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Scottish Thought and Letters in the Eighteenth Century

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HUTCHESON, Francis. An inquiry into the original of our idea of beauty and virtue.
[London : 1725]
Sp Coll 986

It is generally acknowledged that during the first half of the eighteenth century a profound change was wrought in the theory of art and natural beauty. In England, the notion of a separate and autonomous discipline devoted solely to art and to beauty came into being through the concept of "aesthetic disinterestedness". In addition, emphasis in the theory of art shifted from object to subject - from the work of art to the perceiver and critic. Hutcheson, who played no small part in effecting this profound change, in this book gives the basic premise of his aesthetic theory: "the word beauty is taken for the idea raised in us, and a sense of beauty for our power of receiving this idea."


HUTCHESON, Francis. De naturali hominimum socialitate oratio inauguralis.
[Glasgow : 1730]

Francis Hutcheson's inaugural address as Professor of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University, a chair which he held with ever increasing popularity and success until his death in 1747. It was then the custom for the academic company to welcome a new professor over a glass of wine. Hutcheson was admitted on 3rd November, 1730, and on this occasion the good cheer seems to have been more than usually abundant, an account of nearly 15 for wine being paid next month, and a further account for wine, fruit, and 'biskets' shortly afterwards.


HUTCHESON, Francis. A system of moral philosophy. The author's original autograph manuscript.
MS Gen 110

After beginning work as a professor, Hutcheson for some time lectured from Pufendorf (the seventeenth-century German writer, on jurisprudence) and from the 'Compend' of Gerschom Carmichael, but by and by he developed a set of written lectures published after his death as A system of moral philosophy. This is the original manuscript of that work. The first 376 pages are in Hutcheson's fine, clear hand, the rest of the book being completed by an amanuensis. 'On the fly-leaf is a note to the printer, Robert Foulis, written by Hutcheson's friend, William Leechman, Professor of Divinity at Glasgow.


HUTCHESON, Francis. Autograph letter to the Reverend Thomas Drennan, Belfast, [dated Glasgow, 16th April, 1746] MS Gen 1018/21

One of a group of twenty-one letters from Hutcheson to Drennan preserved in the University Library. This letter has an interesting comment on the state of religion in New England. Hutcheson writes: 'I had this day a letter from a Presbytery of Pensilvania of a very good turn, regreting their want of proper ministers & books: expecting some assistance here ... I shall speak to some wise men here, but would as soon speak to the Roman conclave as to our Presbytery. The Pensilvanians regret the want of true literature: that Whitefield has promoted a contempt of it among his followers ... I shall send them my best advice about Books & Philosophy'


HUME, David. A treatise of human nature. [London : 1739-40]. 3 vols (vol. 1 only on display)
Sp Coll 267-269

Taking the scientific methods of the physicist Sir Isaac Newton as his model, Hume tried to describe how the mind works in acquiring what is called knowledge. His conclusions were that no theory of reality is possible; there can be no knowledge of anything beyond experience.

Hume's chief philosophical work, the Treatise of human nature, was written whilst he was living in France during the years 1734 to 1737. When it was published, Hume hoped for vehement attacks but instead the book was scarcely noticed by the reviewers; as he himself says, 'it fell dead-born from the press.'

In 1744 Hume made an unsuccessful attempt to obtain a professorship at Edinburgh; having failed in this, he became first tutor to a madman and then secretary to a general. Fortified by these credentials, he ventured again into philosophy and published in 1748 his Enquiry into human understanding which was intended to replace Book I of the Treatise of human nature.

The Scottish school of common sense philosophers (from Thomas Reid to Thomas Brown) found Hume's conclusions unwelcome. On the Continent, however, Hume had considerable influence - it was the Enguiry into human understanding that awakened Kant from his "dogmatic slumbers' and in France Hume was one of the factors which led Auguste Comte to positivism.

HUME, David.  Essays, moral and political.
[Edinburgh : 1741-2]. 2 vols (vol. l only on display)

The cool reception accorded A treatise of human nature, though it was full of daring and original speculation made the welcome given to these two volumes of essays, Hume's second publication, all the more agreeable. Hume wrote: 'In 1742, I printed at Edinburgh the first part of my Essays: the work was favourably received, and soon made me entirely forget my former disappointment.'


HUME, David. An enquiry concerning the principles of morals.
[London : 1751]

Hume makes utility the criterion of moral action. In his autobiography Hume notes that he considered this 'of all my writings, historical, philosophical, or literary incomparably the best. It came unnoticed and unobserved into the world'. The last sentence is hardly justified, for the Enquiry concerning the principles of morals was favourably reviewed in a nineteen-page article in the January 1752 issue of the Monthly Review.


GERARD, Alexander. An essay on taste. The third edition.
[London : 1780]

Gerard was a member of the Aberdeen Philosophical Society. For his Essay on taste he won in 1758 the first gold medal awarded by the Belles Lettres and Criticism Committee of the Edinburgh Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Sciences, Manufactures and Agriculture. David Hume, one of the members of the committee responsible for the award, helped Gerard with corrections for publication. The Essay had considerable influence abroad and Kant acknowledged Gerard as one of the best writers on aesthetics.


