James Hogg (1770-1835) was born in the Ettrick Valley in the Scottish Borders. When he was seven, his father, a sheep farmer, went bankrupt and Hogg left school hardly able to read; he could only shape letters “nearly an inch in length,” he wrote later in his autobiography. For many years, he worked as a cowherd and later as a shepherd. His mother, however, steeped him in ballads and folklore, and his grandfather was apparently the last man to talk with the fairies. Only in his twenties, when Hogg was exposed to books once more, did he begin to write, his first creations being “songs and ballads made up for the lassies to sing in chorus.” At forty, he set out for Edinburgh and, after starting the short-lived satirical magazine The Spy
, he wrote poems and stories for Blackwood’s Edinburgh
Magazine. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner
, first published in 1824, has long been considered his masterpiece.