The work which is now presented to the world assumes, by its comprehensively national title, that the various and diversified information it contains is so illustrative of the Scottish nation, and of the origin and constitution of modern Scottish society, as to justify the adoption for it of a designation so conspicuous. Of any other country, it is true, an account of its surnames, families, and honours, would cast little or no light over the constitution of the society existing therein. Such an account would probably tell next to nothing of the earlier races out of which society was formed, because, in the case of any other nation, whatever might elsewhere be found to illustrate that part of its history, few indications in the names now borne by individuals or families, or in its titles of honour, will be found to mark the tribes or institutions whence they sprung, or to be otherwise identified with the commencement of its national unity. This is a result to be found in Scotland alone; not uniformly, indeed, nor always without admixture of doubt, but certainly in a greater degree than in any other kingdom or state.
Modern Scottish society, and Scottish nationality in its proper sense, may be said to have come into existence together. Hereditary monarchy, hereditary surnames, families, and honours, hitherto unknown among its peoples, were their common instruments for consolidation, for conservation, and for progress. To the Cumbrian, the Pict, the Scot, Norwegian, Dane, or Saxon, who, at various times and in various degrees, were spread over its soil, these distinctions were exceptional and comparatively unknown.
In the early part of the twelfth century, the greater part of the country now constituting Scotland was in a state little better than that of chaos, and worse than that of anarchy.