Science and Medicine in the Scottish Enlightenment

By Charles W. J. Withers; Paul Wood | Go to book overview

4
Science and Enlightenment
in Glasgow, 1690–1802

ROGER L. EMERSON AND PAUL WOOD

Despite the growth of interest in both provincial science and the different contexts of the Scottish Enlightenment, comparatively little scholarly attention has been paid to Glasgow as a site for the cultivation of natural knowledge or enlightenment during the long eighteenth century.1 Unlike Edinburgh or Aberdeen, Glasgow has been marginalised in the literature and has typically been noticed only incidentally in relation to other topics.2 Among the handful of scholars who have examined aspects of Glasgow in the period, Ned Landsman and Robert Kent Donovan have explored some of the religious controversies which divided the city during the second half of the eighteenth century, and have underlined the cultural dynamism of Glasgow’s evangelicals. In their view, Glasgow had two competing Enlightenments: one centred on the University and inspired by the thought of Francis Hutcheson; the other evangelical, politically radical, utilitarian and devoted to trade, industry and profit. Hutcheson’s Enlightenment was genteel, polite and elitist, they argue, whereas the evangelical Enlightenment found its supporters among increasingly well-off merchants and artisans.3 Richard Sher has extended their analysis, and treated the achievements of the University men as largely owing to initiatives coming from Hutcheson and his circle.4 Hutcheson also figures prominently in the work of James Moore and M. A. Stewart, which points to the importance of Glasgow’s social and cultural links with Ireland.5

Finally, we have both contended that Glasgow’s enlightened community was less divided than Landsman would have it and that it preserved something of the outlook of the Scottish virtuosi until nearly the end of the eighteenth century. We both see this as partly attributable to the way in which Scottish patronage was administered between 1690 and 1800.6 We also believe that the natural sciences bulked far larger in the Scottish Enlightenment than is generally acknowledged.

In Edinburgh and Aberdeen, virtuosi, medical men, professors and clerics interested in natural knowledge first began to shift patterns of thought toward those which subsequently characterised the Scottish Enlightenment. They were the first Baconian natural historians, the first to accept the methods of the ‘new science’ and the first to try to apply natural knowledge in a range of improving activities. From the 1680s onwards, they founded institutions in which the ideas, methods and outlook of the ‘new science’ were incorporated,

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