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James Hogg: Scotland’s Shepherd Poet

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This is a guest post by Valentina Bold and Nancy Groce. It has been updated to include the video of the James Hogg Symposium. Scroll down or read on to watch the symposium.

Bust portrait of James Hogg. Engraving.
James Hogg. Frontispiece from The Queen’s Wake: A Legendary Poem.

On February 21, 2020, the American Folklife Center joined the University of Stirling to present a one-day public symposium celebrating the 250th anniversary of the contributions the influential Scottish song-maker, folklore collector, novelist, and poet James Hogg (1770-1835). Often called “The Ettrick Shepherd,” Hogg (1770-1835) was a colorful, often flamboyant, and influential presence on both sides of the Atlantic. Inspired by Robert Burns, a colleague of Walter Scott, and friend of Lord Byron, Hogg played a major role in creating and promoting Scottish culture, both within Scotland and internationally.

Widely read in 19th century America, today Hogg is best remembered for his novels and compilations of folk poetry, including the disturbing and, some might say, surreal novel “The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner” (1824) and his two-volume folksong collection “Jacobite Reliques” (1819 -21). In addition to highlighting his contributions, this symposium, for the first time, will compare his work with that of more recent American performers and collectors, such as Woody Guthrie, Huddie Ledbetter (Lead Belly), Aunt Molly Jackson, and other analogous American figures who served as intermediaries between the worlds of folk, popular, and literary culture. Speakers will explore issues around folklore, field collecting, song transmission, class and creation over the past three centuries.

Scottish scholar and symposium coordinator Valentina Bold has been studying, and publishing on, Hogg’s work for over thirty years. She first in encountered “The Ettrick Shepherd” by (good) chance in the 1980s. Her boyfriend (now husband) was planting trees by St Mary’s Loch, in Selkirkshire, Scotland, very close to where James Hogg was born and died. In the Glen Café there, he bought a copy of “Selected Stories and Sketches,” by James Hogg, edited by the late Hogg scholar, Douglas Mack; when he had finished reading, he passed it on to Valentina.

Three-quarter length portrait of James Hogg.
James Hogg, 1770 – 1835. Poet; ‘The Ettrick Shepherd’ Painting by Sir John Watson Gordon. Find it at the National Galleries of Scotland.

Valentina was immediately captivated by Hogg’s rural sketches, ranging from the naturalistic to the supernatural; by Hogg’s good sense and sense of humor, and by his brilliance as a rural writer, who championed Scottish culture. Then a researcher in the Scottish Borders, exploring farming history, Hogg caught her attention, and captured her imagination. Later, as a graduate student in Newfoundland, Canada, working with Scottish folklorist David Buchan, Valentina was able to undertake fieldwork in the Ettrick and Yarrow Valleys: James Hogg heartlands. She researched the influence of Scottish tradition on his work, and how his life and work is remembered in Scottish tradition. Valentina’s book, James Hogg: A Bard of Nature’s Making (2007) explores Hogg’s work, and legacy, as a self-taught writer and song collector, in the tradition of fellow Scottish writers Allan Ramsay and Robert Burns. She looks at how his work influenced other Scottish song collectors and writers, contemporary and later, such as Allan Cunningham, Janet Hamilton and James Young Geddes. Valentina argues that Hogg’s influence continued well into the twentieth century, reflected in the work of Scottish poets like Hugh MacDiarmid.

The James Hogg Symposium at the Library was complemented by other Hogg 250th anniversary events throughout Scotland and beyond, including a major conference, “James Hogg 250,” at the University of Stirling (July 1– 3, 2020); a roundtable discussion at the 3rd World Congress of Scottish Literatures in Prague (June 24 – 28, 2020); and “Reworking James Hogg” (April 4, 2020) at the University of Dundee. Hogg 250th birthday celebrations also occurred in Hogg’s village of Ettrick and other Scottish towns and cities including Melrose and Edinburgh.

In addition to Dr. Bold, speakers at the Hogg Symposium included the distinguished cultural commentator and Scots language expert Dr. Billy Kay; the noted Hogg scholar and editor of recent editions of Hogg’s works, Dr. Adrian Hunter from the University of Stirling; and Sheena Wellington, one of Scotland’s leading traditional singers and a respected interpreter of Hogg’s song. They will be joined by American Folklife Center scholars and staff members Todd Harvey, Nancy Groce, Betsy Peterson, and Stephen Winick. An afternoon of presentations and discussions were capped by a performance of Hogg’s songs featuring Ms. Wellington. (To hear her and others perform Hogg songs and learn more about James Hogg, visit this link.)

The James Hogg Symposium is just one in an ongoing series of American Folklife Center events on Scotland, most notably the major 2009 Symposium “Robert Burns at 250: Poetry, Politics & Performance,” whose webcasts you can view here. The American Folklife Center archive also boasts significant holdings of Scottish and Scottish-American materials including field recordings, songsters, and Benjamin Botkin Lectures and Homegrown concerts on Scottish and Scottish-American topics.

The Hogg Symposium was free and open to the public. It was supported by the American Folklife Center, the University of Stirling, and Scottish Government. Seats are available on a first-come, first-served basis.  Watch the video in the player below!

Further Reading on James Hogg

Bold, Valentina. James Hogg: A Bard of Nature’s Making. Peter Lang, 2007.

Hogg, James. Collected Letters. 3 vols. ed. Gillian Hughes. Edinburgh University Press, 2005- 2008.

Hogg, James. Four Tales. Canongate, 2003.

Hogg, James. Highland Tours: The Ettrick Shepherd’s Travels in the Scottish Highlands and Western Isles in 1802, 1803 and 1804. ed William F. Laughlan. Byways, 1981.

Hogg, James. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. ed. Adrian Hunter. Broadview Literary Texts, 2001 (1824)

Hogg, James. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. ed. Valentina Bold Merchiston Press, 2009 (1824)

Hogg, James. Selected Tales and Sketches. ed. Douglas Mack, Scottish Academic Press, 1983.

Hughes, Gillian. James Hogg: A Life. Edinburgh University Press, 2007.

Miller, Karl. Electric Shepherd: A Likeness of James Hogg, Faber & Faber, 2003.

The Stirling / South Carolina edition of the Complete Works of James Hogg. Edinburgh University Press, 2005 –



Comments (2)

  1. Thank you for this article on
    James Hogg.l was first introduced to him at the University of Edinburgh some years ago.Now my interest is sparked again to read his work.
    While at U of Edinburgh,(non matriculating)one of my classes was Scottish Literature…also Scottish Ethnology.
    Most of the books are out of my price range,but I hope I can him online.
    On a personal note,I am tracing my family tree.My paternal grandmother was a Groce.She lived in Scotsville, Kentucky.
    My maternal grandmother was a Harvey,from Louisiana.
    Any information would be extremely welcome.
    Thanks to everyone for the brilliant work at the Library of Congress!

  2. Speaking of family trees, my maternal grandfather was William Charles Hogg from County Derry, Northern Ireland. One of my cousins has traced him back to a James Hogg in Scotland — about the same year of birth, but not the same person. Thanks always for your wonderful postings!

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