Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Sinner Manuscript
Robert writes that his life has been one of sorrow, anger, exultation, and vengeance. He was born an outcast and his own father hated him; he considered the Reverend Wringhim his father as well as his minister. He learned from him and respected him.
When he was young some of his teachers were uncomfortable with him, but Wringhim and his mother defended him. He stressed over his state of grace, wondering if he would always be unregenerate. He felt a strong sense of ire toward the wickedness of the world.
He disliked his father’s serving-man John Barnet, but assumed he was one of the justified so he refrained from causing trouble. One day Barnet criticized Wringhim, so Robert went and asked his father about Barnet; Wringhim said he did not think John was one of the justified. He told his father he had been distressed to hear John speak ill of him, and by saying that he was actually Wringhim’s son. This incensed Wringhim, and he went to confront John.
John’s manners offended the reverend, but John refused to say that he actually thought that Wringhim was the boy’s father, as he did not know for sure. Wringhim contested that the boy might look like him because of influence, not because of actual patrimony. Wringhim threatened that if John would not promise to never say to anyone what he thought, he would take the keys of the church from him and dismiss him from service. John pulled out the keys and threw them to the floor and quit.
Robert became more sensible of his transgressions, noting how much he sinned. He felt like the multitude, not the magnitude, of his sins was more problematic. He saw that he was prone to lying. Now that he knew he was saved, though, he felt more comfortable confessing the sins.
He wrote of a boy who was his superior in school, especially in Latin: M’Gill. He was sorely vexed and plotted to set Master Wilson against him. He did this first by drawing crude caricatures of Mr. Wilson and putting them in M’Gill’s book; M’Gill was known as the only boy who drew. Mr. Wilson was furious and M’Gill left school in anger after denying it. For a time, Robert was the head of the class.
When M’Gill returned, though, he resumed his former supremacy and Robert was furious. One day he encountered M’Gill in the fields and the boy told him to leave him alone. They fought and Robert was bested. As they fought John Barnet came and broke it up, but Robert was not thankful.
Robert wrote of how he taught himself how to abhor women, and also never sinned in terms of idolatry and misbelief.
He next comes to the most important component of his narrative. By this time he had been walking before the Lord for a season. He had been working with his father, but had grown tired of his mother. One day, though, he entered a room and his father stood and welcomed him into the community of the justified. Robert was shocked and exultant. He knew that no transgression could alter his acceptance into heaven now.
He ran out into the fields to rejoice, feeling like an eagle soaring over lesser beings. He saw a young man walking towards him and felt drawn to him. As they came closer Robert was shocked to see the young man looked exactly like him. The man said, “You think I am your brother….or that I am your second self” (89). Robert asked him to celebrate with him and the man said he would be flattered and honored to do so.
The two spent time together and Robert was pleased to see how deferential the young man was. At the end of the day he did realize he had not praised God as he intended to, but had instead been captivated by the person who seemed to know more than anyone else he’d ever met. He started to feel like he was never to be free of him. This was the day of his justification, the day of his eighteenth birthday, March 25th, 1704.
When he returned home his mother was horrified, telling him he was much changed. He did not believe her, but his father said the same. When he mentioned the young man his father asked if that man’s opinions differed from his; when Robert said no, he said the man was fine.
The next day Wringhim officially blessed Robert, and his words about taking up the sword for the Lord impressed themselves upon Robert. Those people were already damned, and saints could never inherit the earth until the sinners were all gone.
In the woods Robert met the youth again and saw him reading a Bible. He looked different, and told Robert that he was given the art of changing his countenance with sensation and study. When he met someone he could assume his likeness and even know his secret thoughts. Robert marveled at this, especially when the youth told him that he’d seen Robert’s thoughts, which were profound and varied.
They spoke on the infallibility of the elect, and the youth encouraged him to remember that no sin of his was too great to be forgiven by God now that he was one of the elect, and that God preordained everything. Robert began to feel like this person was his guide.
His parents told him he appeared different. He did realize that his friend and he had not prayed together, but when he asked him, the youth said that he disapproved of it because man made it selfish.
People around the area told his father they had seen Robert with a young man, but described him differently every time. His parents’ comments became onerous to him. The one thing they said that got to him was that he did not know his friend’s name or where he lived.
Robert asked the young man his name, and was told “Gil-Martin,” although it was not his Christian name. Robert was stunned at the uniqueness of this appellation. Gil-Martin said he did not have parents to speak of and his lodging shifted all the time. Robert concluded he was actually Czar Peter of Russia, who was said to be traveling Europe in disguise.
One day the two met Mr. Blanchard, a local and well-regarded minister. After they parted, Blanchard told Robert how much he hated Gil-Martin, saying that his mental faculties and the extremity of his religious opinions were disconcerting. He told Robert that his ideas on predestination were taken to an extent that overthrew religion and revelation. Surprised, Robert decided to stop being friends with Gil-Martin, but could not actually do it.
After a few days of excoriating Mr. Blanchard, Gil-Martin calmly suggested getting rid of him. Robert was shocked, but felt he had to go along with the force of his friend’s reasoning about eradicating enemies of the Lord. Robert’s dreams played this out as well, and after he went and heard Blanchard preach what he considered blasphemy, he became more resolved. It was still difficult, though, and he felt like he approved more in theory than practice. He looked up into heaven and thought he saw golden weapons, which inflamed his zeal.
