About 1967, I thought it would be a good idea to find a set of Enlightenment topics I could work on at the University of Western Ontario which then had a library of under 400,000 volumes. Since it was in a Scottish settlement area and had decent holdings of eighteenth-century Scots, I settled on the Scottish Enlightenment and not the French Revolution – in which the library holdings were even better. By 1968, I had concluded that I could put all the enlightened in eighteenth–century Scots into a database and see what a computer-based study of a single Enlightenment revealed. Fifty years ago I was more naive than I am now. I did not, originally, think much about how slippery a term ‘enlightened’ is or how contentious a definition might be. I also had not fully reckoned on the difficulty of training myself to code and work with punchcards or to use the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences. I was later surprised by the slowness with which I gathered data. I thought I could do my planned project in about ten years. But, then, there were the usual interruptions of life – teaching, marriage, an ailing parent, and so on. I finished my project, in a manner of speaking, in 2015.
I set to work on my project in 1968. The archival research for the first part, an essay on the Select Society of Edinburgh (SSE) and its associated improving groups – the Edinburgh Society (principally dedicated to improving agriculture and productivity in industries, promoting good taste, and better printing), and the Society for Improving Scots’ Knowledge of and the Speaking of the English Language – was done in 1969 and 1970. An essay on the SSE was written in 1970, accepted in 1971, and printed by Studies on Voltaire in 1973. When that piece came out, I realised that I would need longer than I had initially thought.
By then I had decided that next instalment should deal with the members of the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh (PSE). By 1973, I was well started on that. But again, it took several summers to find the data and the first paper on the PSE came out in 1979. That essay was easily done but finding material for the next three parts was much harder. I also had to satisfy the rather minimal publication demands of my department – about an article a year kept the Department happy – so not all my research time went into ‘my project’. By 1987, I had done all I could then do on the members of the PSE and the related Society for the Importation of Foreign Seeds and Plants. My last paper on this phase of my work came out in 1988. That meant I now had most of the important Edinburgh thinkers of the mid-century and many professors and medical men in Scotland from 1737–1782 on cards – 5-by-7-inch cards since by then I had given up making myself computer-literate. I had a reliable colleague who could do all the computing so easily! Unfortunately, he left the University of Western Ontario about 1978 and I could not find a satisfactory replacement. I gave up storing my data in digital form – a huge mistake.
While the PSE essays were being done, I diligently noted down information about many other people who I thought would fit in somewhere. For example, in 1971–72, I was on sabbatical leave in Edinburgh. Each day for eight or nine months, I spent my working days in the National Library, the Library of the Royal College of Physicians, or the University Library. Then, I would go off for a pint and a curry and, during the cold months, settle into the City Library in the evening. I could not face going home to my cold, damp B&B room. The Public Library was warm. Needing something to do, I made a rather inaccurate list of the members of the Edinburgh Musical Society (EMS) – there turned out, in the end, to be 896 of them. That widened my database by adding to it the posh people who supported concerts, assemblies, plays, bookstores, artists, and others who promoted politeness, which seemed to me one of the goals of the enlightened. The EMS list was finally finished in 2013 and was published in 2014. Because so many of the SSE, PSE, and EMS men (there were no women) were professors, my next step was to work up material on the professors. That I did. The first result of that came out in 1987, and more in a little book commissioned by the University of Aberdeen on the professors at King's and Marischal Colleges and Universities (1991). The last stage of that part of the project was the book published on the rest of the professors in 2008 – about nine years after I had retired.
By the early 1980s, I knew that I needed to learn more about the virtuosi in Scotland – who they were and what they did. To me, they seemed to belong to the Enlightenment because everywhere, not just in Scotland, they set an agenda which was followed by the enlightened for most of the eighteenth century. Not everyone agrees with me, but I think I am correct. The Scottish virtuosi, not gentlemen seeking a substitute for their lost Parliament or contracts from London printers or even those following in the wakes of the well-remembered Francis Hutcheson or le bon David, set the agenda for enlightened Scots. Plans to improve most things by applying rational thought and empirically derived knowledge date, in Scotland and elsewhere, from the late seventeenth century. In Scotland, the grim years of famine and financial crisis, which marked the end of the seventeenth century, made changes imperative. Plans to improve agriculture and trade, develop industries and the fisheries, to survey and map the country, improve education, particularly professional education, all go back to the 1680s and 1690s if not earlier. Schemes to teach husbandry, build a teaching hospital and teach law and medicine, do so as well. Most initially failed but the ideas which inspired them lived on. Men like Sir Robert Sibbald (1641–1722) and the members of the Musick Club (1690s–1727), a predecessor of the EMS, were also eager to make Scots more polite and to improve their literary and artistic culture. That meant making new and better histories, encouraging poets, and artists, and generally making things better. The keys to progress, for most of the improvers, were not religious revivals, or even a better political regime, or the pursuit of happiness, but the acquisition of knowledge to be applied to the urgent problems of their time and the cultivation of civility and politeness in clubs like the EMS. New knowledge required new methods. Most of the virtuosi had a sense that the way forward would come from their application to practical problems. The ends and methods were supplied by Bacon, Boyle, Newton, and Locke and their collaborators or rivals. The determination to apply them, and to use what they yielded, came from a variety of sources. For some, it was using to good effect our God-given talents. For others it was seeking glory or even a desire to emulate those who had driven progress in science and mathematics over the previous century. All recognised the need for changes. What had happened in the sciences could be realised in other areas. The virtuosi articulated such views and worked at improving things generally well into the eighteenth century.
