Spying James Hogg’s Bristle in Blackwood’s Magazine

  • Mark Schoenfield
Part of the Nineteenth-Century Major Lives and Letters book series (19CMLL)


Blackwood’s individuates the personalities that appear in it; features of speech, dress, physique, and personal quirks contrast Maga’s coterie with the corporate Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviewers. Although the editorial Sylvanus Urban of the Gentleman’s Magazine anticipates Christopher North, he is largely without features, a cipher for information and anecdotes presented by him, collected by his writers, or sent to him by readers. His character projects a disembodied and transhistorical idealization of Lockean enlightenment norms. Most frequently, letters mention him only as the addressee. By contrast, readers are encouraged to read beside Christopher North as fellow reader. In a letter to “Respected Christopher,” the “Man in the Moon” complains of novelists who make “the moon come and go, out of all reasonable calculation.” He asks, “Hast thou not in thy multifarious reading, Christopher, met with passages of the same kidney as this?” (IX:12).1 Although character implied the potential of character assassination, of exposing behind the universalizing claims of Whig and radical journals the vested interests of petty individuals, it also provided a claim of legibility for the individuals that, as an aggregate, amount to historical force.


Literary Culture Corporate Identity Public Persona Romantic Identity Exclamation Point 
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  1. 1.
    The gradual characterization of North is summarized by Wilson’s daughter, Mary Gordon: The first conception of that remarkable personage was, however, as purely mythical as the “Shepherd” of the Noctes, and “C.N.” notes and criticisms were freely supplied by other hands, under the direction of the really responsible editor, Mr. Blackwood. As my father gradually invested his imaginary ancient with more and more of his personal attributes and experiences, the identification became more complete, till at length John Wilson and Christopher North were recognized as names synonymous. (II:51) Gordon highlights one part of the equation; the other is the extent to which North, as a publically known persona, shaped Wilson. In February 1822, a “Letter from London,” begins, “Are we to see you in town this spring? Or is the gout inexorable” (9:236); it concludes with a PS sending “Jemima’s best regards” despite her being “so utterly shocked” at the “‘real Irish Melodies’ in the Magazine.”Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Simmons notes Lord Bolingbroke’s formulation from 1841 that “History is philosophy teaching by examples” (17). Although Simmons demonstrates that the formulation of institutional Tory history belongs properly to the mid-nineteenth century, to see its formative outlines in the determined toryism of Blackwood Magazine is justified by both the Magazine’s (and its owner’s) political commitments and its recurrent explorations of both history and historiography.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    As the series developed, cameos by Byron, De Quincey, and others were mixed with regulars, literary characters, and fictitious inventions. The dialogues were located initially at William Ambrose’s tavern, a “real place” with “a real landlord of that name in deferential attendance” (Miller 163, Ch. 11 sketches the publication history of the Noctes). Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Reinforcing the parallels of the sheep market and the literary market, this remark echoes Constable’s equally chiastic comment to Hogg: “I know as well how to sell a book as any man, which should be some concern of yours; and I know how to buy one, too!” (Hogg Memoir). Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Blackwood’s frequently deploys descriptions with symbolic overtones, and even parodies its own method. It refers to “pimpled Hazlitt” and then has “A.Z.” the reviewer of Hazlitt’s Lectures on English Poetry in May 1818, declare “How ‘pimpled’ may be interpreted with reference to mind, we are not able to divine” (BM III:75). Reviewing the Works of Charles Lamb the next August, Blackwood’s deploys the adjective as a settled epitaph: “To ‘pimpled Hazlitt’… [Lamb] does not condescend to say one syllable” (III:599). Benjamin Haydon’s “hair curled over his shoulder in the old Italian fashion” (III:520); in the context of Lockhart’s attack on Hunt’s Story of Rimini, the reference connotes artistic pretentions and unnatural desires. Lockhart, in a letter to Wilson proposing a sequel to his “On the Gormandizing School of Eloquence,” describes Maria Edgeworth in similarly physical terms, as if to emphasize the continuity between his public and private writings: “a little, dark, bearded, sharp, withered, active, laughing, talking, impudent, fearless, outspoken, honest, Whiggish, unchristian, good-tempered, kindly, ultra-Irish body. I like her one day, and damn her to perdition the next … I have invited Hogg to dine here tomorrow, to meet Miss Edgeworth. She has a great anxiety to see the Bore” (Gordon 58–9).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Each issue ended with an announcement of the publisher and the price. As the periodical developed, Hogg added signposts to orient the reader, including titles and subtitles to tales (e.g., “The Country Laird” No. 24).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    The poetic narrative is complicated by a historical footnote, considerably longer than the poem, that points out that Lochiel had gone to Charles to dissuade him from the battle, and only agreed to join it when the Prince declares that Lochiel “may stay at home, and learn from the newspapers the fate of his prince.” In the juxtaposition between wizard and newspaper as the bringer of news, Campbell’s poem plays on the professionalization of prophecy that both Jeffrey and Hogg exploit. In April 1809, the Edinburgh Review, noting that “there are probably few readers of English poetry” not already familiar with “Lochiel” characterized it as “by far the most spirited and poetical denunciation of woe since the days of Cassandra” (14:17).