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The Beauties of Scotland
Containing a clear and full account of the agriculture, commerce, mines and manufactures of the population, cities, towns and villages, &ct, of each country. By Robert Forsyth in 5 volumes printed in 1805.


This is a very interesting publication which also includes some historical information on each county. While reading the first volume I was impressed about the descriptions of living conditions in Edinburgh and the way the people conducted themselves. It also listed all the various crafts conducted in the city and in many ways it condensced a huge amount of information about the city. In many ways if you wanted to do research on Edinburgh or any of the counties then this would make an excellent base from which to start.

Through the five volumes you'll learn a great amount about Scotland during this period in history and some background information on earlier history as well. There are some fine illustrations throughout the volumes.

Volume 1
Lothian, Edinburgh, Berwickshire (51Mb)
Volume 2
Berwickshire, Roxburghshire, Selkirkshire, Dumfriesshire, Galloway, Ayrshire (51Mb)
Volume 3
Renfrewshire, Lanarkshire, Glasgow, Dunbartonshire, Stirlingshire, Linlithgowshire, Clackmannanshire (55Mb)
Volume 4
Clackmannanshire, Fife, Perthshire, Forfarshire, Aberdeenshire, Morayshire, Cromartyshire, Caithnes (54Mb)
Volume 5
Caithness, Orkney Islands, Shetland Islands, Ross-Shire, Inverness-Shire, Argylshire, Bute, Conclusion (53Mb)

FORSYTH, ROBERT (1766-1846), miscellaneous writer, son of Robert Forsyth and Marion Pairman of Biggar, Lanarkshire, was born in 1766. His parents were poor, but gave him a good education, with a view to 'making him a minister.' When only fourteen he entered Glasgow College. He says of himself that he 'had slow talents, but great fits of application.' After the usual course of study he obtained license as a probationer of the church of Scotland. As he spoke without notes ('the paper'), and was somewhat vehement and rhetorical in his style, he gained considerable popularity. But having no influence he grew tired of waiting for a parish.

He then turned his attention to the law, but the fact that he was a licentiate of the church was held as an objection to his being admitted to the bar. Refused by the Faculty of Advocates, he petitioned the court of session for redress. The court ruled that he must resign his office of licentiate. This he did. Still the faculty resisted. There were vexatious delays, but at last, in consequence of a judgment of Lordpresident Campbell, the faculty gave way, and in 1792 Forsyth was admitted an advocate. Disappointment again awaited him. He had fraternised with the 'friends of the people,' and was looked on with suspicion as a 'revolutionist,' and this marred his prospects. He turned to literature, and managed to make a living by writing for the booksellers. He contributed to the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica' 'Agriculture,' 'Asia,' 'Britain,' and other articles (1802-3). He also tried poetry, politics, and philosophy, but with little success. Eventually he obtained a fair practice at the bar, where he was noted for his dogged industry, blunt honesty, and pawky humour. His chief works are 'Principles and Practice of Agriculture' (2 vols. 1804), 'The Principles of Moral Science' (vol. I. 1805), 'Political Fragments' (1830), 'Observations on the Book of Genesis' (1846). But the work by which he is best known is 'The Beauties of Scotland' (5 vols. 1805-8), which is still held in some repute, not only for its valuable information, but for the many engravings which it contains of towns and places of interest. Forsyth, who had always adhered loyally to his church, published in 1843, when seventy-six years old, 'Remarks on the Church of Scotland,' &c. This brought him under the lash of Hugh Miller, then editor of the 'Witness,' who not only reviewed the pamphlet (14 Jan. 1843) with merciless severity, but also recalled some of Forsyth's speculations in philosophy, which he covered with ridicule and scorn. It is curious that in two of these speculations he seems to have had an inkling of opinions largely current in the present time. 'Whatever has no tendency to improvement will gradually pass away and disappear for ever.' This hints at the 'survival of the fittest.' 'Let it never be forgotten then for whom immortality is reserved. It is appointed as the portion of those who are worthy of it, and they shall enjoy it as a natural consequence of their worth.' This seems the doctrine of 'conditional immortality' now held by many Christians. Hugh Miller says ironically of these views: 'It was reserved for this man of high philosophic intellect to discover, early in the present century, that, though there are some souls that live for ever, the great bulk of souls are as mortal as the bodies to which they are united, and perish immediately after, like the souls of brutes.' He died in 1846.


