From My Notebook no. 19
“In the novel The Antiquary (1816), Walter Scott paid homage to a third artist: ‘In the inside of the cottage was a scene which our Wilkie could have painted, with that exquisite feeling that characterises his enchanting productions.’ He wrote back with typical modesty to say that these had placed him under a ‘debt of obligation’ as ‘with as unseen hand in The Antiquary, you took me up, and claimed me, the humble painter of domestic sorrow, as your countryman.’ (Michael Fry, 2013. ‘A New Race of Men: Scotland 1814-1915’, Berlinn Books, Edinburgh).
It’s some years since I read Sir Walter Scott’s ‘The Antiquary’, which I enjoyed reading, and it’s on my shelves somewhere. Clearly, David Wilkie played an important role in the history of Scottish Art. Unfortunately he died in 1841 and was buried at sea while returning from an artistic pilgrimage to Palestine. Wilkie was closely interested in Scottish Calvinist Presbyterianism of a kind that was similar to the Rev. Thomas Chalmers, who was an ardent enthusiast of his theological interpretation of Adam Smith.
The phrase, the “unseen hand in The Antiquary”, caught my eye as the “unseen hand” was a phrase also used by Chalmers. It is close to being the theological equivalent of the “invisible hand” as the “hand of God”.
I have, so far, found no references to the “invisible hand” between 1809 (Dugald Stewart, as part of a long excerpt from Wealth Of Nations without comment) and 1875 (mentioned in a dissertation for a Fellowship at Cambridge). I shall add David Wilkie’s reference to my list, though its connection to Smith’s use of the metaphor is very tenuous but surely weakens claims that Thomas Chalmers use it other than theologically.