Cromohs 2007 - Kontler - Germanizing Scottish Histories: The Case of William Robertson

Germanizing Scottish Histories: The Case of William Robertson

László Kontler
Central European University, Budapest
L. Kontler, «Germanizing Scottish Histories: The Case of William Robertson»,
, 12 (2007): 1-9.

1. Since the publication of a significantly entitled book in 1981, the old theme of unity versus diversity in the Enlightenment has been reformulated in terms of the debate on the “Enlightenment in national context”.[1] It has been suggested that the Enlightenment was not a monolithic and overwhelmingly Francophone movement for the continent-wide dissemination of Parisian free-thinking. This approach was to some extent inspired by, took reinforcement from, and further stimulated the study of the Scottish Enlightenment as a distinct phenomenon and an academic field in its own right.[2] In turn, new ways for recognising the pan-European character of the Enlightenment have been highlighted, through the examination of shared discourses such as moral philosophy or political economy, demonstrating different degrees of correspondence between various local or national cultures ¾ again, in many noteworthy cases with a peculiar reference to Scotland and her intellectual exchanges with continental Europe.[3] In this paper I shall discuss a few problems of Enlightenment historiography that are of immediate relevance to the relationship between the local and the universal, through the lens of the German reception of some of the works of the Scottish historian William Robertson (1723-1791). Since the Enlightenment, history has been a powerful medium to understand, interpret, shape and contextualize national identity. But what are the uses and the limits of transferring approaches to national history and judgements about it into a foreign linguistic and cultural environment?
Robertson’s History of Scotland (1759) and History of Charles V (1769) put such questions into an especially sharp relief and thus lend themselves readily as lithmus tests for investigating them. Both of them are works of a “historiographer royal”, a patriotic national historian who was at the same time the quintessential eighteenth-century cosmopolitan historian; both of them are the works of a master of historical narrative employing stadial history to provide an interpretative framework.[4] Finally, in both of them Robertson focuses on the period which he considered crucial from the point of view of his vision of the history of the western world as the unfolding of the great plan of Providence: a gradually increasing accessibility of the divine revelation, made possible by the improvement of the means of subsistence, of manners, and of the human mind.[5] This period was the sixteenth century, which represented a crisis in that process (in the sense in which the term has been used in recent literature on the early-modern period, i.e., both as a halt and as a catalyst). In the first work Robertson sought to show how and why Scotland, although already making its appearance on the horizon of European history by the sixteenth century, did not share in processes that were taking place elsewhere, such as the curtailing of feudalism, which in Scotland was in effect postponed until the Union with England. By doing so, he attempted to refocus Scottish historiography, to supersede its shallow ancient constitutionalism, insularity and the partisan debates between the adherents and adversaries of Mary Queen of the Scots, and endeavoured instead to place Scottish history on the map of Europe.[6]

2. The central theme of Charles V was to show how Europe in the same period − before high-taxing territorial monarchies maintaining large standing armies could have become internally mitigated by checks and balances and externally by balance of power, and the idea of toleration reconciled people to religious plurality − experienced the challenges of absolutism, universal monarchy and religious wars.
From the point of view of the Rezeptionsgeschichte I am interested in, the significance of the two works can be summarized as follows. In the History of Scotland, Robertson provided a pattern to study national history in the context of the continent-wide development of economies, societies and polities. In Charles V the perspective was, as it were, the reverse of this: European history was here shown to be different from the sum total of national histories by exploring the birth pangs of Europe as “one great political system”.[7] The reason why this is especially noteworthy is that looking at the sixteenth century from this angle renders one of the central themes of national histories in that period, the struggle for and against religious reform, a mere subtext − needless to say, with particularly important consequences in the case of German history. My central question will be how far these implications of both works were appreciated in the contemporary German reception. (An equally interesting question, namely, how far Robertson’s generally Atlantic and Mediterranean predilection influenced his view of Europe and the contribution of the more central and northerly regions, would transcend the limits of this paper. I shall also avoid here the German trajectory of the voluminous preface to Charles V, “A View of the Progress of Society in Europe”, which I traced elsewhere.[8]) When considering this question, it should also be borne in mind that while Robertson was writing not long after Scotland had lost an identity which could be readily discernible through national political institutions (and was himself seriously at work to consolidate a new one), Germany as a unit had hardly ever possessed an identity other than that manifested in the political institutions of the Reich.

