AS PROMISED, this final part of a short series on the Scottish Enlightenment is all about women. The only trouble is that there were so few women who can be classed as Enlightenment figures.

Over the years, as I have compiled these columns, I have been struck by how Scottish history in the broadest sense largely ignores women. I have done my best to rectify that situation by telling the true stories of women like Mary, Queen of Scots – not as the daft passionate lassie that is she often portrayed as – and my personal favourite, Black Agnes of Dunbar, who almost single-handedly roused the Scottish nation when she stood up to an English invasion force besieging her home of Dunbar Castle in 1338 and sent them homeward tae think again.

It’s no exaggeration to say that ordinary women really only feature in Scottish history when they are burned as witches or are the victims of murder, nasty men, the plague or religious fanaticism.

It is only comparatively recently in Scotland that women ceased to be seen as second-class citizens and I have no qualms in suggesting that one of the greatest achievements in this country’s recent history has been the emergence of women as not just equal to men but as a driving force for good, and for independence, too. There is still some way to go until true equality is fully achieved, but at least we are far removed from the days when women were treated as chattels, the possessions of their husbands and devoid of almost all legal rights. Aren’t we?

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Lack of legal status was very much the story of women in the age of the Scottish Enlightenment, when men ruled the roost and women were accorded the hearth and the nursery, motherhood being their “natural state” according to even supposedly enlightened philosophers.

David Hume, perhaps the greatest of all Scottish philosophers, was personally charming to the many women “of sense and education” who read his works.

Yet the single passage that sums up the view of Enlightenment men towards women was penned by Hume in his essay Of the Rise and Progress of the Arts and Sciences.

Hume wrote: “As nature has given man the superiority above woman, by endowing him with greater strength both of mind and body, it is his part to alleviate that superiority, as much as possible, by the generosity of his behaviour, and by a studied deference and complaisance for all her inclinations and opinions.

“Barbarous nations display this superiority by reducing their females to the most abject slavery; by confining them, by beating them, by selling them, by killing them. But the male sex, among a polite people, discover their authority in a more generous, though not a less evident manner; by civility, by respect, by complaisance, and, in a word, by gallantry.”

How very patronising of Hume. We know from his views on race that he was very much a man of his time, and I am inclined to say we should dismiss his arguments for male and white supremacy as being very 18th century. Adam Smith, on the other hand, never even addressed the issue of women’s rights, and in Wealth of Nations he wrote: “There are no public institutions for the education of women, and there is accordingly nothing useless, absurd, or fantastical in the common course of their education. They are taught what their parents or guardians judge it necessary or useful for them to learn; and they are taught nothing else.”

In other words, forget the three Rs and learn to be a wife and mother, and maybe take up a musical instrument. Smith’s assertion was substantially correct at the time, and it took a figure from England’s Enlightenment period – honest, they did have one – to put the case for women’s education and rights.

IN her seminal work of feminist philosophy, A Vindication of the Rights of Women, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) brilliantly advanced the cause of women being given a genuine education rather than the preparation for marriage that passed for education for most women.

She railed against the fashion of girls and young women being told to concentrate on their looks: “Taught from their infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and, roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.” She would have been appalled by this Love Island era … Any objective assessment of the Scottish Enlightenment must conclude that it was completely male-dominated, so it is all the more remarkable that four women at least emerged as products of, and shapers of, the Enlightenment.

One of them was Mary Somerville, about whom I wrote extensively on January 3, 2019. You can still view that article online, in which I describe her as a product of the latter part of the Scottish Enlightenment. The other three women were all involved in the arts, and all of them had one thing in common – anonymity to protect the fact that they were women writers. In chronological order of birth, let’s start with Joanna Baillie, though it is stretching things a little to see her as a true Scottish Enlightenment figure as she spent most of her life in England. Yet for her writings about Scotland and her works in Scots, and the fact that she flourished in the Enlightenment age – from 1740-ish to 1820-ish by most historical accounts – she is certainly one to be include in the pantheon of the Scottish Enlightenment.

Born in Bothwell to the Rev James Baillie, later Professor of Divinity at Glasgow University, Joanna was the niece through her mother Dorothea’s side of two great products of the Enlightenment, the medical giants John and William Hunter.

