Sunday, 28 October 2012

James Hogg: A Brief Note on Celebrity 

It has been argued that Lord Byron and Sir Walter Scott were the first ‘celebrities’ in the modern sense of the word. In Byromania and the Birth of Celebrity Culture, Ghislaine McDayter contends that “Byromania marks the emergence of celebrity as a cultural industry” (8). In The Routledge Concise History of Nineteenth-Century Literature, Josephine Guy and Ian Small identify Byron and Scott as two of the first authors to take advantage of the new “cultural apparatus” that  developed after the timely  “conjunction of a “Romantic cult of selfhood” and “the growing industrialization of print culture” (30). As Penny Fielding notes in her entry on Hogg in The Oxford Encyclopedia of British Literature, “Hogg was very conscious of literary celebrity” and felt diminished when he did not receive the same recognition as Scott and other members of the Edinburgh literati (67). But as Peter Garside reminds us in his chapter in James Hogg and the Literary Marketplace, after Scott’s death, Hogg “found himself lionized as a literary celebrity” after “a highly successful visit to London” in 1832 (36). Even before then, Hogg was viewed as a celebrity of sorts, serving the role, for example, of “celebrity speaker” at a Burns Supper in Edinburgh in January 1815, as Clark McGinn recalls in his recent essay on Burns celebrations in Robert Burns and Global Culture (193). In Hogg’s case, celebrity was more of a double-edged sword than it was for Scott, given that his fame was sometimes rooted in an understanding of him as a strange curiosity: a peasant prodigy who made for an interesting spectacle at the dinner parties of the elite. However, despite such condescension and some negative publicity that figured him as an object of ridicule, Hogg established himself as an important literary figure in Britain during his lifetime and relished his fame in the Americas, writing in 1833 to an anonymous American fan: “I am most proud of being valued so highly by my transatlantic brethren.”   

Three rather interesting aspects of Hogg’s celebrity that might resonate with the experience of modern celebrities are (a) the appearance of fans at his home—whom in Hogg’s case, his family couldn’t afford to feed; (b) the flow of fan mail that appeared on his doorstep, which his wife Margaret had to read through, evaluate, and cull; and (c) the reporting of his activities through gossip, which he was concerned might negatively affect his family life. To learn more about the celebrity of Hogg in the last few years of his life, read the third volume of his letters: The Collected Letters of James Hogg: Volume 3, 1832-1835, ed. Gillian Hughes with associate editors Douglas S. Mack, Robin MacLachlan, and Elaine Petrie (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008).

Holly Faith Nelson

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Lecture on James Hogg in

Terra Haute, Indiana

Photograph © Alan W. Alker

Drs. Sharon Alker and Holly Faith Nelson will be giving a lecture on the life and works of James Hogg at Indiana State University in Terra Haute, Indiana, on November 15, 2012. The title of the lecture is "The Edge of Scottish Romanticism: James Hogg,'king o' the mountain and fairy school.'" It is part of the Joseph S. Schick Lecture Series ( 

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

In Memoriam: Louis Simpson

The BBC web site has announced the death at the age of 89 of the US poet and writer Louis Simpson (1923-2012).  Best known to Hogg scholars for his 1962 book James Hogg: A Critical Study, which for a long time was the most substantial monograph on Hogg, Louis Simpson was a Pulitzer-Prize winning poet, whose work was admired by Seamus Heaney and others.  Further details on his career can be found at

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Edinburgh Companion to James Hogg:
A Must Buy

The Edinburgh Companion to James Hogg, edited by Ian Duncan and the late Douglas Mack, has recently appeared on the literary scene (Edinburgh University Press, 2012). Its well-researched, lucid, and engaging sixteen essays on every major aspect of the life and works of James Hogg make it mandatory reading for any scholar interested in seriously taking up the study of James Hogg and for any general reader who simply wants to gain a better understanding of the author of The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, the work by Hogg most often read and admired. Almost all of the contributors to the volume have been researching and writing on Hogg for a decade or more, none longer than Douglas Mack, who worked on Hogg for more than forty years before his untimely death in 2009.

