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The Staggering State of Scottish Statesmen from 1550 to 1650
By Sir John Scot of Scotstarvet with a memoir of the author by the Rev. Charles Rogers, LL.D., F.S.A. Scot. Historiographer to the Historical Society. (1872)


The "Staggering State" has been reprinted, neither on account of its historical value, nor in evidence of the capacity or learning of its author. It is a work unique of its kind, a performance in which biographical details are blended with that peculiar gossip which is the offspring of envy and all uncharitableness. It is a record of history and calumny—a repository of fireside chit-chat respecting conspicuous persons at a period when, if, on the one hand, statesmen served themselves rather than the State, on the other, evil report proved an intellectual relish to many who were capable of more rational enjoyments. In connexion with the performance, it is not the least remarkable feature that it was composed by one who frequented the first circles, was related to the best families, and was one of the most learned persons in the kingdom. Nay, more, the author was in some matters singularly generous; his benefactions were munificent, and his patriotism equalled his benevolence. Yet he has withal produced a most uncharitable book; and it may be questioned whether Sir Anthony Weldon himself has dealt with Scotsmen after a severer fashion. On the old maxim of the Regent Mar, he has "spoken furth, and spared nocht;" and, like the Scottish Wife of Bath, has given all their dittay, or accusal, without pity and without remorse. He has scattered firebrands, and few of his contemporaries have escaped. He wrote while writhing under disappointment and public wrong. Probably he intended to give vent to his resentment, and then to allow what he had written to perish with the angry passion which evoked it. The "Staggering State" was written when the author had reached his eightieth year. Upwards of other fourscore years it remained unprinted—copies, however, being multiplied in MS. Of these many were incorrectly written.

In 1754 Walter Goodal prevailed on the firm of Walter Ruddiman and Co. to print an edition which he had prepared; this work, in a duodecimo of 190 pages, has latterly become scarce. Mr. Goodal edited carefully; he founded his text on an old MS. which he believed to be contemporaneous, and to contain "additions, and even whole lives, in the author's own hand." That MS. is preserved in the Advocates Library (press-mark, 34, 3, 2), and while its contemporaneity may be doubted, it is unquestionably ancient. Of two other MSS. in the Advocates Library, one, a thin folio (press-mark, 34, 3, i) seems to belong to a date anterior to the MS. used by Goodal. The other is modern. Two MSS., one in the Library of the British Museum, and the other in the University Library, St. Andrews, are of no particular value. Two others, one belonging to the close of the seventeenth, and the other to the beginning of the eighteenth century, have been placed at the editors disposal by Mr. Laing of Edinburgh.

After a careful examination of the various MSS., the editor has not felt justified in making any material alteration on the text arranged by Goodal. That Goodal has modernized the author's orthography may not be overmuch censured, for each transcriber seems to have adopted his own mode of spelling, and when the present editor attempted to restore the original reading, he encountered difficulties which were insuperable. Some of Goodal's notes have been retained; also his "Account of the Great Officers of State," and his "List" of these Officers from the earliest times till the Restoration. For his "List" Goodal has acknowledged his obligations to the collections of Sir James Balfour and Dr. George Mackenzie.

The Memoir of Sir John Scot has, as a whole, been prepared from original sources of information. The details of his life cause a regret that his name should be associated with the gossip of "The Staggering State." He was one of the most enterprising Scotsmen of his age—he exercised an independent judgment on all questions ecclesiastical and civil; and though desirous of retaining the emoluments of office, he devoted a portion of his wealth to the interests of the State and the welfare of his countrymen. In his old age, writhing under disappointment, he dipped his pen in gall and smote everywhere. Happily, from the universality of his attacks, none have suffered materially. It would be ridiculous that any descended from the sufferers should now utter a complaint.

Better is it to reflect that we live in times when men differ on public topics without cherishing mutual hate, and when calumny more frequently recoils upon the utterer than reaches its victim. The editor regrets that the Earl of Morton has had no leisure to furnish copies of several of the authors letters preserved in his Lordship's repositories. The readiness of the Duke of Portland to furnish information has been creditable to his Grace, both as Sir John Scot's representative and as a member of the Peerage. To Mr. David Laing, Mr. M. F. Conolly, and others who have rendered most essential assistance, the editor's best acknowledgments are due.

Snowdoun Villa, Lewisham, S.E.
Feb., 1872.

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