Joanna Baillie’s blossoming came when she attended Miss McDonald’s Boarding School in Glasgow. There she studied various subjects but underwent an epiphany when she was taken to the theatre for the first time. It was in Glasgow that she first began to write plays and poems, though none were published until first her father and then her uncle William died in 1783. He left his house in London and considerable money to Joanna’s brother Matthew and the family moved to London and later to Hampstead.

Through her aunt Anne, wife of John Hunter and a noted poet, Joanna gained access to the literary circles in London and began to write plays and volumes of poetry. Her first volume was published in 1790, right at the heart of the Enlightenment, and due to her status as a spinster, it had to be published anonymously, as were three plays published in 1798 which had all of London wondering which man of letters could be the author.

It was only when the plays were re-printed in 1800 that she revealed herself as the author. To be fair, most literary people in London accepted her status as a writer, and Edinburgh also acclaimed her when her play The Family Legend was produced there in 1810 – Walter Scott had become a friend and wrote the prologue for the play. SHE never married or had children, but close observation of babies born to other member of her family and circle enabled her to write one of the best known poems, A Mother to her Waking Infant. Here’s a short excerpt: Now in thy dazzling half-oped eye, Thy curled nose and lip awry, Uphoisted arms and noddling head, And little chin with crystal spread, Poor helpless thing! what do I see, That I should sing of thee?

Joanna Baillie continued to wrote both plays and poems into her eighties, including Fugitive Verses in 1840, a work which included Scottish folk songs. She died on February 23, 1851, aged 88, and though her reputation dwindled in subsequent decades, in recent years she has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity as people have come to recognise the difficult circumstances over which she triumphed.

Carolina Oliphant, Lady Nairne, was born in1766, the daughter of a prominent Jacobite who had once been exiled for part in the 1745 Rising. She was raised at Gask in Perthshire where her father Laurence Oliphant ensured she had a full education including art and music. After her father’s death in 1792, and having become an admirer of Robert Burns, she began her writing career with a song/poem called The Pleughman which was a tribute to him.

It runs: There’s high and low, there’s rich and poor, There’s trades and crafts enew, man; But, east and west, his trade’s the best, That kens to guide the pleugh, man.

Then, come, weel speed my pleughman lad, And hey my merry pleughman; Of a’ the trades that I do ken, Commend me to the pleughman.

Her family’s Jacobitism hugely influenced her works and though it took many years for her work to be published, and even then anonymously at first, we know that Lady Nairne – she took the name of her husband, her cousin William Murray Nairne when they married in 1806 – was hugely admired for her songs in particular.

They are some of the best known and most influential of all Scottish songs, and though, like Burns, she borrowed tunes, she composed both the music and the words for many of them.

Classics like Charlie is my Darling, Wi a Hundred Pipers, The Rowan Tree, Wha’ll be King but Charlie, and the immortal Will Ye No Come Back Again, are just a few of more than 80 songs that caught the essence of the Romanticist period which the Enlightenment championed. She had a wonderful ear for music, and when the great fiddler Neil Gow played at a ball in Perthshire, she took one tune home in her head and wrote Caller Herrin. Genius.

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Lady Nairne’s output diminished after her marriage, so most of the work was very much produced at the height of the Scottish Enlightenment. It was said that she was so protective of her anonymity that she didn’t tell her husband that she was the mysterious Mrs Bogan of Bogan, under whose name her works appeared.

After travelling abroad in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to improve the health of her sickly son William, she came home to Gask where she died on October 26, 1845. If only for her influence on Sir Walter Scott, Jane Porter (1776-1840) should be remembered as an important figure of the Scottish Enlightenment. Born in Durham to a Scot, William Porter, and his English wife Jane, née Blenkinsop, Jane lost her father when she was only three.

Her mother moved the family to Edinburgh where her education proceeded under schoolmaster George Fulton. Jane grew to be tall, beautiful and much admired, and a regular visitor was Walter Scott who would tell her stories of the Borders.

Jane and her family moved to London in 1803 where she wrote her first novel Thaddeus of Warsaw that was published to some success, but it was her second novel The Scottish Chiefs, published in 1810, that made her name. With Sir William Wallace as its hero, the book is reckoned to be one of the first historical novels, and directly influenced Scott and many other writers.

Porter died in Bristol aged 74.