At the beginning of Galt's best-known novel, Micah Balwhidder is placed as the parish minister for Dalmailing.
(21) Balwhidder, of course, sees the agency of providence at work here, with God having abashed Eglesham's pride (40-42).
Confronted by this steady change, Balwhidder's sporadic verdicts on the process show him wrestling between his instinctive conservatism and a somewhat lagging respect for innovation, the text exhibiting a deep sensitivity to the dilemma of improvement:
(48) Significant here is the description of improvements under the rubric of "alterations and revolutions," the latter term particularly invoking the political unrest that at various points plagues Balwhidder's ministry.
While Balwhidder's own conservation of national character seems to offer a level of assurance on the improving trajectory, still the potential antagonisms cannot be ignored.
Not least in this was Balwhidder's own preferred reading material, The Scots Magazine, whose "eclectic mix of subjects" and "annual January summary of the foregoing year's foreign affairs" are far from coincidental.
Mathew Wickman suggests that Balwhidder's attempts to rationalize a hugely complex global reality are presented as necessarily imperfect, that the text ultimately explodes a systematic understanding of the world.
Epitomizing Galt's denial of plotting, the text formulates an innovative narrative methodology by appropriating the discourses of empirical analysis found in its non-fictional precedents and thus, as Duncan comments, resisting the engagement of an "allegorical mode." (35) Disclaiming the imposition of an external meaning upon events, Annals navigates the world according to Balwhidder through a methodical, journalistic sequence of events: exploring the complex terrain of a globalizing economy described through Newtonian rubric.
Appropriating a mode of empirical enquiry from influences including the Statistical Account, Balwhidder's tale charts the dramatic experience of improvement in a pinpointed area of the west of Scotland, marking its emergence as a new form of locality, a segment or circle of influence amongst an ever-expanding network of consolidating imperial power.