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The Social and Industrial history of Scotland, from the Union to the present time
Eighteenth Century: 7. Education and Culture


The establishment of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland at the Revolution placed the schools under the supervision of the Presbytery within whose bounds they were situated. All schoolmasters were required to sign the Confession of Faith as a condition of holding their office, and in 1706 the ministers were enjoined by the General Assembly to visit and examine all public schools within their Presbyteries at least twice a year. This ecclesiastical supervision obtained throughout the century, though there were occasional attempts on the part of schoolmasters to evade the obligation to sign the Confession and of Town Councils to dispute the right of visitation by Presbyteries of the burgh schools without their concurrence. The tendency towards the end of it was to question and curtail the jurisdiction of the Presbyteries to the extent of allowing an appeal to the ciivil courts against the decisions. Their zeal was, however, not confined to keeping an alert eye on the religious views of the schoolmaster and on the instruction of their pupils in the Catechism. They strove with laudable perseverance to bring into operation the law of 1696 directing the establishment of a school in every parish, which heritors were only too ready to neglect. Their efforts were not very successful and a large proportion of the population in many Lowland parishes could not read or write. The state of education was far worse in the Highlands, though the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge strove to provide at least religious instruction in the remoter districts, and the church had established 109 parish schools in the Highlands by the year 1732. Distance from the school was one of the difficulties in educating the dwellers of the Highland glens, and even at the end of the century a very large percentage of the people were still illiterate. Hence the old custom in both Highlands and Lowlands of reading the Psalms to be sung line by line in order that the people might join in the singing. Though illiterate the people in the Lowlands were not so ignorant as one might infer from the imperfections of elementary education. They learned a great deal from the services which it was obligatory to attend and were well drilled in the Catechism by the ministers who held regular visitations for catechising their flock. Their knowledge at least of divinity of the old fashioned orthodox type was by no means contemptible, and many who could neither read nor write could, in their own narrow fashion, expatiate with no mean force on the fundamentals.

On the whole, however, popular education throughout the century was at a low level. The schoolmasters were miserably paid, the school was often but a wretched hovel which also served as the poor master's dwelling. Many of them lived their strenuous lives on the verge of starvation owing to the niggardliness of Town Councils and heritors, whose sense of the value of education, measured by the means they provided to maintain it, was lamentably deficient. It is strange to read that the pittance allowed the schoolmaster as salary was eked out, not only by small quarterly fees, but from the proceeds of cock-fighting on Fastern's E'en, when the boys brought their cocks to the schoolroom, paid the master a trifle for the right to pit them against each other, and in addition left the dead birds as a perquisite of his office. Nevertheless in not a few of these schools sterling work was done in return for this pitiful remuneration. From many of them "the lad of pairts" made his way to the University and some to distinction in the professions. Some of these schoolmasters themselves, like Thomas Ruddiman, attained to distinction in learning and literature. Very noteworthy is the democratic spirit which embraced the children of all classes in a common instruction, the son of the laird sitting beside the son of the farmer and the cottar on the same bench.

The first quarter of the century is rather a dreary period in the history of the Scottish Universities. The higher education had suffered from the political and ecclesiastical turmoil of the previous century. The system in vogue by which the "regent" or professor taught to his students all the subjects necessary to a degree was not favourable to distinction or even proficiency in any one subject on the part of the professor. This objectionable system was discarded at Edinburgh in 1708, at Glasgow in 1727. At St Andrews it lingered till near the middle of the century and at King's College, Aberdeen, till the end of it. The instruction was given in Latin, in which the student had been well drilled in the Grammar Schools, and it was only in the second quarter of the century that English began to take its place as the medium of lecturing. The students who could afford it lived in rooms within the colleges where a strict discipline, aggravated by exacting religious exercises, prevailed, with the result that outside residence was greatly preferred. The supervision, especially on Sunday, when they had to go twice to church, and were examined afterwards on their knowledge of the sermon and dared not go out for recreation, was indeed a burden grievous to be borne. Most of them were as a rule lads of from 13 to 15 and careful supervision was advisable in view of their extreme youth. Excessive regulation was, however, bad educationally and in the second half of the century, under the humanising influence of moderatism, it was going out of fashion.

