Page 226. " This morning the hind has bought me word from Redesdale "

A valley in the western part of Northumberland. Chesters is only a few miles above the border of Redesdale, so Gil-Martin is dauntingly nearby. The fact that he is inquiring about Robert’s whereabouts from a point further south than Robert himself has reached suggests he is both pursuing and lying in wait. Robert, therefore, is effectively surrounded.

Google Map


Page 226. " Ault-Righ, August 24, 1712 "

Also known as Altrive, Altrieve and Eltrive (as the Editor calls it on page 231), this was formerly a farm in the Yarrow Valley near Selkirk about 22 miles north-west of Chesters. Hogg himself lived and worked here for 21 years until his death in 1835.

Google Map


Page 227. " I slept the first night nigh to the church of Roberton "


Roberton Kirk
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeRoberton Kirk - Credit: John Clive Nicholson
Roberton is a rural parish straddling the county boundaries of Selkirk and Roxburgh.


Google Map


Page 229. " I was even hung by the locks over a yawning chasm, to which I could perceive no bottom, and then—not till then did I repeat the tremendous prayer! "

Hogg may have been thinking of the end of Zofloya (1806) by Charlotte Dacre when he wrote these lines. Having rescued the morally bankrupt Victoria from the clutches of the banditti, her servant Zofloya magics her to “a dizzying precipice, that made the senses stagger”. He holds her over this “bottomless abyss” until she pledges herself to him. Upon receiving her vow that she is his, he reveals himself to be Satan and casts her headlong into the chasm. (See also note for p. 141.)

Page 230. " Almighty God, what is this that I am about to do! The hour of repentance is past, and now my fate is inevitable "

Though suicide is now the only route out for Robert, the ultimate fate of his soul is far from clear and the lines leading up to this ejaculation are riddled with hints suggesting either alternative. His  litany of ‘farewells’ echo the conventional ending of Covenanters' accounts of martyrdom, such as are to be found in A Cloud of Witnesses (see note for p. 153). From this we might suppose that he sees himself ascending heavenwards after them. On the other hand, his lamentations here parallel those of Faustus as he faces up to the full implications of his demonic pact: “Let this hour be but a year, a month, a week, a natural day, that Faustus may repent and save his soul!” And what are we to make of Gil-Martin's expression of "horrid despair"? Is this the desperation of someone who is being cheated of their ends, or is that, being damned himself, his imperative to doom others merely confirms him in his eternal misery? As ever, Hogg tauntingly witholds this knowledge from us.

Page 230. " Amen, for ever! "

Desperation, c.1305-6
Public DomainDesperation, c.1305-6 - Credit: Giotto di Bondone
Though suicide was not considered a crime under Scots Law as it was in England, it nonetheless represented a violation of the moral, social and religious order. Christianity regards suicide as a sin as it represents a desecration of the sanctity of life and an abandonment of faith in God, though Calvinism does not treat it with the same condemnation as the Catholic Church. Perhaps because of the belief that humans are unable to influence their ultimate fate through their works, Protestants until recently represented a disproportionately high percentage of suicides. Interestingly, they believed it to be one of the ploys of the devil and Calvin himself went as far as to ascribe cases of self-murder to satanic possession.







Page 230. " an authentic letter, published in Blackwood’s Magazine for August, 1823 "

This is Hogg at his most impish, for the August edition of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine did indeed carry this letter – or most of it - under the title ‘A Scots Mummy’. More than a simple act of self-publicity, Hogg’s embedding of a genuine letter within a fictional commentary on a fictional memoir creates a palimpsest of voices that challenges the idea of narrative authority.

Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine was founded in 1817 by William Blackwood under the name of the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine. It was intended to provide a Tory antidote to the Whiggish Edinburgh Review. With its satirical articles and impressive roll-call of featured authors and contributors, it quickly gained a wide readership. Hogg himself was originally part of the magazine’s inner circle but as more prominent authors joined, he found himself edged out. Not only this, but he was often openly ridiculed in its pages. His Memoir of the Author’s Life (1806) was savagely attacked in a review that verged on character assassination and a series entitled Noctes Ambrosianae often depicted him as a coarse, brawling drunkard (albeit a witty and sagacious one). These slights injured Hogg, as his letters of protest to the editors attest, but he nonetheless retained his admiration for the magazine.

You can read 'A Scots Mummy' below. As you will see, the letter quoted in Private Memoirs is prefixed by an introductory section in which Hogg makes pointed sallies at the magazine’s condescending attitude towards him.


Page 230. " a wild height called Cowanscroft "

Cowan’s Croft is a 579m moorland hill in the south-west Scottish Borders. You can find a link to a map showing its location at the note to p. 236.

Page 231. " the pass called The Hart Loup "
View of the area surrounding Hart Leap
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeView of the area surrounding Hart Leap - Credit: John Clive Nicholson

Hart Leap is a pass connecting the Ettrick and Yarrow valleys.


