Reflecting on this love of all things Scottish, I realized that one of the first sweeping historical books I ever read was The Scottish Chiefs by Miss Jane Porter. I used to borrow this book from my school library each year to reread the fictionalized sweeping history of William Wallace.
I remember loving this book, not just because of the engrossing story, but because of the illustrations that swept my imagination to the Scottish Highlands. I’d hear swards clash. Smell the fields of heather. Speak with a bit of a brogue myself when disturbed from reading. Yes, this book just captured my imagination and would not let go.
In recalling this, I was of course curious to reread The Scottish Chiefs now. I found that Project Guttenberg does offer a free digital version, but it’s not the edition that captured my attention as a young teen. Nor was Fiona Price’s new edition or the Library of Alexandria‘s version quite the same.
The Scottish Chiefs I remember had illustrations by N.C. Wyeth and an introduction by Kate Douglas Wiggin. Normally I’m a bit more fluid in my acceptance of updates, but I must admit to desiring the magic of those illustrations set against Porter’s 1810 story that so captured my imagination. I could purchase a physical copy of this book from Amazon, as there were several used versions (paperback and hardcover) of this edition available, but no digital one with the N.C. Wyeth illustrations.
Then I decided to check OpenLibrary.org and once again found success there. Great success. Not only was there a copy, with N.C. Wyeth illustrations, but it was available as a direct, send to Kindle eBook (https://openlibrary.org/books/OL13445329M/The_Scottish_chiefs). Yes, this was the first OpenLibrary book that I did not receive as an ePub to read on my iPad, but was able to send directly to Kindle from Amazon so I can read it on my HDX and Paperwhite.
Unimaginable success and happiness!
I’ll be reading The Scottish Chiefs sometime soon. Perhaps bits at a time, but I’m already leafing through it on my to see the much-loved and remembered illustrations.
A bit of a side trip to North Wales
In searching for The Scottish Chiefs, other stories … family stories … began to clamor to make themselves heard in my consciousness. When I read about Edward – Wallace’s mortal enemy – I remembered my Nana telling tales about our Welsh ancestors. From what she had said, I recalled some arrived in Wales as Edward’s emissaries, while others fought against him. (You might say my family was and is complicated!)
I’ve always wanted to research my family’s history, not so much for genealogical reasons, but because there are so many wonderful stories about them. My Nana was the keeper of these stories and, as she was my babysitter for many afternoons while my mother worked, she told me all kinds of wonderful tales. But she never wrote them down.
When I look back on that time, I remember sitting there on summer afternoons after watching soap operas with her, listening and absorbing facts about pretty remarkable men and women, whom she brought to life. No one else in my family had much interest in this, so years later, I’d research for a bit and then, other priorities would take over.
Visiting North Wales the ancestral home of one branch of the family was inspirational. Many of the people Nana had given life to still resided there, not physically, but in memories of the inhabitants. Many of the places the family lived still stood, but the last family direct member had died a few years earlier. Though I’m sure many cousins, many times removed, also were about.
When I returned to the states I researched a bit at the NYPL. I loved going there, filling out the call slips, and reading each page carefully making notes in pencil from books that were, well, rare.
I haven’t done much research about this this in quite a few years, but thought today, I would just Google a bit. Several hours later, I’m amazed because many of the books I used for primary research are available through Google books, with several downloadable for free as ebooks or PDFs, while others are computer reads only.
Perhaps it is now time to tell the story of this family that’s been begging for my attention for so long. Thanks to a detailed genealogy that someone posted, I finally was able to exactly trace how some of the more illustrious relatives that populated the family tales were related to my direct ancestor. I always thought Nana exaggerated, but she hadn’t.
I adore the fact that my direct ancestor, who came over with Governor Nicholls, was the winner of the first sporting trophy in America in a horse race at Hempsted. The family romance of that story is that his daughter (my ancestress), years later, married the heir of that Dutch silversmith. I have a few examples of his father’s work and it is amazingly beautiful.
Perhaps its because my Nana was able to bring these people to such vivid life that I feel almost their physical presence when I think of them. I’m not sure if how successful I’ll be, but I think in the next year or so, their story may emerge on paper. I hope that makes them happy!
Now, if only the Welsh wore kilts!