IN last week’s Sunday National I described the start of the life of James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, and how we do not know the exact date of birth of this remarkable man of letters, though we do know he was baptised in this week of 1770.

Today my aim is to show how Hogg developed as a writer and made friends with leading literary figures of the day in a life and had a career that never lacked controversy. I will also show how he wrote one of the greatest Scottish novels, The Private Memoirs And Confessions Of A Justified Sinner.

I will also try to show how the Ettrick Shepherd damned the name of Auchtermuchty in Fife and came to write this famous line in Confessions: “Nothing in the world delights a truly religious people so much as consigning them to eternal damnation.”

From the outset, apart from Confessions, I am not going to attempt any form of literary criticism of Hogg’s works. I leave that to the estimable Professor Alan Riach and others. But I will try to put Hogg’s life in historical context, relying on such works as the Memorials Of James Hogg – edited by his daughter Mary Garden and made available online by Cornell University in New York State – and Gillian Hughes’s biography James Hogg: A Life, published in 2007 by Edinburgh University.

The blurb for that latter book exactly described what I think of Hogg: “James Hogg’s life story is one of extraordinary transitions and in his own lifetime he was best known as a heaven-inspired and naive Scottish rustic who featured as the boozing buffoon of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine.

“In his own fascinating Memoir this notoriously open-hearted man was curiously reticent about certain passages in his life. He was a man of apparent contradictions: a partisan Tory with Radical friends; an upholder of oral tradition who eagerly embraced every new development in early 19th-century print culture; a man who wrote against biographical intrusions yet in his own life writing, stories and poems emphasised his persona and origins as the Ettrick Shepherd.

“His formidable intelligence and drive were seldom acknowledged, and his most challenging work disturbed conventional readerly preconceptions.”

So let’s start where I left off on Sunday: his sheep-dealing father having gone bankrupt in 1707, Hogg was himself “farmed out” as a cowherd and shepherd from the age of seven having had just six months of formal education. It was not the end of his childhood learning, however, as his mother Margaret, née Laidlaw, enchanted her son with tales of fairies and ghost and bogles, her own father having been Will Laidlaw, Will o’ Phaup, a shepherd who Hogg said was “the last man to converse with fairies”.

His teens and early 20s were spent in various farm roles, getting one lucky break in 1786 when he went to work for a farmer named Laidlaw whose wife gave him access to newspapers and works of theology that helped him to learn to read properly. At the age of 19, and clearly displaying considerable intelligence and desire for education, Hogg moved to begin 10 years of service to farm owner James Laidlaw, who recognised and encouraged Hogg’s talents – his son William would become Hogg’s lifelong friend.

In 1795, Robert Burns died, and Hogg soon began to think that he could be like the Bard, a rustic who produced sublime poetry in Scots and English – check out his poetic works for yourself to see if he succeeded.

Around that time, Hogg began to collect songs and stories from local people and at the age of 30 began his writing life, having gone home to Ettrick House to look after his elderly parents. In 1801 he had his first publication, Scottish Pastorals, and a year later Walter Scott employed him to work on Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders. Scott would be a lifelong supporter of Hogg, even if their relationship was often fraught.

Hogg was still very much a farmer and after a failed attempt to secure a farm in the Outer Hebrides, he returned to the Borders, to shepherding and writing poems, his collection The Mountain Bard being published by Constable in 1807.

He had two major love affairs which produced two illegitimate children, and he also ran up a pile of debts. At the age of 40 he “escaped” from his creditors and the perceived disgrace of his love life to Edinburgh where he met his future wife Margaret Phillips and began a magazine, The Spy, which soon failed, though he would later work for Blackwood’s Magazine from 1813.

His work as a poet drew some admiration, and he met the likes of William Wordsworth and John Galt, and though not quite enjoying the fame of Burns, he was a welcome figure in Edinburgh society, famed for his carousing, at least until he wrote a scurrilous column on the mischief of that class. The problem for Hogg was that he played up the part of the Shepherd, drank like the proverbial fish, and that led to him being taken less than seriously. There is also no doubt that he was an egotist who loudly sang his own praises throughout his literary career.

BY now Sir Walter Scott had become a major literary figure and it was perhaps he who convinced Hogg to turn to prose instead of poems.

The two men had developed an unusual friendship. Scott once wrote to a publisher: “Hogg is here, busy with his Jacobite songs. I wish he may get handsomely through, for he is profoundly ignorant of history, and it is an awkward thing to read, in order that you may write.

“I give him all the help I can, but he sometimes poses me. For instance, he came yesterday, open mouth, inquiring what great dignified clergyman had distinguished himself at Killiecrankie – not exactly the scene where one would have expected a churchman to shine – and I found with some difficulty that he had mistaken Major-General Canon, called, in Kennedy’s Latin song, Canonicus Gallovidiensis, for the canon of a cathedral.”

