The object of this work is to provide a compendium of information about all significant aspects of Scottish culture. The chief problem in compiling it was to define the word 'culture'. The more my advisers and I considered the problem the more widely we were inclined to define it, and in the end it emerged that virtually all aspects of life, work, play and imagination were included in the definition, which embraced subjects ranging from children's street games to portrait painting, from eating habits to marriage customs, from the Paisley shawl to the Scottish Enlightenment.
The aim, then, is to cover all these varied aspects of Scottish culture throughout history with articles on both movements, institutions and individuals. Although this is intended as a work of reference, I have not made any attempt to impose a uniform, impersonal style on contributors, who have been encouraged to present their material in their own natural style and from their own point of view. Total impersonality is neither possible nor desirable in these matters; liveliness and a sense of coming to terms with a living and sometimes changing subject seem to me to be of the first importance. I hope the articles gathered here will be read, not just 'looked up', and that they will prove stimulating as well as informative.
I am very conscious of the gaps which are inevitably to be found in a work with this comprehensive aim and I can only plead that one could talk for ever (as we very nearly did) about what to cover and that to make sure that no gaps were left would mean the indefinite postponement of the completion of the work. There is also the point that those surveys of activities and institutions that run up to the present become out of date in their later phases with every month that passes between the completion of the article and the publication of the book. The longer we delayed completion, in a search for total coverage, the more acute this problem could become.
Nevertheless this work will, I hope, fill a long-felt want—the first reference work to cover most if not all of the significant aspects of Scottish life, thought and imagination throughout history.
I must express my thanks to the many scholars who have assisted me with advice and encouragement, especially to Professor Geoffrey Barrow on historical matters, Professor Ian Finlay on art, Professor Derick Thomson on Gaelic literature, Dr Donald Low on literature in English and Scots and on the general bibliography, Professor Roy Campbell on economic history, Professor Frederick Rimmer and Mr Francis Collinson on music, and the School of Scottish Studies of Edinburgh University on a range of subjects. If I were to add the names of all the other colleagues, friends and well-wishers who have helped in one way or another the list would take up many pages, so I hope they will not mind if I simply make this blanket acknowledgement. I must also thank the publishers for their patience and helpfulness, and I should like to mention especially Mr John Davey, although he is no longer a member of the firm, for the scheme was originally his brain-child and it was his enthusiasm in its early stages that enabled it to get off the ground.