This phrase has been proverbial since at least the late 14th century – Chaucer uses it in the ‘Nun’s Priest’s Tale’. It is linked to the superstition that a murder victim will reveal the identity of the killer by issuing fresh blood if he or she is close by. Hogg makes use of this folk belief by having George’s body continue to bleed even after his wounds have been treated, “so that when he was laid in the coffin he was like one newly murdered” (p. 99).
" the two women went to Sir Thomas Wallace of Craigie, the Lord Justice Clerk "
The Lord Justice Clerk is the second most powerful judge in Scotland, after the Lord President of the Court of Session. Thomas Wallace, or Lord Craigie, held the post between 1675 and 1680. Since the narrative begins in 1687 and Robert later stipulates the day he meets Gil-Martin as “the 25th day of March 1704” (p. 128), this would seem to be one of Hogg’s occasional errors.
" the memorable year for Scotland, 1715 "
1715 was a significant year in Scottish history as it witnessed a Jacobite rising which pre-empted the larger rebellion of 1745. Resentments were inflamed by both the Act of Union of 1707 and the establishment of the Protestant Hanoverian dynasty with the accession of George I. The rising was led by John Erskine, the 11th Earl of Mar, after he tried and failed to find a position under the new monarch. Secretly returning to Scotland, he raised the banner for James II/VII. However, Mar was not up to the task he had assigned himself and the failure of the rebellion was mainly owing to his incompetence. The Jacobite forces were defeated at Preston by John Campbell’s army (see note for p. 45), despite the latter being much smaller.
Hogg published a collection of songs relating to the Jacobite risings entitled Jacobite Relics (1819). You can read the book here and listen to one of these songs, ‘There’ll never be Peace till Jamie comes Hame’, on the video clip below.
" Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner "
Whilst the Editor’s Narrative employs the allegedly objective style of historical writings, Robert’s ‘memoirs’ draw on the tradition of confessional literature. Rooted in religious works such as St. Augustine’sConfessions – an account of sinful youth and subsequent conversion that provides a clear touchstone for the Private Memoirs – the genre saw a boom in popularity during the Romantic era. The Confessions of Jean-Jacques Rousseau were published posthumously in 1782; Thomas de Quincey’sConfessions of an English Opium-Eater came out in 1821; Philip Meadows Taylor’sConfessions of a Thug in 1839. By aligning Robert’s narrative with these accounts, Hogg brings into play assumptions concerning confessional literature. Most obviously, confession implies self-revelation, honesty and the idea that subjective truth can transcend the observable. Such qualities, however, are not to be found in Robert’s account. It quickly becomes clear that his solipsism and questionable mental state render him incapable of perceiving either himself or those around him with any clarity. His memoirs, resisting any single conclusive interpretation, do not so much illuminate his mind as reveal the countless impenetrable layers of obscuration of which it is composed. Reflecting this, Hogg undermines the idea of a higher narrative authority in the act of retelling the same tale from wildly conflicting viewpoints.
A relic of the True Cross kept in Vienna’s Imperial Treasury - Credit: Gryffindor
Exodus 20:23: “Ye shall not make with me gods of siluer, neither shall ye make vnto you gods of gold.” This is an elaboration on the second commandment which prohibits making graven images. Robert’s moral disapproval can be seen as embodying Reformer’s attitudes towards Catholic practices, particularly those emphasising the material. Catholicism’s veneration of relics attracted particular opprobrium. Calvin wrote at length on the sacrilege of deifying martyrs and saints in this way and was scathing about the authenticity of the relics themselves. As he drily remarked, “if we were to collect all these pieces of the true cross exhibited in various parts, they would form a whole ship's cargo”.
