TODAY I was going to conclude my short series on the Scottish Enlightenment, but in order to do it justice, I will finish off next week with a column whose title will say it all – the Women of the Enlightenment.

It is fitting that I am writing this on the first day of COP26 in Glasgow. The world is looking to Scotland for hope and ideas, just as it did in the 18th and early 19th centuries when the Enlightenment opened up whole areas of human existence for examination and debate.

Over the past three weeks, I have tried to show how wide-ranging and progressive the Enlightenment was. I will return to leading Enlightenment science figures, such as James Hutton and Joseph Black, individually in future columns, but for now I want to continue this series with an eclectic bunch of Scots who were important figures in their time, but have largely been forgotten.

One man whose lifespan was almost exactly that of the age of the Enlightenment was Adam Ferguson (1723-1816), whose best known work was An Essay on the History of Civil Society, which he wrote in 1767 as a professor of philosophy at Edinburgh University. With this book and a series of writings on how “society” develops, Ferguson virtually invented a new science of sorts and to this day is known as the father of sociology.

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Alan Riach has explained in The National how Ferguson “presented historical progress as twofold: natural, created by God and evident in the earth itself, and social, man-made and progressive. This progressive sense of human evolution was based in sympathy, courtesy and civil behaviour, but it went through distinct ‘stages’ and was therefore known as the Stadial Theory of Evolution: human society developed from hunter-gatherer groups, to farming communities, and ultimately to urban civilisations centred in cities. After that, there are the economics of the state, control of capital and government-protected order.”

Ferguson of Raith, as he is often known, was a remarkable character. He was the son of a minister and after graduating from the University of St Andrews – he had earlier studied at Edinburgh – he was given licence to become deputy chaplain of the 42nd Highland Regiment of Foot, The Black Watch. It is claimed that he fought at the Battle of Fontenoy in 1745 – the allies under the Duke of Cumberland were defeated by the French, which allowed the Butcher to come home to brutally end the Jacobite Rising at Culloden.

Ferguson stayed in the army until 1754, when he left both the clergy and military service. He succeeded David Hume as librarian to the Faculty of Advocates but left for a much higher salary as tutor to the family of the Earl of Bute.

He gained the professorship of natural philosophy at Edinburgh in 1759 and five years later he transferred to the professorship of mental and moral philosophy. In this post he knew all the major figures of the Enlightenment and was reckoned to be one himself.

Much has been made of clubs like the Select Society and the Poker Club – he was a co-founder of both – where the leading men of the Enlightenment would meet to debate issues and exchange ideas, as well as consuming quite a lot of what was then Scotland’s other national drink: claret.

Ferguson was a keen debater and hosted many literary evenings – it was at his home in Edinburgh that Walter Scott and Robert Burns met – and he had to get his thoughts down on paper. The success of his Essay on the History of Civil Society duly gave him an introduction to the leading philosophers and writers of the day such as Voltaire in France, while at home his work on America gained him the post of secretary of the Carlisle Commission which tried, and failed, to negotiate a peaceful end to the American War of Independence. FERGUSON was turning more to history as a subject and wrote the 40 page treatise on history for the second edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica which, as we have seen, was published in Edinburgh. His History on the Progress and Termination of the Roman Republic was hugely popular and very influential, and its success enabled him to leave his professorship in 1785. Around the same time he became a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

He was still writing, however, and in 1792 he published what was really an edited version of his lectures under the title Principles of Moral and Political Science. Again it was successful in many countries and in his seventies he toured the Continent and was lionised by intellectuals everywhere.

Ferguson of Raith died at his home in St Andrews on February 22, 1816. There is a monument to him at his burial place on the east side of St Andrews Cathedral.

One of Ferguson’s close friends and contemporaries was another Presbyterian minister and a leading figure in the Enlightenment – the Reverend Professor Hugh Blair (1718-1800), yet another genius who is not given the credit for his achievements.

Blair’s theories on written composition saw him acclaimed as the first theorist in that sphere. It is not exaggerating things too much to say he changed the way people wrote, and at the time his books were massively influential on the Continent and in the USA – his theories were taught at Harvard and Yale for decades.

Always destined for the church, Blair was born in Edinburgh to a Presbyterian family and was educated at the high school before going on to study philosophy at the city’s university. Licensed by the Kirk as a preacher, Blair was soon recognised as an outstanding orator from the pulpit.

In 1742, the Earl of Leven secured a minister’s post for Blair at Colessie in Fife, but such were his preaching skills that the following year he was elected to Canongate Kirk, now in the Old Town of Edinburgh but then a separate semi-autonomous burgh.