3. My sources are translations, prefaces, notes, reviews, references to Robertson in contemporary German historical literature and items in this literature on topics similar to ones that also employed Robertson’s mind. Once Robertson’s fame as a historian had been established, the appearance of his works seems to have been expected eagerly in Germany. Charles V was first borrowed from the library of the University of Göttingen within a few weeks of its publication in London, and within six months a lengthy review also appeared in the Göttingische Anzeigen von gelehrten Sachen, perhaps the most prestigious journal of scholarly criticism in contemporary Germany.[9] By that time, late in the spring of 1770, the first German translation had also been turned in by Theodor Christoph Mittelstedt to a publisher in Braunschweig − to be followed by a new edition of the same translation improved through textual changes and notes by the Helmstedt professor Julius August Remer (Braunschweig, 1778-1779), which in turn was expanded with further notes by Johann Martin von Abele (Stadt Kempten, 1781-1783), and was finally followed by yet another trial by Remer (Braunschweig, 1792-1795) who now completely revised (and significantly expanded) the first volume and reissued the 1778-1779 texts of the second and third volumes. Less complicated, but no less interesting is the publishing history of the History of Scotland, which, being the first work of an as yet unknown author, was not as avidly snatched, but was also reviewed within a year of its publication, and by the spring of 1762 Mittelstedt as well as Georg Friedrich Seiler had completed translations of the text.
The quality of each of these translations was above the average that was available on the contemporary German market. Although both Remer and Abele criticized Mittelstedt’s previous translation of Charles V because of its “heavy way of expression” and “an unpleasant stiffness”[10], their own modifications of it were not very significant, and whereas Mittelstedt’s rendering of the History of Scotland occasionally indeed suffers from these very weaknesses when compared to that of Seiler, on the whole each of them are readable enough. At the same time, for all of those involved in the process of reception, coping with the peculiar vocabulary of Scottish stadial history proved to be a tall order. In Robertson’s English texts certain underlying assumptions are ever-present through etymological associations between a number of key terms, which are not so obvious in the German language. The logic is, very roughly, as follows. In proportion as men start exerting their industry in the manufacturing of sophisticated products and a division of labour arises, they enter into commerce, in the sense of intercourse aimed at the exchange of commodities, which nurtures “commerce”, in the sense of intercourse aimed at the exchange of ideas and sentiments between them. In the course of this process their manners become polished or polite, which in turn results in increasingly enlightened and stable forms of policy. In the two works I am investigating now, the first group (industry, commerce and intercourse) do not appear as often as, for instance, in the “View of the Progress”, but it is important to remember that in Robertson’s approach the others (manners, politeness and police/policy) are predicated on them.

4. Sampling the German translations of Robertson’s texts, indeed no translator could have coped with the difficulty that Sitten (mainly because of derivates such as Sittlichkeit, purity of morals) has a more pronounced ethical overtone than “manners”, in which the element of custom and aesthetic qualities are equally emphatic. This is shown by the instability in the choice of terms to render “manners”: sometimes the translators were content with Sitten, but often they used Sitten und Gewohnheiten or merely Gewohnheiten if the context seemed to suggest so, and occasionally even Manieren.[11] Particularly illuminating is a sentence according to which Charles V established his firm grasp over the Castilians by “assuming their manners, ... and complying with all their humours and customs”, translated as “er ihre Manieren annahm, ... und sich alle ihre Sitten und Gewohnheiten gefallen ließ”.[12] As for “polished/polite” and “police/policy”, to the eighteenth-century British mind, both expressions were vaguely linked to the idea of the polis and were related to the intercourse of the citizens in their private and public capacities, respectively, also suggesting that a bridge existed between these two spheres.[13] To achieve the same effect, similar terms of classical derivation would have been needed, but the ones existing in the contemporary German vocabulary were not particularly helpful. “Nations, which hold the first rank in politeness” (and, one like Robertson might add, in which police is therefore also the most sophisticated and efficient) become wohlgesittete Nationen in Seiler’s and Nationen, die für die artigsten gehalten werden in Mittelstedt’s translation of the History of Scotland.[14] “Police”, on the other hand, was more or less consistently rendered by each translator as Policey. The fact that it had no supposed etymological link with the German equivalents of “politeness” (not to mention the fact that its traditional early modern meaning was administration, regimentation and control by the magistrate) made it quite impossible for the German reader to establish the spontaneous link between the refined intercourse of citizens in the private sphere and the existence of stable government and the rule of law, which is implied throughout the oeuvre of Robertson.
In spite of such linguistic limitations, the quality of the translations in and by itself was no serious obstacle for Robertson’s historical message to be conveyed to the German audience, and the historiographical context was not unfavourable, either. In the second half of the eighteenth century, the idea that history, more than being mere chronicling or “philosophy teaching by example”, a means to get across moral or political lessons, was an independent field of cognition with its own rules and uses, widely gained ground in Germany and paved the way to the nineteenth-century breakthrough of German historical thought and scholarship.[15] From our point of view, it is especially significant that compelling claims were made by leading authorities, such as Christoph Gatterer or August Ludwig Schlözer, for universal history which “regards the nations merely in terms of their relationship to the great changes in the world”, and “grows out from the particular histories, but as it orders these into a lucid whole it gratefully throws light on each of these parts”.[16] Gatterer campaigned to supplant Völkergeschichte, which he considered a mechanical registration of successive events and a mere succession of national histories, with Universalhistorie, i.e., a systematic but not speculative rendering of the flux of history, weaving together the important threads of national histories in a single narrative after carefully weighing the significance of data and paying due attention to cause and effect. Gatterer thought “the well-known efforts of the English go to some extent towards the outlines of such a general history of the world”.[17] At the same time he said that a history like this had yet to be written − the German edition of the encyclopediac English Universal History was at that time already under heavy attack by no other than Schlözer[18] − and, it might be added, Gatterer’s own practice as an author of historical texts hardly reflected these principles.

