James Hogg and the Medium of Romantic Prose

A recent media turn in Romantic studies has foregrounded the ballad—and poetry more generally—as a privileged site for understanding how questions about medium and mediality feature in the writing of the period. But do such questions feature in the era’s prose genres, as well? And is it possible to talk about a medium of Romantic prose as Celeste Langan and Maureen N. McLane talk about a medium of Romantic poetry? In this essay, I suggest that the answer to both of these questions is “yes,” and to show this I turn to the prose tales of James Hogg, a Romantic-period writer who not only recognized bonds of affinity between metrical and prose composition, but also understood ballads and tales to be versions—interchangeable, in a sense—of each other. Like the ballad, I argue, the tale, too, can be understood as a “hybrid oral and textual practice” (in Paula McDowell’s words), a prose form that exhibits a subtle self-consciousness about its own medial status.

James Hogg and the Medium of Romantic Prose

Anthony Jarrells
University of South Carolina

1.        In his 1800 Preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth asks, “where shall we find bonds of connection sufficiently strict to typify the affinity between metrical and prose composition” (Major Works 602)? One answer, surely, is in the lyrical ballads themselves: in poems such as “Simon Lee,” “We are Seven,” and “The Thorn,” that is, which adopt “language really used by men” (597) and dispense with “what is usually called poetic diction” (600). Readers might have to “struggle with feelings of strangeness and aukwardness” (596) before any such bonds can be affirmed, as Wordsworth admitted in his revised Preface of 1802. Still, the poet remained decided in his opinion that “there neither is, nor can be, any essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition” (602).

2.        Another answer might be gleaned in the scores of titles published in the same two-year period, 1800–02, in which the words “ballad” and “tale” seem to be used interchangeably. Wishing to write “in the manner of” Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads, for example, Mary Robinson published Lyrical Tales in 1800. [1]  In 1801, Matthew Lewis’s collection of ballad imitations appeared as Tales of Wonder. [2]  A year later, Anne Bannerman published Tales of Superstition and Chivalry, another collection of ballads. 1802 also saw the first two volumes of Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border, a collection of “tales” of “elder times” (as Scott described them in the dedication) that recovered the rich ballad culture of the Scottish border country. William Earle’s Welsh Legends: A Collection of Popular Oral Tales (1802) features both verse and prose compositions, including prose tales on which, as Earle explains, the ballads “of this and other countries” were “founded” (vi).

3.        In certain respects, the conflation of “ballad” and “tale” is confusing in that both were well-known forms at the turn of the century, the former as a verse form, the latter, increasingly, as a prose form. The ballad had undergone a revival in the latter half of the eighteenth century, thanks to the publication of Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765) and to what Katie Trumpener calls the “new” genre of the ballad collection (xi). And it was in these same years that the tale emerged as its own, distinct generic category, with a first major peak in popularity in the 1790s, followed by a second, even more dramatic rise in the 1820s, when “tale” surpassed both “novel” and “romance” to become the most popular label for prose fiction in the decade. [3]  In other respects, however, the conflation of ballads and tales is not so difficult to account for. Both words had strong associations with what had come to be understood as “oral tradition” and both reflected a general sense of “nervousness” about the fate of songs and stories in a print-saturated age. [4]  Indeed, the confusion already is evident in the series of publications that got the whole ballad revival started: I mean the proto-tales, or prose translations of Gaelic ballads, that James Macpherson called The Poems of Ossian (1760–65). “Pleasant are the words of the song,” says Cuchullin in book three of Fingal, “and lovely are the tales of other times” (73). Or, in “Oina-Morul. a Poem”: “I seize the tales as they pass, and pour them forth in song” (323). “Tale” and “ballad” refer generally to “story,” “tradition,” “antiquity.” But what was new and distinctive about these two as forms, especially compared with, say, the novel or the polite poetry of the eighteenth century, was precisely the attention they drew to the act of remediating traditional, oral stories in print. Both ballads and tales exhibit what Jussi Parikka calls “the media-archaeological spirit of thinking the new and the old in parallel lines” (2). As such, they bring to the fore the very question of medium itself.

