Mackintosh and Glengarry – a Highland provenance adventure

Wednesday 18 September 2019

Cataloguing is a relatively straightforward task- a book is examined, described, and any provenance is indicated and traced where possible. Usually, there are two trains of research: the facts of the book- its title, author, imprint; and the provenance of the book- where it’s been and who’s owned it. In some fascinating instances, however, the provenance can change the facts of the book, and one unique copy can have ramifications for the historical understanding of the text.

One such item appeared recently at St Andrews. It is an unassuming volume from 1806, still in its original boards with untrimmed edges. Entitled Remarks on the Earl of Selkirk’s Observations on the present state of the Highlands of Scotland, with a view of the causes and probable consequences of emigration, the book was printed in Edinburgh by Alexander Smellie for John Anderson of Edinburgh and Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme of London. It was published anonymously, but the author has long been assumed to be Robert Brown (1757-1831), the author on the title page of another work, from 1806, entitled Strictures and remarks on the Earl of Selkirk’s observations on the present state of the Highlands of Scotland, with a view of the causes and probable consequences of emigration. Note the two-word difference in the titles!

Remarks on the Earl of Selkirk’s Observations on the present state of the Highlands of Scotland, by John Hay Forbes, 1806 (Hen1.7.3)

Remarks is a response to Thomas Douglas, Fifth Earl of Selkirk’s 1805 publication in which he makes the bold claim that the recent emigration from Scotland due to the Highland clearances is actually a good thing- the people who are displaced can find useful employment in the Americas, whereas in Scotland they would have been unemployed and listless, due to the agricultural ‘improvements’ undertaken by Highland landowners. In the Americas, emigrants would be able to save their language and culture. The author of Remarks sums up the Selkirk argument as, ‘The sooner they carried their industry and skill to another country, so much the better’ (p. 6). However, the author responds by saying that the loss of population to emigration will only hurt Scotland, and in a greater respect, Britain, economically and militarily. His position is that instead of emigrating, people should be led to employment within Scotland, either through innovative agricultural improvements which require additional labourers, or employment in another industry, such as fishing or textiles.

The historically attributed authorship of Robert Brown was based on the Toronto Public Library’s A bibliography of Canadiana (1934), which, in turn, was based on ‘The literature relating to the Selkirk Conspiracy’, a journal article by W. S. Wallace published in The Canadian Historical Review in 1932, in which the author attributes this work to Robert Brown. There is little evidence in the article to suggest why Wallace presumed this authorship, other than the existence of a very similar title published under Brown’s name, and here the train of evidence runs dry.

 However, the St Andrews copy of Remarks has an inscription on the recto of the front free endpaper, in a confident, large 19th century hand, which reads:

 Æneas Mackintosh Esqr.
of Mackintosh
his Dutiful Nephue
Being the work of his
Brother in Law, in reply
to Lord Selkirk
on Emigration.
John H. Forbes Esqr .
The Author-

It seems that one man- who calls himself Glengarry- is giving the work to his uncle, Æneas Mackintosh of Mackintosh, because it’s been written by Glengarry’s brother-in-law, John H. Forbes, not Robert Brown. So, who was really the author? And who are these other men?

Inscription in the St Andrews copy of Remarks (Hen1.7.3)

The very distinctly-named Æneas Mackintosh of Mackintosh was the chief of clan Mackintosh at the time. He had fought in the American War of Independence and been held prisoner of war. Returning to his estate at Moy, Inverness-shire, he actively focused on improving his agricultural land, although instead of raising rents, Mackintosh is known to have allowed tenants to live rent-free in tough times. Crucially for our provenance research, Margaret Grant, MacKintosh’s wife, was sister to Marjory Grant, the mother of Alexander Ranaldson MacDonell, otherwise known as ‘Glengarry’.

‘Glengarry’ was a larger-than-life character, and all his exploits can hardly be recounted here. Born in 1773, he became the chief of clan Macdonell of Glengarry in 1788. Obsessed with the Highland way of life, he would travel with a band of retainers, maintained a family bard, and founded the Society of True Highlanders in 1815. Despite his passion for his heritage, Glengarry was also responsible for a sharp decline in his tenants, as he cleared the land to introduce sheep-farming. He was well-known to Walter Scott, who probably based the character of Fergus MacIvor in Waverley on him.

Glengarry’s wife, Rebecca Forbes, was the daughter of Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, who was also the father of one John Hay Forbes, Lord Medwyn, leading us directly to the new author of Remarks.

Glengarry was the brother-in-law to a John H. Forbes, and Mackintosh was his uncle, so it is highly plausible that he not only wrote the inscription in the St Andrews copy of Remarks, but that he personally knew the author.

So, what we have discovered at St Andrews is a copy of a book which argues against emigration, shared between two members of the Scottish land-owning class responsible, in varying degrees, for the clearances. That it was written by a close relative makes the interaction even more poignant. Glengarry, himself a great cause of emigration, is passing along the work to his uncle, who was also interested in the effects of land ‘improvements’. Not only is it a thrill to discover something new about the work, it’s also brilliant to discover an inscription from one of early 19th century Scotland’s most colourful characters.

Remarks is part of the Henderson Collection, a run of about 300 books primarily relating to Scottish history and topography which was bequeathed by Professor G. P. Henderson in 2004. The collection is currently being catalogued and will soon be fully accessible via the online catalogue.

Beth Dumas
Assistant Rare Books Librarian


Wallace, W.S. ‘The Literature relating to the Selkirk Controversy’. The Canadian Historical Review, Vol. 12, No. 1, March 1932, pp. 45-50.

Staton, Frances M., and Marie Tremaine, eds. A Bibliography of Canadiana. Toronto: The Public Library, 1934.

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3 thoughts on "Mackintosh and Glengarry – a Highland provenance adventure"

  • Jim
    Friday 20 September 2019, 7.46am

    What do archives do with uncut books? Cut them if they are unique and the content is unknown, but not, otherwise? In this case, is the implication that the book was given, but not read by the recipient?

    • Briony Harding, Assistant Rare Books Librarian
      Briony Harding, Assistant Rare Books Librarian
      Friday 20 September 2019, 9.32am

      Dear Jim, thanks for asking such an interesting question. If we have a book which is unopened (i.e. with pages uncut, so that it can't be read), then we will consider the provenance of the book before cutting the pages, as it may be more important to know that the book was never read by a previous owner, rather than being able to read its contents now. If we do cut the pages of a book, then we will record the fact this has been done, and when. Just to clarify that with this book, its pages are untrimmed, not unopened; the edges have not been cut smooth in the final production of the book. So the recipient of this book would have been able to read it. Whether he did or not is a different matter!

      • Jim
        Sunday 22 September 2019, 10.18am

        Thanks so much for that explanation, and to correct my mis-reading as well, so I can now distinguish uncut from untrimmed.


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