Staggering State of Scottish Statesmen from 1550 to 1650
By Sir John Scot of Scotstarvet with a memoir of
the author by the Rev. Charles Rogers, LL.D., F.S.A. Scot.
Historiographer to the Historical Society. (1872)
The "Staggering State"
has been reprinted, neither on account of its historical value, nor in
evidence of the capacity or learning of its author. It is a work unique
of its kind, a performance in which biographical details are blended
with that peculiar gossip which is the offspring of envy and all
uncharitableness. It is a record of history and calumny—a repository of
fireside chit-chat respecting conspicuous persons at a period when, if,
on the one hand, statesmen served themselves rather than the State, on
the other, evil report proved an intellectual relish to many who were
capable of more rational enjoyments. In connexion with the performance,
it is not the least remarkable feature that it was composed by one who
frequented the first circles, was related to the best families, and was
one of the most learned persons in the kingdom. Nay, more, the author
was in some matters singularly generous; his benefactions were
munificent, and his patriotism equalled his benevolence. Yet he has
withal produced a most uncharitable book; and it may be questioned
whether Sir Anthony Weldon himself has dealt with Scotsmen after a
severer fashion. On the old maxim of the Regent Mar, he has "spoken
furth, and spared nocht;" and, like the Scottish Wife of Bath, has given
all their dittay, or accusal, without pity and without remorse. He has
scattered firebrands, and few of his contemporaries have escaped. He
wrote while writhing under disappointment and public wrong. Probably he
intended to give vent to his resentment, and then to allow what he had
written to perish with the angry passion which evoked it. The
"Staggering State" was written when the author had reached his eightieth
year. Upwards of other fourscore years it remained unprinted—copies,
however, being multiplied in MS. Of these many were incorrectly written.
In 1754 Walter Goodal prevailed on the firm of Walter Ruddiman and Co.
to print an edition which he had prepared; this work, in a duodecimo of
190 pages, has latterly become scarce. Mr. Goodal edited carefully; he
founded his text on an old MS. which he believed to be contemporaneous,
and to contain "additions, and even whole lives, in the author's own
hand." That MS. is preserved in the Advocates Library (press-mark, 34,
3, 2), and while its contemporaneity may be doubted, it is
unquestionably ancient. Of two other MSS. in the Advocates Library, one,
a thin folio (press-mark, 34, 3, i) seems to belong to a date anterior
to the MS. used by Goodal. The other is modern. Two MSS., one in the
Library of the British Museum, and the other in the University Library,
St. Andrews, are of no particular value. Two others, one belonging to
the close of the seventeenth, and the other to the beginning of the
eighteenth century, have been placed at the editors disposal by Mr.
Laing of Edinburgh.
After a careful examination of the various MSS., the editor has not felt
justified in making any material alteration on the text arranged by
Goodal. That Goodal has modernized the author's orthography may not be
overmuch censured, for each transcriber seems to have adopted his own
mode of spelling, and when the present editor attempted to restore the
original reading, he encountered difficulties which were insuperable.
Some of Goodal's notes have been retained; also his "Account of the
Great Officers of State," and his "List" of these Officers from the
earliest times till the Restoration. For his "List" Goodal has
acknowledged his obligations to the collections of Sir James Balfour and
Dr. George Mackenzie.
The Memoir of Sir John Scot has, as a whole, been prepared from original
sources of information. The details of his life cause a regret that his
name should be associated with the gossip of "The Staggering State." He
was one of the most enterprising Scotsmen of his age—he exercised an
independent judgment on all questions ecclesiastical and civil; and
though desirous of retaining the emoluments of office, he devoted a
portion of his wealth to the interests of the State and the welfare of
his countrymen. In his old age, writhing under disappointment, he dipped
his pen in gall and smote everywhere. Happily, from the universality of
his attacks, none have suffered materially. It would be ridiculous that
any descended from the sufferers should now utter a complaint.
Better is it to reflect that we live in times when men differ on public
topics without cherishing mutual hate, and when calumny more frequently
recoils upon the utterer than reaches its victim. The editor regrets
that the Earl of Morton has had no leisure to furnish copies of several
of the authors letters preserved in his Lordship's repositories. The
readiness of the Duke of Portland to furnish information has been
creditable to his Grace, both as Sir John Scot's representative and as a
member of the Peerage. To Mr. David Laing, Mr. M. F. Conolly, and others
who have rendered most essential assistance, the editor's best
acknowledgments are due.
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