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The Scottish Chiefs
Preface to the First Edition


Published in 1809.

To paint the portrait of one of the most complete heroes that ever filled the page of history, may be a bold, though I hope not a vain, design. The contemplation of virtue is an improving, as well as a delightful employment; and however inadequate this picture may be to represent its original—William Wallace of Scotland,—yet, that it is a copy of such excellence, will be merit in the eyes of those who so love virtue, as to venerate its shade.

I have spared no pains in consulting almost every writing extant, which treats of the sister kingdoms during the period of my narrative. It would be tedious to swell this page with a list of these authorities; but all who are intimate with our old British historians, must perceive, on reading the Scottish Chiefs, that in the sketch which history would have laid down for the biography of my principal hero, I have made no addition, excepting where, time having made some erasure, a stroke was necessary to fill the space, and unite the outline. Tradition has been a great assistance to me in this respect. And for much valuable information on the subject, I am indebted to the bard of Hope, my friend Mr. Thomas Campbell; he who has so nobly mingled the poet’s bays, with the laurels of his clan.

While tracing the characters of my personages in the Scottish annals, it was with infinite pleasure I recognised those virtues in the fathers, which had attached me to their posterity. Delighted with this most dear proof of kindred, I have fondly lingered over my work; re-enjoying, in its visionary scenes, hours fled to heaven. I have again discoursed, and mingled my soul, with friends whose nobility of spirit honoured the illustrious stems from which they sprung: but, like the blossomed bough torn from its branch, they are gone, and spread fragrance in my path no more.

It is now too common to contemn as nonsense, even an honest pride in ancestry. But where is the Englishman who is not proud of being the countryman of Nelson? Where the British sailor that does not thirst to emulate his fame? Where the worthy citizen who does not respect himself in the honourable memories of William Walworth and Sir Thomas Gresham?

If this sentiment be right, respect for noble progenitors cannot be wrong; for it proceeds from the same source,—the principle of kindred, of inheritance, and of virtue. Let the race of Douglas, or the brave line of the Percy, bear witness whether the name they hold be not as a mirror to show them what they ought to be, and to kindle in their hearts the flame which burnt in their fathers. Happy is it for this realm that the destiny which now unites the once contending arms of those brave families, has also consolidated their rival nations into one, and by planting the heir of Plantagenet and of Bruce upon one throne, hath redeemed the peace of Britain, and fixed it on lasting foundations.

From the nature of my story, more agents have been used in its conduct than I should have adopted had it been a work of mere imagination. But very few persons wholly imaginary have been introduced; and, wishing to keep as near historical truth as could be consistent with my plan, no intentional injustice has been committed against the characters of the individuals who were real actors with the chief hero of the tale. The melancholy circumstance which first excited him to draw his sword for Scotland, though it may be thought too much like the creation of modern romance, is recorded as a fact in the old poem of Blind Harrie. Other private events have been interwoven with the public subjects of these volumes, that the monotony of a continued series of warlike achievements might in some measure be lessened. Some notes are added, to confirm the historical incidents; but finding that were they all marked, such a plan would, swell each volume beyond its proper size, in one word I assure the reader, that I seldom lead him to any spot in Scotland whither some written or oral testimony respecting my hero had not previously conducted myself. In the same spirit, being careful to keep to the line of chronology, I have not strayed from it in any instance, until my chief personages return from France; and then, my history being intended to be within the bounds of modern romance, rather than measured by the folios of Scudery, I found myself obliged to take some liberties with time and circumstance: for both of which offences, and particularly for the management of my catastrophe, I hope the historical, if he be also a qentle reader, will find no difficulty in forgiving me.


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