Academic journal article The Byron Journal

'Native Energy': Byron and Hogg as Scottish Poets

Academic journal article The Byron Journal

'Native Energy': Byron and Hogg as Scottish Poets

Article excerpt

In Canto X of Don Juan, Byron famously refers to himself as Scottish: 'But I am half a Scot by birth, and bred / A whole one' (17). He describes Scotland in the passage that follows as a land of lost innocence, using images drawn from Shakespeare's Macbeth and Scott's The Lay of the Last Minstrel:

All my boy feelings, all my gentler dreams

Of what I then dreamt, clothed in their own pall,

Like Banquo's offspring; - floating past me seems

My childhood in this childishness of mine:

I care not - 'tis a glimpse of 'Auld Lang Syne'. (18)

'I "scotched, not killed," the Scotchman in my blood', he says, 'And love the land of "mountain and of flood"' (19). He is not, in other words, the man Scott scorns - 'with soul so dead, / Who never to himself hath said, / This is my own, my native land!'1 In this context Byron is a Scottish writer interacting with other Scottish writers, among them not only Sir Walter Scott but also James Hogg, the self-educated shepherd who had remade himself as a professional author.

Scott seems to have formed the first link between two men who at first glance were worlds apart, yet who achieved poetic fame at much the same time: with the publication of the first two cantos of Childe Harold in 1812, Byron instantly became a famous poet; James Hogg, if not exactly awaking one morning to find himself famous, had certainly found that with the publication of The Queen's Wake in 1813 he was 'received into the guild of Poets' after years of aspiration and effort to that end.2 Byron read The Queen's Wake with great admiration, and had written enthusiastically about it to Walter Scott in a letter of 27 September 1813, now unfortunately lost. In his reply of 6 November, however, Scott declared, 'the author of the Queen's Wake will be delighted with your approbation',3 and he clearly took pleasure in repeating Byron's praise. This encouraged Hogg to begin a direct correspondence with Byron himself the following summer when he had a favour to ask of him.

A miscellaneous writer named R. A. Davenport had recently solicited Hogg, through their mutual Edinburgh friend Dr Robert Anderson, for contributions to the Poetical Register.4 This periodical, published, like the British Critic, by Rivingtons, had begun in 1801 and included a substantial section of original poetry, mostly by lesserknown poets. Hogg clearly thought the idea worth imitating, and, as a now-celebrated poet himself with a rapidly extending acquaintance among other celebrated poets, he hoped to include the big guns of contemporary poetry among his contributors - Scott, Wordsworth, Southey and even perhaps Lord Byron. On 3 June 1814 Hogg wrote Byron 'a letter from the banks of Yarrow with the name of a stranger at the bottom of it', as he expressed it, explaining his project as follows:

It is to establish a poetical repository in Edin. to be continued half-yearly part of it to consist of original poetry and the remainder to be filled up with short reviews or characters of every poetical work published in the interim and in order to give it currency at first and secure subscribers to a certain requisite amount we are desirous of procuring something original from every great poet in Britain for the early numbers at least. [...] I have been long wriggling with this and that friend to procure me a promise of something from you till the other day happening to mention it to Scott he told me in what warm and impressive terms you had mentioned me in some letters to him, and said that he was sure you would attend to myself sooner than to any that could apply for me which induced me to use this liberty with your lordship.5

Byron's kindly reply promising to send Hogg something for the 'Poetical Repository' opened a lively and informal correspondence between the two poets. Unfortunately, most of Byron's side of the correspondence (including this response) has not survived,6 thanks to the avidity of unscrupulous collectors of the relics of the poet: in his 'Memoir' Hogg reported the letters 'stolen from me by some one or other of my tourist visitors, for I was so proud of these letters, that I would always be showing them to every body'. …

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