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ETTRICK SHEPHERD. .
BY DR. SHELTON MACKENZIE.
JAMES HOGG, commonly called “The Ettrick Shepherd," was born on the 25th of January, 1772, in a cottage on the banks of the Ettrick, a tributary of the Tweed, in Selkirkshirc, a mountainous and picturesque part of Scotland. He died on the 21st November, 1835, in the sixty-fourth year of his age. His family had long been settled in the district of Ettrick, as shepherds. Robert Hogg, his father, who lived to the age of ninety, had married Margaret Laidlnw, a woman of considerable common sense, familiar knowledge of the traditionary ballads of Scotland, and a clear judgment. Of this marriage four sons were born. James was the second, and greatly prided himself, in mature years, on having had the same birthday (all but the year) as Robert Burns.
At the time when Robert Hogg married, he had saved what, in those days, was considered sufficient to authorize his taking a farm. He took two; commenced dealing in cattle, gave credit, suffered from a great fall in the price of sheep and the dishonesty of his principal debtor,—and became a ruined man, -homeless, almost hopeless, before his son James was six years old. Robert Hogg then became shepherd on one of the farms which he had recently occu
James Hogg's mother, who literally had taught herself to read the Bible, which she then thoroughly understood, had a natural taste for poetry. The wandering minstrels, whose last “ Lay” was sung by Scott, had not vanished in her youth. From their lips, she stored her quick memory with many thouBand lines of the old Border ballads ;-one of these wanderers, over whose bead the changes of ninety years had rolled, communicated a great deal to her, which he alone knew. With Mrs. Hogg perished this, and much more that “ the world would not willingly let die."
From such a mother, James Hogg unquestionably received his first
impulses towards Song. It was her habit daily to read from the Bible such passages as she thought likely to interest and improve her sons; and, daily also, followed her recitations of the Border ballads, in a manner between chant and song. Sometimes she would tell them stories of romantic incidents in the world of action and passion, into which none of them yet had launched ; and she often would win them to tears by the simple relation of tales of sorrow and tenderness, in days not far remote and within their own locality.
When James Hogg was seven years old, he was compelled to go to service. His occupation was to herd a few cows for a neighboring farmer. His wages for the calf year were a ewe lamb and a pair of new shoes. In the first winter he returned home, and had three months' schooling. He got into a class so far advanced that they could read the Bible. He tried writing, but each letter was nearly an inch in length. Nor, to his dying day, did he write well. His whole course of education was obtained in six months at this time • After this,” he says, “ I was never another day at any school whatever.” When the severity of the season abated, when gentle Spring felt the kiss of Summer on her roseate lips, James Hogg again became a cow-herd. So he continued for some years, under various masters, until he finally arrived at the dignity of shepherd's assistant. The care of large flocks of sheep requires probity, skill, and self-reliance. The character which Hogg obtained from his successive masters, (he had a dozen before he was fifteen,) placed him in this rank, where the wages and other pecuniary advantages are comparatively good, and the opportunities for those who wish to acquire knowledge are great. A man, who is in the open air by himself, for twelve hours a-day during many months, able to read, (as nearly every Scottish peasant is,) can scarcely help becoming contemplative, and more or less imagiñative.
But, during the whole of Hogg's-novitiate as a herdsman, he had no book to read except the Bible, and the version of the Psalms of David which is used by the Scottish Church. He had purchased an old violin out of his small earnings, and determinedly taught himself to play some favorite Scotch tunes. Afterwards, as we shall see, he became a very passable player.
Among the farmers who employed Hogg to attend their sheep-flocks, the kindest were the family of the Laidlaws, (probably some relations of his mother,) with whom he remained several years. It was while in the employ of one of these that, at the age of eighteen, he first got the perusal of a versified Life of Sir William Wallace, the great Scottish patriot, and of the pastoral comedy of,“ The Gentle Shepherd,” by Allan Ramsay. Oddly enough, the future poet (as he has related) “ deeply regretted that they were not in prose, that everybody might have understood them.” He had got so much out of the habit of reading, that the Scottish dialect quite confounded him! After this, Mrs. Laidlaw lent him some theological books, which he subsequently was glad he did not understand. A newspaper fell into his hands now and
then, “which I pored on with great earnestness," he says, “ beginning at the date, and reading straight on, through advertisements of houses and lands, Balm of Gilead, and every thing; and, after all, was often no wiser than when I began." At this time he had to write a letter to his elder brother, and, not having used a pen for several years, some of the letters of the alphabet were so much forgotten, that he had to put them in a sort of print copied from books!. inti į " . 41 .
. On Whitsunday, 1790, being then only eighteen, Hogg hired himself to Mr. Laidlaw, of Black House, whom he served, as shepherd, for ten years; of this gentleman's kindness one of God's own nobility-Hogg's brief report is sufficient : “ Indeed, it was much more like that of a father than a master.”
In the spring of 1796, at the age of twenty-four, Hogg made his first regular attempt at verse-writing. (Long before that, however, while yet early in his teens, his mother would often say to him," Jamie, my man, gang ben tho house, and mak me a sang."). Mr. Laidlaw, his employer, had a good store of books, which he kindly allowed Hogg to read. Thus the early defects, or rather the almost total want of education, were in due course of being some what remedied. He read a great deal, and with considerable attention ; but, (he says,)“no sooner did I begin to read so as to understand, than, rather prematurely, I began to write.";
jirii pos ... ;, 15 How he first became a POETER may best be told as related by himself in his various autobiographies. He says :— ,,,!i i t irir...!
" For several years my compositions consisted wholly of songs and ballads, made up for the lassies to sing in chorus ; and a proud mau I was when I first heard the rosy nymphs chanting my uncouth strains, and jeering me by the still dear appellation of Jamie the poeter.' :: ..! !
“I had no more difficulty in composing songs then than I have at present; and I was equally well pleased with them. But then the writing of them that was a job ! I had no method of learning to write save by following the italic alphabet ; and though I always stripped myself of coat and vest:when I began to pen a song, yet my wrist took a cramp, so that I could rarely make above four or six lines at a sitting. Whether my manner of writing it out was new, I know not, but it was not without singularity. Having very little spare -time from my flock, which was unruly enough, I folded and stitched a few shcets of paper, which I carried in my pocket. * I had no inkhorn, but in place of it I borrowed a small phial, which I fixed in a hole in the breast of my waistcoat; and having a cork fastened by a piece of twine, it answered the purpose fully as well. Thus equipped, whenever a leisure minute or two offered, and I had nothing else to do, I sat down and wrote out my thoughts as I found them. This is still my invariable practice in writing prose. I cannot make out one sentence by study without the pen in my hand to catch the ideas as they arise, and I never write two copies of the same thing: My manner of composing poetry is very different, and, I believe, much more singular. Let the piece be of what length it will, 1 compose and correct it wholly in my mind, or on a slate, ere ever I put pen to paper; and then I write it down as fast as the A B C. When once it is written, it remains in that state ; it being with the utmost difficulty that I can be brought to alter one syllable, which I think is partly owing to the above practice.
“ The first time I ever heard of Burns was in 1797, the year after he died. One day during that summer a half daft man, named John Scott, came to me on the hill, and, to amuse me, repeated Tam o' Shanter. I was delighted. I was far more than delighted—I was ravished! I cannot describe my feelings ; but, in short, before Jock Scott left me, I could recite the poem from beginning to end, and it has been my favorite poem ever since. He told me It was made by one Robert Burns, the sweetest poet that ever was born ; but that he was now dead, and his place would never be supplied. He told me all about him : how he was born on the 25th of January, bred a ploughman, how many beautiful songs and poems he had composed, and that he had died last harvest, on the 21st of August. This formed a new epoch of my life. Every day I pondered on the genius and fate of Burns. I wept, and always thought with myself—what is to hinder me from succeeding Burns ? I, too, was born on the 25th of January, and I have much more time to read and compose than any ploughman could have, and can sing more old songs than ever ploughman could in the world. But then I wept again because I could not write. However, I resolved to be a poet, and to follow in the steps of Burns.”
In 1812, before the appearance of “The Queen's Wake,” the poem which made his reputation, he told a clergyman of his acquaintance, that he had an inward consciousness that he should yet live to be compared with Burns, and that though he might never equal him in some things, he thought he might excel him in others. This was repeated, and laughed at as a good jest ; but time, which sets all things even, has made it a reality. Hogg certainly takes place next to, and very little below, Burns as a Scottish poet.
Not books alone, aiding and valuable as they were, constituted the advantages accruing to Hogg, at Mr. Laidlaw's. One of that gentleman's sons, William, was his friend and companion. Hogg says : “ He was the only person who, for many years, ever pretended to discover the least merit in my essays, either in prose or verse ; and, as he never failed to have plenty of them about him, he took the opportunity of showing them to every person, whose capacity he supposed adequate to judge of their merits, but all to no purpose ; he could make no proselytes to his opinion of any note, save one, who, in a little time, apostatized and left us as we were." A higher critical authority was fortunately at hand.
The first of Hogg's published songs was called “ Donald McDonald,” com
LIFE OF THE ETTRICK SHEPHERD.
posed, he says, “ in 1800, on the threatened invasion by Bonaparte." He sang it to a party of social friends, one of whom got it set to music. It was published, and obtained great popularity. “Yet no one ever knew, or inquired who was the author.” It was publicly sung at a grand Masonic Festival at Edinburgh, by Mr. Oliver of the publishing house of Oliver & Boyd. He was one of the best singers in Scotland, and was not only thrice encored, but the Earl of Moira (the Lord Rawdon of the War of Independence, and the Marquis of Hastings of a later day) made a long speech on the utility of such“ loyal ” songs at that period, thanked the singer, and proffered him his whole interest in Scotland. He never asked for, nor thought of the author of the words. There was then a General McDonald, commanding the army in Scotland, at whose regimental mess the song was part of the post-prandial service. This old gentleman believed that it had been written to glorify himself—but neither he nor any of his friends asked who was the author. I subjoin the opening verse of this song—to show how a popular subject, half a century since, elevated what we should now call common-place jingle:
My name is Donald McDonald,
I live in the Highlands sae grand;
Wherever my Maker has land.
Nae danger can fear me ava;
Brogues an' brochin' an' a',
At this time, Walter Scott, who was Sheriff (Scottice Shirra) of Selkirk, the native county of Hogg, was collecting materials for The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. In this he was assisted by John Leyden, afterwards dis tinguished as a poet and Oriental scholar, whose early death (in 1811, in Java) was much lamented. In his ballad-questing excursions, Scott had fallen in with William Laidlaw, then very young, but with a vigorous, original, and cultivated mind. He introduced Hogg to“ the Shirra," who was in great doubt at the time, whether part of a ballad called Old Maitlan' was not forged. Hogg's mother chanted this ballad for him, and, as her version agreed with his, he was much pleased. The old lady, alluding to part of the first and published volume of the Minstrelsy, said : “ Except George Warton and James Steward, there never was ane o' my sangs prentit till ye prentit them yoursell, an' ye hae spoilt them a'thegither. They were rarle for sing