Google Map



Page 232. " the very point where the Duke of Buccleuch’s land, the Laird of Drummelzier’s, and Lord Napier’s, meet "

Today, wire fences demarcate the land boundaries that meet on the top of Cowan’s Croft. Robert's alleged burial site is just under this post
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeToday, wire fences demarcate the land boundaries that meet on the top of Cowan’s Croft. Robert's alleged burial site is just under this post - Credit: Chris Eilbeck
The Duke of Buccleuch was actually a Duchess at this point – Anne Scott held the title from 1663 to 1732. The Buccleuch ancestral lands extended across the Yarrow Valley and included two of the farms in which Robert stays – Altrive and Eldinhope. Drumelzier is an adjacent parish, then presided over by William Hay. Francis Napier, 6th Lord Napier was also a prominent landowner in the area.

Page 233. " the body came up into a sitting posture, with a blue broad bonnet on its head, and its plaid around it, all as fresh as that day it was laid in! "
Stefano Maderno’s Martyrdom of Saint Cecilia (1599-1600) is a poignant representation of the saint’s uncorrupted corpse
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeStefano Maderno’s Martyrdom of Saint Cecilia (1599-1600) is a poignant representation of the saint’s uncorrupted corpse - Credit: Sébastien Bertrand

In Christian legend, miraculous preservation is a divine mark of a person’s holiness. St. Cecilia, who was martyred in 177 AD for refusing to perform a sacrifice to pagan gods, was found to be perfectly intact when her body was exhumed in 1559. Similar stories surround St. Cuthbert, St. Catherine of Bologna, Joan of Arc, St. Mary Magdalen de’ Pazzi and many others. Of course, the imperishability of Robert’s corpse is attributed to devilish enchantment rather than God’s special favour, but Hogg’s decision to convey Gil-Martin’s continued hold upon him through a phenomenon usually reserved for saints creates an ambiguity that is both mischievous and morally unsettling.  


Ressurection Men, 18th century
Public DomainRessurection Men, 18th century - Credit: Thomas Rowlandson
The contemporary zeitgeist also undoubtedly influenced this episode. Hogg was writing at a time when the whole of Europe was swept up in an Egyptology craze. This was triggered in the main by Napoleon’s returning from Egypt in 1799 with mummified bodies, and the idea of a perfectly preserved corpse had a strong hold on the public consciousness. That Hogg entitled his letter to Blackwood’s ‘A Scots Mummy’ attests to this. On a more grisly note, these were also the times of the ‘resurrection men’, grave-robbers who stole corpses in order to supply medical schools that needed subjects for dissection. This was such a problem in Scotland, as elsewhere, that bereaved families would watch over the graves of the deceased to prevent them being robbed and churchyards, including Greyfriars (see note for p. 59), were obliged to construct cage-like ‘mort safes’.


Mummy from the British Museum, London
GNU Free Documentation LicenseMummy from the British Museum, London - Credit: David Monniaux







Page 234. " my townsman and fellow collegian, Mr L—t of C—d "

John Gibson Lockhart, 1856
Public DomainJohn Gibson Lockhart, 1856 - Credit: James Faed
John Gibson Lockhart of Chiefs wood (1794-1854). Married to Sir Walter Scott’s daughter Sophia, he is remembered today for the brilliant biography he wrote about his father-in-law, Life of Sir Walter Scott (1837-9). Lockhart and Hogg were fellow writers for Blackwood’s Magazine and their relationship, though not entirely free from professional friction, was largely friendly. Lockhart writes glowingly of Hogg - “the most remarkable man that ever wore the maud of a shepherd” - in his Life; Hogg, meanwhile, dedicates The Three Perils of Women (1823): “To John Gibson Lockart, Esq. Advocate, this work is respectfully inscribed by his affectionate and sincere friend, the Author”. This mutual goodwill was to end abruptly in 1834 when Hogg’s Familiar Anecdotes of Sir Walter Scott, originally published in America, came out in pirated form in Glasgow. For Lockhart, this represented an unacceptable trespass on his intellectual territory and he broke off all contact with his former friend. Interestingly, 19th century critics who were unable to entertain the idea that a shepherd might be capable of producing so psychologically intense a work often assumed that Lockhart was at least partly responsible for authoring the Private Memoirs.


Page 235. " He sent up to a Mr L—w to inquire "

William Laidlaw (1780-1845). Hogg worked as a shepherd for his father, James Laidlaw, for ten years and the two were close friends from youth. Indeed, Hogg writes in his Memoir of the Author’s Life that William is “better acquainted with my nature and propensities than I am myself”. The Laidlaws were crucial figures in Hogg’s life: it was through his employment to James that he learnt to read and write. William, meanwhile, was the sole supporter of Hogg’s early literary endeavours and was later responsible for introducing him to Sir Walter Scott, for whom he worked as a steward and amanuensis. William also shared Hogg’s writerly ambitions: he was a fellow contributor to Blackwood’s and a successful poet, his best-known piece being the ballad Lucy’s Flittin’.