4.        Yet of the two answers offered here to Wordsworth’s question about affinities between metrical and prose composition, only one—the yoking together of lyric and ballad—has received scholarly attention. The other—the conflation of ballad and tale—has hardly been remarked upon at all, not even by those recent scholars whose work constitutes an important media turn in the field and highlights the significance of the ballad in particular for understanding the “medium” of Romantic poetry. [5]  There are, I think, a couple of reasons for the silence. First, although the tale was a recognized form in the Romantic period, distinguished from the novel by booksellers, publishers, and readers, it has not been considered as such in our own time, which tends to see it merely as one subgenre in a larger “system” of novels. [6]  Second, the media turn in eighteenth-century and Romantic studies has focused mostly on verse, finding in “the situation of British poetry, 1760–1830,” as Maureen McLane writes, “a window onto the transhistorical condition of poetic ‘mediality’” more generally—“mediality” being “the condition of existing in media, whether oral, manuscript, print, or digital” (Balladeering 6). [7]  Without necessarily intending to do so, such accounts sometimes collapse prose into the larger category of print and ignore a genre such as the tale which, like the ballad, can also be described—in Paula McDowell’s words—as a “hybrid oral and textual practice” (“Mediating” 242). [8]  In what follows, I examine the ways that the tale, too, exhibits a subtle self-consciousness about its own medial status and I ask whether the features and history of this form open up possibilities for talking about a medium of Romantic prose. [9]  To do this, I turn to the work of James Hogg, a Romantic-period writer who not only recognized bonds of affinity between metrical and prose composition, but also understood ballads and tales to be versions—interchangeable, in a sense—of one other.

5.        Hogg’s 1830 tale, “The Mysterious Bride,” opens with references to two writers who had a profound impact on his career. The first is Scott, a friend and competitor whose wildly successful “school of chivalry” was always threatening to edge out of the literary market Hogg’s own, more eccentric, “mountain and fairy school” (Hogg Anecdotes 9). Concerned about what he saw as a recent turn away from belief in ghosts and spirits, and about Scott’s comments on the subject in his Keepsake tale of 1829, “My Aunt Margaret’s Mirror,” Hogg exclaims, “Even Sir Walter Scott is turned renegade, and, with his stories made up of half-and-half . . . is trying to throw cold water on the most certain, though the most impalpable, phenomena of human nature” (“Mysterious Bride” 155). [10]  Hogg may have felt miffed by Scott’s turn, in 1827, to the tale, a genre he saw as belonging to his own school and which he spent much of the 1820s proving his mastery of. [11]  That Scott would then use the form to question the tale’s great topos of the supernatural only added fuel to the fire.

6.        The second reference follows immediately from the first and expands the argument about the supernatural to include another form associated with tradition: the ballad. As a means of challenging the recent rejection of ghosts and spirits, Hogg exclaims: “Before [naysayers like Scott] had ventured to assert such things, I wish they had been where I have often been; or, in particular, where the Laird of Birkendelly was on St Lawrence’s eve, in the year 1777, and sundry times subsequent to that” (155). The place in question is the road from Birkendelly, in the “great muckle village of Balmawhapple”; the Laird to whom Hogg’s narrator almost silently gives way is casually riding along and “chanting a song” by “a certain, or rather uncertain, bard ycleped Robert Burns, who made a number of good songs” (155). This song, Hogg writes, “was an amorous song of great antiquity, which, like all the said bard’s best songs, was sung one hundred and fifty years before he was born” (155). “O let me in this ae night,” the song referred to, was first taken up by Burns in 1792 when he modified it for inclusion in James Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum (1787–1803). He returned to it again several times between 1793 and 1795 following a request from George Thomson to contribute to his A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs (1793–1818).

