Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Scotland's Influence on Civilization
The Scottish Universities and Reviews

OUR retrospect of Scotland would not be complete without a more distinct notice than has yet been given of her ancient universities and her great periodical reviews and magazines. The two channels of influence may be appropriately brought together into one view by reason of their intimate connection, and also of their important bearing on the intellectual and moral development of the people. As sources of knowledge and as exponents of public opinion, scarcely anything can be more essential to the growth and advancement of an educated people than its schools of the higher culture and its public press for the utterance of opinion. The one is the institute of the young from generation to generation to secure for them all the advantages of discipline in virtue and culture in science and literature; the other is the institute of adult minds to give them a vehicle of public thought and bring them into contact with all other educated minds of the period. As centres of intellectual and moral light, and as the moulding, and even creative, agencies of public opinion and national character, the university and the press in every free land have had an important history through all modern times, and, in the present condition of the world, they hold a position of supreme importance.

Scotland has had the full benefit of each agency —the periodical press in its higher forms for nearly a century, the university in its various depart-ments of science and the humanities, or of theology, the arts, law and medicine, for about four centuries. Of her four great universities, which from the first were fashioned on a plan not unlike those of Germany and Holland, the three most ancient, St. Andrews, Glasgow and Aberdeen, date back to about the middle of the fifteenth century, whilst that of Edinburgh, the youngest, owes its foundation to James VI. The three elder institutions were founded during the times of the Roman Catholic ascendency. One of them, Glasgow, was nearly annihilated during the Reformation period, but it was restored by the exertions of Queen Mary and James VI. The University of Edinburgh, founded after the Reformation, had but little of the ancient university character, being a professorial seminary on a royal foundation rather than a society of graduates or students. The royal charter of foundation placed it in the hands of the magistrates of the city of Edinburgh, who remained its patrons till Each of these universities has its bursaries, or scholarships, though with much smaller endowments than those of England.

In no part of the world has the value of university education been more thoroughly tested and more strikingly illustrated than in Scotland. Through all the centuries of their existence there have been found gathered into these schools the very elite of Scottish youth from every class of rich and poor, sons of the nobility, the gentry and the common people. In a large degree they have had the training of the people and the formation of that public sentiment, even among the laboring classes, which has made the Scottish parent look upon scholarship with respect and desire it for his sons as the highest passport to distinction, usefulness and honor. The universities have thus been an open door through which successive generations of talented and aspiring young men have pressed their way to the highest positions in the service of the country, and have perpetually filled up the ranks of law, divinity, medicine, teaching and successful authorship. The brightest lights of the Scottish pulpit have been those at every epoch that were kindled at the universities. The result has been that through all its history the Church in Scotland has been eminently blest with a learned and godly ministry fully abreast with the advancing science and literature of the age. A large proportion of the best British authorship, not only in theology but in science and literature, has been connected with the Scottish pulpit and has come of the fostering influences of the Scottish universities. This has been abundantly illustrated in the annals of the American churches in all the earlier periods, when our pulpits and our college-halls were adorned by eminent divines—like Charles Nisbet and John Witherspoon, John Glendy of Irish birth, John Mason, and his still more distinguished son John M. Mason, of New York—born or educated in Scotland.

What is true of the universities in Scotland as the source of a highly-educated and influential clergy is equally true as it regards all the other learned professions. In an eminent degree the leaders of the people have been trained to thought and activity in these ancient and renowned schools Much of the intellectual and moral power that has given life and character to her home-population, and then gone forth to make that influence felt in other lands, may be traced back to the universities as the primal well-spring. Statesmen, jurists, orators, divines, physicians, educators, discoverers, eminent scientists, great merchants, bankers, publishers, manufacturers and engineers, as well as soldiers and artisans, have caught that inspiration which useful knowledge gives to the mind and prepared themselves for their life-work at these great seats of learning and religion. Christianity is the world's greatest civilizer. Christianity can do nothing better for a country after it has once converted its inhabitants to Christ than when it founds and opens for youth its permanent institutions of the higher learning. This it did in Scotland at an early day, and thereby gave the guarantee of progress and set the seal of its power over an educated people for all time to come. The Scottish universities have been the centres of light and influence not only to the educated youth of Scotland, but in an unusual degree to the young men of England, Ireland and America. Even to this day, when universities and colleges have been so multiplied in our own land, it is no uncommon thing for our talented young men of wealthy families to obtain a part of their educational finish as students at these universities, especially that of Edinburgh.

