ALEXANDER NISBET, the ablest and most scientific writer on heraldry in the English language, was born in Edinburgh in the month of April 1657. The story of his life proves him to have been a man of singular genius and of dogged determination. The landless representative of an ancient and honourable family, he was destined to a life of struggles and disappointments, and even the posthumous fame he so reasonably anticipated has hitherto been denied him. In dictionaries of Scottish authors, his name is not mentioned, and while his method has been adopted by all heraldic writers who since his time have attained celebrity, his works have never received that full and generous recognition to which they are so justly entitled.
It is not possible, within the limits of this introduction, to do justice to Nisbet's learning, or set forth fully the obligations under which he has laid the followers of the science to which he devoted his life. But remembering his own chivalrous words, "to flatter no man, but fairly and truly to collect from authentic documents, seals, tombs, and other monuments, whatsoever may tend to the honour of the king and country in general, and what may be for the advantage and satisfaction of many private families, whose worthy and generous ancestors once in a day made as great a figure in the world as their now opulent neighbours," let us endeavour to set forth his ancient lineage, the misfortunes in which his family were plunged by their devoted adherence to a failing dynasty, and outline his own public-spirited and learned contributions to the science of heraldry.