7.        “Oh let me in this ae night,” sings a lover standing outside a woman’s window: he’s cold and wet and complains that “love has bound [him], hand and foot.” But the woman is not persuaded: “Gae back the gate ye came again / I winna let you in, jo—,” she responds (Kinsley 485). These lines are from Burns, the bard Hogg mentions in his tale. However, the lines that Hogg actually provides are from another, earlier version, much like the one published in The Scots Musical Museum and based on David Herd’s Ancient and Modern Scottish Songs (1776). In this version, too, a man pleads to be admitted to his lover’s house:

I am the Laird o’ windy-wa’s,
I came nae here without a cause,
An’ I hae gotten forty fa’s
In coming o’er the knowe, joe!
The night it is baith cauld and weet;
The morn it will be snaw and sleet;
My shoon are frozen to my feet;
O, rise an’ let me in, joe!
Let me in this ae night, &c. &c. (“Mysterious Bride” 155)
The lines quoted are similar to the Herd version, though here, in Hogg’s tale, the two stanzas are presented in reversed order. Indeed, both versions by Burns (in the Musical Museum and in Kinsley) follow Herd for the first eight lines. But the three versions are quite different in their endings. The later Burns version is the most chaste of the three: it was, after all, commissioned by Thomson, and the Burns whom Thomson wanted for his collection was the pious, sentimental Burns of “The Cotter’s Saturday Night,” not the bawdy Burns of such songs as would be printed a few years later in The Merry Muses of Caledonia (1799). [12]  Answering her lover with an unambiguous “no,” the woman in Burns’s song opines,
The sweetest flower that deck’d the mead,
Now trodden like the vilest weed—
Let simple maid the lesson read
The wierd may be her ain, jo.
“Wierd” here means “fate.” The version quoted in Hogg’s tale, based on Herd’s text, ends quite differently. [13]  Although Hogg does not provide the actual lines, he hints at them when he writes, “[t]his song the Laird was singing, while, at the same time, he was smudging and laughing at the catastrophe, when, ere ever aware, he beheld, a short way before him, an uncommonly elegant and beautiful girl walking in the same direction with him” (155–56). The word “catastrophe” can mean “a conclusion generally unhappy,” as Samuel Johnson defined it; “a sudden disaster, as in the OED; or a “convulsion affecting the earth’s surface,” which was a new usage in Hogg’s time derived from the emerging science of geology (also listed in the OED). Hogg’s use of the word might be said to capitalize on all three meanings. Here are the concluding verses of Herd’s version:
She let him in sae cannily,
She let him in sae privily,
She let him in sae cannily,
To do the thing you ken, jo.
Bur ere a’ was done, and a’ was said,
Out fell the bottom of the bed;
The lassie lost her maidenhead,
And her mither heard the din, jo. (Herd 167–69)
That Hogg’s laird is able to laugh at this catastrophe is somewhat ironic—it’s “wierd,” we might say—as it foreshadows his own unhappy conclusion: later in the tale, the laird’s “blackened corpse” is discovered at the very spot where the elegant and beautiful girl first appeared to him, on the day the two of them were to be married. “This woful catastrophe,” Hogg writes, repeating the word he used earlier to describe the end of the ballad, “struck the neighborhood with great consternation, so that nothing else was talked of” (166). The elegant and beautiful girl is, of course, the mysterious bride of the title—the ghost of one Jane Ogilvy, who, long ago, let a man in one night, so to speak. After losing her “maidenhead” she is jilted by the man, Allan Sandison, the grandfather of the laird singing the tune, who forsakes her to wed “the great heiress of Birkendelly.” Ogilvy’s ghost takes its revenge on Sandison’s heir, and we come to understand that a similar catastrophe befell the previous generation of Sandisons, as well.

8.        Hogg, then, refers to one version of a ballad—by Burns—and cites another, a version “that is more direct in defining the ‘catastrophe’ that results from admitting the laird ‘this ae night,’” as Hogg’s recent editor, Thomas C. Richardson, puts it (Blackwood’s 433, n. 155d). It’s a clever bit of play, showing not only that Hogg knew a good deal about different versions of ballads but also drawing attention to the process of transmission itself: from the song “sung one hundred and fifty years” before Burns’s birth to the different versions collected by Herd, Johnson, and Thomson, and on to Hogg’s own tale. Indeed, Hogg seems to suggest that his tale is yet another instance in this process, part of a living tradition comprised of individual memory (what the narrator characterizes as “facts that happened in my own remembrance” [155]) and oral lore as collected in songs and stories. Hogg does not try to smooth over the differences brought about in the process or to “conflate sources so as to produce a single representative text”—as, for example, David Atkinson suggests that Scott did in his Minstrelsy and Percy did before him in his Reliques (Atkinson 120). Rather than seeing the ballad as a “closed, original, and seminal utterance,” Hogg understands it “as a constant and multiple production” (Atkinson 23). The ballad’s “appropriate organizing principle,” as Atkinson argues, “is precisely one of proliferation” (23). The laird in Hogg’s version of the story might be singing the tune that Burns’s verses are set to while chanting the words printed in Herd’s edition or combining elements from all of the versions. The tale thus highlights the ballad’s “inherent” instability even as it becomes yet another version (Atkinson 182).