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Russett details a variety of intertextual relations between the two authors, including Hogg’s “aggressive tribute,” a “novel about ‘Walter Scott’” (Fictions 183) and their various raids on one another’s poetry (155–84 in passim).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Hogg uses other images of physical embodiment to articulate the metonymic relations of individuals to corporate bodies. Regretting that Scott’s heir did not keep his steward on at Abbottsford, he opines, “without [William] Laidlaw that grand classical estate is a carcass without a head” (68).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Within the Anecdotes, Scott serves as a loyal contrast to the editors and authors (with whom he is sometimes confused) who plagued Hogg. Having once “promised” to review one of Hogg’s poems in a periodical, he explains to Hogg why it was impossible: I began the thing and took a number of notes marking extracts but found to give a proper view of your poetical progress and character I was under the necessity of beginning with the ballads and following through THE WAKE and all the rest and upon the whole I felt that we were so much of the same school that if I had said of you as I wished to say I would have been thought by the world to be applauding myself. (61) Deploying his frequent theme of doppelgangers, Hogg imputes to Scott a fusion of identity; the recognition of Hogg’s own integrity—requiring the transition from scattered “notes” to a summary of a career—outstrips Scott’s ability to write and in turn confirms Hogg’s own powers of production. Ian Duncan has detailed how their complex relationship, as patron and liege, yet literary rivals, is woven into Hogg’s writing (163–73).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Margaret Oliphant notes that at the formation of the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine, Hogg was “very much en evidence about Edinburgh,” and “it is most probably that it was he who introduced the two pseudo-literary men to the publisher. Pringle was from Hogg’s own country, a rustic genius like himself, though of superior education; and Cleghorn was known as the editor of a Farmer’s Magazine, probably therefore a countryman too” (98).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    The Old Friend “forswear[s] the whole swinish multitude,” but through a complicating allusion: Fare thee well! And if for ever, Still for ever, Fare thee well! In quoting Byron’s notorious poem about his separation from his wife, Wilson implicitly compares the dynamics of authors and editors with that of spouses. As Russett recognizes, in her account of Wilson’s review of Hogg’s The Three Perils of Women in which he complains of the juxtaposition between the “song of the nightingale” and “the grunt of the boar” that invariably betrays Hogg’s presence, Wilson would have known that “Hogg” is “a northern word for a young sheep” (Fiction 177). Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    In “The Steamboat, No VI,” “Duffle” describes an interruption that thematizes this tension: “While we were thus speaking on the beneficial consequences of the coronation, a most termagant rioter came up, bawling one minute, ‘The Queen for ever!’ and then turning his tongue in his cheek, and roaring, ‘God save the King!’”Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Caricatures by Cruikshank circumscribed the “Queen Caroline Affair” for the public (Wood 149–54, 161–7). With Napoleon’s death in May 1821, the coronation represented an opportunity to display British superiority, and to use French funds to underwrite it, as more than half of the L240,000 was appropriated “out of Money received from France on Account of pecuniary Indemnity” (GM 93:77). Cumming indicates the extent of careful staging for the event, including renting of a horse—“a trained and docile beast used to crowds”—from “Astley’s circus” for the ritual appearance of the king’s champion (43).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    “It combined all the gorgeous splendour of ancient chivalry with the intense heroic interest of modern times;—every thing that could effect or excite, either in beauty, heroism, genius, grace, elegance, or taste; all that was rich in colour, gorgeous in effect, touching in association, English in character or Asiatic in magnificence was crowded into this golden and enchanted hall” (quoted in Cumming 48–9). So the painter Benjamin Haydon, a consistent contributor to the London Magazine, described the king’s coronation in his diary. Performing a unity of past and present, nation and empire, this description indicates those continuities that could confirm, for Blackwood’s, the Tory conception of history. Yet, for Maga, that Haydon could regard the ceremony with equanimity and pleasure suggested that its gestures of reconciliation toward the Whigs were legible and unnerving.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Publius Secundus was a Roman general and poet during the reigns of Tiberius, Caligula, and Claudius. The article reiterates the sameness of children’s games across time; A footnote speculates that “Horner and Virgil had dozed taps and pirics;—that Malcolm Canmore and Queen Margaret had played at tig” (BM X:37).Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    In the November 1821 issue, an article, “Treason” exposes a “plot” by the “Fourteen Contributors” directed against ourselves, it aimed at the subversion of our supremacy in the periodical world, and was intended to bring into contempt us, the contributors’ Sovereign Lord the Editor, our Magazine, and dignity.. .. a shallow-pated junto of disappointed correspondents, who had cockered themselves up by a give-and-take system of self-eulogy, till they fancied themselves constrained by an unanimous feeling of their own surpassing merit, to prescribe to us what we ought to insert. (BM X:406)Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Robin MacLachlan has noted that Hogg made a “brand name” of the Shepherd (6), so the misidentification of him as swineherd disrupts that marketing ploy.