" a man all over spotted with the leprosy of sin "
Leprosy, or Hansen’s Disease, has plagued humankind for over 4,000 years and has long been a source of deep fear and social stigma. It is a bacterial infection which affects the nerves, skin and eyes, its most prominent external sign being the development of large red lesions. Contrary to popular belief, it does not make your limbs fall off. Many accounts of leprosy occur in the Bible but the descriptions rarely tally with the symptoms of Hansen’s Disease. There is often a moral cast to these accounts, suggesting a spiritual as much as a physical affliction, and it is pertinent that Jesus is generally referred to as cleansing rather than curing the lepers who come to him.
" I should have remained an outcast from the church visible "
first page of the 9th edition of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, 1785 - Credit: Alekjds
A catechism takes the form of a series of questions and answers to be memorised and repeated, and is used to inculcate Christian beliefs in children and converts particularly. The Reformation ushered in a spate of these, but it was the Westminster version that was to become the central guide of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. This combined Calvinist teachings with a pragmatic emphasis on the moral law enshrined in the Ten Commandments. Rev. Wringhim is reading from the shorter version. Hogg is undoubtedly thinking of his own childhood here, for repeating the shorter catechism was a ritual he and has father performed each Sunday and which he would go on to perform with his own children.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism can be read here.
" It fell to my mother to ask Effectual Calling at me "
This refers to the 31st question in the Catechism, “What is Effectual Calling?” The answer runs thus: “Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.” Robert’s sanctimonious pontifications on “Ineffectual Calling” are rendered superbly ironic by his failure to heed the message of the celestial being who visits him later (see p. 160-1).
" Do you think that Heaven would refuse a prayer so disinterested? "
On the surface, it may seem paradoxical that someone who believes in predestination should have any faith in the efficacy of prayer, but in fact Calvin was a strong believer in its worth. For him, prayer was an intimate connection between God and the pious through which God’s beneficence was recognised. However, he would have taken a hard view of the Rev. Wringhim’s bids to unveil the workings of divine providence. Acknowledging that people would inevitably be curious as to whether they were amongst God’s elect, he warns fiercely against trying to find out, “For it is not right that man should with impunity pry into things which the Lord has been pleased to conceal within himself” (Institutes).
" How dreadful it is to think of our darling being still without the pale of the covenant! "
Lady Dalcastle’s lamentations play upon the dual biblical and political signification of ‘covenant’. Biblically, it refers to a sacred bond with God (see, for instance, Ezekiel 16:8: “yea, I sware unto thee, and entered into a covenant with thee, saith the Lord GOD, and thou becamest mine”). Politically, the National Covenant was signed by the Presbyterians defending their faith and preventing Charles I imposing his on Scotland. (See note for p. 44.)
" If my name is not written in the book of life from all eternity "
The Book of Life is a register in heaven wherein the names of the elect are inscribed. References to it occur predominantly in the Old Testament, for example Psalm 69:28: “Let them bee blotted out of the booke of the liuing, and not be written with the righteous.”
" have I not a load of original transgression pressing on me "
The original sin was Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God in eating the forbidden fruit. Calvin believed that the whole of humankind inherited this guilt and were therefore sinful from the moment of conception. This inherent sin, he believed, renders us incapable of abiding by the Ten Commandments and predisposes us to offenses ranging from murder to carousing; our only hope of salvation lies in the grace of God.
" Who made thee a judge of the actions or dispositions of the Almighty’s creatures? "
Thee and thou largely fell out of use during the 17th century. However, both Robert and Gil-Martin return to this earlier, notably biblical form of address to add a pious weight to their words and to impress their superior spiritual elevation upon others.
" Hath he not made one vessel to honour, and another to dishonour "
Illustration from the Nuremberg Chronicles (1493) depicting God moulding Adam from clay - Credit: Hartmann Schedel
Romans 9:21: “Hath not the potter power ouer the clay, of the same lumpe, to make one vessell vnto honour, and another vnto dishonour?” This refers to God’s moulding of man’s body from clay and, according to Robert's beliefs, means that he forms some people for glory and others for destruction.
