Home » People »


James Hogg


Text Too Small?


James Hogg (1770-1835)


James Hogg was born in the winter of 1770 at Ettrickhill (or Ettrick Hall) Farm in Selkirkshire, to Robert Hogg, a shepherd and sheep farmer, and his wife, Margaret Laidlaw, the second of four children. When he was six years old, his father was ruined, by a combination of plummeting sheep prices and a debtor absconding. The family was saved, according to Hogg, by the “late worthy Mr. Brydon, of Crosslee”, who took the lease on the Ettrickhill farm and employed Robert Hogg as shepherd. The family’s perilous financial situation meant that James Hogg’s formal education had to be curtailed, and  he spent the rest of what would now be considered his childhood working on local farms as a menial farmhand, becoming a shepherd in his late teens. This was an important economical development, as it provided enough time for Hogg to practice his reading skills, more or less neglected through necessity.

In terms of history and the Minstrelsy, Hogg’s employment at Blackhouse Farm in 1790 was an important milestone.  He remained at Blackhouse for a decade and had access to the range of books which the Laidlaws of Blackhouse had. Hogg also struck up a friendship with William Laidlaw, the son of  James Laidlaw, the farmer. It was through this friendship that Scott met Hogg in 1802, although not at Blackhouse, as Hogg had left the employ of Laidlaw in 1800, to help his aging father with farming Ettrickhill.

Hogg was first published in 1794, while working at Blackhouse, when his “The Mistakes of a Night” appeared in the Scots Magazine. Scottish Pastoral , his first book, was published in 1801 in Edinburgh, and after meeting Scott, Hogg also contributed versions of ballads for the third volume of the Minstrelsy.

Around 1804, Hogg considered moving to the island of Harris, as sheep farming was one of the emergent industries of the Highland and Islands. He travelled North and had made plans regarding the move, but the project fell through, leaving Hogg with not inconsiderable losses. He found himself shepherding work in Dumfriesshire and with the proceeds of the publications The Mountain Bard and The Shepherd's Guide: being a Practical Treatise on the Diseases of Sheep, he was able to set himself up as a sheep farmer.

By 1810, however, Hogg was bankrupt, his farming venture having failed. It was from this time that he strove to be a professional writer, moving to Edinburgh. At times, he had to rely on the help of friends and supporters – for example, when his own publication The Spy foundered and his book The Forest Minstrel did not sell well, it was a friend from the Borders, John Grieve, who supported him financially.

With the publication of The Queen’s Wake, however, Hogg’s fortunes finally turned around. The piece was extremely well received, and over the next few years, it was followed by other works, poetry and prose, with his first book of fiction – The Brownie of Bodsbeck – being published in 1818.

He married Margaret Phillips in 1820, and although there was a substantial age gap between them, it seems to have been a happy marriage. Hogg returned to farming, this time at Mount Benger, with his wife’s marriage settlement providing a financial cushion. Another unforeseen financial disaster loomed, however, when one of Margaret’s relatives absconded, leaving her family responsible for all his debts. Hogg found himself having to support his in-laws, instead of receiving support from them. However, he struggled on with the farm, combining life there with the publication of a series of literary and poetic works, including The Three Perils of Man, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, and the completion of the epic poem Queen Hynde, which had been abandoned in 1817.

With the close of the lease of Mount Benger farm, Hogg found himself bankrupt once more, but this time with a wife and family to support. However, he had been given the farm Altrive Lake rent-free, by the Duke of Buccleuch in 1815, and so he and his family moved there, where he lived for the rest of his life.

He fell ill, then died in November 1835. He was buried in Ettrick churchyard.


If you have a Spotify account, you can listen to these versions of ballads which were published in the editions of The MInstrelsy of the Scottish Border .
Remember to log into your Spotify account

If there is a School of Scottish Studies Archive Audio Track related to a specific ballad, we have included this in the left sidebar.

Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border playlist


Home » People »