The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors and Their Publishers in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and America

By Richard B. Sher | Go to book overview
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[8]
Making Scottish Books in America, 1770–1784

THE SCOTTISH ENLIGHTENMENT AND
THE AMERICAN BOOK TRADE

In their influential 1976 article, “The Enlightened Reader in America,” David Lundberg and Henry F. May charted the reading habits of late eighteenth-century Americans by searching the holdings of nearly three hundred libraries. Among their findings was the existence of “a sharp growth in the popularity of the Scots” during the years 1777–90 and the continued or increased popularity of Scottish authors from 1790 until the closing date of their study in 1813.1 Lundberg and May based these conclusions on works by seven prominent Scottish authors: James Beattie, Hugh Blair, Adam Ferguson, David Hume, Lord Kames, Thomas Reid, and Adam Smith. They categorized most of the books by these men under the heading “Scottish Common Sense,” placing the works of Hume and (strangely) Ferguson under the designation “skepticism and materialism.”

As Mark G. Spencer has shown in regard to Hume, Lundberg and May seriously underestimated the colonial influence of some of the authors whose works they attempted to analyze.2 Moreover, the full impact of Scottish books in America involved a much larger number of authors than the seven in the Lundberg-May sample, transcended Lundberg and May's narrow and often misleading categories, and was evident before 1777.3 The influence of the Scottish Enlightenment on the American founding

1. Lundberg and May, “Enlightened Reader,” 262–71, quoting 269.

2. Spencer, Hume and Eighteenth-Century America, 12–16.

3. Sher, “Introduction: Scottish-American Cultural Studies,” 1–27, esp. 10—11.

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