By the mid-1980s, I had also come to the conclusion that Edinburgh got more attention than it deserved. Aberdeen and Glasgow seemed slighted. Paul Wood and others were already working on Aberdeen by the time I started to work on its professors. Wood and I decided that we should jointly look at Glasgow, which I needed to do anyway. From all that came our essay, ‘Science and Enlightenment in Glasgow, 1690–1802’, published in 2002. That enlarged my database with more professors, medical men, and scientists. Of course, I was still accumulating stray men such as Scots who emigrated to America, medical men in the armed services, and friends of David Hume, in whom I had long been interested. My concerns with Hume added few men but dealing with him showed ties to Europe. By then, I was also fascinated by the career of Archibald Campbell (1682–1761), Earl of Ilay, who in 1743 became the 3rd Duke of Argyll. Ilay. He and his friends and relatives were important political patrons. They added a few more to my list. Among them were Ilay's nephews, the 3rd Earl of Bute and his brother, the Hon. James Stuart Mackenzie, and lawyers, like Charles Erskine (1680–1763), Lord Tinwald, and Andrew Fletcher (1692–1766), Lord Milton, both Senators of the College of Justice (SCJ).1 Work on Bute led to an article; that on Ilay eventually resulted in my 2013 biography of Ilay – the first of this very significant politician who had been ignored because, for the English, Scots are marginal to the history of the United Kingdom, and, in his case, because there were no available papers for a very long time and even now few records of his personal life.
My good friend, Paul Wood, and I about 1998 decided we would do a long essay or a monograph on the Glasgow Literary Society (GLS), a group which embodied much of the Glasgow Enlightenment – but not all of it. The GLS had never had an adequate account and lacked a proper list of its members and of the papers read to it, and of the topics debated in it. In the end, Wood decided that he could not do this but I finished an essay on the Society in 2014; it appeared in 2015. The GLS membership list added a few new men to my database but not many. More came from another idea I had had for some time – to do a paper on the ‘Christian Enlightenment’ in Glasgow.2
Most Scottish Enlightenment scholars have been so mesmerised by the Scottish (mostly Edinburgh) Moderates that they have shown little but scorn for their opponents in the Kirk.3 Those whom Hume ridiculed, and who opposed him and his friends William Robertson, Hugh Blair, John Home, Lord Kames, and others less well known, could not have had enlightened views. However, American scholars, like Ned Landsman, taken with John Witherspoon, Charles Nesbit, and others who emigrated to America and supported the American Revolution, tend to see Evangelical Scots in a different light. Many Evangelicals, ‘high-flyers’ or the ‘Popular Party’, were interested in science and were Lockeans in political theory. They wanted more liberty as much as they were keen on building schools and doing much which the enlightened everywhere also did – such as studying rhetoric and pursuing polite letters. For Witherspoon, that included teaching a philosophy which looked back to Francis Hutcheson; for others the list of forebears was longer.4 The term ‘Christian Enlightenment’ was probably coined by Ned Landsman to describe both Scottish supporters of American colonists and some American Calvinists.5 For a long time, I looked for a way of getting beyond the list of about a dozen Scottish ministers, not all of whom seemed to me all that enlightened. Finally, I found a list which did the trick.
