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Significant Scots
Thomas Innes


INNES, THOMAS, an historian and critical antiquary, known to the students of early Scottish history by the title of "Father Innes," was a priest of the Scottish college at Paris, during the earlier part of the 18th century. It is not creditable to the literature of our country during the period just mentioned, that the meritorious labours of this highly acute investigator have been so little noticed, and that no one has thought it worth while to leave memorials sufficient to enable posterity to know any thing of his life and character. His labours to discover the true sources of Scottish history proved an ungrateful task; they were unacceptable to the prejudices of the time, and have hardly been appreciated until the memory of the individual who undertook them had quietly sunk into oblivion. In these circumstances any scrap of information which we can procure on the subject is peculiarly valuable. We perceive from a few words in the preface to his Critical Essay, that he received the rudiments of education in Scotland, and that he must have left his native country early in life for a permanent residence abroad, probably, if we may judge from slight circumstances, along with the exiled monarch James II. His words are—"Though an honourable gentleman of my own country, and another learned English gentleman, were so kind as to revise the language, and to alter such exotic words or expressions as it was natural should drop from me, I doubt not but the English reader will still meet in this essay with too many marks of my native language and foreign education." But the most interesting, and indeed the principal notice which we have been able to obtain of this individual, is from the diary of the industrious Wodrow for the year 1724, where we find the laborious antiquary worming his way through libraries in search of materials. It may be remarked that the work on the Early History of the Church of Scotland, which is mentioned by Wodrow as the subject on which he was engaged, was intended as a second part to the "Critical Essay," but has, unfortunately for our information on a very interesting subject, not been given to the world. The passage we refer to is as follows: --

"There is one father Innes, a priest, brother to father Innes of Scottish college at Paris, who has been at Edinburgh all this winter, and mostly in the Advocates’ library, in the hours when open, looking books and MSS. He is not engaged in politics as far as can be guessed; and is a monkish, bookish person, who meddles with nothing but literature. I saw him at Edinburgh. He is upon a design to write an account of the first settlement of Christianity in Scotland, as Mr Ruddiman informs me, and pretends to show that Scotland was Christianized at first from Rome; and thinks to answer our ordinary arguments against this from the difference between the keeping of easter from the custom of Rome; and pretends to prove that there were many variations as to the day easter even at Rome, and that the usages in Scotland, pretended to be from the Greek church, are very agreeable to the Romish customs that he thinks were used by the popes, about the time that (he) gives account of our differences as to easter.

"This father Innes, in a conversation with my informer, * * * [The name is in a secret hand.] made an observation which I fear is too true. In conversation with the company, who were all protestants, he said he did not know what to make of those who had departed from the catholic church; that as far as he could observe generally, they were leaving the foundations of Christianity, and scarce deserved the name of Christians. He heard that there were departures and great looseness in Holland. That as he came through England, he found most of the bishops there gone off from their articles, and gone into Doctor Clerk’s scheme. That the dissenters were many of them falling much in with the same method, and coming near them. That he was glad to find his countrymen in Scotland not tainted in the great doctrine of the Trinity, and sound." [Wodrow’s Analecta, MS., Ad. Lib. V. 436.]

From the period when we find him rummaging in the Advocates’ library, we know nothing of Innes, until the publication of his essay in 1729, when he appears to have been in London, and makes an apology for verbal inaccuracies, on the ground that he writes "to keep pace with the press." He seems previously to this event to have performed an extensive "bibliographical tour," as the manuscripts he quotes are dispersed through various parts of England, Scotland, Ireland, and the continent.

A running sketch of the state of the knowledge of early Scottish history previously to the appearance of this work, may not be unacceptable to those who have not paid particular attention to that subject, as explanatory of the obstacles which the author had to overcome. It is well known that Scotland had a full share of the fabulous early history which it is a proud and pleasing task for savages to frame, and which generally protrudes itself into the knowledge possessed by civilized ages, from the unwillingness of mankind to diminish their own claims to consideration, by lessening the glory of their ancestors. The form and consistence of that genealogy which traced the first of Scottish kings to a period some centuries before the Christian era, seems to have been concocted by the Highland senachies, who sang the descent of our monarchs at their coronation. Andrew Wyntoun and John Fordun soberly incorporated the long line thus framed into their chronicle of the Scottish nation from the commencement of the world. Major followed their example with some variations, and Geoffry of Monmouth and Geoffry Keating, respectively incorporated the whole with English and Irish history, the latter much about the same period when Innes wrote, busying himself with tracing the matter to a period anterior to the deluge. The rich and grotesque garb of fable which the whole assumed under Hector Boece is known to many, if not in the original crabbed Latin, at least in the simple translation of Bellenden. It is discreditable to the memory of Buchanan, that, instead of directing his acute mind to the discovery of truth, he adopted, in many respects, the genealogy just sanctioned, and prepared lives for the monarchs created by fiction, suited as practical comments on his own political views. The fables had now received the sanction of a classical authority— Scotland was called "the ancient kingdom;" and grave Englishmen wondered at the hoary antiquity of our line of monarchs. At length, when the antiquity of the race of England had been curtailed, some thought it unfit that that of Scotland should remain untouched—and several English antiquaries, such as Humphry Lhuyd, bishop Usher, bishop Lloyd, and bishop Nicholson, bestowed some calm hints on its improbability, which were speedily drowned by the fierce replies of the Scottish antiquaries, headed by Sir George M’Kenzie.