Forsyth's Autobiography

To the citizens of Edinburgh, and the people of Scotland in general, this posthumous volume requires no introduction. Through a long life, its author among them, well known, and highly esteemed as an eminent lawyer, and as a man of learning and general science: the author of several works that have attained celebrity, though of none so well calculated as that on our table directly to advance the interests of religion and virtue. And we are not sure but that the history of Mr Forsyth’s life, of his early struggles, indomitable perseverance, and final triumph over great difficulties, may not afford even more effectual lessons than his Sermons and Commentaries. His personal history is one which is almost peculiar to his native country; for in what other land could the son of “very poor parents,” without patrons, and with nothing to rely upon save his own exertions have trode the same arduous path and attained the same distinction? Mr. Forsyth has related his early history in an autobiography full of interest and instruction, though the reader may wish that it had been more expanded and circumstantial. But the author considered it great presumption in a man to dwell upon the history of his own life, pleasant as it is to look back upon past trials and pleasures; and his notes are therefore brief and scanty. It is, however, written, so far as it goes, with the brevity and modest, manly grace of Franklin. He was born at Biggar; and though he attained the age of nearly four score, was so delicate a child that he was not expected to survive. He was far advanced in life before ho wrote down the particulars of his early career, which seems to have been vividly remembered. Of himself in childhood, he says,

“I had slow talents, but great fits of application. I was an only child, and my parents were extremely poor, but they resolved to make me a minister, if in their power. I assented to whatever was proposed. I was of a soft timid disposition in childhood — kept down by a sense of poverty, and the evident preference given at school to the children of wealthy parents. Occasionally, however, starts of fearlessness occurred in my conduct; but I soon relapsed.

"I was taught to read English by my mother—began Latin at a parish sohool at seven year old, and continued till twelve, learning very little. We were kept in school in summer from ten a.m. till two p.m., and then from three to six or seven o’clock: in winter from ten a.m. till dark. Going to school I often looked at grownup persons, and wondered if the time of blessedness would ever arrive when I would be allowed to walk about like them, without being subjected to the misery of sitting all day in school.

“Our family consisted of my father and his mother and his wife. I loved my mother greatly. She was proud but silent. With much difficulty, on account of poverty, I was sent to Lanark school, eleven miles distant, at twelve or thirteen yean old. I went on Monday morning, and returned home on Saturdays. The schoolmaster, Robert Thomson, the husband of the sister of the author of the Seasons, was an excellent teacher, except as to Latin prosody. Under him I became a zealous scholar, and from January to August learned more than I had done in five yean before.

“But I was well prepared. I had read many books. John Cree, a gardener, lent me various tale books, such as the Persian and Turkish, &c. In the winter nights I often sat beside Robin Rannie, a shoemaker, and read to him such books as he had. I recollect Milton’s Paradise Lost, and the History of the Devil. I had also terrified myself with Satan’s Invisible World, and such books. I had read Knox’s History, Josephus, Cruikshanks, and Ross’s View of all Religions, mentioned by Hudibras. I could repeat most of Allan Ramsay’s Poems and Penycuik’s Collection. But Young’s Night Thoughts was my favourite, which I could almost repeat. Observe, my father had a notion that a child should never be caused to commit to memory any thing that he could not understand, and hence I learned few questions — only the Shorter Catechism, for decency. He said, it made a riddle of a child’s memory to cause him to repeat what he did not understand. So it was that I took great pleasure in committing verses to memory, and could at one time repeat most of the Scottish songs and ballads. I had also read some voyages and geography; so that, by my parents encouraging me to read, and praising me for it, and for all my rehearsals of poetry, I became tolerably fond of literature, and sufficiently prepared to take advantage of better teaching at Lanark.

