'Enlightenment in a Smart City, Edinburgh's Civic Development, 1660-1750' by Murray Pittock (Edinburgh University Press)
'Edinburgh in the 1950s, Ten Years that Changed a City' by Jack Gillon, David McLean and Fraser Parkinson (Amberley Publishing)
Enlightenment in a Smart City
is above all a challenging book. It challenges traditional accounts of the nature and origins of the Scottish Enlightenment. It argues that the Scottish Enlightenment is not simply about Adam Smith and David Hume and the other big names identified with it. It is not even about the new, progressive ideas endorsing reason, justice, tolerance, freedom of expression and belief, equality and civility which the writings of these authors successfully promoted. It challenges in particular two historical accounts of the origins of Enlightenment in Scotland – and clearly these challenges are especially dear to Professor Pittock's heart: first that it was in any major way linked to the 1707 Union with England, and secondly that Jacobites and Jacobitism made no significant contribution to it.
So what is the nature of the new approach the book provides? On p17, the author says that after its 'initial exploration of the troubled term Enlightenment
', his book will identify 'the ecology and taxonomy of Edinburgh's intellectual and cultural life that made the Scottish Enlightenment possible'. (The terminology here illustrates a very different kind of challenge that this volume involves. I suspect that most readers will need to keep their hands on their dictionary as they turn its pages.)
Murray Pittock's approach, that is, seems to draw on the language and methodology of what in recent years has come to be called material cultural history. It looks beneath the traditional areas of history to the basic, underlying, structuring factors and needs of all human society – including how cities develop successfully. Even the title of the book, with its deployment of the adjective 'smart' to describe Edinburgh, points to its reliance on this new kind of history: apparently a 'smart city' theory has been developed by its exponents.
Thankfully, in practice, things become a great deal simpler. After an opening chapter in which Professor Pittock points up the weaknesses and limitations he sees in most of the existing scholarship on the Scottish Enlightenment, and attempts to explain what his new approach will be, the book moves on to create a picture of what the city of Edinburgh was like between 1660 and 1750. The emphasis falls on its physical compactness, how tightly squeezed together are its streets and houses, on its literal size, its wealth, and the way in which its nobility and professionals live almost on top of each other, on its infrastructure – and on how cosmopolitan a city it is as a result of its close educational and commercial links with European countries such as the Netherlands and Italy and cities such as Amsterdam and Rome.
The chapters that follow anatomise the city's Trades and Professions
, The Arts
, Taverns, Associations and Freemasonry
, and Booksellers, Newspapers and Libraries
. The level of scholarly research that is represented by the detail of these chapters is extraordinarily impressive. In his opening chapter Pittock suggests that some theoretical accounts of the Scottish Enlightenment suffer from a lack of detailed evidence. No such charge can be levelled at his own work. Each chapter is an Edinburgh in itself, so closely packed is it with relevant information.
Some readers may even feel that the wealth of detail begins to overwhelm the wider theme. But setting out to provide and define what he calls 'the mechanics of Enlightenment' he succeeds brilliantly in doing so. There is such richness here that it is hard to know what to emphasise. I was particularly struck by what emerges concerning the link between Edinburgh and the Netherlands. Between 1670 and 1730, no fewer than 249 Scottish advocates had received their education there. And between 1681 and 1730, 361 Scottish medical students studied at the University of Leiden. Given the number of Scots who studied either law or medicine at Leiden, Pittock suggests it was in effect Scotland's sixth university.
The case then that this book makes for the rooting of the Scottish Enlightenment in the existing, closely integrated, basic structures of the city of Edinburgh in the post-1660 period – as identified in his chapter titles – is a powerful one. Much was to happen after 1750, and reading I was increasingly struck by the idea that another city – Glasgow – was going to make a major contribution to Enlightenment in the second half of the 18th century. And clearly there is a case to be made for the view that Glasgow was just as 'smart' a city as Edinburgh.
