Biography of James Hogg

James Hogg was a Scottish poet and novelist and best known for his novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824).

Hogg was born in 1770 at Ettrick Forest, Selkirkshire, Scotland to an impoverished family. The bankruptcy of his father, a tenant farmer, disrupted his early schooling; he ended up teaching himself how to read and write by utilizing the library of one of his employers. He gained a reputation as a poet early in life, publishing his first poem anonymously in the Scots Magazine in 1794. By 1801 he had published his first collection, entitled Scottish Pastorals, Poems, Songs, Etc., and in 1810 he moved to Edinburgh where he became part of literary circles. He befriended Walter Scott, who "discovered him" when the younger man sent submissions to The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border—however, their relationship was occasionally tempestuous.

Believing himself to be the successor of Robert Burns, Hogg published The Mountain Bard, a series of ballad imitations, in 1807. In 1810 he started a periodical, The Spy, which provided insights and gossip about the literary scene. It lasted only a year, however. In 1813 he published the wildly popular The Queen’s Wake, a long poem that incorporated Scottish history and nationalism. This helped solidify Hogg’s reputation. His next work was a collection of parodies of the works of great poets such as Byron and Wordsworth.

He spent his time both in Edinburgh and a farm at Altrive Lake, given to him by the duke of Buccleuch. He married Margaret Phillips, and they had five children. While in Edinburgh he participated in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine; the publication issued satires and sketches.

In 1818 Hogg debuted his first novel, The Brownie of Bodsbeck, which concerned the Covenanting revolution of 1679. In the next several years he worked on songs and stories but suffered from financial difficulties. His second novel, The Three Perils of Man: or, War, Women and Witchcraft (1822), was followed by a sequel, The Three Perils of Woman: or, Love, Leasing and Jealousy (1823); these romances were subtle critiques of Scott and his elision of historical facts regarding atrocities in his novels.

Hogg’s most famous work, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, was published anonymously in 1824 because the author himself was worried about the depravity of his gothic horror tale. Critic Ross MacKay calls it “a masterpiece that questions the very basis of history, narrative representation, and Enlightenment rationality.”

The success of this novel did not mean Hogg did not suffer from dire financial straits, but he kept up publishing stories and poems in periodicals. He wintered in London in 1832-1833. In 1833 he paid tribute to his deceased friend by publishing Familiar Anecdotes of Sir Walter Scott, which angered Scott’s son-in-law because some of the anecdotes were a tad ribald.

Hogg died on November 21, 1835. He is buried in Ettrick Churchyard. Upon his death, Wordsworth wrote a eulogy for him (despite the fact that he considered him “coarse”) entitled "Extempore Effusion upon the Death of James Hogg.”

Study Guides on Works by James Hogg