The Ettrick Shepherd and the Modern Pythagorean: science and imagination in romantic Scotland

Coyer, Megan Joann (2010) The Ettrick Shepherd and the Modern Pythagorean: science and imagination in romantic Scotland. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
[thumbnail of 2010coyerphd.pdf] PDF
Download (1MB)
Printed Thesis Information:


This thesis focuses on predisciplinary dialogue in the Romantic periodical press, and in particular, on the influence of medical thinking and the science of the mind on the writing of James Hogg (1770-1835).

The applicability of twentieth-century psychology to Hogg’s masterpiece, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (1824), is largely responsible for Hogg’s entrance into the modern world canon, and the tension between rational scientific and traditional supernatural explanations in Hogg’s corpus is now a critical commonplace. However, critics have been hesitant to recognise Hogg’s voice in the proto-psychological polemics of his era. The ongoing publication of the Stirling/South Carolina Research edition of the Collected Works of James Hogg has catalysed revisionist scholarship in Hogg studies and is leading to a growing recognition of his pervasive connections within the diverse intellectual culture of the era.

This thesis examines his connections to the little-known Glaswegian surgeon and writer, Robert Macnish (1802-1837). Like Hogg, Macnish was an active contributor of short prose fiction and poetry to the Romantic periodical press, and at the same time, he worked as a practicing surgeon in Glasgow, publishing three popular medical texts: The Anatomy of Drunkenness (1827), The Philosophy of Sleep (1830), and An Introduction to Phrenology (1836). These texts engage with popular debates in the periodical press, including the reciprocal relationship between the mind and body, particularly regarding altered-states of consciousness, as well as methodologies in the science of the mind. Macnish’s literary contributions to Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine and Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country under his pseudonym, ‘A Modern Pythagorean’, deal with similar themes, and by examining Hogg’s literary and biographical connections to Macnish, a clearer picture of Hogg’s engagement with medical thinking and the science of the mind is created.

Macnish’s dedication of a dream-poem to ‘The Ettrick Shepherd’ and the utilisation of an extract from Hogg’s poem The Pilgrims of the Sun (1815) as a headpiece in The Philosophy of Sleep (1830) are the starting points for the first section, while Karl Miller’s assertion in Cockburn’s Millennium (1975) that Hogg’s Confessions may have influenced Macnish’s Blackwoodian prose fiction is examined in the second section. The final section questions why Macnish chose to use ‘James Hogg’ as his nom de guerre for his short prose tale, ‘A Psychological Curiosity’, published in The Scottish Annual (1836), and examines Miller’s
assertion that Macnish’s Blackwoodian tale, ‘The Metempsychosis’ (1826), may have influenced Hogg’s tales, ‘On the Separate Existence of the Soul’ (1831) and ‘Strange Letter of a Lunatic’ (1830), both published in Fraser’s.

It is concluded that Hogg and Macnish shared numerous preoccupations and influenced one another’s writings over the course of many years. The connection between moral virtue and health pervades both authors’ corpuses, as the relationship between cause and effect is literalised through physically and therefore mentally transformational experiences. The engagement of both authors with the debate surrounding the explained supernatural has a profound impact on their writings, and both are preoccupied with the methodologies of the science of the mind, including the metaphysics of the common sense philosophers and the ‘bump-reading’ of the phrenologists. By the end of his career, Macnish fully ascribed to the explanatory power of phrenology. In contrast, Hogg remains resistant to place full faith in modern conceptualisations of natural law, while also forwarding an embodied theory of the imagination, the mind, and the soul. For Hogg, one comes closest to a divine understanding of the natural world through aesthetic experience and imaginative belief, which ready the mind and body for the joys of the world to come. Finally, Hogg, as an autodidactic peasant-poet, was himself an object of study in the science of the mind, but an examination of the relationship of his life and writing to that of Macnish reveals that he was both ‘a psychological curiosity’ and psychologically curious.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: James Hogg, Robert Macnish, Scottish Romanticism, Periodical Literature, Literature and Science
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PE English
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Critical Studies > Scottish Literature
Supervisor's Name: McCue, Dr. Kirsteen
Date of Award: 2010
Depositing User: Ms Megan Joann Coyer
Unique ID: glathesis:2010-2097
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Sep 2010
Last Modified: 15 Oct 2018 15:25

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year