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The volume now introduced to public notice, has been compiled with the view of furnishing for the first time to strangers and others, a connected comprehensive delineation of the chief Institutions in Scotland, as well as the more prominent and peculiar laws and usages by which this northern kingdom is still distinguished from the other portions of the British empire, and more especially from England; and, as such, to form a useful companion to the PICTURE OF SCOTLAND. While the latter publication adheres principally to a description of things of a tangible nature, the present may be best depicted as an attempt to expose the mechanism regulating society in its public relations. In other words, while the one presents a luminous picture of the body of the country, the other aspires to exhibit the soul with which it has been endowed.
Among the splendid array of works of living and dead authors, whose talents have been devoted to an illustration of the history, the topography, the statistics, and other interesting peculiarities of Scotland, it is somewhat surprising that no one is found wholly or even partially dedicated to the exposition of its Institations, which, in many instances, differ as much from those of the sister country, as the mountainous and romantic regions of the north differ from the broad luxuriant meadows of the south, and are fully as much entitled to attract the curiosity and inquiry of the stran. ger. While the heights of hills--the appearance of " the outsides of the best houses”-and the number of pillars giving dignity and support to public buildings,
have been detailed with a sufficient regard to correctness, few, very few, seem to have troubled themselves with the invisible controlling principles of human action, or cared much for the anatomization of those Institutions, for the reception of which the said edifices were reared; and which, not unfrequently, have as little resemblance to the corresponding usages of England as to those of France or the Netherlands. To fill up a chasm of so obvious a nature, and in some measure to give a form and resting-place to the flickering characteristics of a nation, whose individuality it may in one sense be regretted is fast melting away, the present writer has been induced to venture into the arena of literature in quest of public favour.
In gathering together materials for the work, which, but for the industrious Chamberlayne's Magnæ Britanniæ Notitia, published upwards of seventy years since, and now quite antiquated, might be termed entirely original in design, a degree of labour has been encountered which nothing but a natural love of inquiry, and that species of dogged resolution to persevere, which Johnson alleged to be competent to overcome all want of genius, could have surmounted. A cursory glance at the variety of the contents may, indeed, convince any one of the difficulties which lie in the way. of a single individual—who has other avocations than those of authorcraft-accomplishing that, which, to be well done, would require the united efforts of a body of encyclopedists, or at least of several persons long trained to examine and ponder on the ap-. pearance and results of the various arrangements insti. tuted to govern the social compact. Under such circumstances, it cannot be expected, with justice, that the volume now brought into existence can be any thing like a perfect work, or that it should be free of many little errors, which, in spite of a scrupulous at. tention to accuracy, must have escaped the author in the anxieties consequent on the concentration and arrangement of so many minute matters of fact of a various character.
It may be necessary to state, that the line of procedure adopted in gleaning information, has been different from that usually pursued in making compilations. Unless it has been to the works of a few erudite law. yers, among whom Blackstone, that glorious pattern of style and sentiment, stands pre-eminent, scarcely any reference has been had to the evidence of printed books, and, except when absolutely necessary, oral and visual testimony have been used in preference. Thus abandoning the safe and easy, but hacknied and dissa. tisfactory, process of dressing up old descriptions and opinions in a modern guise, recourse has been doubly made to living sources of intelligence. At the risk of being accused as one in the babitual commission of the serious misdemeanour of "holding persons by the button," the author has allowed no opportunity to escape, of personally tasking the memory and good nature of professional and other friends, both in England and Scotland, and to whom he now conveys his very sin, cere thanks. By expiscating intelligence in this way, and simply using his own humble powers of observation, he has brought together a mass of fresh information on a number of topics, which, though sometimes partaking as much of the hue of fireside gossip, as of the discussions of an institutional annotator, may, nevertheless, be not only amusing, but beneficial in illuminating the main subjects under review. At any rate, the actual condition and value of Institutions have been thereby procured, to an extent which otherwise could not have been satisfactorily obtained.
For the better appreciation of certain Institutions and usages, they have been occasionally contrasted with their parallels in England ; and, as there are many changes in progress, such a course may not only be serviceable in shewing what both nations have to expect by an amalgamation or interchange of customs, but in presenting to members of Parliament, officers of state, and law-givers in general, a striking and faithful delineation of those peculiarities in the local administration of the northern division of the island, of
which, in many instances, in recent times, they have betrayed an ignorance, only excusable from the total want of some such compendium as is now brought within their reach.
In accordance with the taste of the age, which has reduced instruction in the sciences to games round a winter hearth, and cozened the child into the swallow. ing of knowledge, in much the same way that a judicious mamą administers a doze of physic concealed amidst the sweets of a comfit, the subject matter has been intentionally treated more in a popular, than a grave and didactic style. Particular care has also been taken to reject the use of those technicalities which too often discourage inquisition into legal practiques ; and, in all cases, the main object has been to be plain and intelligible at whatever sacrifice. Some fastidious persons may perhaps be of opinion, that the familiarity of the author has been misplaced, in the pourtraying of certain serious Institutions with the vivacity usually employed in works of fiction ; but he begs to remind them, that inasmuch as the laws of Charondas were successfully expounded by the aid of poetry and music, so may the laws and institutional usages of the Scotch not be the worse for being explained in the language of every day life.
It was originally intended that the Book of SCOTLAND should have comprehended articles on the amusements, holidays, fairs, superstitions, dialects, and other equally distinguishing peculiarities of the Scotch, so as better to fulfil the meaning of such an imposing title ; but for want of room in a single volume, and other reasons, they are for the present withdrawn. In a number of instances, the official lists of the Edinburgh Almanack or Red Book of Scotland have answered both as texts from whence to diverge into disquisitions respecting the duties of public functionaries, and as references in sparing the insertion of dry details.
EDINBURGH, July 1, 1830.