9.        My aim here is not to reduce “The Mysterious Bride” to an allegory about the pitfalls of ballad editing. But I do want to suggest that it reveals an acute awareness of how the ballad exists somewhere between orality and print and of how the tale, though written in prose, can be understood to be part of the “multiple production” of the ballad, either following from it, as in Hogg, or preceding it, as in the Earle example cited above. The mysterious bride from whom the tale takes its title is, in a sense, conjured into being from the singing of the Burns song: so sudden is her appearance on the road that the laird assumes that she must have “risen out of the earth” (156). And in a description that sounds like it could be of the antiquarian ballad collection itself, Hogg writes that when the body of the young Sandison was discovered, “[e]very ancient tradition and modern incident were raked together, compared, and combined” (166). To little effect, it might be said. Hogg’s tale would seem to offer another instance of what Ian Duncan, writing about Hogg’s Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), calls “a grisly parody of the late Enlightenment project of antiquarian and literary ‘revival’—the attempt by scholars and poets to recover the remains of national traditions, buried in a primitive countryside” (xi). Instead of raking, comparing, and combining with the hope of arriving at an answer—or text—the mystery is solved by an old woman named Marion Haw, who simply tells another tale. This tale, Hogg notes, has more than a little in common with his own attempts in the genre. “She gave the parishioners a history of the Mysterious Bride, so plausibly correct, but withal so romantic,” he writes, “that everybody said of it, (as is often said of my narratives, with the same narrow-minded prejudice and injustice,) that it was a made story” (166–67; emphasis in the original).

10.        Given the stress in Hogg’s tale on the ballad and its multiple versions, the word “made” as it is used here could be understood to refer to an assembled story—that is, to the raking, comparing and collecting that aims to produce a true or original text, something both “correct” and “romantic,” like a ballad in an eighteenth-century collection. The explicit comparison that Hogg makes, however, is to his “narratives,” a comparison which suggests that a “made” story is something more like a mere fiction or perhaps a story that is too seamless to be true. Something like a novel, that is. This might very well be a dig at Scott or, more generally, at what Matthew Wickman, in his contribution to this issue, describes as “the modern concept of the literary as a species of imaginative writing set against a normative sphere of everyday life.” [14]  But if Hogg means to draw a distinction between the tale and the novel, the word “made” would seem to go against my own reading of the former’s major difference from the latter: its self-consciousness about its own medial status. Wouldn’t something that appears to be “made” be something more likely to call attention to its made-ness, or its medium—as in “made of what” or “made how”? This is a point that McLane and Celeste Langan make in their lucid account of “The Medium of Romantic Poetry” (2008). Commenting on a 1799 review of Lyrical Ballads, in which Charles Burney describes Wordsworth and Coleridge’s project as an “ingenious forgery,” Langan and McLane explain that it is precisely the “forged” aspect of the collection that makes visible poetry’s status as medium. “[T]he ‘retrogradation,’ to use Burney’s term, is intentional” (253), they write; Wordsworth and Coleridge,

are exploring the ‘medium of poetry’ in another sense [not, as in Burney, as transition from one period to another]: neither its origin nor its end but rather its middle—and by extension, perhaps, its essence. For it may be that the question of a medium and the question of an essence are always bound together: the very possibility of multiple ‘mediations’ produces in turn the question, ‘mediations of what [thing]?’ (254)
Hogg understands the ballad’s essence similarly: its multiple mediations not only open a space for the prose tale, but also allow his own telling to become a new—although not a final—version. But then how is the tale not also forged—or “made”? Wouldn’t a made story be more in keeping with a forged poetry?

