For some time we’ve been gathering information about the reception of Pennant’s 1769 and 1772 Tours in Scotland north of the border. By and large Scottish readers were positive, especially when compared with the storm that blew up after the publication of Dr Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands in 1775. Most of the criticisms that we have found were levelled at Pennant’s treatment of Jacobitism and his comments on the Battle of Culloden, or on ‘proscribed’ clans like the MacGregors.
However, when my Glasgow colleague Dr Mathew Sangster alerted me to Emily Savage’s marvellous blog posted on St Andrew’s University Library Special Collections website I was forced to revise my opinion! Its title is ‘Copyright ABCS – “This Book is Very Ill Used”. Student Marginalia in a Tour of Scotland’.
St Andrews students adorn the margins with complaints (often in very picturesque terms) about Pennant’s shortcomings as a traveller and travel writer. Sometimes these are plain wrong-headed: he is blamed for not mentioning Oban and Tobermory in his statement that there were no towns in the Highlands between Campbeltown and Thurso (in fact neither town had been founded in 1772). But he is also criticized for credulity regarding Highland superstitions, and for misspelling, and slandered as ‘a blockhead’, a ‘damned liar’ and (worst of all) a ‘Welch goat’. The only mitigating factor appears to be that St Andrews students (who had to take library books home and would consequently read, and scribble on, book with no supervision) were even-handed with their abuse, and many other authors came in for much worse invective than Pennant. This fascinating marginalia also demonstrates, of course, just how widely read Pennant’s Tours were in the period.
Thanks to Sean Ripington, St Andrews’ Digital Archives Officer, for permission to share this blog and link on Curious Travellers website.