The Hunt for Rob Roy: The Man and the Myths

By David Stevenson | Go to book overview

11
OUT OF ORDER

Nor have we attempted curiously to fix the dates of a series of exploits,
when, for aught we know, the very substance of them may be the
work of the imagination.1

Rob has died and been buried. But surely a lot has been left out in the account given of his life? Readers who have previously taken an interest in Rob Roy may be feeling bewildered, frustrated or cheated. Rob has been followed from birth to death, but many well-known incidents are missing.

The problem is that there are a huge number of stories about Rob Roy that only emerge long after his death and are not supported by any contemporary evidence. This is not to say that they are all fictitious, though certainly many of them are. But which are fictitious and which are not is often impossible to say. To complicate matters, such stories almost never supply dates as to when they are supposed to have happened, so it is impossible to fit them into a chronological framework of Rob’s life. Rob was to achieve legendary, even heroic status, and heroes often become timeless. Dates and order of events become unimportant, and demands to know if they are factually true can seem irrelevant. Even if proved untrue in a literal sense, they still can have value simply as stories, or as indicators of Rob Roy’s reputation. Nonetheless, an attempt to assess at least some of them as ‘historical evidence’ is worthwhile.

Some assessment can be made of credibility in terms of common sense and contexts. Overall the corpus of stories about Rob presents him as making an quite implausible number of daring escapes, and fighting an unbelievable number of duels. Sir Walter Scott fully recognised the problem two centuries ago. There were a great many anecdotes about Rob ‘but they are generally speaking so improbable in themselves, and told with so many contradictions by the different narrators, that it is almost impossible to discover whereabouts truth

-223-

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