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considered as out of print, a few copies only having been found in the Author's possession at his death.

The period was now approaching, when Mr Skinner began to prepare materials for an undertaking, which had been strongly recommended as worthy of his serious consideration. Most people feel a desire to enquire into the history of ancient times. When we hear of ancestors, curiosity prompts us to examine into what they did, and to discover, if we can, how they thought on subjects, which were then held, as we now hold them to be, of the highest importance. We wish to know, whether, on these subjects, we agree in opinion with those that have gone before us, or if we differ, wherein that difference lies, and what have been the consequences of it. These are points which the inquisitive mind will be anxious to see fully investigated, and it is the business of the historian to proceed to such investitigation with a strict regard to truth, and an honest desire to avoid mistakes as much as possible. This will be found the more difficult in narrating those facts which hang upon very scanty and imperfect records ; especially when these records may not be entirely free from the suspicion of having been mutilated in the hands of unfaithful transcribers.

To the records of the Scottish nation, there are two æras which are generally allowed to have been very destructive, first the competition between Bruce and Baliol, and secondly the Reformation of Religion. It was during the former period, that Edward the first of England, with all the pride and haughtiness of a provoked, because


disappointed, conqueror, wreaked his revenge on the archives, records, and public monuments of the kingdom, wantonly destroying what he could not conveniently carry away. And at the Reformation, it is equally to be lamented, that the Popish clergy found means to deprive the nation of many valuable records, which might have been highly useful to the candid historian in these less violent days. Under such difficult circumstances it was no easy matter to produce any thing like a regular Ecclesiastical History of Scotland ; and the first indication of such a thing being undertaken by Mr Skinner, appears in a letter from his son at Aberdeen, dated the 7th of February, 1782, wherein he writes as follows:

• Having little to say for some weeks past, and not ' much spare time, I deferred writing, till I should gather

few materials, to make the work the easier. And now your historical proposal being uppermost in my

mind, I must begin with it, and both enquire if you • have as yet set seriously to the work, and solicit your - entering upon it as soon as possible, if you have hither. ' to been prevented either by outward avocations, or an

inward reluctance to an undertaking of such magni

tude, and which, in some periods of our history, must be attended with considerable difficulty. As to the • manner of your executing the plan proposed, I think

the doing it in an epistolary way will be the most eligible of any, both on account of its being your usual

way of writing, and because it will admit of appropri‘ate reflections and applications at the close of each letter, pointing always to the uniform object of the

work, and conveying the designed instruction in the



most easy

and familiar manner. And for your encou. ragement, thus to depart from the ordinary continued • tract of historical narrative, I find a precedent afforded ' in some of the Reviews for last year, in which notice • is taken of, and great approbation bestowed upon, a

History of the Revolution, in a series of Letters, by a « female writer; who, the Reviewers observe, “ has “ struck out this new mode of conveying historical “ instruction to great advantage.” You speak of being • desirous to leave behind you some testimony of your • regard for that variously depressed, but still vene• rable church, in which you have so long and hap

pily served. And what can be a more suitable and • becoming token of your regard, than a fair and candid

representation of all the vicissitudes of fortune which

she has undergone, and the corruptions which she has • wrestled through, till returning to that state of primi

tive purity in which she first appeared, as a part of • the body of Christ, she has now but “ a fer names “ whose garments are undefiled,” and their religion unspotled from the world ?”

A subsequent letter from the author on the subject of his Ecclesiastical History, expresses his satisfaction in finding that his epistolary form was approved of; as, says he, ' for that form I have a natural fondness, both

because of the familiarity and modesty of it, sensible " that my style and manner of writing requires some • cover or apology of this kind. As to its abounding ' in what are now called Scotticisms, a blemish which : by English reviewers every Scotch writer is more or

« less

less charged with, I own myself to be one of those who do not consider this supposed blemish to be any 'real deformity, and therefore am not ashamed of it.'

Another friend having suggested to him the propriety of bringing his narrative no farther down than to the

period of the Revolution in 1688, and having at the same time hinted the necessity of his bestowing great care and attention on the style and composition of his work, so as to suit it as much as possible to the fashion or taste of the age, his reply was in these terms : • As to my lis'tory, of which, you say, there are high hopes, (and

if so, I am afraid too high to be gratified) I shall ' have it finished now in a few days, perhaps before this ( reach you, and have already brought it down to the present reign. I perceive the propriety of what you

hint about the times since the Revolution, and hope, I have,

by anticipation, removed your fears, by endeavouring ' to walk through that thorny field, with all due caution,

so as neither to desert the cause which I would wish

to serve, nor hurt those whom you would wish not to o offend. This was the chief part of the plan, which I

was solicited to adopt, and all the previous steps were • intended only to serve as an introduction to this ; so I • could not possibly omit such a principal branch of the

undertaking, if I was to undertake the work at all. • How I have been able to execute it, or what reception • it may meet with, when it appears before the public, is • not for me to say. I acknowledge the friendly inten' tion of what you say about the style and manner of my

writing. The same advice has come to me from more quarters than one, and I am abundantly sensible of my

o own from

own defects in that way. But when it is remembered

that I write solely for the instruction or information of " the common class of readers, and of such of my younger • brethren in the church as have pressed the undertak

ing upon me, I flatter myself that men of taste, and • approved critics, if any such condescend to look into it, • will view the work with an eye of candour, and if

they find nothing faulty in the matter, will be good enough to make allowance for


defect or inaccuracy in the manner of it.'

Under the impression of these modest sentiments, Mr Skinner committed his work to the press, and in the year 1788 it was published in two volumes octavo, and entitled “ An Ecclesiastical History of Scotland, from the first appearance of Christianity in that kingdom, to the present time, in a series of letters to a friend.” A Dedication in Latin verse, inscribed to his son, and his Bishop, is prefixed to the work, and expresses the same diffidence in his own abilities which had appeared in the letter just now quoted, accompanied with the same anxious desire to be useful to the Church which had animated all his labours in her service. * The opinion given of this work, by such of the Reviewers of that period as chose to take notice of it, is a matter of no great consequence, as rcriering, in most hands, seems to be managed, like other “ trades by which men have their living," more with a view to the profit of those concerned in it, than

* Of this Dedication an English Gentleman of great worth and learning has been heard to say, that frequently as he has read it, the perusal never fails to fill his eye with a sympathetic tear, shewing how he feels for the ciieumstances of the anthor, and is warmed with that glow of pa

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