Philosophy and physics were obligatory for a degree in Arts and they were still taught in the old scholastic fashion in the early part of the century. Gradually, however, as the " regent-ing " system disappeared, more competent teachers and new methods of teaching brought a new life into the class rooms and raised the Universities out of the rut of mediocrity. A number of chairs in law and medicine, which had hitherto been studied in Holland or France by the more reputable practitioners, were founded, and the number of students at Edinburgh and Glasgow was more than doubled during the second half of the century, Edinburgh having 1,000 in 1800 and Glasgow 800 in 1792. At Edinburgh the stately building designed by Adam was begun in 1789 to replace the humbler tenement of an earlier time. This new life may be said to date from the advent of the mathematician Colin McLaurin—a worthy successor of the three Gregorys —at Edinburgh in 1735, and of the philosopher Francis Hutcheson at Glasgow in 1730. Hutcheson's lectures on Philosophy, which were delivered in English, "constituted," says his recent biographer, Professor Scott, "a revolution in academic teaching." He discarded the old text books and the old scholastic method and gave his students the benefit of his own inspiring thought. Among those who conferred distinction on themselves and the Universities as scholars or men of science were Principal Robertson, Adam Ferguson, Adam Smith, Thomas Reid, Dugald Stewart, John Robison, Joseph Black, the three Munros, John and James Gregory, William Cullen, Hugh Blair, and Robert Simson. It would be easy to enlarge the list by including many names of men of varying degree of eminence in order to emphasise the great advance made since the seventeenth century by the Universities as centres of a vigorous intellectual life. This advance is in truth as remarkable as that observable in the industrial sphere. The intellectual and moral energy, which had expended itself in the political and ecclesiastical struggles of the preceding century, now found scope in literary and scientific pursuits and completely redeemed Scotland from the general intellectual mediocrity of that century.

Not only within, but outside the Universities there was a notable rise in culture. In the society of the Capital and the ^University towns the leaver of an actwe intellectual life was at work throughout the latter half of the century. The literati of Edinburgh, and Glasgow, and Aberdeen could compare favourably with those of London or any other European capital, and the reputation and influence of some of them were not confined to this side of the Border or even of the Channel. The Scottish intellect in the eighteenth century earned the enthusiastic appreciation of Mr Buckle who, after'emptying the vials of his wrath and also of his prejudice on the heads of the Scottish divines of the seventeenth, had only admiration for " the eminent and enterprising thinkers (of the eighteenth) whose genius lighted up every department of knowledge and whose minds, fresh and vigorous as the morning, opened for themselves a new career, and secured for themselves a high place in the annals of European intellect." Hume influenced in a powerful degree the thought of the Continent as well as of his native land, though he failed to obtain the chair of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh. Adam Smith may be said to have created the science of Political Economy, Hutton that of Geology. Besides these there was a large number of highly cultured men in the professions—lawyers like Monboddo, Kames, and Henry Erskine; and ministers like John Erskine, Alexander Webster, Robert Wallace, and Jupiter Carlyle. Literature in the stricter sense found in Allan Ramsay and Robert Fergusson precursors of Robert Burns, the peerless lyric poet, in whose muse vernacular Scottish poetry attained its perfection and its climax. His songs alone would have made him immortal. Remarkable is the bevy of ladies who also excelled, on a limited scale, as song writers. Mrs Cockburn, Miss Elliot, Joanna Baillie, Lady Anne Lindsay, Lady Nairne gave voice alike to the pathos and the humour of Scottish life, high and humble, in such gems as "Auld Robin Gray," "The Flowers of the Forest," "The Land o' the Leal," "The Auld Hoose," and "The Laird o' Cockpen." Jacobitism redeemed its exaggerated king-worship by the touching devotion of such outpourings of its loyalty as "Flora MacDonald's Lament." The romantic note also found expression in James Macpherson's Fingal and Temora, which professed to discover to a responsive age the authentic remains of the ancient Gaelic muse. These Ossianic poems were largely the composition of their would-be discoverer, whilst embodying genuine fragments of traditional poetry and reflecting with considerable success the mystic Celtic spirit. But they caught on in spite of hostile critics like Dr Johnson, who was stoutly opposed by Dr Blair, and they gave a powerful impulse to the Romantic movement in European literature. Music, both vocal and instrumental, had many amateur devotees in Edinburgh, who performed at the concerts given in St Cecilia's Hall in the Cowgate, and in 1764 a playhouse was licensed in the Capital where the citizens might gratify their taste for the drama without fear of the law and the outcry of the Kirk against such a satanic innovation. Allan Ramsay, bookseller as well as poet and wigmaker, did much for the wider diffusion of culture by starting a circulating library in 1726, which provided, in spite of the ecclesiastical censor, the latest literature from London. Even among the country people the old taste for edifying works of divinity was beginning to relax and in place of Peden's Prophecies, or Rutherford's Letters, or Boston's Fourfold State, the coarse popular chap books of a Dugal Graham were being read at many a cottage fireside. Hundreds of thousands of these popular books were being sold about 1770, though, unfortunately, the widespread demand by no means denoted a growing refinement of popular taste.