“I was sent to Glasgow College at fourteen. On the day I entered, my grandmother died, aged ninety-six. I was a great favourite with her. On Saturdays, when I was expected from Lanark, she sat by the wayside impatiently scolding me for delaying my arrival; but I no sooner appeared than she seized me with great delight, and my delays, — pillaging crows’ nests, perhaps, at Carstairs, — were forgotten. My grandmother, who possessed a very vigorous mind, and was a zealous Presbyterian and Whig of those days, has fixed deeply in my mind the memory of herself, her sayings and opinions.

Proudly may we say,—

“From scenes like these old Scotia’s grandeurs rise;” and we should have great pleasure in tracing out the whole progress of the poor, young, studious collegian; with the “silent, proud” mother; a father, probably only a hand-loom weaver or shoemaker, but who yet knew that it could not benefit his child to become a parrot; and a grandmother, whom after the battle of "Bothwell Brig,” and not unlike Mause Headrigg. At the first Christmas recess of his college, the student walked home thirty miles to spend a week with his parents, and he then saw his mother for the last time. He says he learned little at college; and gained more by reading moderately and thinking more, than by listening to lectures. The minister of his native parish procured him, while still a mere boy, a situation as tutor in a gentleman’s family, and he filled the same office in three different families. Before the age of twenty, he became a licentiate or probationer of the Church of Scotland. Of this period he says,—

“I had few sermons, but these I could repeat correctly, and therefore never used notes, but spoke vehemently and somewhat rhetorically. I could add a part of one sermon to a part of another so as to multiply them.

“The year before I became a preacher, I went to reside with a family in the country, as tutor. Having much leisure time, I became restless and impatient of my inactive situation, and the foundation was laid for that impatience which led to a change of profession. About this time I was seized with much delicacy of stomach, which did not go off for a year or two. Having, from impatience or ambition, left the country and taken a licence to preach, I preached in most of the Edinburgh churches, and in the neighbourhood. I took much pleasure in doing so. But it so happened that, in about two years, all the churches became vacant of which I was thought to have a prospect. I was uniformly disappointed by some interest or other. Waulhope of Niddry at one time, and at another Gillespie the snuff-merchant, prevailed with Henry Dundas to give churches to my competitors. I was soon regarded as very unlucky, and became angry with my profession. I lay awake a whole night deliberating, whether I would be a doctor of medicine or an advocate. I thought if I became a medical man, I must go abroad and desert my old father. This last idea decided the point, and I resolved to study law. My eyes were delicate. I therefore resolved to dine every day on rice and milk, which I did for a year, and that removed the tendency to inflammation in the eye-balls, which had teazed me. I resolved, at the same time, to conceal my views, that I might preserve the power of taking the situation of a parish minister, if it should come in my way.”

The secrecy which Mr. Forsyth found it necessary to maintain, prevented him from obtaining needful direction as to the course of his legal studies. He therefore missed the royal road found in commentators, abridgments, and compendiums; but the toilsome one which he took, probably helped to lay the sure foundation of his future eminence as a thorough-bred lawyer. He was the member of a law student’s club, in which “Mr. Walter Scott showed good sense, but no unusual powers.” And, certainly, Scott’s unsuspected powers did not lie in that direction.

The obstacles, paltry and ridiculous in themselves, in which Mr. Forsyth had to encounter, before being admitted a member of the Faculty of Advocates, are still well remembered in Edinburgh. He thus briefly touches upon events which went far to break up the monopoly, or to quash the petty, exclusive spirit of Scottish gentlemen of the long robe.

“I presented to the Court of Session a petition to be remitted to trial by the Faculty of Advocates. That body were terrified, lest, on my example, a multitude of preachers should profane and ruin their profession. There existed at that time also a high aristocratical spirit in the body. They were offended that a poor man’s son should presume to intrude into their body. I was therefore opposed. But a restless energy had, by this time, arisen in my mind. With great feeling and modesty, even to bashfulness, I was fearless and intrepid if brought into publio view. I complained to the Court. The objection was, that I was a preacher, and must renounce that profession. I resisted this, and made a long speech at the bar. The Court decided that I must resign my privilege as a preacher or licentiate of the Church of Scotland. It was supposed that, in the face of opposition by the Faculty to my admission to the bar, I would not venture to do so; but I immediately tendered my resignation to the Presbytery that had granted my licence. It was objected that such a licence could not be resigned, as in the Presbyterian Church every individual may preach and exhort, and a licence is merely a certificate of a man’s morals and literature, certifying that he is qualified to teach, and may safely be ordained a clergyman. My resignation was, however, ultimately accepted.

