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The Highlanders of Scotland
Preface to Second Edition


DR. SKENE’S first and most popular work, "The Highlanders of Scotland," appeared in two small volumes sixty-five years ago, and for the greater part of that period it has been out of print, and is now extremely scarce, with the consequent enhancement of price. The author did not produce a second edition, as he had in view the production of a more elaborate work covering the same ground; and this he published in 1876 - 1880 in three volumes, under the title of " Celtic Scotland." In this work Dr. Skene did not, however, condescend to the writing of an account of the origins of the individual Highland clans as he did in the earlier work, that, indeed, forming the bulk of the second volume of the "Highlanders." The consequence of this has been that those of the public who interest themselves in clan history— and they are many—have to consult the second volume of the "Highlanders," and there is thus a much-felt want for a second and accessible edition. Besides this, it is well known that the smaller book, with its definiteness of narrative and youthful assurance, is still read in preference to the elaboration and judicial balancing of "Celtic Scotland." It is to meet this public preference and public want that this—the second— edition of the early book has been undertaken; but it was felt that the defects of a work, published at a time when modern Celtic scholarship was only just beginning in Ireland and on the Continent the great career which it has been running ever since with ever-increasing volume, should he pointed out in notes and appendices. Some errors in the book are continually reproduced in treatises and articles bearing on Highland history, though these errors have been carefully, if silently, eradicated in Celtic Scotland." The Editor’s first duty has been to bring the work up, in his notes, to the standard of Dr. Skene’s latest expressed views; he has also made the corrections that two decades of scholarship (1880-1902) have made necessary.

The Editor has, besides, taken advantage of this occasion to emphasise and make clear the one great disservice which Dr. Skene has done to the history of his country; and that is his theory that the Picts, in language and race, were Gaelic. In the preface to the present work Skene warns his readers that the system of history developed in it is "diametrically opposed to all the generally received opinions on the subject, and that it is itself of a nature so startling as to require a very rigid and attentive examination before it can be received." This is very true; Skene had reversed all that the Scottish Chronicles told of the Picts and of the Scottie Conquest, and had rejected the testimony of contemporaries that the Picts spoke a language of their own, and had manners and customs peculiar to themselves. Few now, even of those that write histories, seem to know that Skene’s views of Scottish ethnology and early history are entirely revolutionary. His "uniformitarian" theory of Gaelic-speaking Picts seems so natural that people forget to look at the original authorities and see for themselves how extraordinarily Skene has dealt with these. County histories, Clan histories, and general Scottish histories presently in course of publication, accept Skene’s views, either without doubt or with little demur, or even with a jocose gaiety that makes the latest of them "go one better." And yet no present-day celtic scholar—and many have written on the subject—holds Skene’s views that the Picts spoke Gaelic. It is full time now that this should be recognised, and that the old position of the Chronicles should be once more reverted to.

The original text and notes of the "Highlanders of Scotland" have been reproduced intact, first and separate from all editorial matter, which comes at the end of the book. Even the misprints of the earlier edition have been left; they were so unimportant that it was thought best to leave them in a work claiming to be an exact reproduction of the original text. A portrait of Dr. Skene and an edition of Ptolemy’s map of Scotland are also added, together with a much-needed index.

ALEXANDER MACBAIN.


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