" Hath he not builded his stories in the heavens, and laid the foundations thereof in the earth "
Amos 9:6: “It is he that buildeth his stories in the heauen, and hath founded his troupe in the earth, he that calleth for the waters of the Sea, and powreth them out vpon the face of the earth: the Lord is his name.”
" I will have the old rascal on the hip for this "
This obsolete expression, which Webster’s dictionary defines as “to have or get the advantage of”, probably derives from wrestling. A modern way of expressing the same sentiments would be “I’ll get him for this!”
" A morally good man John is, but very little of the leaven of true righteousness "
Etching from the Bowyer Bible illustrating the parable of the leaven - Credit: Jan Luyken
This reference is rather mystifying as ‘leaven’ tends to have negative connotations in the Bible and is seldom associated with righteousness. An exception to this is Matthew 13:33, which says, “Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened”. Heaven, therefore, comes to fruition from small beginnings, just as the addition of a little leaven to dough causes it to ferment. Rev. Wringhim’s argument is that John Barnet lacks the basic catalyst that could convert his whole being to a state of righteousness. That he fails to understand the negative connotations of leaven, however, points up a highly subjective understanding of the Bible.
" the blood of atonement can never, never reach! "
One of the central tenets of Christian theology is that God sent his son Jesus to earth where his humiliation and crucifixion were to atone for the sins of humanity. For Calvinists, however, the saving power of his spilt blood only reached the elect; it did nothing to mitigate the sins of the damned.
Melchizedek is described in Hebrews 7:2 as “King of righteousness, and after that also King of Salem, which is, King of peace”. He is regarded as the precursor to Christ and is credited with the destruction of the angel Belial (see note to p. 34).
The Apostle of the Gentiles was St Paul. Originally involved in persecuting Christians, he experienced a conversion to Christianity when a vision of the resurrected Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus. After this, he was heavily involved in missionary activities and converted many people, particularly Gentiles. However, one might have assumed that Rev. Wringhim would be reluctant to share his fate: his preaching against Jewish traditions caused so much controversy that the Romans beheaded him.
The Pharisees are a Jewish sect that appears frequently in the New Testament. They insisted on a strict observance of Jewish law and emphasised faith in one God, the teachings of Moses, the words of the prophets and the promise of eternal life for those who abided by the law. The passage which John Barnet paraphrases comes from Luke 18:10-14, which tells the parable of the Pharisee and the publican. The fact that Rev. Wringhim fails to fully understand the criticism implied in this again indicates his superficial understanding of the Bible’s teachings.
“Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
" I doubt the black stool, an’ the sack gown, or maybe the juggs wad hae been my portion "
These are all means of punishment popular during the 16th to 18th centuries. The black stool served a similar function to the stocks – sinners were made to sit upon it as a means of public humiliation. Likewise, the juggs was an iron ring which an offender wore around his or her neck and which was fixed by a chain to a wall, post or tree. Sack gowns were made of coarse cloth that abraded the skin.
The theory that a child’s appearance is governed by the impressions the mother receives during conception goes back to the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers and reigned well into the early modern period. Not only was it used to account for monstrous births, it also provided a useful cover for adultery. As in the tale Rev. Wringhim repeats, women’s claims that their child’s skin colour was a product of untimely interruption by a black servant seem to have been greeted without much suspicion.
On the Hayloft, 1872. Post-coital interruptions could have grave effects on the appearance of one’s offspring - Credit: Konstantin Trutovsky
" another Jehu, a Cyrus, or a Nebuchadnezzar "
These figures were all responsible for cleansing Jerusalem of unbelievers. Jehu was a king of Israel who killed Jezebel and the worshippers of Baal (meaning spirit-deities and hence, in Christianity, false gods). Cyrus, the Persian king charged by God with building a temple in Jerusalem, established his kingdom mainly through conquest. Nebuchadnezzar was a king of Babylon who, in alliance with the Medes and Scythians, overthrew the Assyrian Empire and destroyed Ninevah.