Such was the state of historical knowledge in Scotland when Innes wrote; and a Scotsman dared to look the line of ancestry claimed by his monarch calmly in the face, and, after due consideration, to strike from it forty crowned heads. The essay is divided into four parts, in which the author successively treats,— of the progress of the Romans in Scotland -- of the history of the Maeats, the Strathclyde Britons or Welsh, who existed in the southern part of Scotland—of that of the Caledonians or Picts, who inhabited the whole of the northern portion previously to the arrival of the Scots from Ireland—and of the Scots, the ancestors of the present Highlanders. Examining the foundation on which Boece supports his forty supernumerary kings, he shows, by very good negative evidence, that two chroniclers, on which that author lays the burden of much of his extraordinary matter, named Veremund and Campbell, never existed, and shows that the genealogists had, by an ingenious device, made Fergus the first, king of the Scots, Fergus the second, and had placed another Fergus sufficiently far behind him in chronology, to admit a complement of kings to be placed betwixt the two. Besides the detection of the fabulous part of our history, this work supplies us with an excellent critical dissertation on the various early inhabitants of the country; and the author has, with much pains and care, added an appendix of original documents, which have been highly useful to inquirers into Scottish history. The language in which the whole is clothed is simple, pleasing, and far more correct than that of most Scotsmen who wrote during the same period; while there is a calm dignity, and a philosophical correctness in the arguments previously unknown to the subject, and which, it had been well if those who have followed the same track had imitated. Pinkerton, who would allow no man to be prejudiced on the subject of Scotland with impunity except himself, never can mention the work of Innes without some token of respect. "This work," he says, "forms a grand epoch in our antiquities, and was the first that led the way to rational criticism on them: his industry, coolness, judgment, and general accuracy, recommend him as the best antiquary that Scotland has yet produced." [Pinkerton’s Inquiry, Introduction, 56-7.] While concurring, however, in any praise which we observe to have been elicited by this too much neglected work, we must remark, that it is blemished by a portion of it being evidently prepared with the political view of supporting the doctrine of the divine right of kings, which Innes as a Jacobite probably respected, and as an adherent of the exiled house, felt himself called on to support. [We cannot avoid coupling with this feature, the circumstance of our having heard it whispered in the antiquarian world, that a correspondence between Innes and the court of St Germains, lately discovered, shows this to have been the avowed purpose of the author. This we have heard, however, in so vague a manner, that we dare not draw any conclusions against the fair intentions of Innes, farther than as they may be gathered from his own writings.] He is probably right in presuming that Buchanan knew well the falsehood of many of the facts he stated, but it was as unnecessary that he should answer the arguments which Buchanan, in the separate treatise, "De Jure Regni apud Scotos," may have been presumed to have derived from such facts, as it was for Buchanan to erect so great a mass of fable; while the dissertation he has given us on the fruitful subject of the conduct of queen Mary, is somewhat of an excrescence in a dissertation on the early inhabitants of Scotland.

The political bias of this portion of the work is avowed in the preface, where the author observes that the statements of Buchanan, "far from doing any real honour to our country, or contributing, as all historical accounts ought to do, to the benefit of posterity, and to the mutual happiness of king and people, do rather bring a reproach upon the country, and furnish a handle to turbulent spirits, to disturb the quiet and peace, and by consequence the happiness of the inhabitant;" [Preface, 16.] yet even this subject is handled with so much calmness that it may rather be termed a defect, than a fault.

Besides the great work which he wrote, Innes is supposed to have been the compiler of a book of considerable interest and importance. It is pretty well known that a manuscript of the life of king James II., written by himself, existed for some time in the Scots college of Paris, where it was carefully concealed from observation. This valuable work is believed, on too certain grounds, to have been reduced to ashes during the French Revolution; but an abstract of it, which was discovered in Italy, was published by Mr Stanyers Clarke in 1806, and is supposed by well informed persons to have been the work of father Innes. [In the Edinburgh Review we discover the following note: -- "It is the opinion of the present preserver of the natrrative, that it was compiled from original documents by Thomas Innes, one of the superiors of the college, and author of a work entitled ‘A Critical Essay on the Ancient Inhabitants of Scotland.’ – Art. on Fox’s Life of James II. Ed. Rev. xii. 280.] We have been enabled to trace this supposition to no better source than a presumption from the circumstances in which Innes was placed, and to the absence of any other name which can reasonably be assigned. There is, indeed, a document extant, which might afford ground for a contrary supposition. In 1740, Carte, the historian, received an order from James Edgar, secretary to the Pretender, addressed to the Messrs Innes, permitting him to inspect the life writ by Mr Dicconson, in consequence of royal orders, all taken out of and supported by the late king’s manuscripts; but it has been urged, on the other hand, that there were at least two copies of the compilation, one of which may have been transcribed by Mr Dicconson, while in that published, there are one or two Scotticisms, which point at such a person as Innes. Little can be made of a comparison betwixt the style of this work and that of the essay, without an extremely minute examination, as Innes indulged in few peculiarities; but there is to be found in it a general resemblance, certainly more close than what could be caused by mere identity of period.

We are enabled to give but one other notice bearing on the life of this individual. In the portion of the life of James II., transcribed into the chevalier Ramsay’s History of Turenne, there is a certificate by the superiors of the Scots college at Paris, dated 24th December, 1734, signed by "Louis Inesse, late principal, Alexander Whiteford, principal, and Thomas Inesse, sub-principal." The Louis Innes who had acted as principal, must be the brother to the historian mentioned by Wodrow.


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