Robert was brought up with Mr. Wringhim, the laird paying a certain allowance for him yearly; and there the boy was early inured to all the sternness and severity of his pastor's arbitrary and unyielding creed. He was taught to pray twice every day, and seven times on Sabbath days; but he was only to pray for the elect, and, like Devil of old, doom all that were aliens from God to destruction. He had never, in that family into which he had been as it were adopted, heard aught but evil spoken of his reputed father and brother; consequently he held them in utter abhorrence, and prayed against them every day...
One of the central questions of the text is whether Gil-Martin is a manifestation of Robert's diseased psyche or if he is actually the Devil. The way that Robert was raised can certainly be used as evidence for the former, for Wringhim and Rabina's rearing rendered Robert bitter, spiteful, intense, suspicious, and dogmatic. His most impressionable years were shaped by two religious zealots with an ax to grind, and it is no wonder the child turned out to be capable of such anger and vitriol. His warped way of thinking can certainly be accredited to these early years, and could have given way to Gil-Martin. Or, equally problematic, the way Robert was reared made him more susceptible to the devil, if that is what Gil-Martin is. It is ironic that the son of two such fanatical Christians should end up plagued by the devil.
He saw, delineated in the cloud, the shoulders, arms, and features of a human being of the most dreadful aspect. The face was the face of his brother, but dilated to twenty times the natural size.
When the Editor details this event, it is frightening and intriguing: the reader, like George, has no idea what is going on. While it is assumed there must be some sort of rational explanation, the supernatural aspects hold sway over the imagination. The reader assumes that Robert's narrative will provide clarity as to what really happened, but in one of the many instances where the memoir fails to answer questions, Robert's account of the trip up the mountainside says nothing about the specter. The questions are many: how did the face show up there? Was it Gil-Martin? In Robert's narrative, who was the white lady? The scene exemplifies Hogg's tendency to conflate and confound the scientific and the supernatural.
The Honourable Thomas Drummond became a distinguished officer in the Austrian service, and died in the memorable year for Scotland, 1715; and this is all with which history, justiciary records, and tradition, furnish me relating to these matters.
These are the final lines of the Editor's narrative, and they are, to say the least, rather anticlimactic. They are the quintessential whimper, as opposed to a bang. The Editor has no intelligence of Robert or his mother's whereabouts. He has no closure, no finality; the tale is open-ended. All he can do is lamely end with a comment about Thomas Drummond, who is, all things considered, a very minor character. The sort of concrete facts like that of Thomas Drummond and his fate do not apply to Robert, for his life and his story defy any logical mode of storytelling. The Editor's narrative and Robert's memoirs, even when taken together, remain open, fungible, and ambivalent.
"You think I am your brother," said he; "or that I am your second self."
When Gil-Martin first presents himself to the astonished Robert he is wearing the face of George Colwan, and acknowledges Robert's belief that he may be his brother or a "second self.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines the ‘second self’ as a proverbial term for a "friend who agrees absolutely with one's tastes and opinions, or for whose welfare one cares as much as for one's own." A more sinister way of looking at the second self is the doppelganger, a German term combining the word for "double" and "goer" to suggest a figure that looks just like oneself. As Merriam Webster's entry clarifies, "According to age-old German folklore, all living creatures have a spirit double who is invisible but identical to the living individual. These second selves are perceived as being distinct from ghosts (which appear only after death), and sometimes they are described as the spiritual opposite or negative of their human counterparts." What makes Gil-Martin so horrifying is that he is multiple people's doppelganger: Robert, George, Drummond, and more. His shape-shifting quality is utterly destabilizing to himself and to the narrative as a whole.
He, indeed, pretends great strictness of orthodoxy regarding some of the points of doctrine embraced by the reformed church; but you do not seem to perceive that both you and he are carrying these points to a dangerous extremity. Religion is a sublime and glorious thing, the bonds of society on earth, and the connector of humanity with the Divine nature; but there is nothing so dangerous to man as the wresting of any of its principles, or forcing them beyond their due bounds: this is of all others the readiest way to destruction.
Blanchard's admonishing speech to Robert about Gil-Martin is an excellent summation of the essential problems with religious fanaticism. Gil-Martin and Robert are taking the precepts of Christianity to a length they should not go, which ends up destroying man and religion both. This is intended to sound rational to the reader, and the responses of Gil-Martin and Robert should be analyzed. If Gil-Martin is the devil, it makes sense that he would respond with wanting to destroy Blanchard, for he would not want this man to influence Robert. If Gil-Martin is a manifestation of Robert's mind, then it also makes sense he would want to eradicate Blanchard because he would be a pinprick of conscience that his mind may not be able to sustain alongside his more bellicose, bitter elements.