11.        The difference comes down to the medium that fictional prose is so often conflated with—print—and to the genre that has come to stand in for literature more generally in an age of print: the novel. [15]  Unlike the ballad or the tale, the novel is a born-print genre: as Walter Benjamin explains, what “distinguishes” it from the latter is “its essential dependence on the book” (87). Such a dependence on the newly naturalized medium of print suggests that the “made” in Hogg’s description has a different character than the “forged” in Langan and McLane’s example. “Made” stories in print are those in which there appears to be no medium whatsoever, no work of forging, making, or mediation. As Catherine Gallagher has shown, novels offer readers the kind of consistency and depth of character which, though the product of fiction, appear consistent with—indeed, coterminous with—real life. “The novel gives us explicit fiction,” she writes, “and simultaneously seems to occlude it” (349). Such occlusion constitutes a kind of immediacy, a new product of “an age in which the medium of the book,” as Friedrich Kittler argues, “is first universal” (117), an age that Kittler dates to 1800. Poetry, too, exhibited the effects of the change. Langan, for instance, describes blank verse as “the redefinition of English poetry by the medium of print,” explaining that a poem like “Tintern Abbey” “appears to reject artifice” and thus to render its medium of communication “invisible” (“Understanding” 53–54). When poetry becomes prose or prose-like, in other words, medium becomes invisible because prose itself has become synonymous with print. A forged poetry, to go back to the example above, brings medium back to the fore by keeping the poetry part active: it resists the conflation of poetry and print, in practice if not in theory, by highlighting the poetic process of forging, or making, as distinct from something already made.

12.        The novel, likewise, can be described as the redefinition of storytelling by the medium of print. Plausibly correct and withal so romantic, it, too, appears to reject its own artifice and to obscure the fact of medium. But what then can we say about prose in the period? Is its case a hopeless one, always to be collapsed into the larger category of print, a category that, having become natural and universal, had it made, so to speak? Perhaps the ballad-tale conflation highlighted at the start of this essay is somewhat akin to the poetry-prose conflation Langan analyzes, though here it resists the additional conflation of prose and print by highlighting the former’s continued affinities with poetry, that medium that refused to give way in the face of massive medium change? To say such is not to collapse prose into the larger category of medium. Instead, it is to make medium itself part what Yoon Sun Lee, in her introduction to this issue, describes as “the situated quality of prose,” and especially of prose written in a modern, print-saturated, world. [16] 

13.        The opposite of a made story, then, would be a tale—or ballad—“founded on fact,” with fact referring not to that epistemological unit that Mary Poovey calls “the modern fact,” a unit that came to be represented by numbers (Poovey 5), but rather to a “truth” attested to by “authentic testimony” (as one OED entry defines it), and in particular to the telling and retelling of stories over time. [17]  It is interesting to note that the word “tale” can mean both “number” and “story.” Hogg’s friend, Lord Byron, highlights the overlapping registers when he puns on the word in Canto III of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1816): “and if thy tale be true,” he exclaims, alluding to the number of bodies that perished on the field of Waterloo and to the story those numbers tell of that decisive battle (l. 308). Hogg, too, brings to the fore the seemingly contradictory registers of number and story—or tally and tale—in his repeated claim that his tales are founded on incidents told again and again or, as in “The Mysterious Bride,” that they are a “relation of facts.” On the one hand, such stories traffic in a realm of experience that is thoroughly grounded in belief, including belief in ghosts, miracles, spirits and all that is inconsistent with real life as represented in novels. [18]  On the other hand, the truth of such experience is both attested to and made, as in poiesis, or poetic making, precisely out of multiple retellings. “Perhaps a tale you’ll make it,” says Wordsworth’s speaker in “Simon Lee” (l. 80), making the reader both frustrated and, as McLane shrewdly observes, “like the poet, a ‘maker,’” (Balladeering 227). Tales are part of a process—and a community—in which facts are made in and by the act of transmission.

