Walter Scott, James Hogg and uncanny testimony: questions of evidence and authority
Shepherd, Deirdre Ann Mary
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This thesis investigates the representation of the supernatural in the literature of Walter Scott and James Hogg. In comparing both authors it takes advantage of two recent scholarly editions: the Stirling/South Carolina edition of Hogg and the Edinburgh Edition of the Waverley Novels. I trace the development of Scott’s persistent interest in various categories of the supernatural: the uncanny; witchcraft; second sight; and astrology. His literary career began in 1796 with translations of German Romantic poetry. These were followed by publication of his collection of ballads and folklore, known as the Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, 1802-3, and by the longer poems such as The Lay of the Last Minstrel, 1805. Subsequently, Scott’s investigation of the supernatural would continue within a number of key novels and his shorter fiction. The Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft, addressed to J. G. Lockhart, Esq., 1830, was one of his final attempts to establish how far the evidence of a credible witness might supply ineluctable testimony in accounts of the supernatural. Scott’s legal training, and antiquarian skills, lent particular authority into his investigations of the possibilities of the existence, or otherwise, of the supernatural. By way of contrast, James Hogg’s lack of formal education, and scanty knowledge of the progressive advances of the Scottish Enlightenment, was associated with a ready credulity in matters of the supernatural. His literary work, such as The Mountain Bard, 1807, or his later collection of Winter Evening Tales, 1820, demonstrated a familiarity with ballads, and an unlettered folklore tradition, that appeared to confirm his position as a believer in superstitious and irrational practices. However, this thesis will argue that Hogg actually possesses a shrewd and sophisticated understanding of the authority of the supernatural. This is manifest in his literary efforts to record and investigate various types of uncanny testimony, when compared with those of Scott. Hogg’s view of the supernatural is complex and essentially subversive. His final novel, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, 1824, and his later contributions to the fashionable annuals and giftbooks published between 1826 and 1834, reveal an author deeply engaged with demonstrating the unique role of the supernatural within Scottish society, particularly as a channel of dissent and discord. The Ettrick Shepherd and the Author of Waverley founded their literary relationship upon a shared enthusiasm for the supernatural tales and traditions of the Scottish Borders. Their friendship was both competitive and complementary. Critics have generally tended to assume that Scott, rather than Hogg, was the sceptical party where belief in the existence of the supernatural is concerned. However, closer examination of their work reveals that such assumptions do not necessarily stand up. Ultimately, Hogg emerges as the author with greater resistance to an irrational belief in the supernatural. His position as an observer, and critic, of the antiquarian and enlightened literary establishment, with its dependence on the authority of printed texts, is developed through his literary investigation of the supernatural. My choice of works to consider has been necessarily limited by questions of space. Where possible, I have selected those texts that seem to me to offer ready comparison between the two authors. Some novels such as Scott’s The Antiquary, 1816, or The Pirate, 1822, might be regarded as worthy of inclusion in this study of the supernatural. However, there are no real equivalents of these in Hogg’s work.