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The Picture of Scotland
By Robert Chambers


This complaint of Johnson regarding the hopelessness of fame which attended his lexicographical labours, has hitherto been common to the Industrious Obscure who busy themselves in the compilation of Tourist's Guides, Peerages, School-Books, and Almanacs. Such publications are equally anonymous, and the purchaser thinks no more of the unknown author than he thinks of the man who made his hat or tanned the leather of his shoes. Even when they bear an authors name, no distinct idea is attached to the words—Philips perhaps, or Carey, or Goldsmith, or Debrett—any more than to the maker's name on the blade of a table-knife, or the still more hopeless initials so carefully impressed upon his work by the goldsmith.

An attempt is here made to elevate a topographical mode into the superior region of the belles lettres. It has been forced upon the notice of the present author by the success of several similar but less comprehensive works, that an interest may attach to localities of such a sort as to excite and bring into play many of the higher order of sentiments which pervade our common nature. Cities are more than mere collections of houses and men; hills are not merely accidental eminences of the earth; rivers, fortuitous confluences of running water stones, mere blocks. Such they might be when the primeval savage first set his foot amongst them; but such they are not now, after so long a connection with the fortunes and feelings of civilized man. What is it that gives the sculptured stones of Greece a superior value to the unquarried marble over which they have risen? It is because, though both are alike as old as the creation, the former have received attentions at the hands of men a hundred ages ago, have been looked upon with veneration by millions of human beings, and yet remain monuments of their early power and ingenuity. A house may thns be more than a domicile, a hill more than an eminence, a river more than a stream of flowing water; and is thus it is that, in the words of one who must have been perfectly acquainted with this occult philosophy, we may find

Tongues in the trees, books In the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing. ‘

Under these impressions I have in this work, endeavoured to direct attention almost exclusively to what may be supposed capable of exciting the moral and imaginative faculties of my countrymen. Whatever places derive an interest from the associations of history; whatever places enjoy a reputation from popular poetry and song; wherever man has fought, or loved, or sung; wherever human nature has appeared in circumstances of extraordinary peril or pain, innocence or degradation; wherever talent has arisen or virtue flourished, magnificence dwelt or misery groaned; the fanes of religion, the scenery of passion, the infant-land of genius, the graves of the good; whatever has been associated with what man most delights to observe; whatever is capable, on being mentioned, of exciting an interest in his bosom; these places, and these things receive most attention in the following pages.

To alleviate as much as possible, the gravity inseparable from topographical details, I have moreover interspersed this work with innumerable local anecdotes and stories, some of which are merely humorous, while others have the more valuable property of illustrating the manners and condition of the country in former times. In all that relates to the selection of materials, it has been my prime end governing object to be original; to say as little as possible when I could say nothing new, and to be as copious as my limits would allow, when I possessed information that was at once novel and agreeable.

It will be readily conceded, that these objects have not been attained without the employment of considerable pains. It words have been easy to copy the humdrum details and innumerable errors of my predecessors, as each and all of them have done in their turn. But to produce a work aiming at so much originality and correctness required a very different process. It scarcely becomes an author to speak at all, and far less with pride, of his labours; but it is perhaps allowable to say something in the present case, in order that the reader may know to what extent he is to rely upon the accuracy of the details which he has condescended to peruse.

Without alluding to previous historical studies, I may be permitted to state, that after employing several months of the last year in the perusal of former topographical publications and manuscripts, I began, in the early part of summer, to make a round of deliberate pedestrian tours through the country. Instead of the pilgrim's scallop in my hat, I took for motto the glowing expression of Burns, “I have no dearer aim than to make leisurely journeys through Caledonia; to sit on the fields of her battles; to wander on the romantic banks of her streams; and to muse by the stately towers of venerable ruins, once the honoured abodes of her heroes." In order to secure an acquaintance with every remarkable locality, and with its popular legends, I carried letters from my city friends, giving me a claim upon the best offices of the most intelligent persons resident in the districts which I was to visit. I was thus generally successful in eliciting, over and above the kindness of many a worthy and true-hearted Scot, the best information that was to be had regarding all the more attractive localities of my native land.

Goldsmith speaks with just contempt of the travellers who are whirled through Europe in a post-chaise. I sedulously eschewed this practical absurdity. Except in cases where stage-coaches could convey me over a desolate and uninteresting tract, I constantly adopted the more deliberate and independent mode of locomotion, of which nature supplies the means. I had thus an opportunity of becoming familiarly acquainted at once with the face of the country and the traditions of the people; I could move fast or slow as I pleased, and make such digressions from the main route as seemed necessary. I traversed almost every vale in the lowlands of Scotland, and a greater proportion of those in the more northerly region. I saw all the towns except three or four. My peregrinations occupied upwards of five months, and extended to between two and three thousand miles.

In presenting this array of doings and sufferings to the public I disclaim being influenced by the sentiment which caused Dogberry to assert himself “one that had had losses.” What I say is mere naked truth, told for the simple purpose of assuring the reader, that the work he has now got into his hands is not the catch-penny compilation of a bookseller's book shop; no patched and contorted tissue of stolen rags like too many similar publications; that it is not the crude fruit of a literary hot-bed, inflated into premature perfection by the bribe of a greedy publisher; but the result of an honest enthusiasm; an enthusiasm which the consideration of pecuniary profit could neither nourish nor inspire. 1 consider these assurances, moreover, the more necessary, because almost all the statement in the following pages rest solely upon my personal credit upon the idea which the public shall form of the pains I have taken, and the opportunities of observation I may be supposed to have enjoyed.

To say that enthusiasm could insure the production of a good work would be palpably absurd. It may, however, be asserted, that it is indispensably requisite to the production of a work deserving that appellation in its best sense. Money alone, though a powerful, is after all but an imperfect inspiration; and the books which it creates are no more like the productions of a purer motive, than the dowdy flowers of a secluded city dunghill resemble those which spring from the fair primeval earth, generated by the natural juices of the ground, and freshened by the nightly visits of the loving dew.

It is not the intention of the present writer to say, that because he was not conducted through his labours by the hope of gain, he has found every difficulty successfully overcome by the mere ardour of his mind. He is certain, however, that that is the burning liquid which can melt down the obstructions upon which harder instruments had been tried in vain, and that, though it may not in this case have secured, its influence must at least give the chance of, success. It las been his wish from earieut boyhood, in the words of Burns,

“That he, for poor auld Scotland's sake,
Some usefu' plan or hook could make."

He has already done more than perhaps his years would give to expect, towards the preservation of what is dearest to her; the memory of her ancient simple manners and virtues; the celebration of her native wit and humour; and in a more extended view of the subject, for the reclamation of that which is altogether poetry — the wonderful, beautiful, glorious past. In the present work, he has steadily pursued the same object; conscious and certain that, though many of his own generation may not give him credit for so exalted a purpose, the people who shall afterwards inhabit this romantic land will appreciate what could not have been preserved but with a view to their gratification.

Edinburgh; February 8, 1827.

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