James Hogg was born on 14 September 1800 to Thomas and Sarah Hogg of Leitrim, Ireland. If educated in Ireland, Hogg would have attended a private school, as there are no records of him having had a college education. The Hogg family remained in Leitrim until 1819 when they immigrated to New Brunswick in search of a better life for their family rather than the hardship they knew in Ireland during a time of economic depression. At that time, James was nineteen years old while his elder brother, Charles, was thirty-one and his younger sister, Eleanor, just fourteen. After a long journey across the Atlantic Ocean, the Hoggs settled in Saint John. It was there that James began his career as a writer.
Throughout the 1820s Hogg worked for Henry Chubb as a reporter for a newspaper called the New Brunswick Courier. Within the pages of that newspaper Hogg reported both local news and news from his native Ireland. The news from Ireland grew to be more and more depressing with each passing year as the population increased and the economic crisis continued.
The New Brunswick Courier also published many of Hogg’s poems. Henry Chubb grew to admire Hogg's work and his work ethic. He also acted as a mentor to Hogg in his writing, encouraging him to continue writing poetry. In 1825, Chubb published a compilation of Hogg's poems entitled Poems, Religious, Moral and Sentimental.
Hogg's book contains sixty-seven poems in two hundred and twenty-eight pages. In its original form the book is quite small and bound in leather. In the preface, Hogg states that he has separated his religious poems from those of a moral and sentimental nature so as not to offend those readers who believe the subjects to be unrelated. He also claims innocence to any charge of plagiarism in his work because critics had stated that it bore resemblance to the poetry of Keats and Gray (Hogg iv; MacFarlane 44).
Hogg wrote in a variety of poetic styles, including ballad, narrative verse, lyric, elegy, epic, ode, and pastoral. The majority of his poetry was lyrical and reflected the pastoral life he once lived in Ireland. Evidence of this can be found in his poem entitled “Rural Life”:
Oh! nature, far remov’d from life’s alarms,
Slow beats the heart, that can resist thy charms;
Nor court thy peaceful shade, where soft and still,
In mazy wand’rings, flows the gurgling rill. (9-12)
His use of imagery within this poem creates the perfect picture of a rural and romantic Ireland in the mind of the reader:
See, where the pearly dew-drops brightly glow,
To feed the flow’rs that in the valley grow;
Like polish’d diamonds, in the herbage blaze,
Bright as the Sun that gilds them with his rays. (39-42)
The rhythm and movement of the words are so expressive and full of emotion that the reader is compelled to keep reading. According to Fred Cogswell, Hogg’s book of poetry “shows him to have been a versifier possessed of an impeccable ear for rhythm who could turn out effusions calculated to please any audience in which the cult of feeling for its own sake had become firmly established. [However, one] looks through his work almost in vain for any hint of New Brunswick residence” (111).
Although this is almost always the case, there is one poem in Hogg’s book entitled “An Address to the Patrons of Sunday Schools in New-Brunswick” in which he speaks of a small plant growing in the middle of a field where it is vulnerable to the natural elements:
But if transplanted to some friendly soil,
And kindly nourish’d by the gard’ners toil,
In many a range, its lofty branches rise,
Forsake the earth, and emulate the skies. (9-12)
It may be that Hogg was speaking of himself in this poem, as he had just arrived in New Brunswick and was looking to grow in his new environment, which is exactly what he did. And although New Brunswick does not feature prominently in his work, we still consider Hogg to be an important New Brunswick author because he was the first in the province to have a book of poetry published and in later years wrote many influential political reports concerning the union of the provinces.
In 1830, James Hogg married Eliza (Johnston) Hogg (b. 1805) who had emigrated from Ireland in 1819 with her family, who were descendants of Welsh princes. It was in this same year that James and Eliza began their family with a firstborn named Sarah. Over the next decade the Hoggs had three more children: Catherine Johnston (b. 1833), Thomas Henry (b. 1837), and Eliza Johnston (b. 1841). In the mid 1830s, the Hoggs left Saint John and moved to Fredericton.
In Fredericton, James was determined to start his own newspaper, and in 1844 he founded the New Brunswick Reporter and Fredericton Advertiser. Hogg published more of his poetry in this newspaper and continued to follow the news in Ireland, now plagued with famine due to potato blight. Ireland always held a special place in his heart, but in Fredericton and at the helm of his own paper it was politics to which Hogg now devoted the majority of his time and effort. He used the paper to publish political reports, push for specific movements within the government, and support those leaders in whom he believed. Hogg supported the reform government formed by Charles Fisher in 1854 and his Reform Bill the following year. Hogg also supported the Prohibition Act of 1855 led by Samuel Leonard Tilley. Hogg believed in the idea of responsible government and was devoted to it (Wallace).
Hogg was always distressed at the lack of unity among the provinces and was a staunch supporter of Confederation. Unfortunately, James Hogg died in his home on 12 June 1866 and thus was unable to see the union of the provinces take place. His son, Thomas Henry Hogg, took his place as editor of the New Brunswick Reporter, and in his eulogy on 22 June 1866, wrote the following about his father:
As a poet, it may not be deemed out of place to say that [James Hogg] stood in the front rank of British American writers … with the world he was a public man, a journalist, a politician; with his family and friends he was all love, kindness and affection, and suffice it to say those who knew him best loved him most.
Alyssa Smith, Spring 2010
St. Thomas University
Bibliography of Primary Sources
Hogg, James, ed. New Brunswick Reporter and Fredericton Advertiser. Fredericton, NB, 1844–66.
---. Poems, Religious, Moral and Sentimental. Saint John, NB: Henry Chubb, 1825.
Bibliography of Secondary Sources
Cogswell, Fred. “English Poetry in New Brunswick Before 1880.” A Literary and Linguistic History of New Brunswick. Ed. Reavley Gair. Fredericton, NB: Fiddlehead Poetry Books & Goose Lane Editions Ltd., 1985. 107-16.
Hogg, Thomas Henry. [Eulogy of James Hogg] New Brunswick Reporter 22 June 1866: 2.
MacFarlane, William Godsoe. New Brunswick Bibliography: The Books and Writers of the Province. Saint John, NB: Sun Print. Co., Ltd., 1895. 44-5.
Provincial Archives of New Brunswick. The New Brunswick Irish Portal. 1998–2012. Provincial Archives of New Brunswick. 8 July 2020
---. New Brunswick Newspaper Directory. 1998–2020. Provincial Archives of New Brunswick. 8 July 2020
---. Vital Statistics From Government Records (RS141). 1998–2020. Provincial Archives of New Brunswick. 8 July 2020
Rhodenizer, Vernon Blair. Canadian Literature in English. Montreal, PQ: Quality Press Ltd., 1965. 838.
Wallace, C.M. “James Hogg.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Vol. 8. Toronto, ON: U of Toronto P, 1976. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. 2000. U of Toronto/U Laval. 2 Oct. 2010