Son of a Scottish shepherd and descended from minstrels, Hogg led a life that has the fictional quality Thomas Hardy was to capture later in the century in his novels of country life. After meeting Sir Walter Scott in 1802, Hogg adopted the name "Ettrick Shepherd," a pseudonym under which he published original lyrics and ballads. In 1814 Hogg met William Wordsworth and enjoyed literary friendships in the Lake District, although he parodied the other poets' styles and mannerisms in The Poetic Mirror (1816). He married at age 50 and fathered five children, whom he tried to support by the same kind of unproductive farming at which Robert Burns had labored a generation before. Like Burns, his convivial nature and verbal talents won him a following in fashionable society, especially after the publication of his first novel, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), when he was 53 years old. The first novel to explore psychological aberrations, it traces the collapse of a personality under the pressure of social conformity, native superstition, and religious excess. Since the introduction by Andre Gide to the 1947 Cresset edition, it has acquired an academic following and a new popularity. There is a James Hogg Society, founded in 1982, which publishes a newsletter.
Karl Miller was educated at the Royal High School of Edinburgh and Cambridge and Harvard Universities. He became literary editor of the Spectator and the New Statesman as well as editor of the Listener, and went on the found The London Review of Books, which he edited for many years. From 1974 to 1992 he served as Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College, London. His books include Cockburn's Millennium, which received the James Tait Black Memorial Award, Doubles, Authors, and two volumes of Autobiography, Rebecca's Vest and Dark Horses. A Life of James Hoggart, Electric Shepherd appeared in 2003.