With the help of his friends David Hume and Lord Kames, in 1759 Blair began to lecture on the subjects he knew so much about – Rhetoric and Belles Lettres. He firmly believed that good communication skills were necessary for people to progress in life and he also felt that society as a whole would benefit if people understood each other better.

The following year, like so many other people, Blair fell for the confidence trick played by James Macpherson, and supported his scheme to publish the epic poems of “Ossian”, supposedly an ancient Gaelic bard. Blair wrote the preface for Macpherson’s “translation” of Ossian’s Fingal, but more likely Macpherson wrote the hugely popular work himself.

The National: George Campbell was acclaimed as a philosopher, and academicGeorge Campbell was acclaimed as a philosopher, and academic

It was the only blot on Blair’s upward career which saw a chair of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres created at Edinburgh University especially for him.

He was eventually prevailed upon to collect his sermons and publish them, and they were instantly recognised as classics of their kind, being translated into just about every language in Europe. There was little that was startlingly original in them, but the beauty of the language and the sentiment he evoked made them hugely popular. One particular admirer was King George III who arranged a £200 per year pension for Blair. THE King’s printer, a Mr Strahan, was not sure about the sermons. Before publishing them he sent a copy to Dr Samuel Johnson for his verdict. Johnson was an immediate convert: “I have read over Dr Blair’s first sermon, with more than approbation; to say it is good is to say too little.” Blair loved to entertain his fellow Enlightenment intellectuals and noted visitors to the city, and the key to his life was his wife. Blair had married his cousin, Katherine Bannatyne, in 1748, and they had two children, a boy who died in infancy and a daughter who died at 20. Mrs Blair died in 1795 and Hugh Blair was never the same again. He died, probably of septicaemia following a bowel blockage, at the age of 82 on December 27, 1800. It was another minister of the Church of Scotland who became leading figure in Aberdeen’s contribution to the Scottish Enlightenment. Reverend Professor George Campbell is another of those men whose achievements are virtually ignored nowadays but which in his time saw him acclaimed as a philosopher, academic and, like Blair, an outstanding preacher.

Campbell was very much an Aberdonian product. Born on Christmas Day, 1719, he attended Marischal College – part of Aberdeen University – before moving to Edinburgh to become an apprentice lawyer. He returned to Aberdeen and began to study divinity, being licensed to preach in 1746. Two years later he was ordained minister at Banchory, and as well as his attention to parish duties he continued his studies, chiefly in the fields of rhetoric and philosophy. Indeed it was his work The Philosophy of Rhetoric which first brought him fame and led to him being offered a minister’s post in Aberdeen, before he was made principal of Marischal College.

With Thomas Reid and others he formed the Aberdeen Philosophical Society in 1758, and it soon became one of the most influential groups in the Scottish Enlightenment. Though he greatly admired David Hume, Campbell severely criticised Hume’s essay Of Miracles, saying miracles were important for conversion to a faith. Campbell always said his finest work was his translation of the four gospels from Greek. He added his own thoughts to each chapter, sometimes each verse, to show how the ancient texts had been translated.

He won admiration for his published sermon The Happy Influence of Religion on Civil Society (1779), but lost a few Presbyterian fans with his defence of Roman Catholics in one of the first essays to demonstrate from scripture and reason that religious persecution is wrong.

Campbell died on April 6, 1796. He is buried in St Nicholas Churchyard in Aberdeen.

Also buried there is one of Campbell’s friends and colleagues, James Beattie, another Aberdonian Enlightenment man. He was a real lad o’ pairts, a teacher, professor, a poet, musician and philosopher, and one of the most noted opponents of slavery in his time.

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Born at Laurencekirk in 1735, the youngest of six children of his shopkeeper father, also James, Beattie was educated at Marischal College from where he graduated in 1753. He taught in a parish school at Fordoun before becoming usher at Aberdeen Grammar School, where he made friends with the city’s intellectual elite. One of them, the Earl of Errol, promptly “fixed” it for Beattie to gain the vacant chair of moral philosophy at Marischal College, and the young Beattie by all accounts did a splendid job.

His finest hour came with his first major book, An Essay on the Nature and Immutability of Truth, published in 1770. It made him famous, was translated into several European languages, and saw him rewarded with a royal pension and a doctorate from Oxford University. The work has not stood the test of time, however, and is little regarded now. He was also a poet, remembered chiefly for his epic The Minstrel, which influenced Burns, Scott and Byron and was a precursor of the Romantic Movement in art and literature. A talented cellist, he also wrote on the philosophy of music.

His family life was disastrous, however. His wife Mary was committed to an asylum, and both of his sons died young – his younger son Montagu was a promising poet but died at the age of 18.

Beattie never really recovered from that tragedy and suffered a stroke in 1799, dying four years later on August 18, 1803.