5. The German reception history of Robertson’s History of Scotland and Charles V, however, illustrates the difficulty for such views to strike roots. They do not seem to have been read, as they certainly could have been, as attempts to supersede the traditional limitations of both national and universal history (partisan spirit and parochialism on the one hand and compartmentalization on the other) by establishing between them the kind of link urged by Gatterer and Schlözer. According to the testimony of translators’ prefaces, reviews and annotations, one of the main interest of the German readers was the way Robertson took sides in the “grand debates” with which his topics could be associated − whereas, as it has been argued, his own attitude to such debates was one of studied impartiality, sometimes even amounting to a politically selective use of sources to suit his “moderate Whig” position.[19] His quest for objectivity was not ignored and often explicitly praised, but his strategy to shift interest from immediately partisan issues to the longue durée problem of emerging from feudalism in the History of Scotland and the growth of an “European system” in Charles V was far less appreciated, even recognized than his pronouncements on the rivalry of Mary Queen of the Scots and Queen Elizabeth in the first and on the strife of Protestantism and Catholicism in the second.
By all concerned, The History of Scotland was acknowledged to have “enriched British history with a well-elaborated piece”, even a “masterpiece”[20], and thus it lay the ground for Robertson’s renown in Germany: when Charles V was published, he could already be referred to as the “universally applauded” author of “The History of Mary Stuart”.[21] But even the reviewer almost wholly neglected Robertson’s concise summaries of the preceding and succeding periods, which were essential to recognize the context of the turmoil of the sixteenth century, while the translators in their prefaces only made the most passing references to these sections. Each of them were mainly interested in what they thought was the main theme: the character, the conflict and the responsibility of the two queens − a pursuit Robertson thought was an affliction of Scottish historiography from which it ought to be cured. What is more, both translators and the reviewer also decided to evaluate Robertson’s representation of this theme. Mittelstedt was the most sympathetic to this representation. He also seems to have realized or at least felt that one of Robertson’s devices to divest Mary of her character as a political emblem was to feminise her. Robertson “shows her for what she truly was, lovable in youth, rash and despicable in mature years, but worthy of admiration and sympathy in her death” which was meted out to her by the rage of God for falling prey to characteristically female frailties.[22] Mary’s is a case of beauty in distress, which is, according to eighteenth-century aesthetic perception, suitable for evoking pity and sympathy regardless of our moral or political judgement on the sufferer’s character.[23] Mittelstedt also suggested that Robertson examined Elizabeth in the same light: he acknowledges her qualities as a great ruler, but “as the righteous historian must describe not only the acts but also their sources and motives; he must distinguish between great qualities and true virtues; so truthfulness certainly obliged Mr Robertson to separate the queen from the woman, and amidst all the glitter of Elizabeth’s throne also to throw light on the spots” − and thus, with great moderation and only when necessary, provide evidence of her jealousy, duplicity and schemes.