“September 19. Still the Faculty resisted; but the Lord President (Islay Campbell) insisted that they were now acting improperly. I was admitted to trial, and passed” (in 1792.)

“Then almost immediately came the French Revolution. I was solicited to join the Society of Friends of the People. I entered very sanguinely into the notions of the first French Reformers. I did not see that I could do much in aid of what I thought the cause of freedom, or that my countenance to it was important. Still I was conscientious. I said to myself, what if for such a time as this I have been brought forward and made somewhat conspicuous! So I joined that society. We were all inexperienced in politics, and had no intention of opposing force to the government. I soon became an object of grievous persecution. Nobody was thought in safety to intrust a cause to me. So I, with difficulty, supported myself by teaching law, and some very triflmg employment at the bar. I kept free of debt, and employed myself in the study of Chemistry, Mechanics, &c. I sunk into total obscurity for years, but at last began to write a little in the ‘ Encyclopedia Britannica. In the meanwhile my father died (1798) without my having been able to do any thing of importance towards the comfort of his old age, which mortified me very grievously.

“At last Pitt’s ministry ended, and I hoped for better times. I had become attached to a young lady, now my wife, and ventured to marry; all went well, and I gradually prospered. I wrote for some time for the booksellers; but getting into business at the bar, I desisted from that laborious employment.

“These details are quite vague and general, and give no precise idea of my character.”

The memoir here breaks off, and at a critical juncture. It is well-known that the young Jacobin afterwards took to the directly opposite, but more thriving political extreme of high Toryism; that in fact his strong and stern mind finally received some taint of the usual bitterness of the renegade. Mr. Forsyth had received a religious education, and was even tinctured with not the finest part of the spirit of the Covenanters. He had the hardness of the old Presbyterians, without their devotional enthusiasm; and this made him, though most conscientiously, the determined maintainer of Catholic disabilities and indeed of all ecclesiastical things “as they are.”

His sermons are not in any way remarkable, save that at a time when Blair may be presumed to have given the tone to young preachers, they show more of the style now usually termed “Evangelical". His dissertations and commentaries on the book of Genesis, display learning, and contain many ingenious hypotheses and original speculations; and there can be no question, that this shrewd man, this acute theological student and able lawyer, was deeply imbued with the truth of the leading doctrines of the Christian system, and had strong impressions of the importance of religion. We quote, as more convincing than any assertion, an extract from his private notes, of date July 1821, when Mr. Forsyth must have been in full practice as a lawyer, and probably looking forward to the bench as no unmerited reward of his distinguished professional abilities.

“Nothing tends so much to make young people pious, or even old people, as to induce them to pray — not to repeat forms of prayer, but to pray from the suggestions of tbeir own minds. It is an attempt, as it were, to converse with God. I never wrote a prayer, and when I was a preacher my prayers were said extempore. This was presumptuous in a young man, not, or little above twenty years of age. I recollect an expression I frequently used, "We ask not of thee the riches, the honours, or the passing pleasures of this mortal existence. Give us such thhtgs as it is worthy of thyself to bestow, and of mortal natures to receive — minds still rising higher in progressive excellence—advancing from strength to strength, still nearer and nearer, through endless ages, to the throne of God. Spirit of the Universe I we are thine—make us what thou wouldst have us to be.”