I will not deny that my own immediate impressions of this affair in some degree differed from this statement.
This statement is actually a bit of foreshadowing in that it signifies that Robert is starting to lose sense of what he actually doing; this will progress to the point that he will be told he stole lands away from a young woman, seduced a young woman, murdered the woman and his mother, and committed numerous other atrocities. Robert's lack of understanding in regards to his role in the events of the Editor's Narrative mirrors the reader's lack of understanding; at some points, then, Hogg forces us to identify with Robert because we also want to fill in the blanks of the objective, factual account related to us, but find it nearly impossible to do so.
It was like the announcement of death to one who had of late deemed himself free, if not of something worse than death, and of longer continuance. There was I doomed to remain in misery, subjugated, soul and body, to one whose presence was become more intolerable to me than aught on earth could compensate.
Throughout the Editor's narrative, Robert is a malevolent, monstrous, unfathomably horrid zealot, whose ruin we root for. It seems unfathomable that reading his own words will make us feel anything else about him, and indeed, the first few lines of his text are whining and histrionic. However, Hogg does the unimaginable by making us start to feel sorry for Robert; after all, he is either plagued by the devil or mentally ill, both of which are awful. After the move to Dalcastle, Robert's life truly begins to unravel. He is persecuted, plagued, and scourged by both the one figure he felt closest to—Gil-Martin—and by everyone else with whom he comes into contact. The way in which his life disintegrates is what allows us to consider the work a possible allegory: the decline of this "justified sinner” is the decline of all who deviate from the path of genuine Christian righteousness.
It was in vain that I reasoned on the sinfulness of the deed, and on its damning nature; he made me condemn myself out of my own mouth, by allowing the absolute nature of justifying grace and the impossibility of the elect ever falling from the faith, or the glorious end to which they were called; and then he said, this granted, self-destruction was the act of a hero, and none but a coward would shrink from it, to suffer a hundred times more every day and night that passed over his head.
One of the things that Robert struggles with throughout the text is the "infallibility of the elect.” In Calvinism, the elect are those predestined by God for salvation; all others are damned. Theoretically, that means that their sins both past and present are forgiven. Now, according to most Calvinist adherents, this does not mean that the elect are not subject to moral law. The antinomians chose to believe that the elect were exempt from the moral law in this way; they were seen as heretical by the Church. Ian Duncan writes that their beliefs were more of "an ethical impasse" rather than an outright contradiction, but that "those who are hardened against [repentance] cannot by definition be among the elect."
My hour is at hand. Almighty God, what is this that I am about to do! The hour of repentance is past, and now my fate is inevitable. Amen, for ever! I will now seal up my little book, and conceal it; and cursed be he who trieth to alter or amend.
Gil-Martin has convinced Robert that suicide is the only course of action (or, Robert has convinced himself of that). Theologians consider suicide to be self-murder and thus a violation of the Sixth Commandment; there can also be no repentance or salvation. The quote here references Revelation 22:18-19: "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." The Editor doesn't exactly add to Robert's book, instead presenting it and saying he cannot comment or judge, but he does fill out the story in a way that can be deemed some sort of addition. Robert's book's power is of such strength, however, that it seems to preserve his corpse better than it should. Only the binding disintegrates and the memoir is sound.
With regard to the work itself, I dare not venture a judgment, for I do not understand it. I believe no person, man or woman, will ever peruse it with the same attention that I have done, and yet I confess that I do not comprehend the writer's drift.
The Editor provides the opening narrative and the tale of how he came to find the manuscript, but he claims he can offer nothing to clarify it. He speculates as to what is wrong with Robert, coming to the conclusion that he is no doubt some sort of fool, religious fanatic, or madman. He does not acknowledge anything supernatural in Robert's behavior, but also does not try to explain away the things that cannot be explained—the fact that others saw Gil-Martin, the circumstances of Bell's testimony and George's death, the incident on the mountain, etc. Thus, the end of the book does not offer any sort of closure to the reader unless they come to terms with that very fact, and understand that narrative closure in an elusive thing even in the most seemingly "closed" texts.
Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.