" his face assumed something of the appearance of theirs "
Gil-Martin’s ability to assume the appearance of anyone he contemplates recalls the shape-shifting powers of the devil. Though Christianity characterises his ultimate form as thoroughly monstrous, Satan is able to assume alternative appearances at will in order to trick people into falling into his power. Frequently he adopts the guise of a debonair young gentleman, as does Gil-Martin.
A suaver Satan from an 1870 edition of Punchinello magazine - Credit: Punchinello
" Satan, I fear, has been busy with you "
1886 illustration for Paradise Lost shows Satan and the angels who supported his rebellion against God being cast out of Heaven - Credit: Gustave Doré
Satan is traditionally depicted as God’s adversary and the embodiment of evil. Originally an angel, he was cast out of heaven after attempting to usurp God’s power. For this act of hubris, he was condemned to rule in misery over the kingdom of hell, along with the demons who had supported him. He is portrayed as furiously jealous of God’s finest creation, humankind, and this all-consuming envy drives him to corrupt and draw people into sin so that he might consign their souls to damnation.
" the field and wood of Finnieston "
Finnieston within Glasgow
During the early 1700s, Finnieston
lay to the west of Glasgow; it is now an area within the city. Having been subjected to industrialisation and then deindustrialisation, it offers little by the way of fields or woods these days.
" What thine hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might, for none of us knows what a day may bring forth "
Ecclesiastes 9:10: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.” Though Robert’s fears that his friend’s sayings are neither genuine nor orthodox are misplaced, the interpretation which Gil-Martin places on them is a deliberate corruption. The fact that he tells the truth and deceives simultaneously allies him with the folkloric trickster archetype suggested by his name (see note for p. 136, below).
" you may call me Gil-Martin "
According to Ian Duncan (‘Authenticity Effects: The Work of Fiction in Romantic Scotland’, The South Atlantic Quarterly
102.1, Winter 2003), ‘Gil-Martin’ is the Gaelic word for ‘fox’. Foxes appear as trickster-figures in mythology and literature the world over. In medieval and early modern Europe, Reynard the Fox
appears as a devious figure who uses his wits to puncture the aristocracy and clergy; a huge oral tradition surrounds the exploits of the wily Br’er Fox
in the American South; in the Far East, fox-spirits (kitsunes
) take on the shape of female mortals in order to ensnare men. Foxes are also associated with the devil and continued to be burnt as symbols of Satan into the Renaissance.
The name also echoes that of Robert’s boyhood rival, M’Gill (p. 119). It is an interesting point that Gil-Martin takes on a name reminiscent of the boy whose downfall Robert procures through imitation. This suggests that he is mockingly drawing attention to his role as Robert’s nemesis, even at this early point.
" it instantly struck me that this was no other than the Czar Peter of Russia, having heard that he had been travelling through Europe in disguise "
Portrait of Peter I of Russia, c. 1710. - Credit:Jean-Marc Nattier
Peter the Great was ruler of Russia and subsequently the Russian Empire from 1682 to 1725. Until 1696 he shared leadership with his half-brother Ivan V. After Ivan’s death, he focused on a campaign of territorial expansion and modernising reforms which would bring Russia into the European arena. With a view to informing these policies, he made an extensive journey through Europe which became known as the Great Embassy. This Embassy saw him arrive on British shores in 1698 where he spent five months in Deptford, London studying shipbuilding.
" When my companion the prince was gone "
Though Robert is clearly thinking of his recent revelation that Gil-Martin is in fact Peter the Great, his use of a title the sovereign did not possess suggests his subconscious mind has other opinions about his companion’s identity. It is noteworthy that ‘prince of darkness’, ‘prince of the power of the air’ and ‘prince of this world’ are amongst Satan’s nicknames.
" was it not my duty to cut him off, and save the elect? "
Given that the elect are by definition already saved, it might seem that this is a contradiction which Robert fails to pick up on. It is, however, a paradox which has historical antecedents. In Geneva, Calvin’s doctrines gained such a hold that a decree was passed forbidding anyone from criticising his Institutes
. Numerous people who did not share his harsh beliefs were executed for their sacrilege. The spread of the Reformers’ ideas into Britain likewise brought Catholic persecution with it. Thomas More
is perhaps its most famous martyr.
The annual burning of Guy Fawkes is a relic of the anti-Catholic sentiment of Reformation Britain - Credit: Andrew Dunn
" I was obliged to admit the force of his reasoning; for though I cannot from memory repeat his words, his eloquence was of that overpowering nature, that the subtility of other men sunk before it "
The Temptation of Eve, c. 1750. Satan’s temptation of Eve characterises him as a silver-tongued manipulator - Credit: Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre
Robert’s response to Gil-Martin’s speech highlights the temporal divide between Hogg and his fictional fanatic. As a pre-Enlightenment
thinker, Robert accepts that Gil-Martin’s verbal fluency is more or less synonymous with reasoning. Hogg, as a post-Enlightenment writer, sees this position as ridiculous. It is also significant that rhetorical flair is often a gift with which Satan is credited.
" All my dreams corresponded exactly with his suggestions "
Perhaps Hogg was influenced here by Charlotte Dacre’s Zofloya
(1806). In this early gothic novel, the (anti)heroine's servant - who later reveals himself to be Satan - enflames murderous desires in her heart by appearing to her in her dreams. The similarity may be coincidental, but there are several striking parallels between Dacre's novel and Hogg's, of which this is one.
The idea that dreams could be inspired by higher powers was not uncommon in these highly religious, pre-Freudian times. For instance, Thomas Browne writes in On Dreams (c. 1650): “That there should bee divine dreames seemes unreasonably doubted by Aristotle. That there are demonicall dreames wee have little reason to doubt”. Similarly, Thomas Tryon wrote of dreams as the medium through which both good and bad angels communicate with the dreamer in his Treatise of Dreams & Visions (1689).
" the high church of Paisley "
is a large historic town 41 miles east of Edinburgh. The only religious edifice there at the turn of the 18th
century was the medieval Paisley Abbey
; the High Kirk would not be built until 1754. There are several possible explanations for this anomaly: it could be a slip on Hogg’s part; Gil-Martin could mean Paisley Abbey; or he could be feeding Robert verifiably false information as a private way of ridiculing him.
" there are strange things and unaccountable agencies in nature: He only who dwells between the Cherubim can unriddle them "
Though cherubs these days have become confused with putti
- chubby angels arrested in perpetual toddlerhood - their biblical forebears were rather fearsome creatures. The prophet Ezekiel
describes them as possessing four heads (of a lion, an ox, an eagle and a man), the feet of a calf and four wings covered in multitudinous eyes. They frequently appear as guardians and stand watch over the throne of God, to whom Robert is referring here.
" I came to the foot of the Pearman Dike "
This would appear to be a misprint. The first edition has “Pearman Sike”, sike being the name for a small stream that often runs dry in summer.
" These are men that have the mark of the beast in their foreheads and right hands "
The Beast is a monstrous creature whose coming is foretold in the Book of Revelation. A veritable walking bestiary, he is likened to a leopard with the feet of a bear, the mouth of a lion, the horns of a lamb and the voice of a dragon. He is equipped with miraculous powers that are predicted to entrance the unregenerate
“And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads: And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.” (Revelation 13:16-18)
Speculations about what the number 666 may represent have run wild. Some scholars have postulated that it is a code for the tyrannical Roman Emperor Nero; others that it signifies Martin Luther, Napoleon or John Knox. Significantly in this context, a number of Protestant Reformers associated it with Papacy.