James Allan (1670 – 1740) was a relentless traveller and a trenchant commentator whose life and writings offer unique insights into a crucial era of Scottish history.
Now published for the first time, James Allan’s memoirs describe the formative years in the life of a man of prickly sensitivity, frenetic energy and uncompromising self-belief. The memoirs document a period of astonishing activity during the years 1689 – 1690, as the young firebrand’s personal struggles are played out against a background of political uncertainty and armed rebellion in a nation torn by conflicting loyalties.
During this annus mirabilis James Allan’s peripatetic ministry as a presbyterian preacher carried him from bases around Forres and Inverness on the Moray Firth, northwards from Ross into Sutherland, and eastwards into the ‘devil’s bounds’ of his native Aberdeenshire. A notable midwinter expedition took him to Edinburgh where (by his own account) he blossomed as a star turn, preaching in and around the city and across the Forth in Fife.
James Allan’s journeys carry the reader through the unfamiliar landscapes of seventeenth-century Scotland: lodging in burgh inns and roadside taverns; enjoying the comforts of a lairdly tower; sharing the inconveniences of a city tenement. And the narrative offers a gallery of memorable characters at every level of society: lairds and ladies, burgh dignitaries, ministers of religion, kirk officials, soldiers, servants and Gaelic peasants.
During James Allan’s lifetime, his ‘book of remembrance’ circulated as a precious tract among friends and colleagues – and especially within a jealously protective circle of (mostly female) admirers. But, following the author’s death, fundamentalist spiritual memoirs fell out of fashion and the book dropped from sight.
Now, rescued from three centuries of neglect and sensitively edited, James Allan’s book is at last available to the wide readership for which it was always intended. The power of the writing is undiminished by the passage of time. The work remains an astonishing source of spiritual inspiration and psychological insight – and is embraced into the mainstream of the nation’s heritage as a priceless archive for historical research and a stylish masterpiece of Scottish literature.
Reviews received for this book:
‘…a gem, with a significance and interest far beyond the baldness of its title or the person of the writer. It gives a remarkable insight into the mind and experience of the kind of figure so often parodied and stereotyped….a fascinating window into a very different world, which deserves a wide readership.’
(Alastair Durie, The University of Stirling for History Scotland Magazine)