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Annals and Correspondence of the Viscount and the First and Second Earls of Stair
By John Murray Graham in two volumes (1875)


I have been induced to engage in this biographical work principally by the historical and personal interest attaching to its subject. The first Viscount Stair and. the first and second Earls of Stair were, in their respective walks, three of the most distinguished men of their time. The narrative of their lives connects with the history of Great Britain during an unbroken period of one hundred years, illustrating that history in various particulars, and clearing up, if not supplying, some of the links in the continuous chain of events.

Several valuable collections of hitherto unpublished Letters and Papers have, by the courtesy of their possessors, been placed at my disposal for this undertaking. These are—(1.) The ‘ Stair Papers,’ in 28 volumes folio, in possession of the present Earl of Stair at Oxenfoord Castle, relating chiefly to the second Earl, and including the period of his celebrated embassy at Paris ; (2.) A series of letters belonging to the Marquis of Lothian, from the first Earl of Stair, when Secretary of State for Scotland, to Robert, fourth Earl and first Marquis of Lothian, Royal Commissioner to the second Assembly of the Scottish Kirk after its establishment in the reign of William and Mary; (3.) Letters from the first Lord Stair to Lord Arniston, and other letters in 1663 and 1664, in possession of Mr Dundas of Arniston; (4.) Letters of the first Lord Stair to the Duke of Lauderdale and others during the reign of Charles II., acquired by Mr David Laing, of the Signet Library, Edinburgh, from the late Mr Dawson Turner’s collection of ‘ Lauderdale Papers; ’ (5.) Letters from the second Earl of Stair, when campaigning with the Duke of Marlborough, to John, Earl of Mar, then Secretary of State for Scotland, copied from the originals in the Mar charter-chest for the present Earl of Stair, under the supervision of Mr William Fraser, Edinburgh; (6.) a State-paper or Letter of the first Earl of Stair addressed to the Lord Treasurer Godolphin in 1703, as to Scottish affairs in view of a treaty of Union, and a letter from Lord Godolphin on the same subject to the Chancellor of Scotland, both acquired at the sale of the family papers of the Duke of Leeds by Mr John Webster, Aberdeen.

In the biography of the first Lord Stair, lawyer and statesman, a man of a career so varied as to have been successively upon confidential terms with General Monck, the Duke of Lauderdale, and King William HL, I have confined myself strictly to a narrative of his life, interwoven as that was with the history of the country. The life of Lord Stair, who was for many years President of the Court of Session in Scotland, having been written not long since in a somewhat elaborate form by Mr ^Eneas J. Mackay of the Scottish bar, I have made this biography shorter than I otherwise might have done, at the same time introducing what novelty I could into the narrative, interspersing a number of hitherto unprinted letters, and avoiding all irrelevant matter.

The life of his son, the first Earl of Stair, has never, so far as I am aware, been written, though in connection with the massacre of Glenco his actings have been narrowly scrutinised and largely commented on. Versatile in politics in the early portion of his singular career, he settled down after the Revolution into the confidential Scottish Minister of King William, doing battle in the northern parliament with every one, Jacobite or Presbyterian, who had not the word of the Government, and taking a prominent part in the ecclesiastical proceedings which resulted in the establishment of Presbytery. His later time was chiefly distinguished by the consummate ability and powerful exertions he brought to bear on the settlement of the Treaty of Union, and the passing of the Act of Union through the Scottish parliament,—exertions which in the opinion of many cost him his life.

The biography of John, second Earl of Stair, may be said to form the piece de resistance of my bill of fare. From the great amount of original MSS. relating to him in the Stair Collection, materials for the Annals of the second Earl were before me in greater abundance than in the case of his father and grandfather. He will be seen in a variety of characters—as the campaigner under Marlborough, and the friendly correspondent of John, Earl of Mar (to whom in the course of a short time after he stood in a very different relation), as the ambassador at Paris, of European celebrity, during the regency of the Duke of Orleans, watching the proceedings of the Jacobites and the Insurrection of 1715, negotiating continental treaties, and quarrelling with his adventurous countryman Law; then relegated to his estate in Scotland, joining the opposition against Sir Robert Walpole, and finally invested with the chief command of the British army, and fighting the battle of Dettingen.

If the faults of these personages have not been extenuated, nothing has been set down groundlessly to their prejudice. Sufficient evidence has been laid before the reader to enable him to form a judgment of their characters. I might possibly have abridged to a greater extent, and given more of my own writing instead of quoting the original pieces ; but it appeared to me that the value and race of many curious and historical letters and documents would thereby have been lost. Original letters, carefully preserved, in not a few of which the gold dust formerly used for drying the ink still adheres to the paper, must (one would say), if any thing can do so, show the very “ form and pressure of the time.” Where materials crowded too much upon me, I have made appendices to certain of the chapters, and have endeavoured to render this frequently neglected portion of a book more accessible and readable than it sometimes is.

The spelling of the MSS. has been for the most part modernised, for I found the original spelling, even in letters of the same person, so irregular and arbitrary that it could have answered no useful purpose to preserve it exactly, while the sense of many passages would have been less easy to follow. Characteristic old words and modes of expression I have not altered.

The only publications hitherto of Stair Letters or Papers that I am aware of are the Journal and a small portion of the Correspondence of the second Earl of Stair during his embassy at Paris, 1715-1720, printed in the second volume of the Hardwicke ‘ State Papers,’ and an inconsiderable collection of extracts of letters from Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, to the same Earl, which had come into the possession of Horace Walpole’s correspondent, Miss Berry, and were printed by her as illustrative of ‘ Walpole’s Reminiscences.’

Such as they are, the Annals I now venture to present in these volumes are due in a considerable measure to the Reports of the Historical MSS. Commission, by which my attention was first drawn to the valuable collections in the possession of the Marquis of Lothian, the Earl of Stair, and Robert Dundas, Esq. of Arniston ; to each of whom I take this opportunity of tendering my grateful acknowledgments for the unreserved manner in which they have placed their family papers at my disposal. I have also very sincerely to thank David Laing, Esq., and John Webster, Esq., for the use they have granted me of original letters in their possession.

J. M. G.
June 1875.

Volume 1  |  Volume 2


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