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were astounded by its audacity, and frightened from their propriety by its personalities. To return to the Shepherd.
There was a homely heartiness of manner about Hogg, and a Doric simplicity in his address, which were exceedingly prepossessing. He sometimes carried a little too far the privileges of an innocent rusticity, as Mr Lockhart has not failed to note in his Life of Scott; but, in general, his slight deviations from etiquette were rather amusing than otherwise. When we consider the disadvantages with which he had to contend, it must be admitted that Hogg was, in all respects, a very remarkable man. In his social hours, a naïveté, and a vanity which disarmed displeasure by the openness and good-humour with which it was avowed, played over the surface of a nature which at bottom was sufficiently shrewd and sagacious; but his conversational powers were by no means pre-eminent. He never, indeed, attempted any colloquial display, although there was sometimes a quaintness in his remarks, a glimmering of drollery, a rural freshness, and a tinge of poetical colouring, which redeemed his discourse from commonplace, and supplied to the consummate artist who took him in hand the hints out of which to construct a character at once original, extraordinary, and delightful—a character of which James Hogg undoubtedly furnished the germ, but which, as it expanded under the hands of its artificer, acquired a breadth, a firmness, and a power to which the bard of Mount Benger had certainly no pretension.
The Ettrick Shepherd of the Noctes Ambrosianæ is one of the finest and most finished creations which dramatic genius ever called into existence. Out of very slender materials, an ideal infinitely greater, and more real, and more original than the prototype from which it was drawn, has been bodied forth. Bearing in mind that these dialogues are conversations on men and manners, life and literature,
we may confidently affirm that nowhere within the compass of that species of composition is there to be found a character at all comparable to this one in richness and readiness of resource. In wisdom the Shepherd equals the Socrates of Plato; in humour he surpasses the Falstaff of Shakespeare. Clear and prompt, he might have stood up against Dr Johnson in close and peremptory argument; fertile and copious, he might have rivalled Burke in amplitude of declamation; while his opulent imagination and powers of comical description invest all that he utters either with a picturesque vividness, or a graphic quaintness peculiarly his own. Be the theme what it may, tragical or comical, solemn or satirical, playful or pathetic, high or low, he is always equal to the occasion. In his most grotesque delineations, his good sense never deserts him; in his most festive abandonment his morality is never at fault. He is intensely individual, and also essentially national. Hence he is real-hence he is universal. His sentiments are broad and catholic, because, careless whom he may conciliate or whom he may offend, he pours them forth without restraint--the irrepressible effusions of a strong humorous soul, which sees only with its own eyes, and feels only with its own heart. Whether he is describing "Fozie Tam,” as seen through all the glittering paraphernalia of a prancing and terrible dragoon, or painting “the mutineer's execution”? in colours to which the highest art of the professed tragedian could add neither pity nor terror, he is always the same inimitable original — the same selfconsistent Shepherd, ever buoyant amid the shifting eddies of the discourse—ever ready to hunt down a humbug, or to shower the spray of an inexhaustible fancy over the realities of life, until their truthfulness becomes more evidently true. His periods have all the ease and idiom of living speech, i See Noctes VII., p. 165.
2 See Noctes XII., p. 303.
as distinguished from the stiffness of what may be termed spoken language, and this to an extent which is not always to be met with even in dramatic compositions of the highest order.
In another respect, the dialect of the Shepherd is peculiar; it is thoroughly Scottish, and it could not be Anglicised without losing its raciness and spoiling entirely the dramatic propriety of his character. Let it not be supposed, however, that it is in any degree provincial, or that it is a departure from English speech in the sense in which the dialects of Cockneydom and of certain English counties are violations of the language of England. Although now nearly obsolete, it ranks as a sister-tongue to that of England. It is a dialect consecrated by the genius of Burns, and by the usage of Scott; and now confirmed as classical by its last, and in some respects its greatest, master. This dialect was Burns's natural tongue; it was one of Sir Walter's most effective instruments; but the author of the Noctes Ambrosianæ wields it with a copiousness, flexibility, and splendour which never have been, and probably never will be, equalled. As the last specimen, then, on a large scale of the national language of Scotland which the world is ever likely to see, I have preserved with scrupulous care the original orthography of these compositions. Glossarial interpretations, however, have been generally subjoined for the sake of those readers who labour under the disadvantage of having been born on the south side of the Tweed.
These remarks may, perhaps, be a sufficient prologue to the varied entertainments which follow. They may serve to introduce to the reader the dramatis personce of the Noctes Ambrosianæ ; they may enable him to form some conception of their distinctive peculiarities, and to understand to what extent they were real, and to what extent they are ideal characters. Such other points as have appeared to me to
require elucidation in order to a full comprehension of these Dialogues, are cleared up in short notes to the best of my information and ability. But I must be permitted once more to express my deep regret that it should have been the fate of the Noctes Ambrosianæ to go forth into the world in a collected form under other auspices than those of their illustrious author, and without having had the benefit of his notes and emendations.
J. F. F.
WEST PARK, ST ANDREWS,
July 18, 1855.
CONTENTS OF VOL. I.