Celebrated Scottish writer, James Hogg (1770-1835) was born near the head of the Ettrick Valley and lived in either Ettrick or Yarrow almost all of his life. Although he had no formal schooling he inherited a rich and vivid tradition of ballad and legend. His first experience of the literary world was in helping Walter Scott collect the ballads for the latter’s Border Minstrelsy, which fired him with the ambition to become a man of letters in his own right. His iconic, psychological thriller, ‘Confessions of a Justified Sinner’, the story of a religious maniac who commits a series of atrocious murders, has influenced many of today’s generation of writers. Despite his prolific output of verse, song, short stories and plays, and his regular contributions to magazines of the day, Hogg remained a farmer all his life, earning the nickname, ‘The Ettrick Shepherd’.
James Hogg was born in 1770 and lived and worked most of his life in the Scottish Borders. He attended school only briefly, mainly because when he was seven, his father, tenant farmer Robert Hogg, was declared bankrupt, and the young James took work as a cow-herd to supplement his family’s income. There were two main strands to Hogg’s early cultural experience: folk traditions and religion. The family were church-goers and his father was an elder, while his mother was steeped in the oral tradition, relating to her children folk tales and songs of kings, knights and supernatural beings.
As a young man Hogg worked as a shepherd in Selkirkshire and Dumfriesshire, becoming interested in literature in his early twenties, when he attempted writing songs and poems, some of which were published in The Scots Magazine. He moved to Edinburgh in 1810 to pursue a career as a full-time man of letters, after having published poetry and non-fiction while maintaining his day-job as a shepherd. However, in 1813 he returned to Selkirkshire, where he lived and worked in the Duke of Buccleuch's Altrive Farm in Yarrow.
He continued to publish regularly while maintaining a contentious relationship with the Edinburgh literati, including his friend and some-time mentor, Walter Scott.
The James Hogg Exhibition, is now at its most appropriate home at the head of the remote and beautiful Ettrick Valley. It is next door to Ettrickhall, where James Hogg was born towards the end of 1770, and where he lived and worked for the first fifteen years of his life. Just beyond that is his grave, in the peaceful kirkyard of Ettrick Kirk. He was laid to rest there in 1835, beside his parents and grandparents.
This collection has been built up over the years since 1985, when the Ettrick Shepherd’s Festival was held throughout the Borders to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Hogg’s death. In 1994, the exhibition was opened to the public at the newly restored Aikwood Tower; in 2003 it was transferred to the courtyard of Bowhill House. Now it has “come home”.
JAMES HOGG IN THE 21ST CENTURY
Scots poet Rab Wilson became the first James Hogg writer-in-residence in the Scottish Borders in June 2013. His remit was to follow in the footsteps of the Ettrick Shepherd by living and writing in the Ettrick Valley for six weeks.
Mr Wilson, a former Robert Burns Writing Fellow for Dumfries and Galloway, spent August to mid-September in an isolated cottage close to Hogg's birthplace, 20 miles beyond Selkirk, declaring that: “The hills o the Ettrick valley wid be inspirational fir ony poet!” The residency gave birth to “Hairst”, a slim but powerful volume of evocative, characterful words and poetry created by Rab and enhanced by strong, textured, black and white images conceived by Yarrow artist Helen Douglas.
The launch of Hairst was held at Melrose Book Festival in June 2015.
" In 1805 when Walter Scott published his Lay of the Last Minstrel, the notion of a wandering bard turning up on the doorstep would have been far from surprising for the people of the Yarrow and Ettrick valleys for whom the oral traditions of verse and storytelling were still very much alive. In 2015 the publication of Hairst, reflecting the work of the poet Rab Wilson during his residency between 4th August and 16th September 2013, celebrates something rarer and hugely worthy of note.
The James Hogg Residency was the vision of Vicky Davidson, Daphne Jackson and Judy Steel, made possible by the generosity of James Oliver, who lent a cottage at Over Kirkhope. It brought the eyes and ears of a living poet back to all our doorsteps. Captured in this slim volume and coupled with moving images created by Helen Douglas, Rab uses the power of words and of poetry to reconnect us to the power of places we love, to see the familiar with fresh eyes, to meet our forebears and to shine a light on the way we live now. He was inspired. We all could be, for in Hogg’s words, the bard taught even the wandering winds to sing. How wonderful it would be for these time honoured ways and lays to be rediscovered, for there to be a renaissance of such creativity in this special part of the Borders. I commend Hairst for the pleasure it will bring to anyone who opens it and for the inspiration it may provide."
Ettrick, Scottish Borders, Scotland, United Kingdom