It is certain that the universities may claim the honor of having trained in almost every branch of literature and science the men who have made Scotland illustrious. At these seats of learning they have been educated, and here, in maturer life, they have lived and taught and carried forward their profound investigations. The literary, scientific, philosophical, and even religious, life of Scotland has gathered around these schools. There could be no complete history of the Scottish people without taking them into the account. The periodical literature of Scotland, as represented by the leading reviews and magazines, belongs to the present century. Through them Scotland, and especially her little capital, Edinburgh, has uttered a voice on all the high themes of criticism, philosophy, art, education, religion, politics and general literature which has been heard with respect around the globe. In Great Britain there had been periodical literature of various types during the preceding century, even back to the times of Johnson and Addison. It was reserved to the opening years of the nineteenth century, and to the Scottish metropolis, to inaugurate a new order of publication. The first of the great organs of opinion made its appearance at Edinburgh in October, 1802, in the form of the Edinburgh Review. It was the beginning of that brilliant and popular school of writing which has gone on increasing its volume and widening its channel of influence to the present day. Fifteen years later, in the same city, it was followed by Blackwood's Magazine, the most important of modern monthly magazines as being, like the Review, the precursor of a long and famous line. The Review owed its origin to a little coterie of young men of brilliant genius, some of Scottish and some of English birth, but mostly lawyers who were then residing at the Scottish metropolis, where they had pursued their classical and legal studies.

Prominent in the number were Henry Brougham, who became lord chancellor of England, James Grahame, poet of the Sabbath, Mr. Horner, Lords Seymour and Cockburn, Sydney Smith, the famous wit, a clergyman of the English Church, who was the first to propose the setting up of the Review and wrote a large number of its earlier articles, and Francis Jeffrey, who became identified with it as its chief editor and its "arch-critic." The first number of the Review startled the public by its originality, its ability, its vigor and its tone of independence. "It is impossible," says Lord Cockburn, "for those who did not live at the time and in the heart of the scene to feel or understand the impression made by the new luminary or the anxiety with which its motions were observed. It was an entire and instant change of everything that the public had been used to in that sort of composition. The learning of the new journal, its talent, its spirit, its writing and its independence, were all new; and the surprise was increased by a work so full of public life springing up suddenly in a remote part of the kingdom." No one of its originators, or any one else at that day, could have foreseen or imagined its long continuance, or the immense results in the progress of public opinion and the diffusion of intelligence which were destined to flow from such a publication. It was the unconscious inauguration of that full, free and fearless discussion of all matters worthy of inquiry and affecting the public interests which has now become one of the essential institutes of the nineteenth century.

The brilliant monthly magazine originated by William Blackwood of Edinburgh in 1817, and bearing his name, was as remarkable in its early issues, and created as profound a sensation on the public mind, as its precursor, the Review. Its great success, both financial and literary, was largely due to its versatile and sagacious publisher, Blackwood, who took the whole risk of the new venture in literature. But his remarkable powers were fully equal to his task. Never did proprietor and editor hold the reins with a bolder and a steadier hand, and never did any publication more surely win its way to popular favor until it became a living power in the land. Like its great predecessor, it was also the joint-product of a band of highly-gifted and brilliant young men, who thus, under the masterly direction of Blackwood, found a fitting organ for the expression of their original and powerful thinking. Of this number were John Gibson Lockhart, son-in-law of Walter Scott, Professor John Wilson, author of the Nodes Ambrosian and Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life, and Sir William Hamilton. A more brilliant band of critics and writers could not have been found in the British isles. They at once by their wit and genius gave character to the magazine. "Its success," says Mrs. Oliphant, "was immediate. Four thousand copies of the witty organ were sold in a month. Thus Edinburgh was once more the scene of one of the great events of modern literary history. All the magazines of more recent days are the followers and offspring of this periodical, so audacious in its beginning,, so persistent and permanent in its influence and power.

This writer, in her recent work The Literary History of England, has given an admirable account of the origin and success of these two great Scottish periodicals. Though they had to contest the field ere long with many able successors and rivals in England, such as the London Quarterly and Wertmilzster Reviezv, and the yet abler monthlies of our own tine, they have still maintained their around in the ancient capital, and to this day exert no inconsiderable influence on the opinions of men in both Great Britain and America.

