At the recent annual meeting of the Scottish
History Society, Lord Rosebery, in the course of his presidential
address, made two interesting suggestions. In the first place, he said
he thought they ought to try to elicit further information with regard
to the history of the Highlands during that obscure time up to the
Rebellion of 1745, when they had a history so distinctly their own.
There was an interesting veil of darkness over that period. Where Sir
Walter Scott found the material on which to base his immortal
representations of life in the Highlands anterior to and of that time,
he did not know. He supposed it must have been largely from oral
tradition, but everybody must feel that there was a singular darkness
regarding that strange history during the Highlands' prehistoric times.
North of the Firth of Forth they had clans living almost like the tribes
found in Africa, conducting their affairs almost without reference to a
central government, having their own petty warfares, their pitched
battles, their districts bounded not by parchment so much as by
immemorial traditions and the jealousy of the tribes which inhabited
them. They had a condition of things almost barbarous in many respects,
immediately neighbouring civilization of a somewhat advanced type.
Those genealogical and geographical collections of MacFarlane's, three
volumes of which have already been published, threw much interesting
light on the point, and therefore he welcomed them; but in the muniment
rooms of the great Highland lords and lairds there must be documents
living documents, human documents, rude though they be that bore on the
history of those times, and that those magnates should entrust to their
society so that the information could be preserved for all time. He
appealed to great noblemen like the Duke of Sutherland and Lord
Breadalbane, who had great charter chests at their disposal and a great
mass of family papers, and to the heads of great clans like Cluny and
MacLeod, to bring into public light documents they might possess
containing facts worthy of preservation.
Lord Rosebery's second suggestion was the collection of records relating
to the social clubs of Edinburgh and Glasgow. In the eighteenth century,
Edinburgh, and in a lesser degree Glasgow, were the home and centre of
social clubs. They "swarmed" in Edinburgh, and were convivial for the
most part. They had now gone, and the state of society which furnished
their recruiting ground had vanished largely, too. But somewhere or
another unless they had been burned in a moment of conviviality the
records of those clubs should be extant, and he thought the council
might make some effort to recover such valuable indications of the
social life of Edinburgh and Glasgow in the past.