6. Compared to this golden mean, Seiler and the reviewer represented two extreme opinions. The former took a sharply pro-Marian stand, arguing that Robertson made a mistake in accepting the famous Casket Letters as authentic proof of Mary’s complicity in the murder of Darnley and finds in general that the circumstances supply a sufficient excuse for all of her conduct as queen.[24] By contrast, in the reviewer’s opinion Robertson was unfair in imputing infidelity and severety to Elizabeth: Mary’s reluctance to abandon her claim to the English throne, as well as permanent involvement in the conspiracies of Jesuits, the Romish church and all Catholic princes of Europe against Elizabeth made the prosecution of Mary the only means to preserve the security of the English throne, and England itself. In the same vein, Robertson is criticized for treating too mildly the impunity of turbulent Catholic lords under James VI.[25] While scholarly argument in the Protestant Aufklärung very often bore the imprint of anti-Catholicism and anti-clericalism, the strong partisanship of Mary by Seiler, who later became a quite influential representative of Lutheran practical theology, is noteworthy. But whatever the motives of either of these commentators, from the point of view of the present paper the central issue is that it is on the partisan aspect of the topic that they felt most inclined and inspired to contribute, and not on the historiographically innovative aspects of Robertson’s work.
By and large, similar was the case with Charles V, with the difference that, since many technical as well as sensitive points of German history were concerned, the reaction was more variegated and occasionally also more animated. To begin again with the review in the Göttingische Anzeigen, it is a fairly detailed descriptive summary of the contents, the main recurrent theme in the more reflective pieces of assessment being Robertson’s failure to take a more partisan stand in favour of Protestantism. To be sure, Robertson was far from displaying Catholic sympathies, but true to the spirit of Edinburgh moderatism, he also refrained from representing Protestantism in heroic terms and explained the Reformation largely as an event in secular history. But this was precisely what the reviewer missed. Whereas Robertson “acknowledges all the human springs that promoted this great event, in our opinion he did not sufficiently emphasize the strength of conviction which arose from the comparison of revealed truth and the Romish beliefs, and which once inspired so many thousands with the courage to testify for truth in their deaths.”[26] He also took issue with Robertson who, reflecting on the history of toleration, claimed that in the sixteenth century “[r]ight to extirpate error by force, was universally acknowledged the prerogative of such as possessed the knowledge of truth ... Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, Knox, the founders of the reformed church in their respective countries, inflicted, as far as they had power and opportunity, the same punishments which were denounced against their own disciples by the church of Rome, upon such as called in question any article in their creeds.”[27] Especially in regard of Luther, the reviewer found this evaluation grossly unfair.[28] Technically he may have been closer to the truth, whereas in broader historical terms it was obviously Robertson who had a stronger case − but again the point is not so much whether the one or the other was “correct”, but that both of these criticisms show the reviewer to have mistaken the very character of Robertsonian “impartiality” (which he otherwise quite frequently praised). Several notes that Remer added in the 1778-1779 edition also fall into this category, whether pointing out that Robertson slights the difficulties of the process of Reformation (and by implication the heroism of the Reformers) and the severity of certain measures taken against them by imperial diets, or that a letter showing an iconic Protestant leader like the Landgrave of Hesse to give in to the Emperor’s demands may well have been a forgery.[29]

7. Some of these, and many other specific faults the German readers found in Robertson’s text were attributed by them to his unfamiliarity with the German language and the sources of German history. A German correspondent in fact reported to Robertson on Remer’s completion of his annotated edition and inquired whether Robertson wanted to see it before it was published, but in the same breath he questioned the value of this, recalling that Robertson did not read German.[30] The reviewer of Charles V also called attention to this weakness of Robertson’s erudition.[31] Commenting on Robertson’s treatment of certain subjects of German history, Remer also cannot conceal a sense of patriotic resentment: “Throughout this entire book, Mr Robertson failed to make a proper use of German writers, which gives rise to a false, confusing and incomplete presentation of subjects concerning the internal condition of Germany.”[32] To redress such shortcomings, Remer, as it were, reveled in mobilizing not only his own erudition, but also relied on the advice of “a learned friend”, who wanted to preserve his anonymity, and whose contributions he therefore marked with “P”. Apart from the ones already referred to, the characteristic topics of their notes are the system (in this period rather the remnants) of vassalage, the dues and services of the peasantry, and the constitution of the Holy Roman Empire, and their overall tendency is a vindication of what has been called the “German idea of liberty”:[33] the idea that the authority of territorial princes as it became stabilized after the age of religious wars, was not only reconcilable with freedom, but as it checked the power of the emperor it was in a sense the very guarantee of it. Freedom in this sense was even identified as the German “national spirit” by Friedrich Carl von Moser[34] a few years before the German translations of Charles V were published. It is tempting to believe that the learned “P” was no other than Remer’s one-time Göttingen professor, the famous jurist Johann Stephan Pütter, to whom this idea was far from being alien.
Naturally enough, some of these notes are merely pedantic. It is also interesting to see how Robertson’s text occasioned debates between the individuals who participated in conveying them to the German public, with Abele (who wrote his dissertation at Göttingen in 1778 on the German imperial nobility − again, quite probably under the supervision of Pütter) on several occasions commenting and correcting not Robertson, but his German predecessors.[35] Many of the notes usefully correct Robertson’s errors, lapses or inadequate terminology as regards German history, but just as the review, they are not concerned with Robertson’s main theme; in an age of interpretative editorial prefaces, this theme was ignored in the ones our translators provided.
This is not to say that Robertson’s character as a historian was unrecognized by them, quite on the contrary. Responding to Franz Dominic Häberlin’s pedantic criticism of Robertson in his New German Imperial History[36], Remer exclaims: “If only God willed that half of Robertson’s philosophical discerning spirit imbued our students of the history of Germany!”[37] There were in fact a few candidates for the role of a “German Robertson”, one of them immediately suggested by Abele in a note to Remer’s note just mentioned: Michael Ignaz Schmidt, who started to publish his History of the Germans in 1778, the same year as the first volume of Remer’s annotated edition appeared, and reached, with volume 5, the age of Charles V in 1783, simultaneously with the publication of the last volume of Abele’s edition of Robertson.[38] Pütter, who also thought that Schmidt deserved such a distinction − a very generous opinion on the former’s part, as we shall see −, also had an indirect candidacy for the same role. The English translator of his Historical Development of the Constitution of the German Empire, Josiah Dornford (naturally enough another recent Göttingen graduate) claimed in his preface that in order to acquire the English terminology he studied a number of British texts, among which Robertson’s Charles V occupied a high rank − the implication being that it could be considered as a German counterpart of the combination of stadial and narrative history.[39]

