Reading Sir Walter:

Rob Roy 

(Chapter 26) Bailie Nicol Jarvie and Rob Roy

Read by Prof. Murray Pittock

The passage that I have chosen is from the 26th Chapter of Rob Roy and in it Frank Osbaldistone is talking to Bailie Nicol Jarvie about the prospect of going into the Highlands with Mr Campbell, who is of course Rob Roy MacGregor. The passage is enlightening, not only for the fact that it is an exchange between an Englishman and a Scot - which is designed to be educational to a largely non-Scottish readership about the nature of the Highlands (and Bailie Nicol Jarvie is doing the explaining) - but it also rather neatly situates Bailie Nicol Jarvie in his context as a Glasgow Merchant interested in calculation, money, and the law as a magistrate and it also show how Nicol Jarvie both is alien from and regards the Highlands as alien and at the same time has a sort of national kinship with them. He occupies both kinds of society, first as a Glasgow Merchant a commercial society and secondly a traditional kinship society, as someone who is proud of his father (the old deacon) and indeed proud as we find later in the book of his relationship with Rob Roy and Rob Roy's family. He occupies an ambivalent position between two worlds just as Osbaldistone occupies an ambivalent position between two worlds - the world of Lowland Scotland in which he thinks he is doing business and the world of Highland Scotland which is going to provide his vision, his experience, of what the real Scotland the Auld Scotland - Scotland at the roots will really be like. That's where he will come upon the customs and the traditions of a particular place. A place which defines itself in terms of enlightenment assumptions "My foot is on my native heath my name is MacGregor" - at the same time challenging those assumptions because the peculiarity of place ultimately challenges the universalism of number, mathematics, rationality and the whole realm of enlightenment discourse which seems to describe it but cannot in the end understand it. These paradoxes have roots in this exchange.

November 2009

Inversnaid Fort. 1832 Steel engraving by Charles Heath based on a painting by Peter Dewint. Used here with the permission of the Walter Scott Digital Archive Image Collection.