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Pont Maps of Scotland, ca. 1583-1614 - Biographies

Pont's story as told by Robert Gordon

In 1648, Robert Gordon of Straloch wrote a letter to Sir John Scot of Scotstarvit, praising Pont and his work. The letter (which is in Latin) appears among the preliminary matter in some copies (1) of volume V of Blaeu's Atlas novus of 1654. A new English translation of the letter, by Ian C. Cunningham, is reproduced below. The letter was first translated into English by John Fullarton (1858), and later by Caleb G. Cash (1907). The translation by Cash was reprinted by Moir and Skelton (1968), who also pointed out what appear to be a number of mistakes in Gordon's account. It nevertheless remains an important document, written by someone who actually knew Pont and his maps.

        To the most splendid and distinguished JOHN SCOT OF SCOTSTARVIT,
        Director of the Chancellery of the Kingdom of Scotland,
        and Assessor in the Supreme Court of Justice.

Now at last, after many labours endured, the loss of much time and troubles such as the mind shudders to recall, our Scotland is put on view and among the other regions of the world claims her place in the great and celebrated theatre of the famous Jan Blaeu, whose merits are above those of all others in this area of study. Nor is the country's appearance like previous descriptions, drawn from hearsay, deformed by wretched tales, crushed into a few pages, and quite unlike the reality, but just as the ingenious Timothy Pont, the first creator of this work, left it to us in his papers. His memory neither can nor should be destroyed without incurring the charge of extreme ingratitude. Forty years ago, without great resources, with no Maecenas as his patron, he undertook this entire task himself: he traversed on foot the whole kingdom (as no one had done previously); he saw all the islands, for the most part inhabited by hostile and barbarous peoples, with a language different from ours; he listened he was often robbed (as he used to tell me) by cruel bandits, and not infrequently experienced a total loss of the results of a dangerous journey; yet he was never overcome by the difficulties and reduced to despair. When however on his return he worked up an edition from his labours, he was defeated by the avarice of printers and booksellers, and could not bring it to a conclusion. While waiting for better times, he was snatched away by premature death.

Considering his affairs in his last hours, he had deposited his papers with his heirs, but they proved to be men unsuited for the task: they neglected everything, and the papers were badly and carelessly guarded, partly chewed to shreds by worms and moths, partly fading from the sight of attentive eyes. When that most munificent Prince, James King of the Britains, was informed of these matters, he issued an instruction that they should be redeemed from the heirs for an agreed sum and published. But, dear God, out of the frying pan into the fire - they fell into the hands of people whose intention was to keep them secret like the mysteries of Ceres, and so again they lay hidden with a change of custodian.

Until you, illustrious sir, born for the good of the republic of letters, feeling compassion (2) for such a loss, compelled them to be brought into the public domain, and with uncommon care undertook this and anxiously sought people who could be moved for this foetus, still immature and requiring medical attention, to have them published. Hence one may declare deservedly of you, as Ulysses said of himself in the contest for the arms of Achilles: therefore by his agency they are mine. For without you, you alone, I may say without flattery and adulation, the world would have seen none of these maps and, though produced with so much trouble to their first author, they would have wretchedly perished.

Would that he had had the fortune to have lived after his labours and to have drawn from them the expected honours and due payments, and that I as his substitute had not sweated in this stadium with a pace unequal to his. Conscious of my weakness, I long avoided this plan. I had admittedly employed my life from my earliest years in these stadiums (3), yet it was never my intention to do anything beyond what gave me pleasure, nor to construct anything which might be published. Hindrances were not lacking - numerous children and looking after my family; in opposition were the whole course of my life which was directed elsewhere, my years verging on old age, my desire for a private life freed from public cares, the civil disturbances which have been exercising us for many years to our collective and individual loss. I have passed my life in that region which is at the centre of all the disturbances, as I have not infrequently experienced to my great hurt; and although at your persuasion and instigation I have been fortified with all the defences which could be sought from the most illustrious ranks of the kingdom, however I have in no way yet felt and I scarcely yet feel sufficiently safe, for the storm has not yet ceased in our area.

Hence if anything that is published in this edition is less than perfect, that should be assigned to the inequity of the times, not to my carelessness (4). For it must be admitted that these studies, which require peace and tranquillity of mind, have fallen on the most hostile times. And I wish that I had been allowed to unroll and pore over all Pont's autographs before they experienced the engraver's hand. There were many things to be altered, added, deleted, which now await a new edition.

Now whatever value there is in this work, we must all confess that it is yours, that you are its genuine parent and real nurse: you drew them from the darkness, they were restored by your agency, you as my helmsman dashed aside the somnolence of my mind in my bent old age; you linked me with great and distinguished friends (since I was hidden in distant parts far from Jupiter) who favoured me and by their encouragement brought me to this task, and without whose protection I should already have despaired, rather should still be in despair: whence these my Halcyon days, such as they are; if they had shone on me as I wished, it was in my mind to have added much, which I leave to more fortunate abilities. Nor do I despair that the lively ability of my truest friend D. Buchanan will fail the honour of his endangered country, and that the studies which he is contemplating will in due time see the light: or if there are others unknown to me who are fit for this, it is my hope that they will contribute to it with honour to their names.And if (5) there are gaps in the chorographic descriptions, since my weakness must be spared, I have a son who has been trained in these and has already produced to applause a public specimen of his powers. I adopt him as my successor, so that I may be discharged. Yet I shall not desert my post while spirit directs my limbs. For the rest, having found for so many years your friendship to be useful and complimentary to me, I shall die as your most loving friend.

Aberdeen, 24 Jan. 1648.

(1) The letter is found in 'Variant C' of the Atlas as defined by Skelton (1970) p.105 back
(2) Reading miser < a > tus. back
(3) So printed, stadiis. But perhaps read studiis. 'studies'. back
(4) incuriæ one word back
(5) Reading et si for the printed etsi, which reduces the sentence to incoherence back