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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Rev. Dr. Alex. Carlyle's Notes on Glasgow Life, Learning, and Trade, in 1743-4


Dr. ALEXANDER CARLYLE, minister of Inveresk, gives in his Autobiography some very readable notes concerning the state of Glasgow during the years 1743 and 1744. He was for two years a student at the University, and mixed in the best society. Carlyle says that one difference he remarked between the University of Glasgow and that of Edinburgh, where he had previously been, was that although there appeared to be a marked superiority in the best scholars and most diligent students of Edinburgh, yet in Glasgow learning seemed to be an object of more importance, and the habit of application was much more general.

The chief branches of trade in the city were with Virginia in tobacco, and in sugar and rum with the West Indies. But there were not manufactures sufficient, either in the city or at Paisley, to make up a suitable cargo for Virginia, and for that purpose Glasgow merchants were obliged to have recourse to Manchester. Manufactures were in their infancy, the merchants, however, Carlyle adds, had industry and habits of business, and were ready to seize with eagerness, and prosecute with vigour, every new object in commerce or manufactures that promised success.

Few of them could be called learned men, but Provost Andrew Cochrane had founded a weekly club for the discussion of the nature and principles of trade in all its branches. Provost Cochrane was himself a man of high talent and education, and he was of great service to Adam Smith in collecting materials for The Wealth of Nations.

The people of Glasgow at that time were very far behind, not only in their manner of living, but also in their accomplishments and that taste which belonged to persons of opulence, much more to persons of education. Only a few families pretended to be gentry; the rest were shopkeepers and mechanics, or suceessful pedlars, who occupied large warerooms full of manufactured goods of all sorts for furnishing cargoes to Virginia.

lit was usual for the sons of merchants to attend the college for one or two sessions, but very few of them completed their academical education. In this respect the females were worse off, for at that time there was neither a teacher of French or music in the city, with the consequence that the young ladies were entirely without accomplishments, and in general had nothing to recommend them but good looks and fine clothes, for their manners were ungainly.

The manner of living in the city was coarse and vulgar. The wealthier portion did not know how to give good dinners. Not above half-a-dozen faniilies kept men-servants; and there were neither post-chaises nor hackney coaches in town, but only two or three sedan chairs. The merchants usually took an early dinner at home, and then repaired in companies of four or five to a tavern, where they read the newspapers over a bottle of claret or a bowl of punch, always returning home at nine o’clock.

The students of the University had a club for receiving books and reading papers, which met weekly in Dugald’s Tavern at the Cross; where they dined on beefsteak and pancakes to the value of 1s. or 1s. 6d. each. Among those then at Glasgow College were Walter, Lord Blantyre; Lord Cassillis; and Andrew Hamilton, afterwards Earl of Selkirk, who was so studious and so diligent in his habits that Carlyle remarks that he came before the world more fitted to be a professor than an earl.

As a conclusion to this summary of Carlyle’s opinions of Glasgow, an amusing story which he relates may be re-told. He and some others paid a visit to Port-Glasgow in the month of March or April of 1744, and while in an inn there awaiting their dinner, they were alarmed with lamentations from the kitchen. Going to see what was the matter they found that Peden’s Prophecies had got into the hands of one of the women, and she had read from it that the Clyde was to run with blood in 1744. Their consternation was great, but the visitors succeeded in pacifying them.


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