The Rise of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment

By Tatsuya Sakamoto; Hideo Tanaka | Go to book overview

4

Robert Wallace and the Irish and Scottish Enlightenment

Yoshio Nagai

Robert Wallace (1697-1771) was a prolific writer. The aim of this chapter is to try to answer the question as to what place Wallace should occupy in the history of the Scottish Enlightenment. His obituarist was his second son George, who published an article on his father in the Scots Magazine in 1771. Nearly 40 years later, the same journal sketched a life of Robert Wallace when the second edition of Mankind, one of his major works, was published (1809). This version was shorter than the first, though it contained some new information about Wallace, and it was on this second biography, I presume, that the entry in the first edition of the Dictionary of National Biography, the shortest of three versions of his biography, was based. 1

Robert Wallace was one of the 19 leading young intellectuals who became founding members of the Rankenian Club, which continued to exist for over 50 years until Wallace's death in 1771. 2 George asserted in the Scots Magazine that, thanks to the Rankenians, such principles as 'freedom of thought, boldness of disquisition, liberty of sentiment, accuracy of reasoning, decency of taste and interest in composition' were propagated all over Scotland. This assertion might not have been far from the truth. All of these are essential elements of the Enlightenment. It follows, therefore, that Wallace might well have been qualified from his youth to be ranked among the members of the Scottish Enlightenment. George gave us further information of decisive significance, which was that all the Rankenians were supporters of the Irish bishop and philosopher George Berkeley (1685-1753), 3 whose influence on Wallace in particular I will argue later in detail.


The intellectual and political circumstances

In 1736, the Porteous riots 4 took place in Edinburgh. In early 1737 parliament issued a proclamation declaring that anyone hiding convicts or helping them to escape should be sentenced to death, and also that this proclamation should be read in all the parish churches in Scotland on the first Sunday of every month from August 1737 onwards for a whole year. Wallace, who was a clergyman, refused to do so, because he thought that it was not the duty of those who had taken holy orders to read such a bloody proclamation from the pulpit. The polit-

-55-

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