Page 235. " a great sheep fair at Thirlestane "

View from the top of Thirlestane Hill
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeView from the top of Thirlestane Hill - Credit: Stuart Meek
Thirlestane Hill, near to Hogg’s native Ettrick, played host to a quarterly sheep fair, the largest of which took place in September.

Page 235. " ancient royal burgh of Selkirk "

1846 engraving of Selkirk published in vol. x of Walter Scott’s Waverley Novels
Public Domain1846 engraving of Selkirk published in vol. x of Walter Scott’s Waverley Novels - Credit: William Miller

The town of Selkirk lies in the Scottish Borders, not far from Ettrick. Interestingly, Sir Walter Scott was Sheriff of Selkirkshire from 1799 to 1832.

Page 235. " We soon found Hogg, standing near the foot of the market "
John Steell’s statue of James Hogg with his sheepdog in Peaston, East Lothian
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeJohn Steell’s statue of James Hogg with his sheepdog in Peaston, East Lothian - Credit: James Denham

This sly introduction of the author as a character in his own work can be seen as another instance of doubling, whereby Hogg the creator comes faces to face with Hogg the creation. His characterisation of himself as gruff, unhelpful and uncommunicative is at odds with the conventional role of the storyteller. It is, however, entirely in keeping with his authorial position in the Private Memoirs, in which he taunts the reader by refusing to offer a definitive interpretation just as he refuses to assist the Editor here.

Page 235. " a great drove of paulies, a species of stock that I never heard of before "

John Jamieson’s Supplement to the Etymological Dictionary of the Scottish Language (1825) defines ‘paulie’ as “an unhealthy sheep”, and as such it does not represent a species at all. Here, Hogg demonstrates, through the character of the Editor, the general contempt in which his profession was held by his contemporaries whilst at the same time mocking his (and their) ignorance.

Page 235. " Mr L—t introduced me to him as a great wool-stapler "

A wool-stapler is essentially a merchant who buys, sorts and grades wool before selling it on to a manufacturer.

Page 236. " on the top of a hill called the Faw-Law "

The summit of Fall Law
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeThe summit of Fall Law - Credit: Iain Lees

More commonly spelt Fall Law, this hill rises to 558m. It lies just north of Cowan’s Croft and the two peaks are less than a mile apart. To view a map of the surrounding countryside, click here. Marker 1 indicates Fall Law; marker 2 is Cowan’s Croft.

Page 236. " it having been an invariable rule to bury such lost sinners before the rising of the sun "

Since it signified the abandonment of faith and renunciation of God’s gifts, committing suicide meant being deprived of a Christian burial. Corpses were instead buried at night at the juncture of a crossroads – or, as in Robert’s case, of land boundaries. This was based on the superstition that the troubled souls of suicides posed a high risk of returning to wreak havoc upon the living and that such measures would prevent them from doing so. No doubt burying the body in a liminal area of no particular name also served to reinforce the marginal position of suicides in the moral and social order.

Page 237. " they passed the house of Berry-Knowe "

Berry-Knowe viewed from the south side of Muckle Head
Creative Commons AttributionBerry-Knowe viewed from the south side of Muckle Head - Credit: Walter Baxter
Berry-Knowe is a hill where Hogg worked in his shepherding capacity.

Page 238. " I am no phrenologist, not knowing one organ from another, but I thought the skull of that wretched man no study "

Phrenology, a pseudoscience developed in 1796 by the German physician Franz Joseph Gall, was extremely popular at the beginning of the 19th century. Drawing on the assumption that different parts of the brain correspond to different mental faculties, phrenologists believed that personal characteristics could be deduced from the shape of the skull. Hogg clearly has a better grasp of the art than the Editor: a protuberant area above the ear is a sign of destructiveness believed to be particularly prominent in murderers.

Page 241. " Fideli Certa Merces "

This proverbial Latin expression translates as “for the faithful, reward is certain”.

Page 241. " there being a curse pronounced by the writer on him that should dare to alter or amend "

In fact, this curse was not entirely heeded. The novel as Hogg originally conceived it was not available after its publication until the 20th century. Instead there were several bowdlerised versions which pandered to contemporary ideals of ‘delicacy’. The most notable is 1837’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Fanatic. This version omits several key episodes, such as John Barnet’s questioning of Robert’s paternity and the tale of Auchtermuchty. It also censors much of the harsher theological criticism, waters down the cursing and anglicises Hogg’s Scots usages. Interestingly, the reference to the curse upon anyone who dares meddle with the text is also excised. It is not clear whether these changes were put in place by Hogg prior to his death in 1835 or whether they were made by another hand. Whether or not the curse was realised also remains a mystery.