Hitherto all the descriptions of Scotland, which have been published in our day, have been written by natives of that country, and that with such an air of the most scandalous partiality, that it has been far from pleasing the gentry or nobility of Scotland themselves, and much farther has it been from doing any honour to the nation or to the country.
One known author has taken pains to describe their commerce as an immense thing for magnitude, has set off their manufactures in such a figure, and as such extraordinary things, that the English are trifles to them, and their merchandising, according to his account, must be inferior to very few, if any nation in Europe; nay, he is not ashamed to give us an account of the particulars of their exportations to China and the East Indies, to Turkey, and the Levant, where, I believe, never Scots ship yet sailed, unless it was in the service of English merchants, or some other foreign nation.
A more modern, and I must acknowledge, more modest writer than this, knowing he could not, with a front that, perhaps, he had not yet arriv'd to, set forth his country to her advantage, by giving a real description of that part which would necessarily shew her deficiences, as well as her beauties; and retaining still that piece of northern vanity peculiar to the climate, to think mighty well of his own country, takes up with describing the seats of the nobility and gentry; a subject, which, it must be confess'd, give him a greater scope, and in which he has good materials to work on: But, even in this, it must be added he would have done better, if he would have given the noblemen and gentlemen of Scotland leave to have known their own houses again, when they saw his description of them.
I have so much honour for the noblemen and gentlemen of Scotland, that I am persuaded they will be as well pleased to see justice done them and their country, as to see themselves flattered, and the world imposed upon about them. Their country is not so void of beauty, or their persons of merit, as to want it; and (I believe) they will not seek to be flattered, or be obliged by it, when 'tis attempted.
But be that as it will, the world shall, for once, hear what account an Englishman shall give of Scotland, who has had occasion to see most of it, and to make critical enquiries into what he has not seen; and, if describing it, as it really is, and as in time it may be, with probable reasons for the variation, will give satisfaction to the Scots, they will be obliged; on the contrary I shall neither flatter them or deceive them. Scotland is here described with brevity, but with justice; and the present state of things there, placed in as clear a light as the sheets, I am confined to, will admit; if this pleases, more particulars may be adventured on hereafter; if it should not, it would make me suspect the other authors I have mentioned, knew what would please their country-men better than I: But I must run the venture of that, rather than trespass upon my own truth and their modesty.
I hope it is no reflection upon Scotland to say they are where we were, I mean as to the improvement of their country and commerce; and they may be where we are.
Here are but a few things needful to bring Scotland to be (in many parts of it at least) as rich in soil, as fruitful, as populous, as full of trade, shipping, and wealth, as most, if not as the best counties of England. These few things, indeed, are such as are absolutely necessary, and, perhaps, as things stand, may be difficult: Such as
- Time, public changes cannot be brought about in a day.
- A change in the disposition of the common people, from a desire of travelling abroad, and wandering from home, to an industrious and diligent application to labour at home.
- Stock and substance, to encourage that application: sloth is not a meer disease of the nation: The Scots are as diligent, as industrious, as apt for labour and business, and as capable of it, when they are abroad, as any people in the world; and why should they not be so at home? And, if they had encouragement, no doubt they would.
- Some little alteration in their methods of husbandry, by which their lands would be improved, and the produce thereof turn better to account; of all which something may be said in our progress thro' the country, as occasion presents.
In the meantime, as I shall not make a Paradise of Scotland, so I assure you I shall not make a wilderness of it. I shall endeavour to show you what it really is, what it might be, and what, perhaps, it would much sooner have been, if some people's engagements were made good to them, which were lustily promised a little before the late Union: Such as erecting manufactures there under English direction, embarking stocks from England to carry on trade, employing hands to cut down their northern woods, and make navigations to bring the fir-timber, and deals to England, of which Scotland is able to furnish an exceeding quantity; encouraging their fishery, and abundance of fine things more which were much talked of I say, but little done; and of which I could say more, but it is not the business of this work, nor, perhaps, will the age care to hear it.
I must, therefore, be contented to give an Account of Scotland in the present state of it, and as it really is; leaving its misfortunes, and want of being improved as it might be, and, perhaps, ought to have been, for those to consider of, in whose power it is to mend it.
|To Letter 11 Part 1|