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    In the sixth installment of the “Cockney School of Poetry” articles, Z (Lockhart) had matter-of-factly announced Hunt’s demise: “This is a posthumous publication, and has been given to the world, we understand, by the author’s executors, Mr. John Keats, Mr. Vincent Novello, and Mr. Benjamin Haydon, Such, at least, is the town talk” (Oct 1819; BM VI:70). He laments that they have not supplied either “a life or a Face,” despite Hunt’s allegedly having written “a quire of hot-pressed, wire-wove, gilt Autobiography” and there being “no man [who] admired his [own] face more than poor Hunt.”Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    As Karen Fang’s analysis of an Egyptological theme in the novel and the Chaldee Manuscript underscores, the novel is concerned with history and historiography (166, 171–2). Its action occurs during the Covenanting Revolution, an epoch that, as Ross MacKay notes, is incorporated “into the greater narrative of the constitutional crisis in England.” Hogg’s Brownie of Bodsbeck and Scott’s Old Mortality had debated the novelistic representation and historical meaning of the events and their agents, and this “lively exchange sets the standard for the debate of the Killing Time—an issue contentious enough to induce John Galt to weigh in with his novel, Ringhan Gilhaize, in 1823” (58–9). Hogg’s turn to that moment situated the problem of identity as an historical one, and undermined the Blackwoodian contention of Hogg’s own position as an historical artifact.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    For Hogg, or at least for the “Ettrick Shepherd,” there was a reputed pleasure as well as shame in this treatment; Shelton Mackenzie, in his Life of the Ettrick Shepherd, appended to his 1856 edition of the collected Noctes Ambrosianae, maintains that Hogg was “somewhat proud of the position he was made to occupy” and relates an anecdote, told by someone who “loved” Hogg “dearly as a brother” in which Hogg “had alighted upon one of Wilson’s raciest personifications of himself, and could not restrain his appreciation of its skill and genius” (Noctes xviii).Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Like Robertson and his printers, the crowd of the Noctes encourages him to lose himself; Odoherty declares, “Coleridge over again for all the world … henceforth always write our songs when you are dazed, as you call it.” Hogg responds, “I need scarcely be after bidding you read the songs I write, when you find yourself in that same honorable and praise-worthy condition” (XIII:599); the emphasis on “read” alludes to the Blackwood’s coterie’s propensity for writing Hogg’s songs. Mark Parker notes that the “Noctes put the [other] articles [in the issue] into an intensely dialogical relation” and “do not simply blur the boundaries between popular and elite cultures; they locate one culture within the other” (Selections 3:146).Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    The first use of the term is Old Wringhim’s mistaken impression that Dalcastle has “confess[ed] his backslidings” (21). Of the roughly two dozen uses of the word “confess,” most are demands that another confess or plots to elicit a confession. When Wringhim does confess, the confessions are vague (“That I was a great, a transcendent sinner, I confess” 170); late in the novel, the contemplation of suicide is framed as a confession: “I shuddered at a view of the dreadful alternative, yet was obliged to confess that in my present circumstances existence was not to be borne” (359). In the only other paragraph that uses the formulation “I confess” twice, he confesses his disdain for his mother’s weak theology and “motley instruction” in terms that make her the guilty party: “If this was a crime in me, I never could help it. I confess it freely, and believe it was a judgment from heaven inflicted on her for some sin of former days, and that I had no power to have acted otherwise toward her than I did” (172; my emphasis). Being seduced by Gil-Martin, he confesses to being “greatly flattered” by the compliments of the “superior youth” (189).Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    His surname Wringhim plays on the sense of “wring” as a wine-press—a common figure for a printing press—that links creativity with the social rituals of drinking. That Hogg himself was a Robert’s son adds a layer of nominal play; Petrie’s “Odd Characters” discusses Robert Hogg’s contribution to his son’s writings.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Peter Garside provides a review of the printing procedures of the Confessions (“Printing Confessions” 25–6). Although he does not discuss the Advertising sheet, he notes other ways in which the printing is implicated in the narrative.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Hogg emphasizes the unstable teleological significance of the suicide by retitling the 1828 edition The Suicide’s Grave, making the moment of textual and bodily exposure (of which, per force, Wringhim, the primary narrator knows nothing) the titling moment of the novel.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Saintbury’s guess at Lockhart’s qualified contribution is magnified in Ernest Albert’s A Guide to the Best Fiction: “Prof. Saintsbury suggests that Lockhart had a principal hand in the book” (28). Peter Garside discusses the debate on whether the Fanatic alterations are authorial (Hogg, Confessions lxxiv–lxxx). And the beat goes on. The online (2007) cites the entry from the Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition (2004) that offers this biographical source: “See his [Hogg’s] memoirs, Confessions of a Fanatic (1824).”Google Scholar

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© Mark Schoenfield 2009

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  • Mark Schoenfield

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