Good morrow, fair readers. Happy spring!
When writing Mistaken Premise, I did my usual nerd thing of looking for sources to capture the prevailing thoughts of Scotland, its people and its history, in the early Regency period. Following the Jacobite Rebellions, English society viewed their northern compatriot as a land of barbarous savages, but several artists, writers, and poets of the late Georgian era strove to change that view. Given his prominence in this Scottish revival – he was instrumental in arranging King George IV’s (formerly known as Prinny) formal state visit to Edinburgh in 1822 – ‘tis only fitting that I start with Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). Widley known today for his Waverly novels and epic poetry, Scott also wrote an endearing series of books chronicling Scottish history for his sick grandson, collectively called Tales of a Scottish Grandfather.
I had never heard of these books until I came across two of the above volumes in my local Goodwill when Mistaken Premise was, for me, but a nascent premise. Published in 1828-30, the Tales were the most contemporary view of Scottish history I could find to my 1811-1814 setting. History books in that time period were more about telling a narrative, justifying a position, or perhaps, especially when addressed to children, conveying a moral, so don’t read Scott’s Tales for a scholarly viewpoint. However, they are an entertaining read, appropriate for an 8- to 12-year-old reader; what I liked best was when Scott and/or his grandson entered the story through asides sprinkled throughout all four volumes.
In poetry, I also listened to Scott’s Lord of the Isles (1818) and Lady of the Lake (1810) and Robert ‘Rabbie’ Burns (1759-1796). I prefer Wordsworth’s more lyrical, natural style to Scott’s heavier cantos, but I dutifully listened to gain exposure to Scotland from a native son. Whilst effectively rebuilding pride for Scotland’s history, please do not take Scott’s historical poems as scholarly fact. As for Burns… Rabbie’s use of the Scots language and his praise of his homeland made for enjoyable listening as I sewed.
The earliest, more modern approach to Scottish history I found was Andrew Lang’s (1844-1912) A Short History of Scotland, a condensed version of A History of Scotland from the Roman Occupation (1901-07). Whilst more accurate (according to my other sources), these books were Dry, and I often found myself confused as Lang would introduce a historical figure without giving any kind of background. HOWEVER, as I researched his biography for this post, Mr Lang has quite redeemed himself in my eyes! It turns out that in 1890, Mr Lang’s Old Friends: Essays in Epistolary Parody, has a character based on our own dear Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey – one of the earliest examples of what we now call JAFF.[i]
Carry on, Mr Lang; your dryness is forgiven!
Worry not, dear readers, I have endured, on your behalf, The Scottish Chiefs (1810), by Jane Porter (1775-1850). Miss Porter is an example of the vagaries of fate; born but 13 days before our beloved Jane Austen, she enjoyed the commercial success that eluded our dear Jane in her lifetime – but it is Austen, with her realism and wit, who endured through the ages. In comparing Miss Porter’s Scottish Chiefs to any of Austen’s novels, is likening crab-apples to clementines – they are both fruit (or novels, in this case) and both grow on trees (published in the same decade), but that is where any comparison ends. The crab-apple may not be the perfect analogy, for it is the very saccharinity of the Chiefs which make it bitter.
Miss Porter’s works are considered amongst the earliest examples of the historical fiction genre, but there was very little historical fact in her account of William Wallace (the main character in The Scottish Chiefs). A common complaint in JAFF is “the too-perfect Lizzy”, but I assure you, in all the 2000+ JAFFs I have read, I have yet to encounter a Lizzy who could compete with the Porter’s Wallace in perfection.
The Scottish Fairy Book, by Elizabeth Grierson (1881-1973), was my favourite. The stories were captivating – some a variation on the familiar tales from Mother Goose or the Brothers Grimm – and I would frequently sit in the car just to finish the tale. The most modern of the books mentioned today, The Scottish Fairy Book likely gave me the greatest appreciation for the folk tales and lore of Scotland. It was a shame that I could not quote it or weave it into Mistaken Premise.
Godspeed until next month, when I shall focus on Sir Walter Scott, his biography, his works, and his admiration of Jane Austen.
NOW FOR THE GIVEAWAY: Since I am new to the blog-o-sphere, I didn’t do a Giveaway last month, but would like to make up for that lapse now. I am offering an e-book copy of Mistaken Premise available to those who comment below. The giveaway will end at midnight EDT on Wednesday, March 29, 2023. The winner will be announced at Always Austen on Sunday, April 2. All prizes must be claimed within 72 hours of the winner’s announcement. After that time, an alternate will be chosen. Good luck, fair readers!
For those interested, here are the links on LibraVox – my largest source of the novels, poetry, and other writings of the long eighteenth-century (aka, the books my characters would have read):
Lady of the Lake (1810), by Sir Walter Scott: https://librivox.org/the-lady-of-the-lake-by-sir-walter-scott/
The Lord of the Isles (1818), by Sir Walter Scott: https://librivox.org/the-lord-of-the-isles-by-sir-walter-scott/
Robert Burns 250th Anniversary Collection: https://librivox.org/robert-burns-250th-anniversary-collection-by-various/
A Short History of Scotland (1901), by Andrew Lang: https://librivox.org/short-history-of-scotland-by-andrew-lang/
The Scottish Chiefs (1810), by Jane Porter: https://librivox.org/the-scottish-chiefs-by-jane-porter/
The Scottish Fairy Book, by Elizabeth Grierson: https://librivox.org/the-scottish-fairy-book-by-elizabeth-w-grierson/
Links from the Internet Archive:
History of Scotland from the Roman Occupation (1901-07), by Andrew Lang:
For the curious, Mr Lang’s Old Friends: Essays in Epistolary Parody (1890) [warning: I have not read this book and therefore cannot vouch for any objectionable content therein]: https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.470058/page/n13/mode/2up
Tales of a Grandfather (the original title of my Tales of a Scottish Grandfather) (1828-30), by Sir Walter Scott:
The First Series: https://archive.org/details/talesofgrandfat01scotuoft
The Second Series: https://archive.org/details/talesofgrandfat02scotuoft
The Third Series: https://archive.org/details/talesofgrandfat03scotuoft
For those looking for a comprehensive view of Scottish history, I recommend the Scotcast episodes in The British History Podcast, hosted by Jamie Jeffers, and The Scottish History episodes which are a members feed available on The History of England Podcast, hosted by David Crowther. Both Mr Jeffers and Mr Crowther are entertaining and detailed in their approach to the history of England and the British Isles.
[i] Sarah Glossom, Performing Jane: A Cultural History of Jane Austen Fandom, 2020