Most of the 'mechanics of Enlightenment' in Edinburgh can be seen as replicated in Glasgow, particularly given the city's growing industrial power and its wealth from the American trade – with Philadelphia soon playing for Glasgow the role that Amsterdam and Rome had played for Edinburgh. So perhaps the post-1750 future should be seen as confirming the correctness of the Pittock analysis.
Above, I suggested that in writing this book Murray Pittock was particularly concerned to correct what he saw as two major errors in most traditional accounts of the Scottish Enlightenment: that it was largely the result of the 1707 Treaty of Union, and that Jacobites and Jacobitism made no contribution to its creation. On that first point, I suspect there will be some historians who will argue that while it may be correct to insist that the Union alone did not create the Scottish Enlightenment, Pittock undervalues its contribution – particularly say in relation to the importance of the economic benefits it brought to post-Darien Scotland through allowing the Scottish people equal access to the British Empire.
On the second point, I think that the case Pittock makes is conclusive: he demonstrates that Jacobites and Jacobitism did
make a positive contribution to the Scottish Enlightenment. However, it is in relation to both these arguments that I have one point of disagreement with him.
In 1967, the Oxford professor of history, Hugh Trevor-Roper (Lord Dacre), delivered a lecture on the Scottish Enlightenment to the second International Congress on the Enlightenment – a lecture subsequently published in Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century
. This is the lecture which became famous or infamous – depending on one's point of view – for its opening section in which Trevor-Roper launched a blistering attack on Scottish historians over their abject failure to have anything at all to say about the Scottish Enlightenment. In the following years many Scottish historians never forgave him.
In his book's opening chapter, Murray Pittock refers twice to Trevor-Roper, though his name surprisingly does not appear in his 30-page bibliography. On both occasions he suggests that Trevor-Roper was one of the historians who held the view that the Scottish Enlightenment was the result of the Union of 1707. This is wrong. In the body of his 1967 lecture, the core of Trevor-Roper's argument is that the origins of Enlightenment in Scotland are to be found, in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, in the Jacobite, Episcopalian culture of Scotland, and the north-east of Scotland in particular. That is, back in 1967, Trevor-Roper makes a case very similar to that which Murray Pittock makes here in 2019.
Allow me to end on an entirely lighter note. Murray Pittock is currently the fourth occupant of the Bradley Chair of English literature in Glasgow University. On the cover of his book, Clifford Siskin, the third occupant of the Bradley Chair, writes admiringly of its contents. The second occupant of the Bradley Chair was your reviewer. Three Bradley professors as it were on the same page!
Two centuries separate Enlightenment in a Smart City
from Edinburgh in the 1950s
. The gulf between the books in terms of their nature is equally large. Edinburgh in the 1950s
is an enjoyably lightweight and unpretentious work. Its three authors describe themselves as having an obsessive interest in all things 'old Edinburgh'. What they have produced is a short book, packed with wonderful illustrations of 1950's Edinburgh, written in an unashamedly nostalgic and sentimental style.
Theirs is Edinburgh's Princes Street of Binns, Forsyths, Jenners and the Woolworths that finally closed in 1984. Of the much-regretted trams that, unlike the buses that replaced them, could get up the Mound in wintry weather. Of £8 flights from Turnhouse to London. Of Crabbies green ginger wine and Rose's lime juice in Leith. Of a time when Hearts and Hibs were the Scottish League's top teams – even I remember that wonderful Hibs 'Famous Five' front line of Smith, Johnstone, Reilly, Turnbull and Ormond. Of a great deal more about that older Edinburgh demolished to make way for the boring present.
One historical note did strike me. Though living in Edinburgh for some of the 1950s, I had completely forgotten the events surrounding the erection of an E11R post-box in November 1952 on the newly built Inch housing estate. The newly crowned Queen Elizabeth was, of course, not the Second in Scotland. The box was regularly defaced, and finally blown up in February 1953. Its replacement bore no E11R. How many of us in 1952 imagined that a time would come when the SNP would become the devolved government of Scotland?
I've no doubt that this little book will find its audience particularly among those of us who remember Edinburgh in the 1950s – but for all the rest the pictures alone are worth every penny.