James Hogg’s “Confessions”: A Related-Reading Tool Kit

As with reading most novels, there are no prerequisites for reading James Hogg’s The Private Memoirs and Confessions of A Justified Sinner, or this edition, which features “An Afterword; Revealing Secrets of the Curse.”

However, if you want to enhance your interpretation and your appreciation of Hogg’s masterpiece, consider these related works…

“A Scots Mummy”

“A Scots Mummy. In a Letter from James Hogg” was published in the August 1823 edition of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazinea year before The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner.

In “Confessions of a Justified Sinner” the “Editor” refers to James Hogg and the “Scots Mummy” letter on page 376 in this edition (as in the original). And in this regard, the letter is as factive as it is fictive—and blurs the line between.

Hogg addressed the letter to Sir Christopher North, which may give you some perspective and direction about the nature of the letter and the point of it all.

Indeed, you will miss out on some splendid significance if you overlook the “Scots Mummy.” And as with references in general, it is perhaps best to refer to the letter when you encounter it on page 376 while reading “Confessions of a Justified Sinner.”

“A Scots Mummy. In a Letter from James Hogg” excerpted from the August 1823 edition of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. [PDF 1MB]

The complete 1823 edition of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. [Google Books PDF]

“…like reading the bible and the jest-book, verse about”

As one might expect from a novel about the memoir of a religious fanatic, the “justified sinner” himself, there are numerous burlesques, entanglements, parodies, quotes, subversions, and other manipulations of bible verses throughout The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner.

For example, on pages 6-7, “the Editor” tells of character George Colwan’s remark about what living a life of constant religious devotion would be like: “…It would be like reading the Bible and the jest-book, verse about” (p. 6-7).

“The bible…”

Colwan’s anecdotal literary comparison may seem as humorous as it may be blasphemous.  As pointed out in the Afterword in this edition, Hogg’s quotes and parodies of bible verses are perhaps better appreciated with at least some knowledge of their source.

In keeping with the historical trajectory and context of Hogg’s “Confessions,” it is perhaps best to reference the King James Bible, also known as The Authorized King James Version, an English translation of the bible commissioned in 1604 by King James (who ruled as the King of Scotland as James VI, and at the same time, the King of England and Ireland as James I).

I’ve referred to a copy of the 1611 edition of The Authorized King James Bible,  as well as The King James Version of the Bible available at Project Gutenberg, and other “random” versions of the 1769 Oxford Edition, without adverse discrepancies in overall text or meaning (putting more nuanced discussions of bible editions, variations, and scholarship aside).  So, just about any version of the King James will serve you well for reference purposes.

“…the “jest-book”

Yet to fully consider character George Colwan’s remark, if we consult the bible, then of course we must consult the “jest-book”—if not several…

Indeed, familiarity with Scottish proverbs and anecdotes can enlighten and enliven your reading experience and appreciation for Hogg’s “Confessions.”

For example, character Bessy Gilies recalls a rather key anecdote: “Like is an ill mark” (p. 102). The significance and devilish variations of the anecdote are discussed in the Afterword (p. v).

And while there are many jest-books, and collections of jokes and humorous anecdotes of the late 1790s through the 1830s that can prime your imagination for the humor of Hogg’s era, one is particularly notable for its popularity during its time, and availability during ours:

The Edinburgh Budget of Wit and Amusement: Being A Select Collection if Anecdotes, Bon Mots, &c.. of Celebrated Characters, &c. Including Many Originals. Containing Also Allan Ramsay’s Scots Proverbs, published in 1808.

The reference to the anecdote “Like is an ill mark” that character Bessy Giles mentions on page 102 in “Confessions,” can be found on page 396 in “Allan Ramsay’s Scot’s Proverbs” which is Part III of the The Edinburgh Budget of Wit and Amusement.

Seeking out other jest-books, particularly those of the age in which character George Colwan is situated, also offer some rather enlightening perspectives.

The Translation from an Ancient Chaldee Manuscript

The October 1817 edition of Blackwood’s Magazine features an article by James Hogg and others that in many ways can be seen as an important precursor to The Private Memoirs and Confessions of A Justified Sinner. At the least, “The Chaldee Manuscript” exemplifies a combination of “the bible and the jest-book” in parodic form. For example, it parodies the justified column-format of the King James Bible and its side-note commentaries, which Hogg, and his fellow writers John G. Lockhart and John Wilson, used mostly for mockery and satire.

A good quality copy of “The Chaldee Manuscript” in its original form is available from the DiscoverArchive at Vanderbilt University.

Forming your own literary interpretation…

Instructing others about how to read, interpret, or approach Hogg’s “Confessions of A Justified Sinner” would be most antithetical to the premise and very purpose of the book itself. So I shall try to avoid doing just that.

That said, the modern reader may miss some of the subtlety and significance of the novel without considering these key, related works—which can enhance your enjoyment of reading and appreciating this literary work of art.

So read them for yourself—and form your own interpretation.
Works Cited

The Authorized King James Bible, 1611.

The Edinburgh Budget of Wit and Amusement: Being A Select Collection of Anecdotes, Bon Mots, &c.. of Celebrated Characters, &c. Including Many Originals. Containing Also Allan Ramsay’s Scots Proverbs, 1808.

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of A Justified Sinner: With an Afterword; Revealing Secrets of The Curse, edited by Jaix Chaix, Word Exo Inc., 2016.

Hogg, James. “A Scots Mummy.” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, vol. 14, no. 79, 1823, pp. 188-190.

MLA Citation for this article:

Chaix, Jaix. “James Hogg’s “Confessions”: A Related-Reading Tool Kit.” HoggConfessions.com. Word Exo Inc., 4 Dec. 2016. Web.

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