14.        Hogg’s knowledge of the rich history of ballad transmission is hardly surprising: one of his first successes came with “Donald Macdonald” (1801), a patriotic song that gained a popular following in Scotland; and Hogg and his mother, Margaret Laidlaw Hogg, were what McLane describes as “informants” for Scott’s Minstrelsy (Balladeering 4). With Scott’s encouragement Hogg published a collection of “ballads and songs founded on facts and legendary tales,” The Mountain Bard, in 1807. [19]  But while he would continue to write poetry and songs throughout his career, it was with the prose tale that Hogg found his best point of entry into a crowded literary market and his most distinctive literary voice. Many of his tales, like “The Mysterious Bride,” engage, build upon, or indirectly comment on the ballad tradition that Hogg was so familiar with. [20]  Others quite literally emerge from the margins and surrounding materials of ballads—conjured, like the mysterious bride herself, by song. In The Mountain Bard, for instance, Hogg includes a ballad imitation, “The Pedlar,” that he published three years earlier in the Scots Magazine. The ballad tells the story of a murdered pedlar and of the discovery, following a bizarre incident in which a recovered heel bone starts “streamin wi’ blood,” of the murderer (Mountain, l. 147). As Hogg’s editor, Suzanne Gilbert, suggests, the “motif” of a part of a victim’s body bearing witness to his fate is common in traditional ballads; it can be seen in “The Cruel Sister,” collected in Scott, and the better known version, “The Twa Sisters,” collected in Francis James Child’s The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882–98). [21] 

15.        Like Scott’s version in the Minstrelsy, Hogg’s “Pedlar” has what appears to be a standard ballad-collection apparatus, including a headnote and endnotes. But these spaces are used not to highlight excluded variants or to justify one version over another, but instead to proliferate multiple versions of the “fact” on which the ballad is “founded” (26). The endnotes, for instance, stretch on for many pages and offer multiple instances of the “superstitious awe” (Mountain Bard 31) recorded in the song. “This reminds me of a trifling anecdote, which I will here relate as an instance” (33), Hogg writes. A few paragraphs later: “some, yet alive, have heard John Corry, who was [Mr Boston’s] servant, tell the following story” (34). “A similar story to this of Mr Boston and the pedlar, is told of a contemporary of his, the Reverend Henry Davieson, of Gallashiels . . .” (35). And off he goes again, with one account suggesting another until a tale—indeed, a set of tales—has unfolded in the margins to extend the story and to show it to be alive still, present “amongst the wilds of the country to this day” (Mountain Bard 32). [22] 

16.        In the 1821 edition of The Mountain Bard, Hogg added a number of new ballads, including “The Wife of Crowle,” a version of the famous “Wife of Usher’s Well,” from Scott’s Minstrelsy, which tells the story of three sons drowned at sea who return—as revenants—to feast with their bereaved mother before departing in the morning to go to their graves. Hogg’s version was originally published in his own, short-lived literary periodical, The Spy, in 1810, as “A Fragment.” And as Hogg notes in the headnote to The Mountain Bard version, it is also “given more at large in ‘The Winter Evening Tales’” (312), a collection of prose tales that Hogg published in 1820—his most successful work of fiction. This more-at-large version appears in the first story of the collection, “The Renowned Adventures of Basil Lee,” which was itself published in two fragments earlier in The Spy and tells of the wanderings of the anti-heroic Basil, from a Berwickshire farm to Canada to revolutionary-war America and back to Edinburgh. Along the way Basil encounters the tale of “an old woman who lived in a lone sheiling, at the head of an arm of the sea, called Loch Kios, to whom a ghost paid a visit every night” (Winter 53). The account recorded in “The Wife of Crowle” is here transplanted to the isle of Lewis and then extended in the form of a prose tale. [23] 

