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gions of Asia™ constituted ˜that vast hive from whose fruitful bosom were
poured forth those mighty swarms of people which not only overspread
the neighbouring countries of Scandinavia, or northern Europe, but by
degrees covered all Germany, overwhelmed Spain and Gaul, and made
themselves masters of the whole western empire™.’’ In a similar vein,
Goldsmith described the Saxons as ˜one branch of those Gothic nations,
which, swarming from the northern hive, came down to give laws, man-
ners and liberty to the rest of Europe™.’“ Whitaker considered that ˜the
’• Peter Paxton, A scheme of union between England and Scotland with advantages to both
kingdoms (London and Edinburgh, 1705), p. 3; J. A. W. Gunn, ˜The civil polity of Peter
Paxton™, P+P 40 (1968), 42“57. Gunn notes that as a modern anti-feudalist Paxton was
sceptical of Gothicist claims.
’’ Samuel Squire, An enquiry into the foundation of the English constitution; or, an historical
essay upon the Anglo-Saxon government both in Germany and England (London, 1745),
pp. 5“7.
228 Points of contact

Longobards, Franks, Saxons, and Danes were all branches of that great
tree of Germany, which in the fourth and succeeding centuries shot out
her boughs into the south, and threw her shade over half the continent of
Europe™.’“
Even critics of Gothicism acknowledged the European scope of the
myth. Josiah Tucker denounced as nonsense the notion that, because in
France, Spain, Sweden and Denmark the traditional baronial liberty ˜of
doing mischief and of being a plague to each other, to their own vassals,
and to all around them™ had been eroded by the rise of absolute monar-
chies, this meant that these lands had ˜lost their liberties™. For to Tucker
˜true liberty™ had been ˜a stranger to every country, where the Gothic
constitution was introduced™.’” Like Hume, Tucker preferred the pros-
pect of enjoying a degree of civil liberty in a modern civilised monarchy to
fettered vassalage in a prized Gothic constitution. Nevertheless, his cri-
tique of Gothicism mirrored the European breadth of the ideology he was
subverting.“»
Eighteenth-century British historians celebrated Europe as a mosaic of
Gothic polities, each state evolving through the vicissitudes of its own
particular historical formation a variant on a basic institutional pattern.
The dynamic individuality of the barbarian kingdoms which arose from
the ashes of Rome was to be one of the central themes of Edward
Gibbon™s Decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Gibbon provides the
classic, if atypical, example of an eighteenth-century English champion-
ship of a pan-European identity. As a cosmopolitan sceptic who com-
bined the critical approach of Tucker, with a keen awareness of the
genuine kernel of truth which lay beneath the more fantastic outer husk of
the Gothic myth, he articulated for educated Englishmen the ˜domestic™
signiWcance, albeit rigorously qualiWed, of the common Gothic heritage:
˜the most civilized nations of modern Europe issued from the woods of
Germany, and in the rude institutions of those barbarians we may still
distinguish the original principles of our present laws and manners™.
However, Gibbon subverted the pieties of a vulgar ˜sentimental Gothi-
cism™. Post-Roman Europe had endured the long sleep of dark-age bar-
barism, yet the ˜Latin™ West had been gradually reawakened through the

’“ Oliver Goldsmith, The history of England (4 vols., London, 1771), I, p. 34.
’“ John Whitaker, The history of Manchester (2 vols., London, 1771“5), II, p. 148.
’” Josiah Tucker, A treatise concerning civil government (London, 1781), pp. 60“1. There
were other ways of dissenting from the dominant Gothicist paradigm: the royalist
Thomas Goddard, Plato™s demon: or the state-physician unmaskt; being a discourse in answer
to a book call™d ˜Plato Redivivus™ (London, 1684), p. 291, denied that the Goths had ever
come to England.
“» Tucker, Treatise, pp. 62, 65; Hume, ˜Of reWnement in the arts™, in Hume, Essays moral,
political and literary (ed. E. Miller, Indianapolis, 1987), p. 278.
Mapping a Gothic Europe 229

slow acculturation of the Goths. The glory of European civilisation
resided in the intricate and variant pattern of interaction between the
legacy of Rome and the new customs imported by its barbarian suc-
cessors. Gibbon™s sceptical outlook also included a cosmopolitan distrust
of English exceptionalism. The diVerences between England and the
Continent were not massive, nor were such diVerences as did exist
threatening. Instead, Gibbon celebrated the modest diversity of a Europe
of ˜twelve powerful though unequal kingdoms, three respectable com-
monwealths, and a variety of smaller though independent states™ as a
check on the sort of tyranny associated with monolithic empires.“¦