Again, in 1839, in a prayer evidently intended for his own use, he expresses his feelings thus:— “Eternal Spirit—maker of thousands of worlds, what is man that thou art mindful of him!—still more, what are individuals of our race that thou shouldst advert to them! — yet sure it is, that thy providence does watch over them. This even natural religion teaches. But the revelation by Christ Jesus demonstrates far higher kindness—sinks, yet exalts our race, and shows an interest taken in us which no gratitude can appreciate. I am overawed by the sentiment that we, that I, should especially be an object of regard and beneficence, in the sight of whom !—I cannot think of it:—yet He who laid help on one mighty to save — who gave for ub a being denominated his own Son—mysteriously, therefore, himself—will with him freely give us all things. Yes, after that, I may address him—I may pray to him — to whom! — Eternal Spirit, to thee — to the Omnipresent fountain of life — the supporter of all that is — who hast been, and will be, for ever, the same unchangeable in wisdom, power, and goodness, diffusing life and joy immeasureable to a family innumerable.”

The habits of self-reliance acquired by the circumstances of his early life, appear to have made Mr. Forsyth somewhat obstinate, or opinionated. If he went right, it was by his own impulse or judgment; for his friends alleged that “no one else could keep him right.” But this unyielding temper might have been more in manner than in feeling. The man must not have been very severe who could conscientiously say of himself—

“I hope, and rather believe, that though my manners are somewhat abrupt and rough, yet I never treated a human being with contempt. I was early taught to respect the aged and the wise. This last was unnecessary, because high intelligence forces respect. I was also taught that the meanest being in the human form may hereafter be an angel, because Christ died for all. Then came the applauded sentiments in the classics:

“Haud ignara mali miseris succurrere disco.”

“Homo sum et nil humanum a me alienum puto.”

Then also came the doctrine of the perfectibility of mind, of which I was early fond to a degree of enthusiasm of which I have cooled. I still look forward, and hope that for the human race here and hereafter Providence has much in store; but I rely on the operation of an immortal wisdom and intellect, to which one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.”

Mr. Forsyth had, like many more ingenious young men of his day, probably been the disciple of Condorcet and Godwin. These early opinions were, by this time, modified. Revering, in his latter years, every thing as “by law established," his attachment to the Church of Scotland, and to the letter of Protestantism, irrespective of its spirit, was carried almost to the length of bigotry. When the Catholic claims were, in 1829, about to be conceded, he wrote in his Diary—

“I have joined in petitioning against granting political power or seats in Parliament to Papists. My reason chiefly is, that Popery is hostile to freedom and the improvement of mankind. That religion establishes an aristocracy or vast incorporation of jnen sworn to celibacy. This body is ambitions, and its members have no interest bnt to augment the influence of the corporation. Their instruments are the superstition and the ignorance &t mankind. They gradually absorb all power and property in a country. They assume all forms, from lordly nobles and splendid priests, to begging monks. In every shape their effort is to spread ignorance and superstition, and to prevent the progress of mankind in intelligence.

He did discharge his conscience on this occasion, by publishing a volume of essays entitled “Political Fragments" which were probably not much read, and three letters to “The Protestants of Scotland,” which appeared in Blackwoods Magazine. If, at the conclusion of the last century, Mr. Forsyth had outstripped the march of opinion, and run into extravagance, it had now got as far a-head of him; and his voice could neither make it turn back, nor arrest what he considered its dangerous progress.

While neglected by those who dispensed church preferment, and persecuted by the aristocratic spirit of the bar, Mr. Forsyth, in gaining a living by “grinding" law students, and by his pen, produced some useful books, and was also a voluminous contributor to the first edition of the “Encyclopedia Britannica". His writings were chiefly historical, or scientific; but no subject came wrong. He wrote on agriculture, and on the principles of moral science; and his descriptive work, “The Beauties of Scotland," in five volumes, still remains a kind of standard book. His illustrations of the books of Genesis and Exodus, here given, are, we imagine, part of a great design which he had formed, in early life, of elucidating the whole Bible, but from which grand project the profession which he adopted withdrew him. This, from the manner in which the beginning of the work is executed, is to be regretted, as “Forsyth's Commentaries” are quite of an original kind.