8. The piquancy of Pütter and Schmidt being put forward in this context arises from the fact that hardly could two figures have been more at variance on issues they both considered to be crucial for the period of German history on which Robertson focused. Furthermore, whatever their philosophical discernment, both of them produced highly partisan readings of German history as a whole and particularly the sixteenth century. Let me conclude by a brief comparison of Robertson in the original and the putative “German Robertsons” from this point of view.
In Robertson’s own approach, true to his “moderatist” principles, a conjectural framework and a European perspective on national histories, as well as a studied endeavour to assert impartiality, were employed in order to transcend the traditional limitations of historical understanding. To some extent Pütter and, more arguably, Schmidt were a match to Robertson on the first two items. It should suffice here to refer to Pütter’s frequently repeated reminder that the histories of the individual German states can only be fruitfully studied by concentrating on those circumstances that are closely related to the whole of Germany[40] (a counterpart of Robertson’s vision of the histories of European states as pars pro toto); to Schmidt’s tableau of European affairs at the eve of the Reformation to introduce the theme[41]; to Pütter’s sporadic and Schmidt’s quite systematic use of stadial history (with occasional references to Robertson) to explain the progress of German society in the Middle Ages.[42] Where they both parted company with the Scottish historian was the latter’s peculiar brand of impartiality. It has been pointed out that Robertson, in order to comply with his own moderatist standards, had recourse to a politic selection of facts in his assessment of Queen Mary’s status in Scottish history.[43] If no deliberate selection of facts was involved in his evaluation of Francis I and Charles V, he did take considerable pains to show even-handedness, and his judgement of his two protagonists was not based on their attitude to the Catholic-Protestant strife, but on their performance as statesmen amidst the challenges of a new status quo in state and church as well as the international system as a whole.[44] On a more general level, whereas Robertson obviously wrote “Protestant history”, he took care to point out excesses of “fanaticism” on the Protestant as well as the Catholic side, and religion, however important and omnipresent, remained an undercurrent in his narrative.
By contrast, Pütter’s sections on the sixteenth century present a thoroughly partisan reading of the history of the Reformation (even earlier, the anti-papalist tenor is quite conspicuous). As soon as, in Book V, Pütter proceeds to the theme of religious reform, he does not omit to claim that “[e]very one who was the least enlightened, and indulged a freedom of thinking, allowed that Luther and those who were united in his common cause, with respect to the doctrines he had hitherto advanced, were right”[45] − an uncompromising value judgement which dominated every aspect of the treatment of German constitutional development in the age of confessionalization and religious wars. Pütter in fact insists that the religious and political settlements of 1555 and 1648 were the logical consequences, as well as the confirmation, of German “liberty” as defined in terms of the imperial constitution. Viewed from this angle, that is, with the partisan Protestant principles consistently in the background, the attempts of Charles V and Ferdinand III “to reduce Germany, like France, to the dominion of a single sovereign”[46] appear as almost exclusively the affairs of the Reich. The situation is the very reverse of Robertson’s History of Charles V, where the European perspective and the attempt to transcend the limitations of partisan historiography mutually reinforce each other.