˜Britons™ and the European ˜other™
As noted earlier, Linda Colley has argued that a growing sense of a shared
Britishness in the eighteenth century was stimulated in part by a revulsion
against a non-British otherness, with Francophobia, in particular, a vital
unifying factor.“  In a similar vein Gerald Newman has identiWed ˜the
Weld of anti-French conXict™ as a ˜mirror of British independence and
might™, noting that ˜each major step in the consolidation of English rule in
the British Isles “ 1689, 1707, 1745, 1801 “ was taken in the context of
Anglo-French warfare™.“À There is much to be said for this argument.
However, it does need qualiWcation, particularly as an explanation of the
attitudes of the educated elites who contributed so much to the processes
of integration. For the Euro-Gothic perspective so common in the works
of patriotic English writers was also shared by Anglo-Irish and Scottish
historians. Robert Molesworth imported this approach into Anglo-Irish
political thought during the 1690s, and it was present as a vital rhetorical
ingredient in the patriotism of William Molyneux.“Ã It remained a familiar
feature of Anglo-Irish historiography. Jonathan Swift argued that great
councils were Wrst introduced into England by the Saxons ˜from the same
original with the other Gothic forms of government in most parts of
Europe™.“• Henry Brooke, the Anglo-Irish antiquarian and patriot drama-
tist, declared of his Gustavus Vasa (1739) “ a controversial and ambigu-
ous celebration of a patriot king which was the Wrst play to be banned in

“¦ Gibbon, DF, I, p. 230; II, p. 513. I am indebted to the interpretation of Gibbon found in
O™Brien, Narratives of Enlightenment, ch. 6.
“  Colley, Britons; Colley, ˜Britishness and otherness™.
“À Newman, Rise of English nationalism, p. 75.
“Ã Molesworth, Account of Denmark; William Molyneux, The case of Ireland™s being bound by
acts of parliament in England, stated (1698: n.p., 1706), p. 171. See also Henry Maxwell,
An essay towards the union of Ireland with England (London, 1703), pp. 7, 12, 15.
“• Jonathan Swift, ˜An abstract and fragment of the history of England™, in Swift, Miscellan-
eous and autobiographical pieces, fragments and marginalia (Oxford, 1969), p. 35.
230 Points of contact

London under the Stage Licensing Act of 1737 “ that he took his material
˜from the history of Sweden, one of those Gothic and glorious nations,
from whom our form of government is derived, from whom Britain has
inherited those unextinguishable sparks of liberty and patriotism, that
were her light through the ages of ignorance and superstition™.“’ Francis
Sullivan (1719“76), professor of law at Trinity College, Dublin, in the
middle of the eighteenth century, lectured and wrote on the feudal
jurisprudence of the broader Gothic family of nations, whose basic form
of government had ˜until these last three hundred years, prevailed univer-
sally through Europe™.““
The renowned Scottish patriot, Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, was very
much a commonwealthman, his works combining an abhorrence of
continental absolutism with a cosmopolitan understanding of the crisis of
Europe™s Gothic institutions. France™s despotic monarchy earned
Fletcher™s strident condemnation: there was ˜not a freeman in France,
because the king takes away any part of any man™s property at his
pleasure; and that, let him do what he will to any man, there is no
remedy™.““ But despotism and slavery were not innate in the French
character; rather they were the product of an unfortunate set of circum-
stances which had plagued the various Gothic nations of Europe for the
previous two centuries. Fletcher argued that there had been a common
form of feudal government for about 1,100 years until ˜the alteration of
government which happened in most countries of Europe about the year
1500™.“” Only the fortunate accident of geography had so far prevented
the downfall of the Gothic constitutions of the British Isles. Island nations
had no obvious need for the standing armies upon which absolute monar-
chies had risen. However, Fletcher was far from sanguine that the danger
had passed, given prevailing pressures to measure up to a Continent of
threatening leviathan-monarchies, which was already encouraging a dan-
gerous drift towards the consolidation of British kingdoms into a more
homogeneous and centralised unit. Indeed, in his Account of a conversa-
tion for the right regulation of governments for the common good of mankind,
Fletcher argued that only a pan-European solution could secure an
“’ Henry Brooke, Gustavus Vasa (London, 1739), ˜Prefatory dedication™, p. iv; Gerrard,
Patriot opposition, pp. 79, 114“16, 191“2, 242“3. However, for a more pessimistic view of
a Europe fallen under the yoke of despotism, see Brooke, An occasional letter from the
Farmer to the free-men of Dublin (Dublin, 1749), p. 5. For an Anglo-Scottish analogy, see
William Paterson, Arminius (London, 1740).
““ Francis Sullivan, An historical treatise on the feudal law (London, 1772: 2nd edn, Dublin,
1790), pp. 7, 19.
““ Andrew Fletcher, Second discourse of the aVairs of Scotland (1698), in Andrew Fletcher:
political works (ed. J. Robertson, Cambridge, 1997), p. 61.
“” Fletcher, A discourse of government with relation to militias (1698), in Fletcher, Political
works, p. 2.
Mapping a Gothic Europe 231

unambiguous freedom from despotism for the peoples of Britain, and
particularly for the citizens of small and poor countries such as Scot-
land.“»
Fletcher™s sophisticated brand of anti-unionism was part of a wider
Euro-Gothicist vision, a perspective which also helped to shape the
eighteenth-century Scottish contribution to the construction of a united
British identity. The Anglo-Scottish poet James Thomson engaged direc-
tly in his work with the construction of a British patriotism. His British-
ness embraced a stock Francophobia“¦ as well as a pan-European Gothi-
cism, whose conventional praise for the ˜northern nations™ was qualiWed
by a classicist™s distaste for the barbarity of the dark ages. Thomson had a
library which, as Christine Gerrard notes, contained not only accounts of
England™s historic liberties by the likes of Rapin and Nathaniel Bacon,
but also the works of Tacitus, Olaus Magnus™s Compendious history of the
Goths, Swedes and Vandals and Molesworth™s Account of Denmark.“  It is
hardly surprising that Thomson located ˜the parent hive / Of the mixed
kingdoms™ of Europe at ˜wintry Scandinavia™s utmost bound™.“À The
Anglo-Saxons had brought to Britain a freedom which had once inspired
˜the whole Scythian mass™.“Ã Skirting round the constitutional implica-
tions of the Norman Conquest, the whiggish Thomson declaimed:

Of Gothic nations this the Wnal burst;
And mixed the genius of these people all,
Their virtues mixed in one exalted stream,
Here the rich tide of English blood grew full.

As fellow Goths the English and Norman races were able to blend,
despite political diVerences, into ˜one fraternal nation™ “ the ˜nation of the
free™.“•
The Scottish Enlightenment injected universalist and pan-European
insights into the heart of British political culture.“’ The inXuential Edin-
burgh moral philosopher John Pringle devoted part of his lectures in
ethics to surveying ˜that form of government which took its rise from the
irruption of the northern nations™.““ The introductory volume of William
Robertson™s monumental Charles V (1769) was a panoramic pan-Gothi-
“» Fletcher, An account of a conversation for the right regulation of governments for the common
good of mankind (1704), in Fletcher, Political works.
“¦ E.g. Thomson, Poetical works, ˜Summer™, p. 107; ˜Liberty™, pt IV, p. 388; pt V, pp. 401,
405, 410. “  Gerrard, Patriot opposition, p. 111.
“À Thomson, Poetical works, ˜Liberty™, pt IV, p. 368. “Ã Ibid., pt IV, p. 377.
“• Ibid., pt IV, pp. 378“9.
“’ K. O™Brien, ˜Between Enlightenment and stadial history: William Robertson on the
history of Europe™, BJECS 16 (1993), 53“63.
““ Quoted in R. Emerson, ˜Scottish universities in the eighteenth century, 1690“1800™,
SVEC 167 (1977), 471“2.
232 Points of contact

cist survey of the progress of society in Europe from the subversion of the
Roman Empire to the beginning of the sixteenth century.““ Robertson™s
rival, Gilbert Stuart, also published a trilogy of libertarian histories which
reXected concentric Gothicist loyalties.“” Adam Smith lectured on the
common transitions “ allodial, feudal and modern “ which underlay the
history of post-Roman Europe.”» John Millar distinguished two basic
patterns in the formation of medieval Europe. When the Goths made
conquests in the provinces of the former Roman Empire these areas
became ˜extensive rude kingdoms, in which the free people were all
united in separate feudal dependencies™. On the other hand, those Goths
outside the Empire in Sweden, Denmark and much of Germany were not
˜induced by any prior union subsisting, through an extensive territory, to
associate in very large communities™, but remained clannish.”¦ Sir John
Dalrymple contended that the Germanic institutions of the feudal law
constituted a decisive common pattern underlying Europe™s diversity in
other spheres: this Gothic ˜system™ had been ˜established by every one of
those nations, however diVerent in their dialects, separated by seas and
mountains, unconnected by alliances, and often at enmity with each
other™.” 
It is hard to disentangle the various strains of pan-European Gothi-
cism, feudal jurisprudence and universalism, which together shaped the
histories of post-Roman European development which were such a char-
acteristic feature of the Scottish Enlightenment. Nevertheless, it is clear
that they worked to dislodge chauvinistic values and to inspire concentric
loyalties within the Scottish literati. North Britain was a province not only
of Britain, but of the wider republics of European letters, and Gothic
freedoms. Robertson saw no contradiction between glorying in the
achievements of the Anglo-British constitution and acknowledging a

““ William Robertson, Works (London, 1831 edn), pp. 333“432.
“” Gilbert Stuart, Observations concerning the public law and constitutional history of Scotland
(Edinburgh, 1779); Stuart, An historical dissertation concerning the antiquity of the English
constitution (Edinburgh, 1768); Stuart, A view of society in Europe in its progress from
rudeness to reWnement (Edinburgh, 1778). See also W. Zachs, Without regard to good
manners: a biography of Gilbert Stuart (Edinburgh, 1992); C. Kidd, Subverting Scotland™s
past (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 239“44.
”» Adam Smith, Lectures on jurisprudence (ed. R. L. Meek et al., Oxford, 1978), ˜Report of
1762“3™ (hereafter LJ (A)); ˜Report dated 1766™ (hereafter LJ (B)).
”¦ John Millar, An historical view of the English government from the settlement of the Saxons
(1787: 4 vols., London, 1803), III, pp. 10“13.
”  John Dalrymple, An essay towards a general history of feudal property in Great Britain
(London, 1757), pp. 1“2. See also Andrew Macdouall, Lord Bankton, An institute of the
laws of Scotland in civil rights (3 vols., Edinburgh, 1751“3), I, pp. 14 n., 18“19 n.;
Alexander Wight, An inquiry into the rise and progress of parliament chieXy in Scotland
(Edinburgh, 1784), pp. 18“19; James Beattie, Dissertations moral and critical (London,
1783), pp. 527“8, 533“4.
Mapping a Gothic Europe 233

common European identity: ˜The state of government, in all the nations
of Europe, having been nearly the same during several ages, nothing can
tend more to illustrate the progress of the English constitution, than a
careful inquiry into the laws and customs of the kingdoms on the Conti-
nent.™”À To some extent the remarkable achievement of the Scottish
Enlightenment in reorientating English whig historiography has distorted
our understanding of Anglo-Saxonism. The historians of the Scottish
Enlightenment did challenge many of the shibboleths of vulgar English
whiggery.ӈ However, it would be wrong to make the assumption that
before the Scottish Enlightenment the English historiography of liberty
was resolutely ˜solipsistic™”• and detached from the broader development
of political institutions in Europe. This was not the case. To a large extent
English political culture was already integrated with the wider sweep of
the Gothic origins of European institutions. What the Scottish Enlighten-
ment did was to take this a stage further. The Scots argued that modern
England was not as singular as commentators thought. Rather, there was
a lot to be said for the achievement of a modern civilised absolute
monarchy like France which maintained a large degree of civil liberty for
its subjects.”’ The Scottish Enlightenment set the history of English
liberty as a fortuitous story, but not dramatically so, within the broader

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