The whole story, however, is not yet told. In 1844. still another of these great organs made its appearance in the scholarly and elegant pages of the North British Review. It grew out of the demands of public opinion created by the memorable disruption of the Church of Scotland and the inauguration of the Free Church the year preceding. It became to a certain extent, though not exclusively, the exponent of the opinions of the Free Church party, and ranked among its contributors and supporters the many eminent men, divines and civilians, who had taken part in the movement. No great review ever sprang into being under more auspicious circumstances or was sustained by abler men. From the first it commanded public attention by its weighty mat--ter and by its moderation and fairness in the discussion of all important questions. It was learned, dignified, racy and discriminating, conservatively liberal in opinion, independent in tone, and yet unreservedly Christian in principle. It became the exponent of sound philosophy, and the staunch defender of the Christian faith as held by the Presbyterians of the Free Church of Scotland. After a brilliant course of more than a quarter of a century, it gave way in 1871 to the British Quarterly of London, an able periodical dating from 1845 and advocating substantially the great Christian principles which had been maintained by the North British.

These widely-read periodicals, especially the first two, have unquestionably played a conspicuous part in the literature of our century. They have been almost oracular in their influence. While they have contributed much to give intellectual life and character to Scotland, they have perhaps contributed still more to awaken the thought, stimulate the inquiry and form the opinions of thousands of young men in other lands. They have been the medium through which many of the ablest writers of the age have addressed the great reading public, and their utterances, coming; from men of thorough scholarship and clothed in attractive style, have not been in vain. As organs of the educated thought of our century, and as exponents of that influential public opinion which in modern times has so much to do with the practical administration of the world's affairs, it would be difficult to name any three great journals which have had a wider reading and a more potential and decisive influence on English-speaking men. Through the wide domains of Britain and America they have never ceased to find thoughtful readers, not only among intelligent youth, but among representative men in all the higher classes of society. Nor is it any hesitating and uncertain voice on the momentous questions of the times which the Scottish capital has thus sent around the globe.

Before closing this account of the Edinburgh periodical literature, it is proper to add that for more than a century the Scottish capital has been the publishing centre of several of the most widely-known encyclopaedias of modern times. By its encyclopaedic literature this classic city of the North has been almost or quite as much a pioneer and a leader in the advancement and diffusion of useful knowledge as in the higher criticism it was a guide to open the road and blaze the way by its reviews and magazines. The universal encyclopaedia, which aims to condense, classify and publish to the world all that man knows on every subject, is one of the latest, as it is one of the most important, forms of literature. It belongs mainly to the latter centuries of modern history. It has reached its maturity within the last hundred and fifty years. Though Scotland was not the first to enter this field, and must yield the precedence here to Germany and France, still the Scots were early in the field, and Edinburgh in advance of all other British cities. The first editions of the famous Encyclopedia Britannica were brought out in ten volumes at Edinburgh as early as 1776-1783, followed by nine successive editions to the present day, in which it has grown to twenty-two volumes. From first to last, this encyclopaedia has been executed and published in Edinburgh, the literary reputation of which it has helped in no small degree to increase.

This important work, which still holds its place in all libraries, public and private, was followed by the Edinburghi Encyclopcedia, edited by the distinguished scientist Sir David Brewster, which appeared in 1810, and was finished in 1830 in eighteen volumes. In all departments of the physical sciences it was more complete than any preceding work of the kind. Following this, in 1841-1850, there was also published in Edinburgh Chambers's Encyclopedia, in ten volumes, founded on the German Conversations-Lexicon of F. A. Brockhaus, though substantially a new work. This has been received with favor throughout Great Britain and America, and in our own country is found in nearly all libraries.

It is impossible to estimate, from an educational point of view, the value of this encyclopaedic literature. No library is now complete without these compendiums of universal knowledge. By them the world has been filled with the treasured wisdom of all ages. In them is illustrated the fine sentiment of Tennyson:

"Yet I doubt not through the age-, one increasing purpose runs, And the thoughts of men are widened with the process of the suns."

Whatever of good has come to the world by the accumulated stores of learning, Edinburgh has certainly had much to do in the publication and dissemination of it by means of the great encyclopaedias. Nor have these been the only means. Her enterprising publishing-houses have long been known to the reading world as standing side by side with those of London, Leipsic and other great centres of literary production, and during the century the teeming presses of the Ballantynes, Constables, Nelsons and Clarks of Edinburgh have stood among the foremost in sending forth in book-forma a pure and elevated literature of the first order. One generation can scarcely leave a better legacy to another than the written and published thoughts of its ablest authors. When the great publishing-house has put these thoughts into the permanent form of books and given them the widest possible diffusion, it has done for mankind a service not to be forgotten. Such a service many of the Edinburgh publishing-houses did for our own country through much of our earlier history. In science, philosophy, history, theology and general literature many of our ablest and most enduring works have emanated from the Scottish press, and still stand in all their substantial dignity on the shelves of our libraries.

Return to Book Contents Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus