Monday, 23 November 2020

Happy Birthday James Hogg

William Allan,  The Ettrick Shepherd's House Heating  
(PG 3136 - National Galleries of Scotland).
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

2020 marks the 250th birthday of James Hogg. But when should we raise our glasses of whisky in his honour?

The problem is, we don’t know precisely when he was born. All that’s certain is that according to the parish records he was baptised in Ettrick Parish Church on 9 December 1770. However the records do not include his date of birth.

According to Hogg’s daughter Mary, writing under her married name Mrs Garden, Hogg’s friend Alexander Laidlaw had written to her that on the basis of information from Hogg’s mother Margaret (keep up!) Hogg was born in ‘the latter end of 1770’. Mary Garden assumes from that information a date in November and concludes that 25 November is ‘not unlikely’.

The man himself is no help. For most of his life he maintained that he was born on 25 January 1771, which not entirely coincidentally would have meant that he shared a birthday with Robert Burns. But I’m afraid, to misquote Burns, that fact’s a chiel that most definitely dings.

So should we be getting the socially distanced bunting out this week? Just to complicate matters, Hogg writes in one of the anecdotes about ‘Odd Characters’ in his 1829 collection The Shepherd’s Calendar that, looking back to the beginning of the eighteenth century, ‘as the custom then was, it was decreed that the first Sabbath after [a baby] was born he should be baptized’. Now 9 December was indeed a Sunday  in 1770. So if that was still the practice in Hogg’s day, that might mean he was born between Sunday 2 and Saturday 8 December 1770.

On the other hand perhaps there was a good reason why the baptism of a baby born in November had to be postponed. For instance, though his parents lived just down the road from the church, we are talking about a Borders winter, so perhaps they did not want to take a baby out during bad weather. Or maybe the minister had a cold on the day.

Some wise person, who, unlike the present writer, is not currently banned from crossing their council boundary and entering the Borders, perhaps knows or can find out what the usual interval between birth and baptism was in Hogg’s day; or on which Sundays in November and December 1770 baptisms actually occurred and how they were grouped in the register; or for that matter the weather then. Otherwise the date of Hogg’s birth may always remain a bit of a mystery.

All I can recommend is that we all take the opportunity every day from now till 9 December to raise a glass to his immortal memory. Happy Birthday, James.

PS If you need a reason to keep going for a further week or so, another glass is due for Hogg’s sometime collaborator Ludwig van Beethoven, baptised 17 December 1770 in Bonn and (probably but not certainly) born the previous day.

--Robin MacLachlan

Monday, 10 August 2020

Watch the One-Day James Hogg Symposium at the Library of Congress

Students and scholars of James Hogg may be interested in watching the webcast of the informative one-day symposium (James Hogg: Scotland's Shepherd Poet) hosted by the American Folklife Center in February 2020 at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. This event was co-sponsored by the University of Stirling. 

Speakers or performers include the scholars Dr. Adrian Hunter and Dr. Valentina Bold, the film producer Bill Kay, and the singer Sheena Wellington.  

Photograph by Stephen Walker. Courtesy of
Photograph of the Library of Congress, Washington, DC,
by Stephen Walker. Courtesy of 

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Invitation for Submissions: Studies in Hogg and his World

The editor of Studies in Hogg and his World invites submissions for the next issue of the journal which is currently scheduled for publication in the Fall of 2021. Submissions should be e-mailed to on or before April 15, 2021. 
Academic articles, pedagogical papers, or notes on any aspect of the life or writings of James Hogg or his contemporaries are welcome. 
In terms of pedagogical papers, we are especially interested in how the writings of Hogg are made relevant or significant to students in the contemporary classroom.
If you wish to review a book for the journal, please contact the editor. 
Studies in Hogg and his World is a double-blind peer reviewed journal. Therefore, all articles and notes submitted will undergo the double-blind peer review process. 

Sunday, 5 July 2020

James Hogg’s Gravestone

O lone St Mary of the waves, 
 In ruin lies thine ancient aisle, 
While o’er thy green and lowly graves 
 The moorcocks bay, and plovers wail 

When James Hogg wrote this description of the ruined churchyard that overlooks St Mary’s Loch, you hope he never thought that a similar fate might in due course be waiting for his own grave in Ettrick Kirkyard.

He’d have reckoned without the ravages of time, as well as the Scottish Borders Council’s programme of headstone testing. Shortly before Scotland went into lockdown, the Selkirk-based newspaper the Southern Reporter described the ‘shock’ that Ettrick residents had felt when James’s headstone had been laid flat. The paper’s photo eloquently shows the result.

According to the Borders Council’s website, their programme of testing is essential to make sure that anyone who visits or works in their 154 cemeteries is safe. If their staff find safety concerns, the memorial concerned will be made safe by socketing into the ground or laying flat. That’s what has happened to James’s headstone, along with nearly fifty others in Ettrick Kirkyard.

And the same thing has happened with the gravestone of James’s wife Margaret. Margaret is buried in Warriston Cemetery, Edinburgh, alongside the couple’s eldest son James and their eldest daughter Margaret Phillips. Like a number of other monuments in this historic cemetery, their stone has also been declared unsafe and laid flat.

Gravestone of Margaret Hogg, James Hogg (Jr.), and Margaret Phillips.
Photograph by Robin MacLachlan
However the story will not end there. A band of Hogg enthusiasts, including the James Hogg Society, is actively planning to have both stones reinstated. Hopefully, the work can be completed before James Hogg’s 250th anniversary is out, and his gravestone will once again be standing proud, as it was when this photo was taken.

Gravestone of James Hogg.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Watch this space for further news.

--Robin MacLachlan

Monday, 20 January 2020

Walter Scott, James Hogg, and Angling

The Medlar Press has recently published J. Keith Harwood's book Sir Walter Scott and Angling  This study might be of interest to those working on the life and writings of James Hogg since it includes a chapter on Hogg as an angler and explores his relationship with Scott within this context. 

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

New Double Issue of Studies in Hogg and his World (2019) Published

Studies in Hogg and his World
Numbers 27-28 (2019)

Table of Contents

Hans de Groot 1939-2019
By Holly Faith Nelson


‘That roaming meteor world’: James Hogg in Time and Space
By Penny Fielding 


Bad Hogg
By Ian Duncan

James Hogg’s ‘Cousin Mattie’: A Maternity Gone Wrong
By Barbara Leonardi

Spiritual and Social Virtues in the Moderate Lay Sermons of James Hogg
By Sharon Alker and Holly Faith Nelson

Hogg’s Collaboration in R. P. Gillies’s Illustrations of a Poetical Character (1816)
By Peter Garside


‘Like a Hebridean eagle’: Hogg’s Highland Journey of 1800 and a newly-discovered Hogg Letter
By Peter Garside and Gillian Hughes


An Unpublished 1822 Stage Adaptation of James Hogg’s ‘Gordon the Gipsey’
Introduced, Transcribed and Edited by Robin MacLachlan


James Hogg and British Romanticism: A Kaleidoscopic Art, by Meiko O’Halloran
Reviewed by Sharon Alker

Weir of Hermiston, by Robert Louis Stevenson, edited by Gillian Hughes
Reviewed by Ian Duncan

Walking with James Hogg: The Ettrick Shepherd’s Journeys through Scotland, by Bruce Gilkison
Reviewed by Robin MacLachlan

Sunday, 11 August 2019

A Recent Essay on Hogg's Highland Journeys

For those interested in the Highland Journeys of James Hogg, a relatively new essay has appeared on the subject. Alex Deans writes on "Pastoral Optimism at Improvement's Frontier: James Hogg's Highland Journeys," in the ten-chapter collection Cultures of Improvement in Scottish Romanticism, 1707-1840, ed. Alex Benchimol and Gerard Lee McKeever (Routledge: 2018). The collection as a whole will be of great interest to those working in the field of Scottish Romanticism. For more information, go to

Cultures of Improvement in Scottish Romanticism, 1707-1840: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover
Image Copyright: Routledge