Sarah Sharp »

Sarah Sharp is a lecturer in Scottish Literature at the University of Aberdeen and Deputy Director of Aberdeen’s Research Institute for Irish and Scottish Studies. Her work focuses on the relationship between death and ideas of nation in nineteenth-century Scottish writing

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Referring to this Article

S. SHARP. Review of James Hogg, Highland Journeys, edited by H. B. de Groot, Romantic Textualities: Literature and Print Culture, 1780–1840, 21 (Winter 2013).

Online: Internet (date accessed):

James Hogg, Highland Journeys, edited by H. B. de Groot (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010), lxvii + 404pp. ISBN 978-0-7486-2486-7; £65 (hb).

In 1802, James Hogg embarked on the first of three excursions into the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. The young Border shepherd hoped to advance himself by leasing a farm and thereby joining the increasing number of farmers from the South profiting from the introduction of hardy Lowland sheep to the region. The journeys described were therefore reconnaissance missions, during which Hogg assessed the state of agriculture in the Highlands and the opportunities available there. Hogg kept a journal during these excursions, and, on his return to Ettrick, developed this account into a series of letters addressed to Walter Scott with the intention of publishing them in the Scots Magazine. His journeys into the north therefore combine the conflicting registers of the literary tourist and the farmer: the Sublime mingles with the price of sheep. This heterogeneity of content is indicative of the multiple discourses which surrounded the Highlands of Scotland in public discourse at the time. Hogg’s account manages to present the region as simultaneously romantic spectacle and a site of rapid agricultural modernisation.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentFollowing Hogg’s progress along the highways and byways of Scotland is often a fun and light-hearted affair, and the inclusion of small maps by the volume editor further enhances this experience. The various sights and people that the writer encountered are recorded with Hogg’s characteristic light touch and wry eye for humour. He records the names of even the smallest hamlets he passes through, expressing his admiration or disapprobation, and we are therefore treated to the writer’s impressions of everywhere from Inveraray (‘I do not much admire the natural scenery of Inveraray’), to Stornaway (‘I was indeed surprised, at meeting with such a large and populous town in such a remote and distant country’) and even Kilmahog: ‘you may guess by the name that I was glad at getting safely past from this village, for its name signifies, the burial place of Hogg’ (p. 73, 119, 58). Hogg also repeats stories and legends (of varying authenticity) told by the people he encounters on his way. Hogg’s faith in the reader’s ability to interpret oral tales within the Highland Journeys signposts an attitude to the inclusion of traditional material that would remain a trademark of his literary output.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentReading Hogg’s Highland Journeys it is impossible to ignore the fact that they document a period of massive social and political change in the region that the writer is traversing. H. B. de Groot’s introduction to the volume does an excellent job of contextualising Hogg’s descriptions of land management and Highland emigration within both the post-Culloden political climate and contemporary trends towards agricultural reform. De Groot cites Hogg’s travels as the root of a preoccupation with the Highlands that would eventually lead to a more critical engagement with the history of the region in his writing. He convincingly argues that the young writer’s largely positive reactions to agricultural development during his journeys are the first steps in a longer and more private journey towards the ‘powerful account of the destruction of Highland society after the battle of Culloden in The Three Perils of Woman in 1823’ (p. xxix).

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentThe Highland Journeys have a particularly challenging publishing history, even among Hogg’s diffuse body of works. Written early in his career, Hogg’s 1802 journey was only published in part by Scots Magazine, while the author’s 1803 journey was not published at all. The 1804 ‘Journey through the Highlands and Western Isles’ was however published in its entirety in 1808 by the magazine, possibly (the volume editor suggests) due to Hogg’s increasing literary reputation. Hogg himself intended to publish the journeys in full as a book along with his essay ‘On the utility of encouraging the system of Sheep-Farming in some districts of the Highlands’, but eventually gave up on this scheme. While parts of the journeys were published by Hogg’s daughter in 1888 and by William F. Laughlan in 1981, a full edited volume such as the one Hogg had envisioned was never attempted. The Stirling/South Carolina Edition of the Highland Journeys, with its use of manuscript and published material, therefore constitutes the first opportunity to see this group of writings together in their entirety. Examples like this illustrate why the Stirling/South Carolina Edition is so key to making Hogg’s works available to a wider audience, as it unites the author’s varied and far-flung writings into a single collected edition that can be accessed without the use of archives. [1]

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentThe new edition also illustrates the added value that good editorial work can impart to a text. The extensive prefatory material, appendices and maps contextualise Hogg’s journeys and bring interest and colour to passages on sheep farming, land-use and estates that might otherwise seem dry and inaccessible. In fact, the wealth of supplementary material included in the Highland Journeys can at first seem overwhelming: the fragmenting of the introduction into sub-topics makes it hard to find a narrative through which to interpret the already somewhat fragmentary raw material of Hogg’s letters. However, this segmenting of information can also function as a very practical key to their content, allowing readers to target their research towards specific questions raised by the text. A tutorial on Highland travel writing of the period, for example, could easily be shaped by the various subheadings within the introduction and the appendices.

IndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentIndentBringing together published and previously unpublished writings and contextualising them within an extensive body of supplementary material, the new edition of the Highland Journeys is therefore both an entertaining and informative read for those interested in Romantic-period Scotland and an important resource for those already engaged in Hogg studies.


1. Further information on the work of the Stirling/South Carolina Edition of the Collected Works of James Hogg can be found at