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Domestic Annals of Scotland
Preface to the First Edition


IT has occurred to me that a chronicle of domestic matters in Scotland from the Reformation downwards—the period during which we see a progress towards the present state of things in our country—would be an interesting and instructive book. History has in a great measure confined itself to political transactions and personages, and usually says little of the people, their daily concerns, and the external accidents which immediately affect their comfort. This I have always thought was much to be regretted, and a general tendency to the same view has been manifested of late years. I have therefore resolved to make an effort, in regard to my own country, to detail her DOMESTIC ANNALS—the series of occurrences beneath the region of history, the effects of passion, superstition, and ignorance in the people, the extraordinary natural events which disturbed their tranquillity, the calamities which affected their wellbeing, the traits of false political economy by which that wellbeing was checked, and generally those things which enable us to see how our forefathers thought, felt, and suffered, and how, on the whole, ordinary life looked in their days.

Nor are these details, broken up and disjointed as they often are, without a useful bearing on certain generalisations of importance, or devoid of instruction for our own comparatively enlightened age. A good end is obviously served by enumerating, for example, all the famines and all the pestilences that have beset the country; for when this is done, it becomes evident that famine and pestilence have been connected in the way of cause and effect. For the astronomer, the meteorologist, and the naturalist, many of the accounts of comets, meteors, and extraordinary natural productions here given, must have some value. ['A man of science as well as of philosophic mind would employ himself well in examining those accounts of prodigies in the early annalists and chroniclers, which of late years have been regarded as only worthy of contempt.’—.Southey—-Omniana, i. 266.] To the political economist, it may be of service to see the accounts here drawn from contemporary records of the productiveness and failure of many seasons, and of the varying proportions of bad seasons to good throughout considerable spaces of time. As for the numberless narratives and anecdotes illustrative of the mistaken zeal, the irregular passions, the deplorable superstitions, and erroneous ideas and ways in general, of our ancestors, they furnish beyond doubt a rich pabulum for the student of human nature; nor may they be without some practical utility amongst us, since many of the same errors continue in a reduced style to exist, and it may help to extinguish them all the sooner, that we are enabled here to look upon them in their most exaggerated and startling form, and as essentially the products and accompaniments of ignorance and barbarism.

It will probably be matter of regret that this work consists of a series of articles generally brief and but little connected with each other, producing on the whole a desultory effect. Might not the materials have been fused into one continuous narration? I am very sensible how desirable this was for literary effect; but I am at the same time assured that, in such a mode of presenting the series of occurrences, there would have been a constant temptation to generalize on narrow and insufficient grounds—to make singular and exceptional incidents pass as characteristic beyond the just degree in which they really are so—namely, as matters just possible in the course of the national life of the period to which they refer. It seemed to me the most honest plan, to present them detachedly under their respective dates, thus allowing each to tell its own story, and have its own proper weight with the reader, and no more, in completing the general picture.

As one means of conveying ‘the body of each age, its form and pressure,’ the language of the original contemporary narrators is given, wherever it was sufficiently intelligible and concise. Thus each age in a manner tells its own story. It has not been deemed necessary, however, to retain antiquated modes of orthography, beyond what is required to indicate the old pronunciation, nor have I scrupled occasionally to emit useless clauses of sentences, when that seemed conducive to making the narration more readable. This procedure will not be quite approved of by the rigid antiquary; but it will be for the benefit of the bulk of ordinary readers.

In general, the events of political history are presented here in only a brief narrative, such as seemed necessary for connection. But I have introduced a few notices of these events where there was a contemporary narration either characteristic in its style, or involving particulars which might be deemed illustrative of the general feeling of the time.


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