In 1730, Edmund Burt was sent to Scotland to work
as a contractor for the government. For most of the time, he was
based in Inverness, from where he wrote regularly to an acquaintance
in London about his experiences.
Burt had an insatiable curiosity about everything.
From cooking and personal hygiene (the standards of which continually
shocked him), to weddings, funerals, public executions and even
the activities of witches, no aspect of Highland life or society
escaped his scrutiny.
Burt's witty and satirical style makes entertaining
reading, but whilst he was certainly critical of many things,
he draws a very sympathetic picture of the grinding hardship and
poverty faced by so much of the ordinary population. His writing
is a salutary antidote to many of the Romantic views of the Highlands
and Jacobitism, which were later to take hold.
Burt's Letters from a Gentleman in the North of
Scotland is one of the most detailed yet entertaining sources
of information on life and customs in the Highlands during the
18th century. It is now available for the first time in one volume,
with modernised spelling and includes an Introduction by Charles
W.J. Withers, Professor of Geography in the University of Edinburgh.