PATRIOTISM, PRESBYTERIANISM. LIBERTY AND EMPIRE: AN ALTERNATIVE VIEW OF THE HISTORICAL WRITING OF WILLIAM ROBERTSON
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This thesis presents an alternative picture of Scottish historian William Robertson (172 1-1793). By examining Robertson's works and the contexts in which he wrote, I hope to show that the prevailing view of Robertson as a typically cosmopolitan eighteenth-centwy 'Enlightenment' figure, a devotee of post-Union 'British' values in histonography and outlook, and a practitioner of the progressive eighteenth-century type of historical writing, called conjectural or stadial histoiy, with its associated values, is misleading. These assumptions have given rise to the belief that Robertson was a wholehearted advocate of European expansion and the British Empire. This picture ignores evidence of Robertson's attachment to older Scottish Presbyterian Whig values such as militant Protestantism (generally seen as abandoned by the Moderate Presbyterian church party which Robertson led), defensive patriotism, martial virtue, and resistance to overbearing authority. These are present in his work and career although they are modified by Robertson's need to appeal to 'polite' English, or 'Enlightened' continental readerships in order to achieve distinction as well as by the Moderate political commitment to support govermnent in return for ecclesiastical autonomy. In many ways, these values are incompatible with those of a cosmopolitan figure influenced by French philosophes, or a confirmed advocate of 'British' values supposedly embraced by the Scots intelligentsia Particularly, the sense of defensiveness inherent in Scottish history makes it practically impossible for a Scot whose outlook remains rooted in the defensive patriotism of the Scottish past to be an unqualified supporter of empire. Robertson's work shows constant dubiety about conquest and empire, thus falling into a tradition of Scottish anti-empire writing as old as European expansion itself which is most noticeable in the work of Scots in whom defensive patriotism is highly developed, such as George Buchanan and Andrew fletcher. The Scottish experience of repeated attempted domination by foreign powers seems to cause a corresponding dislike for all such attempts at domination, and sympathy for their victims. The defensive traditions of Presbytei-iarnsm appear to add to this, the more so as attacks on Presbyterianism have historically had a strong foreign element. Most evidence for Robertson's position is found in his narrative history. As narrative makes up the greater part of Robertson's work, I believe that he must be considered primarily as a narrative, rather than a conjectural historian, practicing a form of historiography which Scots had been writing long before the eighteenth century. This thesis will illustrate its arguments by examining Robertson's narrative histories in chronological order, as well as correspondence and other contemporary evidence, and parallels will be drawn with earlier Scottish historians where relevant.
AuthorsMarais Du Toit, Alexander Sigismund
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