17.        The movement back-and-forth between ballad and tale, and the interplay of both within individual ballads or tales, is a striking feature of Hogg’s work. But as noted at the start of this essay, his deployment of these two forms as versions of one another, interchangeable, in a sense, is a product of the ballad-tale conflation that marks the turn of the century more generally and that can be linked back to Ossian, the ballad revival, and a general sense of anxiety about the fate of old stories in new media. It is tempting to see in the examples given from Hogg a progress of sorts: from the ballad (“Donald Macdonald”), to the ballad and tale existing side by side (as in The Mountain Bard or The Spy), and finally on to the tale: “Basil Lee” or “The Mysterious Bride,” each one taking its starting point from a ballad. That is perhaps a little too neat, though the progression is in keeping with a larger cultural shift in these years, one that saw the tale first confused with the ballad and then, for a time, rivaling it and even displacing it as an object of collection (as in Earle’s Welsh Legends or the more famous example of the Children’s and Household Tales of the Grimm brothers, first published in 1812). [24]  Still, this is to emphasize the competition between the forms, of which there was some, rather than the commonalities between them, of which there were many. As Wordsworth might have said—or better, as Albert B. Lord or Marshall McLuhan might have said—the more “philosophical” distinction is not that between poetry and prose, or ballad and tale, but rather between oral and written media. [25]  Like the ballad, the tale kept a foot in both camps, holding on to the idea of a genuine middle position—in prose—between orality and literacy for at least as long as it took for the short story to reorient such fiction along the lines of the novel and to make a new age of prose synonymous with an age of print.

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[1] Robinson writes this in a June 17th, 1800, letter to a publisher (qtd. in Pascoe, Introduction, 54). BACK

[2] In 1808, Lewis would publish Romantic Tales, a four-volume work that includes ballads and prose tales. BACK

[3] The tale has two major associations that attach to it in these years of emergence: the first is the moral or didactic (as in the work of Jean-Francois Marmontel, Hannah More, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Maria Edgeworth), the second is the regional and traditional (as in the work of Edgeworth (again), Walter Scott, and James Hogg). The foregrounding of the moment of telling or teaching in both might be said to link these two major associations. The present article will focus on the tale’s strong regional and oral-traditional associations, but for a general view that considers both major strands of the tale’s rise, see Tim Killick, British Short Fiction in the Early Nineteenth Century (2008), and Anthony Jarrells, “Short Fictional Forms and the Rise of the Tale,” in The Oxford History of the Novel in English, vol. 2: English and British Fiction 1750–1820, edited by Karen O’Brien and Peter Garside (Oxford UP, 2015), 478–94. On the word “tale” surpassing “romance” and “novel” in the 1820s, see Peter Garside, “The English Novel in the Romantic Era: Consolidation and Dispersal,” in The English Novel, 1770–1829: A Bibliographical Survey of Prose Fiction Published in the British Isles, edited by Peter Garside, James Raven, Rainer Schöwerling (Oxford University Press, 2000), 15–103: pp. 50–51. BACK

[4] Paula McDowell argues that in the latter half of the eighteenth century, following a new interest in the ballad and in the controversy surrounding James Macpherson’s Ossian poems, “we see an epochal shift in attitudes toward ‘oral tradition,’ and the crystallization of the modern secularized version of this concept” (McDowell, “Mediating Media,” 240). See also Nicholas Hudson, “Constructing Oral Tradition: the Origins of the Concept in Enlightenment Intellectual Culture.” The Spoken Word: Oral Culture in Britain, 1500–1850, edited by Adam Fox and Daniel Woolf (Manchester UP, 2002), pp. 240–55. On “nervousness” about the spread of print in the eighteenth century, see McDowell, “The Art of Printing was Fatal,” p. 56. BACK

[5] In terms of the latter, I’m thinking especially of the work of Maureen N. McLane (Balladeering, Minstrelsy, and the Making of British Romantic Poetry). In terms of a more general media turn in Romantic studies, see, in addition to McLane, Celeste Langan (“Understanding Media in 1805”); Langan and McLane (“The Medium of Romantic Poetry”); Paula McDowell, “Mediating Media Past and Present”; Kevis Goodman, Georgic Modernity and British Romanticism: Poetry and the Mediation of History (Cambridge UP, 2008); and Clifford Siskin, “Mediated Enlightenment: the System of the World,” in This is Enlightenment, eds. Siskin and William Warner (U of Chicago P, 2010), pp. 164–72. BACK

[6] As in, for instance, Franco Moretti, Graphs, Maps, Trees: “Both synchronically and diachronically . . . the novel is the system of its genres” (30). Clifford Siskin has used the term “novelism” to describe the “habitual subordination of writing to the novel” (172–3). BACK

