A tour through the whole island of Great Britain, by Daniel Defoe

Introduction to the Third Volume

SIR— I have now finished my account of the several circuits which I took the last year, compleating the southern parts of the isle of Britain; my last brought me to the banks of the River Trent, and from thence back to London, where I first set out.

I have yet the largest, tho’ not the most populous, part of Britain to give you an account of; nor is it less capable of satisfying the most curious traveller: Though, as in some places things may stand more remote from one another, and there may, perhaps, be more waste ground to go over; yet ’tis certain a traveller spends no waste hours, if his genius will be satisfied with just observations. The wildest part of the country is full of variety, the most mountainous places have their rarities to oblige the curious, and give constant employ to the enquiries of a diligent observer, making the passing over them more pleasant than the traveller cou’d expect, or than the reader perhaps at first sight will think possible.

The people in these northern climes will encrease the variety; their customs and genius differing so much from others, will add to our entertainment; the one part of them being, till now, a distinct nation, the inhabitants thereof will necessarily come in as a part of what we are to describe: Scotland is neither so considerable, that we should compliment her at the expence of England; or so inconsiderable, that we should think it below us to do her justice; I shall take the middle of both extremes.

I shall be tempted very often to make excursions here on account of the history and antiquities of persons and places both private and publick. For the northern parts of Britain, especially of England, as they were long the seat of war between the several nations; such as the Britains, Scots, Picts, Romans, Saxons, and Danes, so there are innumerable remains of antiquity left behind them, and those more visible in those parts, and less defac’d by time, and other accidents than in any other part of the island.

He that travels through such a country, if he sees and knows the meaning of those monuments of antiquity, and has due memoirs of the historical part still in his head, must be inexcusable if he takes up his own time, or his reader’s pateince, in observing trifles, and recording things of no signification.

I knew two gentlemen who travelled over the greatest part of England in several journies together; the result of their observations were very different indeed; one of them took some minutes of things for his own satisfaction, but not much; but the other, as he said, took an exact Journal; the case was thus:

He that took minutes only, those minutes were very critical, and upon some very significant things; but for the rest his memory was so good, and he took so good notice of every thing worth observing, that he wrote a very good and useful account of his whole journey after his return; that account I have seen, and had the advantage to look it over again upon this occasion, and by it to correct and enlarge some of my own observations; it being as impossible any one man could see or observe every thing worth seeing in England, as it is to know every face he meets in a croud.

The other gentleman’s papers, which I called an exact Journal, contained the following very significant heads:

  1. The day of the month when he set out.
  2. The names of the towns where they din’d every day, and where they lodg’d at night.
  3. The signs of the inns where they din’d and lodg’d, with the memorandums of which had good claret, which not.
  4. The day of the month when he return’d.

The moral of this brief story, which I insist that I know to be true, is very much to my purpose. The difference between these two gentlemen in their travelling, and in their remarks upon their journey, is a good emblem of the differing genius in readers. as well as authors, and may be a guide to both in the work now before us.

I have endeavoured that these letters shall not be a journal of trifles; if it is on that account too grave for some people, I hope it will not for others; I have study’d the advancement and encrease of knowledge for those that read, and shall be as glad to make them wise, as to make them merry; yet I hope they will not find the story so ill told, or so dull as to tyre them too soon, or so barren as to put them to sleep over it.

The north part of Great Britain, I mean Scotland, is a country which will afford a great variety to the observation, and to the pen of an itinerate; a kingdom so famous in the world for great and gallant men, as well states-men as soldiers, but especially the last, can never leave us barren of subject, or empty of somewhat to say of her.

The Union has seemed to secure her peace, and to encrease her commerce: But I cannot say she has raised her figure in the world at all since that time, I mean as a body; She was before considered as a nation, now she appears no more but as a province, or at best a dominion; she has not lost her name as a place; but as a state, she may be said to have lost it, and that she is now no more than a part of Great Britain in common with other parts of it, of which England it self is also no more. I might enlarge here upon the honour it is to Scotland to be a part of the British Empire, and to be incorporated with so powerful a people under the crown of so great a monarch; their being united in name as one, Britain, and their enjoying all the privileges of, and in common with, a nation who have the greatest privileges, and enjoy the most liberty of any people in the world. But I should be told, and perhaps justly too, that this was talking like an Englishman, rather than like a Briton; that I was gone from my declared impartiality, and that the Scots would perhaps talk a different stile when I came among them. Nor is it my business to enquire which nation have the better end of the staff in the late coalition, or how the articles on which it is established, are performed on one side or other.

My business is rather to give a true and impartial description of the place; a view of the country, its present state as to fertility, commerce, manufacture, and product; with the manners and usages of the people, as I have done in England; and to this I shall confine my self as strictly as the nature of a journey thro’ the country requires.

I shall, in doing this, come indeed of course to make frequent mention of the various turns and revolutions which have happened in those northern parts; for Scotland has changed its masters, and its forms of government, as often as other nations; and, in doing this, it will necessarily occur to speak of the Union, which is the last, and like to be the last revolution of affairs in Scotland for, we hope, many ages. But I shall enter no farther into this, than is concerned in the difference between the face of things there now, and what was there before the said Union, and which the Union has been the occasion or cause of; as particularly the division and government of the countries, and towns, and people in particular places; the communication of privileges, influence of government, and enlarging of the liberty of trade.

This will also bring on the needful account of alterations and improvements, in those counties, which, by reason of the long and cruel wars between the two nations in former reigns, lay waste and unimproved, thinly inhabited, and the people not only poor because of the continual incursions of the troops on either side; but barbarous and ravenous themselves, as being inured to rapine, and living upon the spoil of one another for several ages; all which is now at an end, and those counties called the marches or borders, are now as well peopled and cultivated as other counties, or in a fair way to be so.

This alteration affords abundance of useful observations, and ’tis hop’d they shall be fruitfully improved in this work; and as it is a subject which none have yet meddled with, so we believe it will not be the less acceptable for its novelty, if tolerably well handled, as we hope it shall be.

Those few cavils which have been raised at the former parts of this work; for it is with great satisfaction I can say they are but few, are far from discouraging me in this hardest and most difficult part of the undertaking; I believe it is impossible for any man to observe so narrowly upon Great Britain, as to omit nothing, or to mistake in nothing; the great Mr. Cambden has committed many mistakes, which his reverend continuator has corrected; and there are yet many more which that learned and reverend author has not seen; and both together have omitted many things very well worth observing; yet their works are justly valued, their labours and endeavours commendable and profitable to the world; and no man lessens the author for not seeing every thing, or knowing critically every thing, tho’ worth knowing, which persons inhabiting those places may be respectively informed of.

If our endeavour has been, as it really has, to give a full and just representation of persons and things wherever we came, I think the end is as fully pursued as any author can undertake to do; and for cavils and querulous criticisms, or for unavoidable omitting of what did not occur to observation, they are not worth notice; what real mistakes we have yet discovered in the last volume, are touch’d at in the Preface; and if we had met with more, they should have been mentioned faithfully; for no wise man will be ashamed to amend a mistake; but ’tis a satisfaction enough to tempt one’s vanity to be able to say how few they are.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/d/defoe/daniel/britain/introduction1.html

Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 11:43