As a specimen of Mr. Forsyth’s Style, and of his views on one great point, instead of borrowing any part of his sermons, or even of his observations on Genesis, we shall quote from his private notes what is subjoined, on the excellence of Christianity, and its superiority to all systems of philosophy:—

“1830. Dec. 26. It this morning occurred to me, while in bed, as a remarkable circumstance, that while the Emperor Marons Antoninus, a violent persecutor of the Christians, but of correct private habits, was, by the aid of the highest science of his time, endeavouring to attain to principles of action which might lead to high virtue and the exaltation of his character and nature, the meanest of those persons (the Christians,) whom he despised as superstitious, and persecuted as levelling innovators and enemies of all established and sacred institutions sanctioned by law and religion — did truly possess sounder principles, better calculated to lead them to virtue and worth, to a prouder science than had been reached by their imperial master, aided not only by all the wisdom of antiquity, but by friends and kindred, as he has said, of a virtuous character. He so far reasoned Well, that to act according to nature is the best employment of a rational being; that is, to acquiesce in the purposes of the Creator of the universe; to submit without repining to the arrangements he has adopted with regard to our fortunes, and with constancy and energy to employ ourselves, as he is employed, in acts of beneficence. Antoninus held, that such conduct must be acceptable to the gods; that it is the happiest as well as the most dignified course of life, and ought to form its own reward. To this, however, it is greatly doubted that his practice reached, and that, like the vulgar, he dreaded the evils of fortune, and consulted soothsayers and auguries. On the other hand, the Christians had learned that the eternal Fountain of Life has prepared for man, the high destiny of an immortal existence—that man is unable to attain to the purity and worth necessary to that state, and would naturally perish; but a plan has been devised to obviate the evil. The secondary Divine Person, of the same essence and nature, and so styled the Son of the Highest, and by whose agency the worlds were made, had, with boundless beneficence, condescended to produce and to unite himself, one of our race, a pure and upright man, who submitted to assume a humble station—to become our teacher, and finally to suffer death by torture, in order to purchase for himself a right to send the Third Divine Nature, or Holy Spirit, to purify and improve the character and nature of such individuals as he might select as heirs of immortality. The meanest Christian knew this, and that, if sensible of his own incapacity to create purity and excellence in himself, he should entreat of the Creator to be admitted into a participation of the benefit resulting from the sacrifice of his Son, and should earnestly persist in his entreaty, by sincere prayer and efforts to assimilate his character to that of the beneficent Saviour, his request would infallibly be granted; the Divine Spirit would, in such measure as might be suitable, sanctify, enlighten, and improve his character, and ultimately prepare him for the high destiny which awaits those who, on a day when the dead shall be raised, will be claimed by the Saviour as his own, and thereby rescued from eternal death. These extraordinary truths had remained unknown to the wisest men of antiquity, and were unknown to the imperial philosopher Antoninus. But being known to the meanest Christian whom he put to death, that Christian was far above the master of the Roman world and all his teachers, in high as well as practical science. Why it was so, and why this sublime knowledge was ushered into the world by illiterate fishermen of Palestine, and apparently degraded by its Author, their acknowledged teacher, a carpenter, having suffered the death of a slave and a criminal, can only bo resolved, by saying that such was the will of God. Jesus had said, ‘I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight,’ (Lake, x. 21.)

“Nay, independent of the general doctrine, it is clear that a man, looking forward to a promise of immortality, and believing habitually that a superior Power is watching over and assisting to prepare him far it by the improvement of his character, will necessarily make higher progress in moral worth, than he could possibly attain by acting under the influence of a barren philosophical speculation. Christianity affords principles of action and a science level to the meanest capacity; which tends to intimidate the worthless, to animate and encourage the well-intentioned, and, at the same time, to exult the views of the most enlightened and the best of mankind.” We all foster a proud spirit, of self-dependence under the name of philosophy, and lose sight of the truest and most snblime philosophy — that light which has shone from the hill of Zion.”

This posthumous work, which contains many passages of the sort cited above, though from its nature fragmentary, will, we think, amply fulfil the object of its publication. Its contents will be found profitable for many purposes but especially as they indicate what were the favourite pursuits and the private thoughts of a man of distinguished abilities and varied learning, who, amidst the toils of an arduous profession, the excitements of professional ambition, and an influx of worldly prosperity, ever felt that “one thing more was needful.”


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