In turn, Hogg wrote to Scott: “Dear Sir Walter! Ye can never suppose that I helang to your School o’ Chivalry ! Ye are the king o’ that school, but I’m the king o’ the Mountain and Fairy School, which is a far higher ane nor yours.”

Nevertheless he took being a novelist very seriously, and wrote The Brownie Of Bodsbeck in 1818 followed by Three Perils of Man: War, Women and Witchcraft, and the Three Perils of Women in quick succession. The latter two have been described as “a strange medley of extravagant incident and beautiful description”. I cannot say as I have been unable to find a copy of any of them. I do know, however, that King George IV, no less, became an admirer of Hogg’s work.

I have a copy of his next novel, The Private Memoirs and Confessions Of A Justified Sinner, which I consider to be a seminal work not just in Scottish but world literature, even it was not recognised as such at the time.

A tale of duality and psychopathy, it features a character based, I consider, on Major Thomas Weir, the Wizard of the West Bow, who was an extreme Calvinist preacher by day and an occultist by night – he was executed for incest and bestiality in Edinburgh in 1670.

There is one passage from Confessions which influences my view. It concerns a strange episode in Auchtermuchty which Hogg singled out for its religiosity and therefore hypocrisy. The Kirk minister fails to turn up for a service and the following ensues: “A strange divine entered the church, by the western door, and advanced solemnly up to the pulpit. The eyes of all the congregation were riveted on the sublime stranger, who was clothed in a robe of black sackcloth, that flowed all around him, and trailed far behind, and they weened him an angel, come to exhort them, in disguise. He read out his text from the Prophecies of Ezekiel, which consisted of these singular words: ‘I will overturn, overturn, overturn it; and it shall be no more, until he come, whose right it is, and I will give it him.’

“From these words he preached such a sermon as never was heard by human ears, at least never by ears of Auchtermuchty. It was a true, sterling, gospel sermon--it was striking, sublime, and awful in the extreme. He finally made out the IT, mentioned in the text, to mean, properly and positively, the notable town of Auchtermuchty. He proved all the people in it, to their perfect satisfaction, to be in the gall of bitterness and bond of iniquity, and he assured them that God would overturn them, their principles, and professions; and that they should be no more, until the Devil, the town’s greatest enemy, came, and then it should be given unto him for a prey, for it was his right, and to him it belonged, if there was not forthwith a radical change made in all their opinions and modes of worship.

“The inhabitants of Auchtermuchty were electrified--they were charmed; they were actually raving mad about the grand and sublime truths delivered to them by this eloquent and impressive preacher of Christianity. ‘He is a prophet of the Lord,’ said one, ‘sent to warn us, as Jonah was sent to the Ninevites.’ ‘Oh, he is an angel sent from Heaven, to instruct this great city,’ said another, ‘for no man ever uttered truths so sublime before.’ The good people of Auchtermuchty were in perfect raptures with the preacher, who had thus sent them to Hell by the slump, tag-rag, and bobtail! Nothing in the world delights a truly religious people so much as consigning them to eternal damnation.”

That last line is still regularly quoted. Hogg knew his work was controversial and published it anonymously, but the Literary Gazette’s review revealed the authorship: “Mystical and extravagant … it is, nevertheless, curious and interesting; a work of irregular genius, such as we might have expected from Mr Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, whose it is.”

Confessions has influenced many writers, the most obvious being Robert Louis Stevenson in such works about duality as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Master Of Ballantrae and the short story recently published in The Sunday National, Markheim. Stevenson wrote: “The book [Confessions] since I read it in black, pouring weather on Tweedside, has always haunted

and puzzled me. It is without doubt a real work of imagination, ponderated and achieved.”

Remarkably, though there have been two theatrical adaptations in recent years by the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh and the 2013 co-production Paul Bright’s Confessions Of Justified Sinner by the National Theatre of Scotland, Summerhall and Tramway – I thought writer Pamela Carter and director Stewart Laing did a brilliant job of updating Hogg – there has never been a film in English, or Scots for that matter, of the book, though bizarrely there was a major film version produced in Poland in 1986. I know Ian Rankin has written a script and one of my favourite actors, David Hayman, has long wanted to make a film, so maybe this 250th anniversary might encourage a producer to get started on a film which, frankly, could be a serious hit in these crazy days.

After Confessions, Hogg turned to collecting and writing poetry, and though he always hovered on the brink of bankruptcy he survived as a writer until his death. Hogg contracted some sort of disease of the liver and died at his cottage of Altrive Lake, on the River Yarrow, on November 21, 1835, at the age of 64. He left a widow and five children.