9. If impartiality is one of the standards whereby to measure the historian’s achievement, Schmidt’s introductory remarks to volume V, focusing on the reign of Charles V, are quite promising. The reader is reminded that this period is particularly susceptible to partisan treatment, and that in regard of it even the learned Häberlin had lost his temper, suggesting that the Reformation was a work of God’s omnipotence, and Luther the instrument of eternity. Schmidt himself claims to aim at impartiality, but doubts that his analysis will satisfy all readers. His account of Luther’s appearance and the circumstances in which the Reformation began is indeed quite unbiased. But by the time we reach the translation of the Bible, Schmidt’s allegiances start to reveal themselves. It was a major error to entrust the common man with the interpretation and discussion of matters vital for salvation: however much Luther repudiated the fanatical enthusiasm of the Anabaptists, their excesses can in the end be traced back to his own programme.[47] Nor is it legitimate to claim, Schmidt suggests, that theoretical and practical religion, enlightenment, toleration or the cause of liberty gained with the Reformation.[48] Predictably, then, Charles V, who in the eyes of Pütter pursued universal monarchy and (if he was the author of the notes by “P”) was an inconsistent and mediocre politician,[49] and in the eyes of Robertson also pursued universal monarchy but was a refined practitioner of reason of state, seemed to Schmidt not only a particularly able ruler but also one who saved the “system of the Empire” against the onslaughts of the all too powerful Schmalkaldic League, supported by Francis I − in other words, the casting became the very reverse of what Robertson, with the balance of power in Europe and not merely the Empire in mind, presented. [50]
As in so many other instances of explicit or implicit communication within the enlightened republic of letters, the questions here were, to a great extent, similar, whereas the stakes and the answers were fundamentally different. Robertson and most of those involved in the process of the German reception of his historical works asked what made modern liberty, the rule of law under stable monarchy, possible. For the Scottish historian the answer lay in the elimination of feudalism by powerful monarchs and their own subsequent inability to wield the plenitude of power, the entirety of sovereignty for themselves. From the point of view of national historical self-reflection the understanding of the reasons for this development to him took precedence over partisan arguments that could be drawn from history, and therefore, in an effort to arrive at an impartial interpretation of controversial themes in national histories, he appealed to their continent-wide horizon. By contrast, although European history is not at all absent from the accounts of Robertson’s German counterparts, the point is that their German histories are completely intelligible by themselves, the reason being that balance of power and social change (however frequently mentioned) seemed irrelevant to the framework that had defined the chances of Freyheit since time immemorial: the constitution of the “Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation”. In addition, the character of the latest settlement of that constitution, the Peace of Westphalia, rendered it extermely difficult to tackle the issue in any but partisan terms. Therefore, in spite of the demand for true universal history in contemporary German high academia, and the recognition of the merits of impartiality, the problems which from Robertson’s Scottish perspective called for a cosmopolitan and non-partisan treatment, continued to be discussed in precisely the opposite terms in the German reception of his writings relevant to national history.


[1] After the more traditional ventures in the same direction by Paul Hazard, Pierre Chaunu, Roland Mortier and others, this particular label stems from the title of the volume R. PORTER, M. TEICH (eds.), The Enlightenment in National Context, Cambridge, 1981.

[2] The publications that seem to have inaugurated the watershed of eigteenth-century Scottish studies were H. R. TREVOR-ROPER, “The Scottish Enlightenment”, Studies in Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century, LXVIII (1967) and N. PHILLIPSON, R. MITCHISON (eds.), Scotland in the Age of Improvement, Edinburgh, 1970.

[3] In the broadest terms, see F. VENTURI, Settecento riformatore, vols. I -V, Torino, 1969-1990. Besides, see K. TRIBE, Governing economy: the reformation of German economic discourse, 1750-1840, Cambridge, 1988; N. WASZEK, The Scottish Enlightenment and Hegel's Account of “Civil Society”, Dordrecht/Boston/New York, 1988; F. OZ-SALZBERGER, Translating the Enlightenment: Scottish civic discourse in eighteenth-century Germany (Cambridge, 1995); J. ROBERTSON, “The Enlightenment above national context”, The Historical Journal, 40 (1997), pp. 667-697; ID.,The Case for the Enlightenment. Scotland and Naples, 1680-1760 (Cambridge, 2005). For John Pocock’s reiteration of his view on the “plurality of Enlightenments”, see the Introduction and the Epilogue in his Barbarism and Religion, vol. I: The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon (Cambridge, 1999).

