Front Page Titles (by Subject) ESSAY X.: ON THE HISTORY OF SCOTLAND, AND THE NATIONAL CHARACTER OF THE SCOTCH. - The Historical Essays and Narratives of the Merovingian Era
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ESSAY X.: ON THE HISTORY OF SCOTLAND, AND THE NATIONAL CHARACTER OF THE SCOTCH. - Augustin Thierry, The Historical Essays and Narratives of the Merovingian Era 
The Historical Essays, published under the Title of “Dix Ans d’Études historiques,” and Narratives of the Merovingian Era; or, Scenes of the Sixth Century, with an Autobiographical Preface (Philadelphia: Carey and Hart, 1845).
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ON THE HISTORY OF SCOTLAND, AND THE NATIONAL CHARACTER OF THE SCOTCH.
Is it by a simple effect of chance that Scotland has produced the first writer who has undertaken to represent history under an aspect at once real and poetical? I do not think so; and in my opinion it was the strong shade of originality cast over all the history of his country, which early striking the imagination of Walter Scott, has rendered him so ingenious in seizing every thing characteristic in foreign histories. Notwithstanding his immense talent for describing all the scenes of the past, it is from the history of Scotland that he has drawn most interest and fresh emotions.
Perhaps it may be thought that it is the picturesque aspect of the country, its mountains, lakes, and torrents which give so much attraction to the historical novels, the scene of which is laid in Scotland; but the profound interest they inspire, proceeds far less from this material cause, than from the living spectacle presented by a series of political commotions, always bloody, yet never exciting disgust, because passion and conviction form a larger share in them than intrigue. There are countries in Europe in which nature has a grander aspect than in Scotland; but there is none in which there have been so many civil wars with such good faith in hatred, and such earnest zeal in political affections. From the first enterprizes of the Kings of Scotland against the independence of the mountaineers, down to the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and the Jacobite insurrections of the eighteenth, we always find the same spirit, and almost the same characters which appeared to us so picturesque in Rob Roy and Waverly.
No history deserves more to be read with attention, and studied at its original sources, than the history of this little kingdom, so long an enemy to England and now reduced to the condition of a mere province of the Britannic empire. The best written histories of England by no means suffice for this study; they give too small a share to Scotland; and in the presentiment of a future union of the two portions of Great Britain, they give to the northern one, beforehand, something of the political nullity to which we now see it reduced. On the other hand, the most celebrated and detailed histories of Scotland, Dr. Robertson’s for example, have another kind of fault. However praiseworthy that work, the author neglects in it too much the ancient times, and appears to think too little about national origins. He passes rapidly over all that preceded the Reformation, and the religious dissensions; it is there alone that he begins to develop his narrative, and endeavours to exhaust the original texts. Far from bestowing a like importance on the other epochs, he treats them with levity and a kind of philosophic disdain, which does not forgive the ignorance of ancient times in favour of the poetry, and even instruction they contain. It seems as if, in Robertson’s eyes, no History of Scotland, nor even a Scottish nation, had existed, before the fourteenth century; this nation appears ready formed, ready constituted, at the precise moment at which he judges it worthy of figuring on the historic scene. The numerous and incontestable facts which relate to the origin of the population, and the races of which it is composed, all those facts of which the traces are visibly imprinted in its social organization, those changes of political destiny, those parties at later epochs, are neglected by the historian. Not knowing the primitive nature of the Scottish people, we do not understand how it acts, and how its conduct is in accordance with the national character; we attribute to fortuitous causes, to mere accidents of chance, to personal influence, what had profound root, in the moral instincts and hereditary passions of the great masses of men.
One fact predominates in the history of Scotland; this is the primitive difference of races, not only between the Scotch and English, but between the two branches of the Scottish population. Although the inhabitants of the two portions of Great Britain, separated by the river Tweed and the gulf of Solway, have long ceased to form two distinct and mutually hostile states, they are still distinguished by differences of manners and character, which are the sign of a different origin. To the north of the Tweed, a greater quickness of intellect, a stronger taste for music, poetry, and intellectual labour, a more marked disposition for all kinds of enthusiasm, indicate an originally Celtic population; whilst on the English frontier, the Germanic character predominates in the habits as well as in the language.
The new physiological researches, together with a profounder examination of the great events which have changed the social state of divers nations, prove that the physical and moral constitution of nations depends far more on their descent and the original race to which they belong, than on the influence of the climate in which chance has placed them. It is impossible not to recognize, in what still remains of the Irish population, a race of men of the same origin as those who now inhabit the warm countries of the south of Europe, although its emigration to the damp and cold climate of Ireland must be traced to an uncertain epoch. The case is the same with the population of the mountains of Scotland. All the brusquerie and passion that are to be found in the language, the friendships and the hatreds of the southern French, all, even to the rapid dance of the peasants of Auvergne, are to be found among the Scottish Highlanders. The oldest of the populations which, at various times, came to inhabit the plains of Scotland, and people them by their mixture, they carry to the highest degree that southern impression, which is only found very much weakened amongst the Scotch of the south, although it still suffices to distinguish these from their neighbours in the north of England. Finally, and this is what gives a peculiar physiognomy to the history of Scotland, the race of Highlanders who remained free from all mixture with foreign races, preserved, until within a short period, against the population of the Lowlands, whose language differs from its own, an instinctive hatred, which has in all epochs kept the country in a state of civil war.
To this division of Scotland between two nations, nominally governed for a long series of centuries by the same royal authority, but completely distinct in language, customs, and political constitution, must be attributed most of the revolutions, which, in the course of centuries, have changed the condition of that country. They are all, notwithstanding the differences of epoch and of subject, whether political or religious, only scenes of the great struggle between the Highlanders and Lowlanders, a constant and obstinate struggle, which reproduces itself in history under the most varied aspects, and gives energetic strength to the various parties born of the simple diversity of opinions. Thence result a remarkable development of political activity, great contrasts of manners and beliefs, a great variety of original characters; in a word, all that constitutes the dramatic and picturesque interest of history.
Walter Scott has not been ignorant of this; although only a simple novelist, he has cast on the history of his country a keener and more penetrating glance than that of the historians themselves. He has carefully studied, at every period, the essential composition of the Scottish nation; and it is thus that he has succeeded in giving the highest degree of reality to the historical scenes on which his sometimes imaginary personages figure. He never presents the picture of a political or religious revolution, without tracing what rendered it inevitable, and what must afterwards produce analogous ones, the mode of existence of the people, its division into distinct races, rival classes, and hostile factions.
The most important of these divisions, that of races, and the native hostility of the Highlanders and Lowlanders, is the ground work upon which he has founded most willingly the fictitious adventures of his heroes. While only seeking, perhaps, some means of striking more strongly the imagination by contrasts of manners and characters, he went to the sources themselves of historic truth. He has made evident the fixed point, round which have revolved, so to speak, all the great revolutions accomplished or attempted in Scotland; for we find the Highlanders opposed to the Lowlanders in the wars for a dynasty, in which one pretender struggles against another; in the aristocratic wars, in which the nobility fights against kings; in the religious wars, in which Catholicism is struggling with the Reformation; finally, in the revolts vainly attempted to destroy the bond of union of Scotland and England under one government. This species of historic unity, which is not to be met with in the same degree in any other country, following through scenes of detail apparently detached from one another, has produced, in a great measure, the strong interest which has for the first time attached itself to love-tales framed in scenes of national history.