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Burt's Letters from The North of Scotland
With Facsimiles of the Original Engravings with an Introduction by R. Jamieson and the History of Donald the Hammerer


I AM apt to imagine you may be curious to know by what Means the following Letters came to my Hands, after the Space of between twenty and thirty Years.

The Gentleman in whose Possession they were, died some Time ago, and through Losses, unsuccessful Law-Suits, and other Disappointments, left his Family in none of the best of Circumstances; and, therefore you will believe I could obtain them no otherwise than by a mineral Interest.

The Person who writ them, has not set his Name to any one of them, and, it is very probable, he made Use of that Caution for Reasons given in his introductory Letter; but this is not very material, because, if I had known the Name, in all Likelihood I might have thought myself under an Obligation to conceal it.

I cannot but think the Writer has kept this Promise he made his Friend, of Writing without Prejudice or Partiality ; and this I the rather believe, because, at my first Perusal of these Letters, I met with several Facts and Descriptions, pretty nearly resembling others I had heard from Officers of the Army, and Revenue, who had been in that Part of the Country; but their Stories would have been the same, or very near it, if they had been free from the ludicrous and satirical Manner in which they were delivered.

Ill-nature will excite in its unhappy Vassals, a malignant Satisfaction to find the Truth (especially relating to Mankind) disguised in an antick Dress; and there is nothing more easy than to furnish out the Masquerade with ridiculous outward Appearances. But neither of pur Correspondents seems to have been inclined that Way; for if the Person, to whom these Epistles were addressed, had been of that Trempe, there is no Doubt but the Writer, who took so much Pains for his Information, would likewise have gratified him in that Particular.

It must be owned, there are some few Strokes that savour a little of the Satyrical, but they are very few, yet just enough to shew, that if Inclination had prompted, Humour would not have been wanting; and even those few are only relating to such Vices and Vanities as might easily be reformed; and, as they are now made publick, they may serve as Admonitions to such as apply them to themselves.

What shameful Portraits have been drawn for a Highlander! I shall only mention one, and that is, in the True-born Englishman.

His Description is much more shocking than entertaining to any one who has the least Humanity. But the owner of a chast Mind might have been well pleased to see the unknown Face divested of the odious Vizor.

It may be said--That Poem is a profest Satyr, but I even deny it to be one; for a true Satyrist is too delicate to Lash with a Flail.

There be some who have made a Reproach of unavoidable Poverty, and of Customs and Methods of acting, which, (I now find) according to the Nature of the Country, and Circumstances of the Inhabitants, could not be changed for others to be more reasonable and commodious. But, far otherwise, the Writer of these Letters. lie seems to have catched at all Opportunities for Excuse, and even Commendation, and has not spared his own Country, or Countrymen, when the one deserved his Animadversion, or the other required an Acknowledgment; so far has he been from invidious Comparisons.

I must own he has likewise kept his Word in observing little Order or Method, for it plainly appears he took no Pains about either; But then that very Neglect has been the Cause of more sudden Variety, (to use his Correspondentís Phrase) and the little Stories that are scattered here and there, (I think not much known in England) serve now and then to break, as the Painter says, a too-long-continued Line of Description.

I shall say no more in Relation to his Style, than that a Nicety is seldom much regarded in familiar Epistles from Friend to Friend, especially in long Relations of Facts, or other Narrations; besides, he says himself, it would have taken up too much of his Time to smooth his Periods; and we all know that Words and Phrases will not dance into elegant order at the Sound of a Fiddle.

It may possibly be said, by some of the Northern People, that the Writer has borne too hard upon a Part of the then Inhabitants of Inverness. Of that I cannot pretend to make myself a Judge, only that, as a Reader, it does not seem to me to be so by the Tenor of his other Fetters, and particularly by his Appeal to the Officers of the Army who had been in those Quarters; and surely this he would not have done (when he might have been so easily disproved) if he was conscious of Untruths, and had the least Regard to his Friendís Opinion of his Veracity.

To conclude: If the Facts, Circumstances, and Descriptions, contained in the following Letters, are allowed to be just and genuine (as I really believe they are) may they not be given in Evidence, against such as are fond of shewing the Wantonness of Invention and Drollery, upon Objects altogether improper for that Purpose! and might not any one reasonably conclude, that such Jokers believe all Mankind to be ridiculous, who have not an Affluence of Fortune, or that entertain a Garb, or Customs different from their own, and were not born in the same Parish ? And, if so, I think they themselves are the fittest Subjects of Ridicule.

I am,

The impartial Readerís
Obedient humble Servant,

The author of the following letters (the genuineness of which has never been questioned in the country where the accuracy of his delineations may best be appreciated) is commonly understood to have been Captain Burt, an officer of engineers, who, about 1730, was sent into Scotland as a contractor, &c. The character of the work is long since decided by the general approbation of those who are most masters of the subject.

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