” he exclaimed ; “O man, how often have I thought of you !"

One advantage Hogg gained by his “ Forest Minstrel.” Scott sent a presentation copy of it to the Countess of Dalkeith, (afterwards Duchess of Buccleugh,) to whom Hogg had dedicated it, and that lady sent him, through Scott's hands, a present of one hundred guineas. This was the origin, also, of the interest she subsequently felt for him.

Hogg had imitated the old Border ballads, selecting traditionary stories for their subjects, and, by advice of Scott, who had seen several, he wrote some more. The collection, entitled “ The Mountain Bard,” was published by Constable, in the winter of 1803. He was in liberal hands, for this work realized for him nearly £300. He also had written a treatise “ On Sheep,” which had won the prize offered by the Highland Society, and sold this to Constable for £84:-not a bad bargain for the publisher, as it has turned

out, for “Hogg on Sheep” is considered indispensable in the rural districts of Scotland, and has a steady sale of several hundreds annually.

The possession of so much money, (early in 1804,) he confesses, drove him “ perfectly mad.” He plunged into the business of sheep-farming without sufficient capital, knowledge of the world, experience, or prudence. Years of ruinous perseverance found him, in the winter of 1809-10, almost homeless, nearly penniless, and actually kept out of the humblest employment, by the reputation of being a poet and a ruined farmer. In utter desperation, he went to Edinburgh, in February, 1810, where he hoped to make a living by his pen.

It was a vain hope. He could find insertion, but no payment, for whatever he chose to send to Magazines and Reviews. He had ceased to woo the Muse during his recent years of speculative farming, and Hogg's next experiment was to commence a weekly periodical, of literature and manners, which he called “The Spy." His incompetency for this, in one respect, (for up to this time he “never once had been in any polished society, and knew no more of human life or manners than a child,”') was evident; but the attempt, by a man of genius, was far less absurd than living examples, now before the world, of inferior men who write what they call novels of every-day life, and have never yet mingled in the scenes which they ambitiously describe!

“ The Spy," which continued for twelve months, gave Hogg little more than mere subsistence, but much increased his literary reputation. It was a mélange of prose and poetry. Whenever Hogg essayed to describe society, of which he knew nothing, he failed; but his sketches of rural life were delightful, because natural and true. Hogg had several voluntary contributors. Among these were Mr. James Gray (of the High School) and his wife ; Professor T. Gillespie ; John Black, afterwards Editor of the Morning Chronicle, in London ; and Robert Sym, maternal uncle to Professor Wilson, and, a few years later, the redoubted Timothy Tickler of The Noctes. But the greater part of “ The Spy," consisting of 415 quarto pages, double-columned, was written by Hogg himself-certainly a large quantity of labor in one year.

In conjunction with other literary men, all of them greatly younger than himself, Hogg next established a debating society, called The Forum, of which he was solemnly appointed Secretary, with the magnificent salary of £20 a year-which, however, was never paid. With his usual energy, Hogg-contrary to the advice of his friends—plunged into the debates, and used to make a speech (sometimes two) every night. He says, “ Though I sometimes incurred pointed disapprobation, I was in general a prodigious favorite.” This debating society did not last long, but Hogg has very sensibly remarked, that all the speaking members greatly increased their general knowledge, at the weekly meetings of The Forum. Where proper subjects are selected for discussion, each speaker will naturally read, to increase his infor

LIFE OF THE ETTRICK SHEPHFKD.

mation, and the habit of putting the best words in the best places, which alike belongs to what is written for the press and spoken for the ear, has a natural tendency to improve the judgment. Hogg afterwards said that he might and could have written “The Queen's Wake,” had The Forum never existed, but without the weekly lessons that he got there, he could not have succeeded as he did.

At this time, the poetry of Scott and Byron was making a noise in the land. Hogg had a friend in Edinburgh, himself of literary tastes and habits, who carried on the business of a hat-manufacturer. He thought so well of some of the poems in The Spy, that he strongly urged Hogg to attempt a regular poem. Mr. and Mrs. James Gray, whose taste and judgment were good, also urged him to do this. The result was that, in the spring of 1813, he produced “ The Queen's Wake."

This consists of a series of ballads, purporting to be sung for the amusement of the young Mary Queen of Scots, on her arrival from France at the ancient palace of Holyrood. The design was a good one—the competitors for glory were Poets, the judges and spectators were a beautiful young Queen, and her proud Nobility. The introduced poems were as various in merit as in style, but the narrative part of the poem was flowing, pure, and graceful. None expected such from Hogg. There were some days of wonder,—of doubt how the poem should be estimated,—but it got well spoken of, and Hogg received, in po stinted measure, the meed of popular applause. From that time, “ The Queen's Wake” has been very popular. In Scotland, as compared with other long poems, it ranks only. below The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Marmion, and The Lady of the Lake.

One of the poems in “ The Queen's Wake,” the most popular of the collection, and that by which Hogg is best known out of Scotland, was called “ KILMENY,” and is founded on the tradition, common alike to Scotland and Ireland, of a child being stolen by the fairies. I cannot convey the entire poem, consisting of 300 lines, into these pages, but subjoin a few passages to show the peculiar beauty of the rhythm, the adroit use of the Scottish dialect, the musical flow of harmony, the extent of fancy which covers it like a visible atmosphere, and the remarkable purity of thought and expression which pervades the whole. “ Kilmeny” opens thus :

KILMENY.
Bonny Kilmeny gaed up the glen;
But it wasna to meet Duneira's men,
Nor the rosy monk of the isle to see,
For Kilmeny was pure as pure could be.
It was only to hear the yorlin sing,
And pu' the blue cress-flower round the spring;

The scarlet hypp and the hindberrye,
And the nut that hang frae the hazel-tree;
For Kilmeny was pure as pure could be.
But lang may her minny look o'er the wa',
And lung may she seek in the greenwood shaw;
Lang the laird of Duneira blame,
And lang, lang greet, ere Kilmeny, come hame!

When many a day had come and fled,
When grief grew calm, and hope was dead,
When mass for Kilmeny's soul had been sung,
When the beadsman had prayed, and the dead-bell rung.
Late, late in a gloamin', when a' was still,
When the fringe was red on the westlin hill,
The wood was sere, the moon i' the wane,
The reek of the 'cot hung o'er the plain
Like a little wee cloud in the world its lane;
When the ingle lowed with an eiry leme,
Late, late in the gloamin', Kilmeny cam' hame!

“Kilmeny, Kilmeny, where have you been !
Lang hae we sought baith holt and dean,
By linn, by ford, and greenwood tree,
Yet ye are halesome and fair to see
Where gat ye that joup o' the lily sheen
That bonny snood of the birk sae green?
And these roses, the fairest that ever were seen!
Kilmeny, Kilmeny, where have you been ?"

Kilmeny looked up with a lovely grace,
But nae smile was seen on Kilmeny's face;
As still was her look, and as still was her ee,
As the stillness that lay on the emerant lea,
Or the mist that sleeps on a waveless sea;
For Kilmeny had been she knew not where,
And Kilmeny had seen what she could not declare ,
Kilmeny had been where the cock never crew,
Where the rain never fell, and the wind never blew.
But it seemed as the harp of the sky had rung,
And the airs of heaven played round her tongue,
When she spake of the lovely forms she had seen,
And a land where sin had never been-
A land of love and a land of light,
Withouten sun, or moon, or night;
Where the river swa'd a living stream,

« AnteriorContinuar »