[4] K. O’BRIEN, Narratives of Enlightenment. Cosmopolitan History from Voltaire to Gibbon, Cambridge, 1997, Ch. 4-5.

[5] N. PHILLIPSON, “Providence and progress: an introduction to the historical thought of William Robertson”, in S. J. BROWN (ed.), William Robertson and the expansion of empire, Cambridge, 1997, 55-73.

[6] C. KIDD, “The ideological significance of Robertson’s History of Scotland”, in ibid., 74-81; and more broadly, ID., Subverting Scotland’s past. Scottish whig historians and the creation of an Anglo-British identity, 1689-c. 1830, Cambridge, 1993.

[7] The image of Robertson as a historian for whom non-partisanship and cosmopolitanism was a matter of historical method is as accurate as any large generalization can be. At the same time it must be acknowledged that compelling cases have been made for qualifying, even correcting this portrait. See M. FEARNLEY-SANDERS, “Philosophical History and the Scottish Reformation: William Robertson and John Knox”, The Historical Journal, 33/2, 1990, pp. 323-338; A. DU TOIT, “’A species of false religion’: William Roberston, Catholic relief and the myth of Moderate tolerance”, Innes Review, LII, 2001, pp. 167-188; A. DU TOIT, “God Before Mammon? William Robertson, Episcopacy and the Church of England”, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 54/4, 2003, pp. 671-690. But see also C. KIDD,“Subscription, the Scottish Enlightenment and the Moderate Interpretation of History”, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 55/3, 2004, pp. 502-519.

[8] L. KONTLER, “William Robertson’s history of manners in German 1770-1795”, Journal of the History of Ideas, 1997/1, pp. 125-144.

[9] Niedersächsisches Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek, Göttingen. Bibliotheksarchiv, Ausleiheregister A, Mich. 1769. The borrower was, on 14 October, the historian Christoph Gatterer. The review in the Göttingische Anzeigen von gelehrten Sachen (hereafter: GAgS) was written by Albrecht von Haller.

[10] See Herrn Dr. Wilhelm Robertsons Geschichte der Regierung Kaiser Carls des V, trans. T. C. MITTELSTEDT, notes J. A. REMER (Braunschweig, 1778-1779) (hereafter: GCM), vol. II. Vorrede.; cf. Dr. Wilhelm Robertsons, Vorstehers der Universität Edinburg, und königlichen Groβbritannischen Geschichtsschreibers, Geschichte der Regierung Kaiser Carls des V, trans. J. M. VON ABELE, notes J. A. REMER et al., Stadt Kempten, 1781-1783 (hereafter: GCA), vol. I. Vorrede.

[11] Each of the first three options appears, for instance, in the same passage in both Herrn William Robertsons Geschichte von Schottland, trans. T. C. MITTELSTEDT, Braunschweig, 1762 (hereafter: GSM) vol. I, p. 135; and Wilhelm Robertsons Geschichte von Schottland, trans. G. F. SEILER, Ulm-Leipzig, 1762 (herafter: GSS), p. 69. Cf. W. ROBERTSON, The History of Scotland, Routledge, 1996 (hereafter: HS), 134.; for manners as Manieren, see below.

[12] W. ROBERTSON, The History of the Reign of the Emperor Charles V. With a View of the Progress of Society in Europe, from the Subversion of the Roman Empire, to the Beginning of the Sixteenth Century, Routledge, 1996 (hereafter: HC), vol. II, p. 245 and GCM, vol. II, p. 267.

[13] It is instructive to see that such associations were relevant even for figures committed to a tradition of active civic virtue, such as Adam Ferguson. See, for instance, A. FERGUSON, An Essay on the History of Civil Society, ed. F. OZ-SALZBERGER, Cambridge, 1995, p. 195.

[14] Again in the passege referred to in n. 11 above.

[15] There is a the vast literature on “zwischen Aufklärung und Historismus”. See especially P. H. REILL, The German Enlightenment and the Rise of Historicism, Berkeley, Los Angeles, 1975; H. E. BÖDEKER, G. IGGERS, P. H. REILLl (eds.), Aufklärung und Geschichte. Studien zur deutschen Geschichtswissenschaft im 18. Jahrhundert, Göttingen, 1986; U. MUHLACK, Geschichtswissenschaft im Humanismus und in der Aufklärung. Die Vorgeschichte des Historismus, München, 1990.

[16] A. L. SCHLÖZER, Vorstellung seiner Universal-Historie (1772/73), ed. H. W. BLANKE, Hagen: Margit Rottmann Medienverlag, 1990, pp. 19, 34.

