James Hogg was a Scottish poet and novelist who wrote in both Scots and English. As a young man he worked as a shepherd and farmhand, and was largely self-educated through reading. He was a friend of many of the great writers of his day, including Sir Walter Scott, whom he later wrote an unauthorized biography of. He became widely known as the "Ettrick Shepherd", a nickname under which some of his works were published, and the character name he was given in the widely read series Noctes Ambrosianae, published in Blackwood's Magazine. He is best known today for his novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. His other works include the long poem The Queen's Wake (1813), his collection of songs Jacobite Reliques (1819), and his two novels The Three Perils of Man (1822), and The Three Perils of Woman (1823).
James Hogg was born on a small farm near Ettrick, Scotland in 1770 and was baptized there on 9 December, his actual date of birth having never been recorded. His father, Robert Hogg (1729–1820), was a tenant farmer while his mother, Margaret Hogg (née Laidlaw) (1730–1813), was noted for collecting native Scottish ballads. Margaret Laidlaw's father, known as Will o' Phawhope, was said to have been the last man in the Border country to speak with the fairies. James was the second eldest of four brothers, his siblings being William, David, and Robert (from eldest to youngest). Robert and David later emigrated to the United States, while James and William remained in Scotland for their entire lives.
James attended a parish school for a few months before his education was stopped due to his father's bankruptcy as a stock-farmer and sheep-dealer. Robert Hogg was then given the position of shepherd at Ettrickhouse farm by one of his neighbors. James worked as a farm servant throughout his childhood, tending cows, doing general farm work, and acting as a shepherd's assistant. His early experiences of literature and story telling came from the Bible and his mother's and uncle's stories. In 1784 he purchased a fiddle with money that he had saved, and taught himself how to play it. In 1785 he served a year working for a tenant farmer at Singlee. In 1786 he went to work for Mr. Laidlaw of Ellibank, staying with him for eighteen months. In 1788 he was given his first job as a shepherd by Laidlaw's father, a farmer at Willenslee. He stayed here for two years, learning to read while tending sheep, and being given newspapers and theological works by his employer's wife.
In 1790 he began ten years of service to James Laidlaw of Blackhouse in the Yarrow valley. Hogg later said that Laidlaw was more like a father to him than an employer. Seeing how hard he was working to improve himself, Laidlaw offered to help by making books available for Hogg from his own library, and through a local lending library. Hogg also began composing songs to be sung by local girls. He became a lifelong friend of his master's son, William Laidlaw, himself a minor writer and later the amanuensis of Walter Scott. It was at this time that Hogg, his eldest brother, and several cousins, formed a literary society of shepherds.
Hogg first became familiar with the work of the recently deceased Robert Burns in 1797, after having the poem Tam o' Shanter read to him. During this period Hogg wrote plays and pastorals, and continued producing songs. His work as a sheep drover stimulated an interest in the Scottish Highlands, and over the next few years Hogg took a number of walking tours in summer time. In 1800 he left Blackhouse to help take care of his parents at Ettrickhouse. His collection Scottish Pastorals was published early in 1801 to favorable reviews. His patriotic song "Donald Macdonald" also achieved popularity.
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