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Scottish Men of Letters in the Eighteenth Century
By Henry Grey Graham (1908)
[Our thanks to Alan MacKenzie for transcribing this in for us]


The eighteenth century forms a very distinct period of Scottish literary history, for of its men of note not one had begun to write when the century began, and all of them, except Dugald Stewart, had ceased to write when it ended. This volume, however, does not aim so much at giving a history of the literature as at giving an account of the men who made it. Most of the Scots writers had all the characteristics of their country in their speech, their manners, and ways of living, and they preserved their individualities and peculiarities unsuppressed by those social conventions and restraints of fashion which in a later age moulded their countrymen to more ordinary types. It is these personal characteristics, old-fashioned and pronounced, which render them all the more interesting. We are helped very little to a knowledge of them by biographies written by their friends, for these consisted chiefly of brief, colourless memoirs prefixed to their works. Neither can we gain a picture of their times by such diaries and voluminous correspondence as abounded in England, from which we can reconstruct the social life of the age. In Scotland no diaries were written, little correspondence was preserved: the writers themselves did not keep copies for publication, or their friends did not keep the originals for love. Probably they wrote few letters: being of a frugal mind, they may have grudged the postage. Even the biographies which were written by contemporaries of the men of letters are disappointing. Dugald Stewart, in his Lives of Reid, Robertson, and Adam Smith, would not spoil a fine period by introducing an anecdote or a personal trait, which would have been of far more interest and value than a hundred sonorous pages. That Adam Smith should have said in his lectures on Rhetoric that he was glad to know that Milton wore latchets in his shoes instead of buckles, to him must have seemed a lack of due sense of literary dignity. In two important quartos Lord Woodhouselee gives a history of Lord Kames, which lets us know as little of his Lordship’s real characteristics when we close the last page as when we opened the first. It is a curious fact that when in 1811 the relatives of Dr. Carlyle of Inveresk thought of publishing his Autobiography, which is invaluable as a picture of his times and his friends, they were discouraged by those they consulted - Adam Ferguson among the number - on the ground that the incidents and anecdotes were too unimportant to interest the public. Fortunately we learn much about the men of letters who lived in Edinburgh from the traditions and stories remaining in the recollection of those to whom their presence was familiar, which in various ways have been handed down. An apology perhaps should be made for entitling one Chapter “Women of Letters,” for strictly speaking it describes women who were not literary persons, like their learned sisters in England. Their whole output consisted of one or two songs; yet these have survived the laborious contributions of women of letters south of the Border. An apology is certainly due to the shades of those high-born dames for bringing them into the company of men who wrote for vulgar fame or money; seeing that their life-long anxiety was to conceal from the public the fact that they had ever written a line or composed a verse. Each of these ladies desired, as the erudite Miss Aikin said of Joanna Baillie, “to lie snug in the asylum of her taciturnity.”

     In giving portraits of the men of letters, the effort has been made to take them when possible from original paintings, and by preference from those which have not before been copied. Thanks are due to General Carlyle Bell for allowing the author the use of unpublished manuscripts of his relative, Dr. Carlyle of Inveresk.

H. G. G.


  • Chapter I
    Dawn of Literature – Allan Ramsay – Hamilton of Bangour – Robert Blair
  • Chapter II
    Early Scottish Philosophy – Hutcheson – David Hume
  • Chapter III
    John Home
  • Chapter IV
    Principal Robertson
  • Chapter V
    Adam Ferguson – Dr. Hugh Blair – William Wilkie – Dr. Blacklock
  • Chapter VI
    Adam Smith
  • Chapter VII
    Literary Judges: Lord Kames – Lord Monboddo – Lord Hailes 
  • Chapter VIII
    James Boswell 
  • Chapter IX
    James Macpherson 
  • Chapter X
    Dr. Thomas Reid – Dr. James Beattie 
  • Chapter XI - Part 1
    Scottish Men of Letters in England: Mallet – Thomson - Smollett 
  • Chapter XI - Part 2
    Scottish Men of Letters in England: Mallet – Thomson - Smollett 
  • Chapter XII
    Women of Letters: Lady Wardlaw – Lady Grisell Baillie – Mrs. Cockburn – Jean Elliot – Lady Anne Barnard – Lady Napier 
  • Chapter XIII
    Song-Writers – Skinner – Bruce - Fergussson 
  • Chapter XIV
    Robert Burns 
  • Chapter XV
    Henry Mackenzie – Dugald Stewart – Close of the Century

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