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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Hart Leap is a pass connecting the Ettrick and Yarrow valleys.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
A wool-stapler is essentially a merchant who buys, sorts and grades wool before selling it on to a manufacturer.
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.
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.
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.
This proverbial Latin expression translates as “for the faithful, reward is certain”.
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.