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The Union of Parliaments in 1707 had been a blessing beyond doubt, but for a quarter of a century it had been a blessing well disguised.

The land and the people were grievously poor, and north of Forth the Highlands had to face the decadence of their ancient social and economic structure, and in the space of a man’s lifetime adjust themselves to the change from a mediæval to a modern world.

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It was the clearing-house of the Highlands, as Stagshawbank on the Tyne was the clearing-house of Scotland.

The drover from Glen Affric, herding his kyloes among the autumn bracken, could see from his bivouac a cloud of dark smoke on the banks of the Carron river, and hear by day and night the clang of hammers.

And the spectator, according as he was a lover of old things or an amateur of novelties, would have sighed or approved.

The little city, strung from the Castle to Holyroodhouse along her rib of hill, where more history had been made than in any place of like size save Athens, Rome and Jerusalem—­which, according to the weather and the observer’s standpoint, looked like a flag flung against the sky or a ship riding by the shore—­was enlarging her bounds and entering upon a new career.

The London critics had spoken well of Mr David Hume’s works in history and philosophy, of Mr Robertson’s excursions in the former domain, of Mr Ferguson’s treatise on civil society, and of the poetry of Mr Beattie of Aberdeen, while visitors had reported the surpassing eloquence of Mr Hugh Blair of the High Kirk of St Giles’.

Our traveller, when he had access to these famous men, found that Edinburgh had indeed become a home of brilliant talk and genial company—­Edinburgh with her endless taverns where entertainment was cheap, since the Forth at the door gave her oysters, and sound claret was to be had at eighteen shillings a dozen.

Even Lady Louisa Stuart, with Scots blood in her veins, had little good to say of it; to cross the Border into Cumberland was for her to return to civilization and decency.

Nor was Scotland’s sense of inferiority likely to be soothed by the attitude of her neighbours.

They strove without much success to acquire an English accent, and Mr Adam Smith was envied because Balliol had trimmed the roughness of his Fife tongue.

They cultivated a thing called rhetoric, which was supposed to be a canonical use of language freed from local vulgarities, and in the shabby old college Mr Hugh Blair lectured on that dismal science with much acceptance.

There was a third portent, the most pregnant of all, which our returned exile, if he were a man of some education, had a chance of noting.

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