Siobhan Morris, a trainee librarian at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR), writes that during the recent reclassification of the institute’s research library’s Scottish local collections, a pamphlet was discovered entitled A brief account of a tour in the Highlands of Perthshire, July 1818 in a ‘letter to a friend’.
The small pamphlet, measuring just 10.5cm x 17.5cm and only 35 pages in length, was written in 1818 by John Brown, Minister of the Gospel for Whitburn in West Lothian and printed for Ogle, Allardice and Thomson in Edinburgh in the same year. An additional work entitled, ‘Loud cry from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland’ is also included in the pamphlet. The volume is rare, with only eight libraries in the United Kingdom holding a copy of the work – the University of Cambridge is the only other library out of Scotland to hold a copy. The IHR’s pamphlet came into the library’s collections in 2010, however earlier provenance for the work is currently unknown to library staff.
After having studied at Glasgow University, John Brown became a prominent Scottish minister and theologian. Therefore, both works contained within the pamphlet describe the role of religion within societies in the Highlands of Scotland, as well as providing a travel account of a journey Brown undertook across the area. The purpose of the work is made clear in the advertisement that precedes the text. It notes that the work is published, ‘in the hope that it may be in some degree useful, in directing the attention of the Christian public, to the very interesting field for Missionary labours which the remoter districts of our own country present.’
‘A brief account of a tour’ begins with Brown outlining his hopes and aims before providing an account of his travel itinerary, including the many religious figures with whom he met during the tour. In this regard, the account acts as a valuable source for the history of these communities – providing details of the number of residents, the names of sermon-givers, accommodation facilities, and places for worship (including, ‘a tent for preaching in a wood, on the margin of the water’ at Loch Tay.) In addition, Brown remarks that ‘it gave me pleasure to find several good books among the people’ – also of comfort today to library staff!
The ‘Loud Cry’ pamphlet is more focussed on explicitly outlining a perceived lack of religious education, sermons and morals within the communities of the Scottish Highlands and Islands. It is noted that ‘swearing, smuggling, drinking, strife, revenge and almost all evil work, prevail in many places’ with the author imploring the need for religious education and guidance to be established in such communities. Indeed it is further stated that, ‘the most faithful description, exhibits only a faint representation of the state of the Highlands: it must be, “come and see”, then the case must affect.’
Consequently, a series of suggestions are set out for how to increase the religious education and spread of the Christian faith into these areas. Among the proposals are calls for ministers to spend summers preaching in rural communities, an increase in the availability of Bibles translated into Gaelic, a Missionary Society for the Highlands to be established, and a call for ‘commercial travellers in their northern journies [to] distribute religious tracts.’ It is also suggested that ‘might not ministers and teachers establish small libraries’ to help ‘moralise’ these rural communities. However, it should be noted that while the work in this respect provides valuable insight into the history of the Highlands of Scotland and religious history more generally, the work does contain language that may be offensive to the modern-day reader.
In addition to the work itself, the pamphlet is also of note due to the marginalia and handwritten comments found throughout the work. These appear to have been written by Agnes Baillie, with an inscription on the front cover of the pamphlet of ‘Mrs Baillie of Drylaw’, written in the same handwriting as the notes interspersed throughout the text. Baillie owned Drylaw House in Edinburgh until her death in 1842.
Library staff would welcome any further information or resources concerning the background of both the pamphlet and marginalia. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
A version of this article was previously published on the IHR Blog