IN offering to the public the following History of the Highlands and Highland Clans, which has so long occupied my attention, I think it right to state, without reserve, that the Work makes no pretensions whatever to original discovery, or novel speculation. Nothing is more easy than to hazard conjectures, invent theories, construct plausible hypotheses, and indulge in shadowy generalizations. In the regions of doubt and obscurity, there Is always ample scope for the exercise of that barren ingenuity, which prefers the fanciful to the certain, and aims at the praise of originality by exciting surprise rather than producing conviction. My object has throughout been of a humbler, though, as I conceive, of a much more useful kind. I have sought to embrace, in this Work, the different branches of the subject of which it treats, and to render it a repertory of general information respecting all that relates to the Highlands of Scotland rather than a collection of critical disquisitions on disputed questions of history or tradition. How far I have succeeded in this object, or whether I have succeeded at all, is another and very different question, as to which the public alone are entitled to decide; and I am fully aware that, from their decision, whatever it may be, there lies no appeal. In any event, however, I shall console myself with the reflection that I have done somewhat to facilitate the labours of those who may come after me, by collecting and arranging a body of materials, the importance of which will be best appreciated by those who are the most intimately conversant with the subject.
In reference to the History of the Clans, I have to acknowledge, and I do so with the greatest pleasure, my obligations to the work of the late Mr Donald Gregory, and more particularly to that of Mr W. F. Skene, in as far as it treats of the origin, descent, and affiliations of the different Highland tribes. Many of the opinions and views promulgated by the latter I have ventured to dispute, at the same time assigning the reasons which have led me to differ from him; but it must, nevertheless, be unequivocally admitted, that, without the benefit of his researches and those of his immediate predecessor, Mr Gregory, it would have been a task of no ordinary difficulty to compile even the faintest sketch of the History of the Highland Clans, far less to arrange it in any thing like a systematic form. The labour of half a lifetime would hardly have been sufficient to collect, examine, and digest the materials which still remain buried in the repositories of the principal families of the North; and it is more than doubtful whether the result of such researches would have, in any degree, repaid the anxiety and toil which the prosecution of them would have imposed. Genealogies afford but meagre food for the historian, and current traditions or family legends fall more within the province of the romancer or the poet, than of him whose business it is to ascertain facts, and to endeavour to fix the natural sequence of events. Both the gentlemen I have named have, each in his own way, treated the subject in a truly inquisitive spirit; and neither, so far as I have observed, has permitted himself to supply the deficiency of information by drawing upon the resources of his own fancy or imagination.
I have further to state, that, throughout the whole of this Work, I have endeavoured to exercise that strict impartiality, which is incumbent upon every one who undertakes to write history. If I have any prejudices, I am unconscious of their existence. If I have done injustice to any one, it has been involuntarily and unintentionally. If the opinions I have expressed are erroneous, they have at least been honestly formed. That I have an affection for the subject, I freely admit; that I have, in any instance, sought to minister to the vanity of the Highlanders generally, or to that of individual tribes of the Highland people, I decidedly deny. Perhaps I shall be accused of having gone to the opposite extreme, and made admissions, on disputed points, which a larger share of patriotic prudence might have induced me to withhold. Be it so. Truth is of no country. There is enough in the Highland character to sustain its just and reasonable claims to distinction, without having recourse to the absurd exaggerations and embellishments in which too many have chosen to indulge.
Some apology is due to the public for the delay which has occurred in bringing out this Work, more especially as it has been entirely imputable to myself, and in no degree whatever owing to my excellent and indulgent publishers. Non omnia possumus omnes. Circumstances over which I had no control often interrupted my labours, when most anxious to pursue them, and forced me to turn my attention to other and far less attractive avocations. But now when the task is completed, I trust that any temporary feeling of chagrin or disappointment will be forgotten, and that no extrinsic consideration will be allowed to affect the judgment the public may be disposed to pronounce on the Work which is at length respectfully submitted to their decision.