Important acquisitions

The Highland rogue: or, the memorable actions of the celebrated Robert Mac-gregor, commonly called Rob-Roy.

Author Anon.
Title The Highland rogue: or, the memorable actions of the celebrated Robert Mac-gregor, commonly called Rob-Roy.
Imprint London: J. Billingsley
Date of Publication 1723
Language English
Notes This is the earliest printed account of the life of Rob Roy, Robert MacGregor (c. 1671-1734), Scottish outlaw and folk hero. Rob's fame extended well beyond his Stirlingshire homeland; hence the publication in 1723 of this account of his colourful exploits. His double life as a cattle trader who enriched himself through cattle raiding and running protection rackets; his feud with the Marquess of Montrose who, according to him, pursued him vindictively for debts he could not pay; his involvement with the Jacobite cause which made him a fugitive; all these ingredients made him the stuff of popular legend. In 1716 he was attainted for high treason for his role in the Jacobite Rising of 1715. In 1717 the British government passed the Indemnity Act, which effectively pardoned all those who had taken part in the Rising, but the Clan Gregor and Rob were specifically excluded from the benefits of the Act. Rob remained at large, an outlaw and rebel until 1725, well after this work was published. His situation changed when General George Wade was sent to Scotland by the British government with the authority to offer remaining rebels the chance to receive a pardon after writing letters of submission. Rob in his letter argued that he had never meant to be a rebel, even though the facts spoke otherwise. He spent the rest of his life living in the Balquhidder area, acting occasionally as a spy for General Wade but also still dabbling in cattle raiding and protection rackets. This anonymous work, supposedly based on "authentick Scotch MSS" (which are no longer extant), purports in the preface to tell "not a romantic tale & but a real history: not the adventures of a Robinson Crusoe, a Colonel Jack, or a Moll Flanders." The preface is signed "E.B." which has led to the work being ascribed to the Quaker author Elias Bockett (1695-1735), but this seems unlikely in view of the nature of other works by him on religious and political controversies. Lives of notorious criminals were very popular among the English reading public of the early 18th century, and a number of authors, including Daniel Defoe, were happy to churn out biographies to meet popular demand. Inevitably, given the subject matter of the work and the mention in the preface of Robinson Crusoe, Colonel Jack and Moll Flanders - all works written by Defoe in this period  'Highland rogue' has been widely attributed to Defoe. Sir Walter Scott stated that Defoe ought to have written it, without actually confirming that he was the author. However, it is not attributed to Defoe in Furbank and Owens's 1998 critical bibliography of his works, nor in Moore's checklist of Defoe's writings (2nd ed. 1971). The book and its title may in fact have been inspired by another anonymous work, first published in London back in 1706, 'The scotch rogue: or, the life and actions of Donald Macdonald a high-land Scot', a first-person account of the (mis)deeds of a "highland robber". 'Scotch rogue' was reprinted in two parts in 1722 and 1723, at the same time as 'Highland rogue', thus roguery and Scottish highlanders were firmly linked in the minds of the English reading public of 1723. Whoever the author of 'Highland rogue' was, his account of the life of Rob Roy is, contrary to the claims of the preface, "inconsistent, badly written and fanciful" (Stevenson, "Hunt for Rob Roy", 2004). The basic outline of Rob's life is, however, "essentially accurate" (Stevenson). The work's main importance, apart from being the first biography of Rob, is that it provides a blueprint for his character in later printed works, depicting him as a charming and audacious rogue rather than a bloodthirsty villain, a man capable of towering rages but one who abhors cruelty and violence. His legendary status is matched by his physical appearance; the author notes that he has a superhero-like stature, "he approaches even to a gigantic size", has a foot-long beard, and of course an abundance of red hair covering his body. Moreover, the author's depiction of Rob is consistent with the widely-held belief among the common people of Scotland that Rob Roy was indeed a Robin Hood figure, a humble man who had taken to robbery to right wrongs done to him by an arrogant aristocrat. They regarded him as a man "who did not steal indiscriminately, but took what was his by right from the great while sparing poor men" (Oxford DNB). The affection he inspired can be seen by the fact that he was not betrayed in all his years as an outlaw. A slightly enlarged version of the text of 'Highland rogue', with a re-written ending taking into account Rob's death, was published in 1743 under the title of 'The highland rogue: being a general history of the highlanders, wherein is given an account of their country and manner of living, exemplified in the life of Robert Mac-Gregor, commonly called Rob-Roy'. The 1743 edition makes explicit the connection between Rob and Robin Hood, noting that he had "lived in the manner of the ancient Robin Hood of England." As mentioned earlier, Sir Walter Scott was familiar with 'Highland rogue'; one of the five other UK copies of the 1723 edition recorded in ESTC is held in his library at Abbotsford. Incidentally, he also owned two editions of 'Scotch rogue'. Scott drew on this work when writing his own celebrated version of Rob Roy's life, published in 1817, which gave the Highland outlaw international fame and inspired plays, operas, biographies and an industry in Rob Roy memorabilia. The NLS copy of 'Highland rogue' is extra-illustrated with a woodcut of a highlander with a drawn sword and shield taken from the 1723 edition of 'Scotch rogue', which has been cut out and mounted on a blank leaf as a frontispiece. The work has also been bound together with a copy of John Campbell's 'A full and particular description of the Highlands of Scotland' (London, 1752); this particular copy also contains the frontispiece plate of a highlander sitting in his study which is not present in any of the other NLS copies of the work. The volume was formerly in the private collection of the late Peter Nelson (d. 2004) who worked at Lyon and Turnbull auction house in Edinburgh. The volume also contains the loose bookplate of Robert Hay-Drummond, the 10th Earl of Kinnoull (1751 1804), which may have at one point been stuck on to the front pastedown.
Shelfmark RB.s.2905(2)
Reference Sources David Stevenson, 'The hunt for Rob Roy', (Edinburgh, 2004); Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Acquired on 04/07/14
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