In philosophy, political science, and literature, in particular, Scotland in the second half of the eighteenth century contributed what may fairly be termed an epoch-making quota to the intellectual life of the age. In respect of its quality and its influence, the achievement of Hume, Adam Smith, and Burns in their respective spheres takes a place of the first rank in the history of European culture. From 1739, when he published his Treatise of Human Nature, till his death in 1776, Hume steadily added to his reputation as a thinker by a series of philosophical works, including the Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding, the Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, and the Natural History of Religion, besides his History of England and a series of Essays on Politics and Ethics. In his recent book on English Philosophers and Schools of Philosophy Professor Seth pronounces him "the greatest English philosopher," though his system of thought has bred many critics and antagonists. He was what is termed an empiricist in philosophy. In other words, he not only based all knowledge on experience, but held that the mind itself is " but a bundle of different conceptions." His system accordingly tends to scepticism, to shake belief in the identity, the reality of the perceiving self, apart from its perceptions, and, when applied to revealed religion, to strike at the foundations of received beliefs. But it was acutely and powerfully reasoned and exercised a decisive influence by quickening the thought of men like Reid, and especially Kant and Hegel, who elaborated their antagonistic systems under his stimulating influence. In this respect his influence on the development of modern thought was far-reaching.

The germ of Adam Smith's epoch-making work as an economist is to be found in the lectures on Justice and Police, which he delivered whilst Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University, and which were only lately discovered and published. These lectures afford convincing proof that he had thought out the main principles of his more mature work on The Wealth of Nations independently of the French writers from whom he was long believed to have borrowed them. They were delivered long before he had met Quesnay and Turgot in France. It was, however, during a two years' sojourn in France in 1765-66, where he took the opportunity of discussing economic problems with these distinguished economists, that he began to write the Enquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, which he gave to the world in 1776. In it he sought to undermine the Mercantile or Protective system which was then and had long been in vogue, and to demonstrate that freedom of trade and industry was the true way to develop both. Under the Mercantile system the chief object of the State was conceived to be the maintenance of its power for defence and offence against other States which were regarded as its rivals for power. Hence the necessity of amassing treasure which provides the sinews of war, of restricting by navigation laws its trade to its own shipping, which provides a strong navy, of fostering population which provides {^strong army. The idea was that, in order to maintain itself against its rivals and grow wealthy and powerful, it must protect itself by restriction of trade and industry in its own interest. The principle, in common language, was to better yourself by beggaring your neighbour, since the gain of other nations is so much loss to one's own. In place of this system Smith advocated one based on freedom of trade. National wealth, he contends, does not consist in the amount of national treasure, but in productive labour. An indispensable condition of production is liberty, "leaving every man free, as long as he does not violate the laws of justice, to pursue his own interest in his own way." The exercise of this liberty benefits industry by giving scope for man's labour. Therefore all the artificial restrictions of industry in the form of protective devices (close corporations or guilds, bounties, monopolies) in vogue under the Mercantile system are injurious to industry by hampering production. Equally beneficial is the exercise of liberty in the domain of commerce, whether internal or foreign. Whatever tends to favour the free exchange of commodities only benefits the people. In the domain of foreign commerce in particular, the less restriction the better. The idea that wealth consists in treasure and that, therefore, a nation must export more than it imports in order to have a favourable balance in money as the result of its trade is false. If foreign trade increases production it increases wealth apart altogether from a favourable money balance. But it will not increase production if a nation acts on the principle of trying to keep down the commerce and industry of other nations on the assumption of a mistaken self interest. Self interest will really derive more advantage from the prosperity of these nations, because their prosperity will increase their power of buying from others what they do not produce. Therefore the less restriction, the greater freedom, the better. Mutual self interest consists in making international trade as free and consequently as active as possible. The work was a direct challenge to prevailing economic opinion and practice. But it made a powerful impression on the economic thought of the time and exercised a marked influence on the fiscal policy of the country, as is shown by the commercial treaty in free trade direction concluded by Pitt with France in 1786. Some of its contentions and conclusions have been challenged and improved on by later economic writers like Bastiat. There came in the second half of the nineteenth century a strong reaction against the competitive spirit in industry, which his system tended to foster, in the direction of subordinating the interest of the individual to that of the community in the social and economic sphere. But in the main its practical influence has lasted. The work was, in fact, not a mere chain of reasoning on economic principles. This reasoning was enriched and strengthened by the historic data on which its author liberally drew to illustrate and enforce it. And it not only developed and advocated a new theory. It sought both to show a better way of increasing national prosperity and with it the material welfare of the people and to attain a better international system, based on the mutual interest of the nations.