The next morning Gil-Martin brought out two golden pistols and the two hid behind a bush. Blanchard walked by, all alone in his conversation with God. Gil-Martin made a noise and urged Robert to fire, but he could not. Gil-Martin fired but Blanchard was only wounded. When Gil-Martin yelled “Coward!” Robert fired and Blanchard was killed. They did not touch him. Three men started approaching and Robert ran away, although Gil-Martin walked by them wearing the guise of someone else.
A young preacher was arrested for the murder of Blanchard on account of the three men’s testimony that they saw him walking away with a pistol from the dead man. Horror and fear spread throughout Glasgow, and political and religious differences were manifest. Gil-Martin and Robert decided they should get rid of the heterodox and evil teachers of bad doctrine.
For a time Robert saw his friend less, and he began to be afraid that Gil-Martin was leaving him after he realized he did not know where he lived. Gil-Martin denied that he would do this, and then announced to Robert that there was something Robert needed to do: to kill his natural father and brother. Robert was horrified and repulsed by this and said he refused to carry it out–the Lord’s hand should take care of this vengeance. Over time, though, especially when Gil-Martin told him it would be better if he possessed the riches and the house of the Laird, Robert began to entertain the idea. His weak mind still wrestled with the infallibility of the elect, and he was not sure if he would be forgiven. Gil-Martin spoke to him of his high calling and his future reward in heaven.
Essentially, the novel begins again–this time with Robert’s firsthand account of his life. The reader expects to receive clarification about some of the events of the Editor’s Narrative, and initially, Robert’s memoirs seem as if they might provide that. We hear his account of his childhood and his hatred of his father and brother, and how concerned he was with being one of the elect. We see how the strict antinomian teachings of his mother and adopted father twist him into a cruel, fanatical child who can brook no competition, insult, or criticism. He grows up obsessively worried about sin–his own and others’.
On the day of his eighteenth birthday, he experiences two momentous events: his inclusion into the elect, and his meeting Gil-Martin. When he becomes one of the elect he glories, “no bypast transgression, nor any future act of my own, or of other men, could be instrumental in altering the decree” (88). This is soon translated into his sense that it is his job to cut down the wicked, as it is God’s will and he cannot be punished. Gil-Martin, whom we will discuss momentarily, encourages this line of thinking, telling Robert, “dare you say that there is not enough merit in [God’s] great atonement to annihilate all your sins, let them be as heinous and atrocious as they may?” (97.) Blanchard warns Robert of the dangers of this perspective, telling him, “both you and he are carrying these points to a dangerous extremity…you and he are carrying your ideas of absolute predestination, and its concomitant appendages, to an extent that overthrows all religion and revelation together” (100). For his trouble, Blanchard is summarily murdered by Robert and Gil-Martin; and Robert, while always uneasy about the infallibility of the elect, generally embraces it as his guiding principle.
Gil-Martin is one of the most enigmatic literary creations. It is not clear if he is a manifestation of Robert’s disturbed psyche or if he is actually the Devil. If the former is the case, how is it that others, such as Arabella and Bell, as well as local townspeople, see Gil-Martin? How is it possible that George’s torments proceed even while Robert is sick in bed for a month? Hogg offers no conclusions about the mysterious Gil-Martin, whose very name means “fox” in Gaelic.
The scholar Elizabeth W. Harries takes up the issues of doubling, narrative, and Romanticism in the novel, noting how, when Robert takes up the story, it is the same sequence of events in the same order as the Editor’s narrative: is repetitious, and doubles back. She identifies the various doubles and lookalikes in the text, from the spectre of Robert in the haze to the multiple Drummonds to the various visages of Gil-Martin as George, Robert, or other young men. This duplication means that characters’ identities are fragmented and made less concrete: “duplication in the novel always involves loss, the loss of stability and wholeness. A self multiplied is no self at all.” Indeed, as Robert continues his story, the more he associates with Gil-Martin–his “second self” but actually an invader and occupier of others–the more he loses his actual self.
In terms of narrative structure, Harries notes that the double narratives reverse the traditional Gothic order of things in that the objective account comes first and the subjective second. The second Editor’s note does nothing to clarify the memoirs. The two are completely divergent in tone and perspective, but the Editor’s writing is flawed as well: it is “partial and faulty. Neither his vision nor his language can encompass the story he is attempting to tell.” Hogg is trying to emphasize that “neither editorial fiction with its encircling rings of documents and reports nor confessional first-person fiction with its subjective continuity and intensity can give a satisfactory account of things.” Hogg makes us question both these forms and encourages us to be wary of any narrative structure trying to account for experience.
Harries concludes by acknowledging Hogg’s allusion to the Ouroboros as being fundamentally impossible, for there is no “ideal of the rounded aesthetic whole." (The Ouroboros is an ancient symbol of a dragon eating its own tail, which can be symbolic of narrative closure.) He challenges readers’ assumptions that a novel will be complete and rational and closed and cohesive.