It is the list of those whom the Glasgow Professor of Natural Philosophy, John Anderson, named to teach in and run the ‘university’ which he tried to found in Glasgow and which eventually became the University of Strathclyde. Anderson's will named 36 professors, 81 trustees, a few others to execute his will, and more to attend his very private funeral. In all, 102 men were named in his will. They can be shown, in almost all cases, to have been Evangelicals, interested in improvements, and often keenly interested in applied science, particularly chemistry. Most were far less well-born than the usual members of enlightened clubs, so they give some sense of how far down in society enlightened attitudes and ideas ran and, also, how much attention was paid to women. Enlightened Evangelicals were numerous in Glasgow, but probably not in Aberdeen where there were too many Episcopalians. There is not much evidence of them in Edinburgh, perhaps because they have not been looked for and found among the parishioners of men like the Reverends Alexander Webster, John Erskine, and Robert Walker. The Evangelicals were the last group to be added to my database but not the last studied.
For seventeen years I taught a British social history course in which I spent a few days each year on women and how their statuses changed over time in England and Scotland. I also taught, off and on, a course on the European Enlightenment, in which I spent some time on enlightened ladies. That was fun to do and often shocked students who did not expect to find European ladies so much more sophisticated than the English and Scottish ones. Some of the ladies can be added to the list of the enlightened and a longer annotated list of notable Scottish women can be found in Neglected Scots.6
My database, excluding duplicates, now has about 1700 Scots whom I am willing to call enlightened – those generally promoting improvements of all sorts by using rational methods and trying to refine sentiments and tastes through education and experience. That is quite a small number but it is not complete. Missing are an unknown number of understrappers who shared enlightened interests but lacked the ability, means, or status to attain visibility and be remembered. There were enlightened musicians, actors, school teachers, surveyors, lesser civil officers, printers and editors who belong among the enlightened but who, everywhere, are generally not visible and have been ignored.7
The dream which inspired my project still lives but the hope of my doing what I initially wanted to do has died. I am too old and need to do other things while I still can. Nevertheless, information about a lot of people exists in my essays and can mined or supplemented by others. Constructing my database made me a generalist knowing something about many fields. Much of that is relevant to a discussion of the science of man broadly conceived. What follows is a sampling of what might be said about the sciences of men and women, which turns up in the groups I have studied.
The following contains my studies and articles referred to above. They allow any reader to put together most of my database. There is some overlapping in the memberships given and not all of the enlightened are here although some who were not enlightened at all are there. Not all the annotations or descriptions in the articles are equally full but anyone on a list can be tracked for more information.
Readers can access a digitization of my database of Enlightened Scots at The Dataverse Project's Scholars Portal using this link: https://dataverse.scholarsportal.info/
|(1973) ‘The Social Composition of Enlightened Scotland,’ Studies on Voltaire and the 18th Century CXIV: 291–329. Records details of 164 members of the Select Society of Edinburgh, plus 60 or so rejected for membership. Google Scholar|
|(1979) ‘The Philosophical Society of Edinburgh 1737–1747’, British Journal for the History of Science 12(41): 154–91. ISI, Google Scholar|
|(1981) ‘The Philosophical Society of Edinburgh 1748–1768’, British Journal for the History of Science 14(47): 133–176. Medline, ISI, Google Scholar|
|(1982) ‘The Edinburgh Society for the Importation of Foreign Seeds and Plants, 1764–1773’, Eighteenth-Century Life, 8(2): 73–95. The exact membership of this Society is unknown, but the article mentions most of the known members. Google Scholar|
|(1985) ‘The Philosophical Society of Edinburgh 1768–1783’, British Journal for the History of Science 18(60): 255–303. Medline, ISI, Google Scholar|
|(1988) ‘Sir Robert Sibbald, Kt., The Royal Society of Scotland and the Origins of the Scottish Enlightenment’, Annals of Science 45: 41–72. Includes information on 70 virtuosi. ISI, Google Scholar|
|(1988) ‘The Scottish Enlightenment and the End of the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh’, British Journal for the History of Science 21: 33–66. The articles on the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh list 163 members, to which Dr James Badenach should be added. Crossref, Medline, ISI, Google Scholar|
|(1992) Professors, Patronage and Politics: the Aberdeen Universities in the Eighteenth Century, Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press. Contains details on around 100 Aberdeen professors, and statistics on most other Scottish professor to 1800. Google Scholar|
|(1995) ‘Scottish Cultural Change 1660–1710 and the Union of 1707’, in John Robertson (ed.) A Union for Empire, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 121–44. Contains additional information on virtuosi. Google Scholar|
|(2000) ‘The Scottish Literati and America, 1680–1800’, in Ned Landsman (ed.) Nation and Province in the First British Empire: Scotland and the Americas, 1600–1800. Northern Illinois: Bucknell University Press, 2000, pp. 183–220. Contains information on over 70 Scottish literati who emigrated to America. Google Scholar|
|(2002) with Paul B. Wood, ‘Science and Enlightenment in Glasgow, 1690–1802’, in Charles W. J. Withers and Paul Wood (eds), Science and Medicine in the Scottish Enlightenment, edited by Charles W. J. Withers and Paul Wood, East Linton: Tuckwell Press, pp. 79–142. Contains details on 168 Glaswegian medics and scientists. Google Scholar|
|(2008) Academic Patronage in the Scottish Enlightenment: Glasgow, Edinburgh and St Andrews Universities, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Discusses around 280 professors at St Andrews, Glasgow and Edinburgh universities between 1690 and 1806. Google Scholar|
|(2014) with Jennifer Macleod, ‘The Musick Club and the Edinburgh Musical Society c.1690–1800’, Book of the Old Edinburgh Club, 10: 45–105. The Society had a total of 896 members. Google Scholar|
|(2015) Neglected Scots: Glaswegians and Eighteenth-Century Women, Edinburgh: Humming Earth Press. This book contains lists of the 180 members of the Glasgow Literary Society, 103 enlightened Christian evangelicals and 145 notable eighteenth-century Scottish women. Google Scholar|