The muse of Robert Burns whose short, if meteoric career as poet began in 1786, when he ventured to publish a first collection of poems, seldom goes far afield, though it ere long carried his fame the wide world over. It is concerned largely with himself, with the scenery amid which he lived, the people among whom he dwelt. His poetry is the man as he toiled, and loved, and suffered; caroused, and erred, and repented; dreamed, and aspired, and pitied. It is instinct with life in 'all its phases—grave and gay, tragic and comic, high and low, good and bad, as the poet experienced and saw it. Just because he was so alive himself, he has a keen eye for the unreal—for pretension, hypocrisy, quackery, and cant— and withers it in the cutting blast of his satire. Witness "Death and Dr Hornbook." He cannot refrain from exercising it even on the Kirk and its narrow Calvinist creed, as in "Holy Willie's Prayer," "The Holy Fair," "The Kirk's Alarm," and "The Twa Herds." Of course he exaggerates the failings of ministers and creeds, as satire, to be effective, must do, and his own failings were certainly fitted to draw on him the attention of the censor in the pulpit. Nevertheless there was material enough for the satirist to work on in the formalism and hypocrisy in which conventional religion was too apt to deck itself, and the satirist's blast did good in helping to clear the religious atmosphere of his time. It ought to be remembered, too, that, with all his failings, the satirist was a deeply religious man, as "The Cottar's Saturday Night" and many other pieces, as well as his deliberate statements on the subject in his letters to Mr Cunningham and Mrs McLehose, prove. As a moralist he was, at his best, superlative, and no better advice on the right conduct of life could be given to the young than "The Epistle to a Young Friend." Such utterances are the best antidotes to the unfortunate tendency, which he shared with his age, to glorify the drinking habit, of which he finally became the tragic victim. Conviviality, coupled with sobriety, was not the fashion in those days, and Burns' influence undoubtedly helped to prolong the fashion, to the ruin of many besides himself. Even here the moralist does not fail to utter a warning note on occasion out of his own sad experience. Of the humour of which the Scottish tongue and the Scottish temperament are capable, he is the peerless medium in rhyme at least. What more inimitable than "Tam o' Shanter" and the "Address to the Deil"? And who has pictured the social customs and joys of the people, as in "Hallowe'en," with such spirit and masterly simplicity? Peerless, too, are the songs in which he celebrates the passion which he could not always control, but to which he gave the sweetest and finest expression in such lyrics as "My Nannie's Awa," "Green grow the Rashes," "Corn Rigs are Bonnie," "Afton Water," and many more. Pity that these and other lyric gems of the Scottish muse are so little appreciated by our boys and girls, our young men and maidens, who all too generally prefer the rubbish of the music hall to the treasures of the bards of former days, even of the chief of them.


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