[7] McLane takes her definition here from Friedrich A. Kittler’s Discourse Networks, 1800/1900, and specifically from David E. Wellbery’s Forward to the book, in which the term “mediality” is introduced. BACK

[8] Celeste Langan addresses the conflation of prose and print in her essay, “Understanding Media in 1805,” pp. 53–54. BACK

[9] As Langan and McLane do for verse in “The Medium of Romantic Poetry.” BACK

[10] “The Mysterious Bride” was published as a continuation of Hogg’s “Shepherd’s Calendar” series, which started in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine in 1819 and was later published as a two-volume collection in 1829. I am aware of the pitfalls of conflating narrator and author in Romantic works and understand, too, that the shepherd-narrator that Hogg employs for his series is a creation based on Hogg’s own experiences, on people he knew in Ettrick, and on the persona of “the Shepherd” as it appeared in the pages of Blackwood’s. Nevertheless, for the sake of convenience and to more clearly position Hogg the writer in relation to the references and sources he engages in his tale, I will refer to him throughout this essay as “Hogg” rather than as the more awkward “Hogg’s narrator” or “Hogg’s speaker.” BACK

[11] As Ian Duncan notes, it was during these years that “Hogg and [John] Galt gave the tale its most striking formal development” (Scott’s Shadow 35). BACK

[12] On Thomson’s request see Kinsley’s note to the poem, #485, in volume three of The Poems and Songs of Robert Burns. BACK

[13] In the version printed in The Scots Musical Museum she also lets him in. It concludes: “the joys we’ve had this ae night / your chamber was within, jo” (Musical Museum #311). BACK

[14] See Wickman’s essay in this issue, “Concerning the Spiritual in Hogg’s Art”: link here. BACK

[15] See note 6 on Clifford Siskin’s term, “novelism.” BACK

[16] See Yoon Sun Lee’s Introduction to this special issue: link here. BACK

[17] As a reviewer of Mary Margaret Busk’s Tales of Fault and Feeling (1825) put it, “[t]ales are in the first place facts, which, from being in some degree out of the common course of things, attract attention, are remembered, and handed down from father to son, with all that incorrectness which must attend what relies on memory only . . .” The Literary Gazette (26 March 1825). Quoted in Killick, British Short Fiction, p. 17. BACK

[18] As Wickman explains, “[f]or Hogg, the spiritual is a fact of existence.” Link to Wickman’s essay. BACK

[19] Title page, The Mountain Bard, 1807. Hogg published an expanded version of The Mountain Bard in 1821. The title of the 1821 edition was changed, slightly, to read, “The Mountain Bard; Consisting of Legendary Ballads and Tales.” BACK

[20] As Douglas Gifford notes, “. . . it cannot be stressed enough how much [Hogg’s] ballad background is the basis of both content and form in the bulk and the best of his fiction” (Development 10). BACK

[21] See Gilbert’s note to “The Pedlar” (1807), pp. 405–06. BACK

[22] As Gilbert elsewhere argues, for Hogg “tradition” is not “a fixed set of practices” located in the past, but rather something that “continues into the present” (“Authority of Tradition” 101). BACK

[23] nother example of this movement from ballad to tale, one perhaps better known to today’s readers of Hogg, is the prose tale version of the ballad, “The Twa Corbies,” collected in Scott’s Minstrelsy, that is interpolated in The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (147–52). See also Duncan’s note in the text, p. 208, n. 149. BACK

[24] As Tim Killick notes, “[a]t some point during the late 1810s, perhaps influenced by Scott’s shift from poetry to the novel, the tale began to match the ballad as a subject worthy of study by the antiquarian and the folk historian” (British Short Fiction 122). BACK

[25] Wordsworth, Preface, 602. Wordsworth actually says that the contradistinction is between poetry and science. Lord’s book, The Singer of Tales (2nd edition, Harvard UP, 2000), published in 1962, examines the distinct manner in which oral epic singers compose and as such contributes to discussions about Homer and his age that go back to the eighteenth century. Marshall McLuhan described his 1962 book, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (U of Toronto P, 1962) as “complementary” to The Singer of Tales, for the ways it understands one moment of medium change (oral to print) in terms of another, later one (from print to the “electric age”). BACK