[17] “J. C. Gatterer vom historischen Plan, und der darauf sich gründenden Zusammenfügung der Erzählungen”, in Allgemeine historische Bibliothek vom Mitglieder der königlichen Instituts der historischen Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, ed. J. C. GATTERER, 1767, vol. I, p. 26.

[18] GAgS, January 27 and April 10-12, 1766, pp. 90-93 and 440-46. Cf. J. VAN DER ZANDE, “August Ludwig Schlözer and the English Universal History”, in P. SCHUMAN, S. BERGER, P. LAMBERT (eds.), Historikerdialoge. Geschichte, Mythos und Gedächtnis im deutsch-britischen kulturellen Austausch 1750-2000, Göttingen, 2003, pp. 137-156.

[19] For the idea and practice of “impartiality” in Robertson’s works, see J. SMITTEN, “Impartiality in Robertson’s History of America”, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 19, 1985, pp. 56-77; ID., “The Shaping of Moderatism: William Robertson and 18Arminianism”, in P. CRADDOCK, C. H. HAY (eds.), Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture, 22, 1992, pp. 281-300; O’BRIEN, Narratives, pp. 104 ff.
[20] GAgS, September 6, 1760, p. 913; GSS, Vorrede.

[21] GAGS, May 31, 1770, p. 571.

[22] GSM, vol. I, Vorrede.

[23] Cf. O’BRIEN, Narratives of Enlightenment, 118-119; L. KONTLER, “Beauty or Beast, or Monstrous Regiments? Robertson and Burke on Women and the Public Scene”, Modern Intellectual History, 1/3, 2004, pp. 319 ff.

[24] GSS, Vorrede.

[25] GAgS, September 6, 1760, pp. 914, 917.

[26] GAgS, September 6, 1770, p. 932.

[27] HC, vol. III, p. 205.

[28] GAgS, September 22, 1770, p. 998.

[29] GCM, vol. I, pp. 302, 402, vol. III, p. 234.

[30] J. Westphalen to Robertson, November 12, 1780. National Library of Scotland, Robertson-MacDonald papers, MS. 3943. ff. 128-9. I have been unable to find out why Westphalen suggested this well after Remer’s edition had been published, nor have I found evidence that Robertson ever cared to respond.

[31] GAgS, September 6, 1770, p. 931 and September 22, 1770, p. 996.

[32] GCM, vol. I, p. 243.

[33] See L. KRIEGER, The German Idea of Freedom. History of a Political Idea, Chicago, 1957.

[34] See especially F. C. VON MOSER, Patriotische Briefe (N.d. 1767), Zweyter Brief, pp. 32−40.

[35] GCA, vol. I, pp. 316, 369; vol. II, p. 361.

[36] F. D. HÄBERLIN, Neue Teutsche Reichs-Geschichte, Vom Anfänge des Schmalkaldischen Krieges bis auf unsere Zeiten (Halle, 1774-1776), vol. II. p. 430.

[37] GCM, vol. II, p. 466.

[38] GCA, vol. II, p. 468.

[39] J. S. PÜTTER, An Historical Development of the Constitution of the German Empire (London, 1790), vol. I, p. XIV.

[40] For instance, ID., Teutsche Reichsgeschichte in ihrem Hauptfaden entwickelt (Göttingen, 1778), pp. III-IV.

[41] M. I. SCHMIDT, Geschichte der Deutschen. Fünfter Theil. Von dem Anfang der Regierung Karl des Fünften bis auf das J. 1544 (Ulm, 1783), pp. 1-6.

[42] PÜTTER, Historical Development, vol. I, p. 3; SCHMIDT, Geschichte der Deutschen. Erster Theil. Von den ältesten Zeiten bis auf Konrad der Ersten (Ulm, 1778), Vorrede, pp. 11-16, and the sections on the “character, manners and constitution” of the Germans regularly appearing in each book.

[43] O’BRIEN, Narratives of Enlightenment, p. 121.

[44] HC, esp. vol. III, pp. 426-30.

[45] PÜTTER, Historical Development, vol. II. p. 402. Cf. ID., Historische Entwickelung, vol. II. p. 355.

[46] Ibid., vol. III. p. 167 in the English and p. 158 in the German text.

[47] SCHMIDT, Geschichte, Fünfter Theil, pp. 138-40, 179-85.

[48] Ibid., Ch. 23, 24.

[49] GC (1778-9), vol. III. pp. 546-9.

[50] SCHMIDT, Geschichte, Fünfter Theil, pp. 280-2. Cf. HC, vol. III. p. 428.


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