1 SCJ were members of the Court of Justiciary and Court of Session, the highest Scottish courts.
2 About two-thirds of the GLS minutes have been lost so the reconstruction of GLS activity is only partial. It relies on surviving minutes and information found in members’ papers and other sources. For an account of the GLS see my (2015) Neglected Scots: Eighteenth Century Glaswegians and Women, Edinburgh: Humming Earth Press, pp. 21–134. The same book has essays on Glasgow's enlightened Evangelicals and on 145 Scottish women.
3 An honourable exception to this comment is Thomas Ahnert who has recently written a very good essay on the Moderates see (2011) ‘The Moral Education of Mankind: Character and Religious Moderatism in the Sermons of Hugh Blair’, in Thomas Ahnert and Susan Manning (eds) Character, Self, and Sociability in the Scottish Enlightenment, New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillan, pp. 67–84. Like others, Ahnert fails to say much about the Moderates’ views of the sacraments, the ‘body of Christ’, or their views on the creeds which defined historical Christianity. They stayed away from such topics to avoid controversy but partly because they did not, in my view, wholly and literally believe what they had sworn to uphold. A notable recent work on their Evangelical opponents is Jonathan Yeager (2011) Enlightened Evangelicalism: The Life and Thought of John Erskine, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
4 Henry May wrote a long and interesting section devoted to the ‘Didactic Enlightenment (1800–1815)’ in his (1976) The Enlightenment in America, New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Those years define the period of maximum Scottish academic influence in America. May listed as particularly influential, Lord Kames, James Beattie, Thomas Reid, Dugald Stewart, and Hugh Blair– to which one should add the Glasgow mathematician, Robert Simson, and the doctors influential in the new American medical schools: William Cullen, Joseph Black, John Hope, Francis Home, John and James Gregory, and Andrew Duncan. For historians and lawyers, Hume should be added to the list: see, Mark G. Spencer (2005), David Hume and Eighteenth-Century America, Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press.
5 Ned Landsman (1988) ‘Evangelists and Their Hearers: Popular Interpretation of Revivalist Preaching in Eighteenth-Century Scotland’, Journal of British Studies, 28: 120–149; (1991) ‘Presbyterians and provincial society: The evangelical enlightenment in the west of Scotland, 1740–1775’, Eighteenth Century Life, 15(1–2): 194–209; (1990) ‘Witherspoon and the Problem of Provincial Identity’, in Richard B. Sher and Jeffrey Smitten (eds) Scotland and America in the Age of the Enlightenment, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp. 29–45; (1995) ‘Liberty, Piety and Patronage: The Social Context of Contested Clerical Calls in Eighteenth-Century Glasgow’, in Andrew Tuck and Richard B. Sher (eds), The Glasgow Enlightenment, East Linton: Tuckwell Press, pp. 214–226; (2001) ‘Introduction’, to Ned Landsman (ed.) Nation and Province in the First British Empire: Scotland and the Americas, 1600–1800, Lewisburgh, IL: Bucknell University Press, pp. 15–35.
6 Emerson, Neglected Scots, 177–233.
7 See my (2009) ‘How Many Scots Were Enlightened?’, in Essays on David Hume, Medical Men and the Scottish Enlightenment: ‘Industry, Knowledge and Humanity’, Farnham, Ashgate, pp. 39–45.