The Table of Contents of the remarkably affordable Edinburgh Companion to James Hogg is as follows:

Brief Biography of James Hogg - Ian Duncan
Introduction: Hogg and his Worlds - Ian Duncan
1. Hogg, Ettrick, and Oral Tradition - Valentina Bold and Suzanne Gilbert
2. Hogg and the Book Trade - Peter Garside
3. Magazines, Annuals and the Press - Gillian Hughes
4. Hogg's Reception and Reputation - Suzanne Gilbert
5. Hogg and the Highlands - Hans de Groot
6. Hogg and Working-Class Writing - Sharon Alker and Holly Faith Nelson
7. Politics and the Presbyterian Tradition - Douglas S. Mack
8. Hogg and Nationality - Caroline McCracken-Flesher
9. Hogg, Gender, and Sexuality - Silvia Mergenthal
10. Hogg and Music - Kirsteen McCue
11. Hogg as Poet - Fiona Wilson
12. Hogg and the Theatre - Meiko O'Halloran
13. Hogg and the Short Story - John Plotz
14. Hogg and the Novel - Graham Tulloch
15. Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner: Approaches - Penny Fielding
16. Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner: Afterlives - Gillian Hughes

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Audio Recordings of Scots Poetry

For a very long time Dr. George Philp, osteopath and doctor of medicine, whom God preserve, as a patriotic endeavour recorded an enormous amount of Scots poetry, with as far as possible the involvement of living poets reading their own verse. He often used his consulting room as a studio, and indeed I could have pointed out the building, in the row of handsome houses directly across University Avenue from the Woolfson building, where the Saturday of the recent James Hogg Society conference took place.

The tape deck rested on what in his hours of remunerative employment was a massage table, and the microphone on his massive desk—although he also travelled the country recording poets in their own homes, and indeed scholars and others in their working environment, reading the poems of those who had been in their graves (or wherever, because nobody knows what happened to William Dunbar, for instance) for some centuries.

Commentaries were recorded, read by scholars and others involved in the selection, compilation and preparation and often enough reading of the works of the poets, or Makars as Dr. Philp called them, preferring to translate the Greek and emulate Dunbar etc., rather than use the loan word poet.

These recordings with spoken apparatus appeared over a long period, as audio cassettes, sales helping to fund the project, and toward the end of Dr. Philp's working years the venture also nursed the Robert Henryson society into existence. When Dr. Philp retired he made over the complete catalogue to the Scots Language Society.

During the late John Law's very distinguished presidency of the Scots Language Society the recordings were digitised and many can now be acquired on CD.

The above link should access the catalogue and ordering details easily, as well as the Scots Language Society site in general. Not only do I have no financial interest in the sales of CDs in whose preparation I was involved, I'm not even a member of the Scots Language Society!

Robert R. Calder

Sunday, 1 July 2012

James Hogg Society 2012 Conference: Some Memories

The James Hogg Society conference was recently held at the University of Glasgow in Scotland (June 29 - July 1, 2012). Kirsteen McCue, co-director of the university's Centre for Robert Burns Studies, hosted the event (

It was a fabulous conference at which we heard papers on many works rarely discussed by either the public or academics. These included Hogg's sermons and dramatic works. We also learned about Hogg's wildly "extreme" and disturbing pastoral vision and the relevance of medicine and astronomy to his writings. Hogg's relationship with other male writers were also considered; one of these relationships was (wittily and playfully) described as a "bromance" -- reminding us of the importance of homosocial bonds to the Ettrick Shepherd. New approaches to Hogg's supernatural or ghostly imaginings were also introduced. Happily, the discourse of intrusion, sin, murder, mutilation, chaos, dissipation, and decay was balanced in the panels with that of fairies, sensibility, sentimentalism,  freedom, egalitarianism, enlightenment, and friendship, revealing the breadth and complexity of Hogg's life and writings.

A fascinating and rousing keynote address on the influence of James Hogg (and other Scottish writers and traditions) on Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights was given by Douglas Gifford.

Presenters at the conference came from as far as British Columbia, Alaska, Washington, and Mississipi and three of our British presenters managed to arrive safely despite enduring a harrowing journey on a train from London which found itself immersed in a flood, blocked by a landslide, and then threatened by a fire on the tracks!

On the last day of the conference some of the participants travelled to the Burns Museum in Ayr (photograph above). It was a tremendously exciting experience as it involved seeing and holding some of Burns's writings and possessions, including his commonplace book and two guns (an odd juxtaposition of Burnsean artifacts ... but all the more interesting for being so).