BEATTIE, James. An essay on the nature and immutability of truth. Second edition.
[Edinburgh : 1771]

This attack on David Hume, which 'avenged insulted Christianity', was first published in 1770. In England, where the general opinion was that Scotland was given up to infidelity, it met with pronounced success. It won for Beattie royal favour and a pension (the King kept one copy at Kew and another in town), an honorary doctorate of the

University of Oxford, an allegorical portrait by Reynolds, and the praise of Burke and Johnson. Hume was described it as "a horrible large lie in octavo." This copy was presented by George III to William Hunter, the famous anatomist. The royal arms are stamped on the covers and Hunter has written on the flyleaf: "Given to me by the King."


REID, Thomas. An inquiry into the human mind, on the principles of common sense.
[Edinburgh : 1764]

The first edition of the first book written by Thomas Reid, 'father of the Scottish common-sense school of philosophy.' The work was written whilst Reid was Regent (later Professor of Philosophy) at King's College, Aberdeen. In seeking to combat David Hume, the Inquiry supplies the most effective weapons against scepticism. It was destined to exercise a profound influence, especially in France, where for the best part of the nineteenth century it was the officially recognised philosophy in the colleges. Renan tells how he was reared on 'le bon Thomas Reid' and Goethe praised the teaching of the Scottish School as expounded by Reid and Dugald Stewart.


REID, Thomas. Manuscript notes of his lectures on pneumatology, ethics, and politics, [1774-1776]. 3 vols MSS Gen 116-118

In the year of the publication of the Inquiry, Dr Reid accepted the Chair of Moral Philosophy in Glasgow as successor to Adam Smith. These notes of his lectures at Glasgow were taken by Robert Jack.


REID, Thomas. Holograph letter to the Rev. Archibald Alison, [dated 3rd February 1790]
MS Gen 502/16

Reid thanks Alison for two copies of his book, Essays on the nature and principles of taste, and proceeds to discuss theories of the sublime and beautiful.

REID, Thomas. Holograph letter to Dr James Gregory, [dated 2nd May 1785] MS Gen 502/17

The letter is about the publication of Reid's Essays on the intellectual powers of man, which had a dedicatory epistle addressed to Dugald Stewart and Dr James Gregory.


REID, Thomas. Books borrowed. (Glasgow University Library, Professors' Borrowing Register.)
G.U. Library Records (Special Collectons: currently uncatalogued)

Unfortunately these entries give only the day and month of borrowing and do not indicate the year, but from the dates given by other borrowers in the same register it would appear to have been during the 1770s and 1780s.


OSWALD, James. An appeal to common sense in behalf of religion. [Edinburgh : 1766-72]. 2 vols B19-g.20

Friend of Reid and Beattie (the three scholars were regarded for a time as the triumvirate of the common sense school of Scottish philosophy), Oswald offered this work as his contribution to the new thinking. Their chief contemporary critic was Joseph Priestley who described them as 'a set of pretended philosophers.' Priestley in his Examination of Dr Reid's Enquiry into the human mind, Dr Beattie's Essay on truth and Dr Oswald's Appeal to common sense found it difficult to comprehend that Oswald's book 'should ever have excited any other sentiments than those of contempt.'

This is a presentation copy, inscribed 'From the Author to the University of Glasgow.'


BLAIR, Hugh. Sermons. 5 vols (vol. 1 only on display). [Edinburgh : 1777-1801] Bk1-f.2-6

Blair's first volume of sermons, refused at first by Strahan the Edinburgh printer, was only accepted after Dr Johnson had sent a note saying: 'I have read Dr Blair's first sermon with more than approbation; to say it is good is to say too little.' This and the subsequent volumes were widely read in and out of churches, at Court and in family circles all over the country, and in many foreign translations abroad. Dr Johnson was later to remark: 'I love Blair's sermons, though the dog is a Scotsman and a Presbyterian and everything he should not be.' These are probably the most famous sermons of the century.


FERGUSON, Adam. Principles of moral and political science; being chiefly a retrospect of lectures delivered in the College of Edinburgh.
[Edinburgh : 1792]. 2 vols. in 1

The final printed treatise emerging from Adam Ferguson's lectures delivered at Edinburgh while he was Professor of Moral Philosophy there. This and Ferguson's Essay on civil society profoundly influenced German students of the scope and meaning of universal history.


STEWART, Dugald. Elements of the philosophy of the human mind.
[Edinburgh and London : 1792-1827]. 3 vols (vol. l only on display)
DR. 2.23

Stewart was a student of Thomas Reid (to whom this book is dedicated) at Glasgow, and his ideas derive from Reid's teachings and writings, although he did not accept without question all Reid's principles.

It is said of Dugald Stewart that his disciples were his best works. In 1785 he accepted the chair of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University, and amongst his students were Henry Brougham (who was to become Lord Chancellor), Francis Jeffrey (the Scottish judge and critic), Francis Horner (the politician), Lord Palmerston, and Lord John Russell.