Early 19th-century Edinburgh had a lot less time for James Hogg than for the Ettrick Shepherd, the literary persona created partly by Hogg himself, partly by the tight circle that ran Blackwood's Magazine. Comic, bibulous, full of naive folk-wisdom, easy to patronise, the Ettrick Shepherd was invented as a souvenir of the pastoral Lowlands, a survival whose presence among one of the Edinburgh literary Úlites could represent both the continuity of modern Scots culture and the impolite past it had left behind. The Ettrick Shepherd, though perhaps more pliable, certainly more reassuringly conservative than Burns had been, could not always be relied on to play this part, and had occasionally to be reminded of his place by editors, reviewers, even by himself. But he was much more comfortable to be with than James Hogg, the author of obsessive, experimental fictions which either satirised or ignored the decencies of polite letters. To some degree even these could be bowdlerised and domesticated, as many of them were in the Victorian collections of Hogg's fiction published after his death, and passed off as written by 'the Ettrick Shepherd'. But one in particular, and for my money the best of them - The Three Perils of Woman - was immediately recognised as irredeemable by its first reviewers, and until last year had never been reprinted.
LRB 22 February 1996 | PDF Download