" it was believed all over the country that his mother was a witch "
Fear of witchcraft ran riot in early modern Scotland, as it did across the whole of Europe. These were very superstitious times and sorcery and supernatural powers were generally assumed to be at the root of any unusual event. Witches were believed to be in league with the devil and when Scotland established an independent parliament in 1563, witchcraft became a capital offense. This led to thousands of people, the majority of whom were women, being accused of black magic for offenses ranging from brewing up home-remedies to the possession of a black cat. A recent research project has identified 3,837 people who were accused of witchcraft, a significant number of whom were subsequently executed. The favoured method was strangulation, after which the corpse was publically burnt so that it could not be reanimated by demonic forces.
" those mentioned in Revelations as excluding sins "
The final book in the New Testament states that “the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone” (Revelation 21:8). Fornication also comes in for harsh condemnation: God’s bloody judgment upon the Whore of Babylon is gleefully related. Further, chapter 14:4 stipulates that the chosen “are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins”. This would seem to be at the root of Robert’s conviction that women represent “the most dangerous of all snares” (p. 123).
" I think I had not then broken, that is, absolutely broken, above four out of the ten commandments "
The Ten Commandments are God’s instructions for his people and form the foundation of Christian morality. The book of Exodus describes how he inscribed these codes on a tablet for Moses to disseminate to the populace. The commandments are:
1 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
2 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God.
3 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain.
4 Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.
5 Honour thy father and thy mother.
6 Thou shalt not kill.
7 Thou shalt not commit adultery.
8 Thou shalt not steal.
9 Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
10 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's.
At this point, Robert has probably broken 4, 5, 9 and 10.
" Like the sinful king of Israel, I had been walking softly before the Lord for a season "
When David (see note for p. 43) is overwhelmed by sorrow and trouble, he calls upon God and receives his mercy. In an expression of gratitude for this divine benevolence, he declares, “thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling. I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living” (Psalms 116:8-9).
" he had wrestled with God, as the patriarch of old had done "
The Book of Genesis tells how the Hebrew patriarch Jacob encounters a mysterious stranger on his travels to the land of Canaan (see note to p. 31). He and the stranger, who has been interpreted as both God and an angel of the Lord, wrestle with each other until the break of day. When the other realises he cannot overcome Jacob, he begs to be released. Jacob refuses to do this until he has received a blessing, and for this he is named Israel, meaning ‘one that struggled with the divine angel’.
" you are plucked as a brand out of the burning "
In the Book of Zechariah, God purges Joshua, Moses’ successor as the leader of Israel, of sin and iniquity. As he does so, he declares to Satan, “is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?” (Zechariah 3:2) to indicate that he has been saved at the last possible moment.
" What was my astonishment, on perceiving that he was the same being as myself! "
The idea of the double, or uncanny replica of oneself, has a long history and appears in various contexts. In Germany, these are known as doppelgangers, or ‘double-goers’. British and European folklore, meanwhile, feature wraiths, fetches, waffs, fyes, swarths and tasks. Encountering one of these menacing apparitions was commonly supposed to herald death.
The double reached particular prominence in the pages of 19th century gothic fiction. Dostoevsky makes use of it in his novella The Double: A Petersburg Poem (1846); Edgar Allan Poe’s short story William Wilson (1839) features a doppelganger which functions as the protagonist’s conscience; E.T.A. Hoffman’sThe Devil’s Elixir (1815) concerns a Capuchin monk whose murder of a prince sees the victim recarnified as a mad doppelganger who manifests himself at regular intervals. In all these works, the double serves as a means of exploring concepts of the self new in literature; of portraying the human personality as divided, multiple and essentially unknowable, even to itself.
Narcissus, 1594-6. As in the myth of Narcissus, literary treatments of encounters with one’s own image generally follow a trajectory which begins with self-affirmation and ends in destruction of the self in or by the double - Credit: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio