2 hundred years in the past, two of Scotland’s most outstanding males of literature met in court docket. Considered one of them, James Hogg, the self-styled Ettrick Shepherd, is finest recognized for his novel The Personal Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner.
Hogg’s background was sheep farming in Selkirkshire, and his formative years was considered one of hardship and toil. He developed a style for writing and preferred to capitalise on his humble, rustic roots.
Hogg was fortunate that each his shepherding and his literary careers had been inspired by the patronage of his modern, Sir Walter Scott, whom he befriended via their frequent curiosity in Border balladry and folklore.
With extra enthusiasm than veracity, a reference supplied by Scott in 1806 praised Hogg as “a remarkably clever, intelligent fellow within the line of his enterprise”. This was addressed to the extremely influential and rich landowner the Duke of Buccleuch, who subsequently employed Hogg as sheep farm valuer. The next 12 months, Hogg printed a set of poetry entitled The Mountain Bard which included a few of his memoirs. In truth, autobiographical materials happens an important deal in Hogg’s different writings.
Hogg was a extra profitable author than farmer; his personal pastoral enterprise struggled and considered one of his many collectors, Walter Cunningham, determined to litigate.
In 1821, the Ettrick Shepherd discovered himself in Selkirk Sheriff Court docket. Mockingly, the sheriff was Scott. In view of the non-public connection between himself and the defender, one might need anticipated the sheriff to have recused himself from listening to the case. Nonetheless, in Georgian Scotland, conflicts of curiosity, identical to nepotism, had been ingrained in public life. Scott himself had received the job as a result of strings pulled by his kinsman Charles Scott, the mentioned Duke.
Cunningham v Hogg was a slightly boring affair, a dispute about sheep and grazing prices. Extra attention-grabbing is one other irony; the case illustrates the hazards dealing with an autobiographer who pleads amnesia. Litigators have all the time encountered witnesses who profess to have forgotten occasions or statements of which their recollection could be disadvantageous.
Cunningham asserted that by way of a contract, in 1807 he was owed over £13. Hogg’s written Defences had been evasive and unpersuasive, stating that he “now at this distance of time remembers nothing, save that each had been losers to a specific amount”. Nonetheless, he did confess to having made a cost to Cunningham a number of years later, allegedly settling the debt.
Cunningham’s barbed retaliation was that Hogg, “now remembers nothing and but that is the person who writes his personal life and appears to recollect all the pieces … However the Mountain Bard appears to have a really accommodating reminiscence and might both keep in mind or neglect at pleasure.”
He then quoted admissions from these memoirs printed in the exact same 12 months because the contract, which verify that the creator was experiencing enterprise issues together with a scarcity of capital to inventory his farm. This monetary issue was why he was grazing Cunningham’s sheep. The memoirs confessed that at across the time in query, Hogg had, “received every single day out of 1 strait and confusion right into a worse” and “blundered and struggled on for 3 years”.
A convoluted argument developed over prescription, mora, taciturnity, acquiescence and private bar along with the quotation of conflicting opinions from two Institutional writers, George Joseph Bell and David Hume, on arcane factors of the regulation of prescription and modes of proof; writ or oath or prout de jure. Nonetheless, regardless of the authorized intricacies of the battle in court docket, the reality was that Hogg’s case was little greater than hogwash.
Enjoying on his adversary’s credentials as a poet, Cunningham averred that “there’s neither Rhyme nor Motive in the entire defences”. On thirtieth Could 1821, Sheriff Scott awarded decree towards the Mountain Bard, including about £36 to Hogg’s general indebtedness of about £1000.
Undaunted, the shepherd wrote to Scott the next 12 months importuning for money and bemoaning his half-stocked farm. Displaying the loyalty for which he was famend, in addition to demonstrating outstanding persistence, Scott continued to help even after his personal chapter in 1826. Nonetheless, 4 years later the sheriff discovered himself with the distasteful process of getting to signal a warrant of sale towards Hogg in relation to large arrears of hire owed to the Duke.
Andrew Stevenson is Secretary, Scottish Legislation brokers Society