Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Enlightenment Season is Upon Us

David Belcher, The Herald’s (Glasgow) tv critic gets into the act too: writing of ‘The Play’s the Thing’ and Andrew Marr’s ‘Age of Genius’, he ends his piece with an Enlightenment flourish:

Kicking off a month-long portrait of the eighteenth century on BBC Four, Age of Genius had Andrew Marr stalking Edinburgh's landmark closes, pubs and museums in the footsteps of rationalist pioneer David Hume and his free-thinking associates. Bony of visage, the jug-eared Marr is an obvious enthusiast; an energetic arm-waggler who speaks whereof he knows. The boy's got verve, authority and a head full of brains.

Andrew also has a way with words, describing Auld Reekie's shackled Calvinist former rulers as "porridge-eating mullahs". I wasn't so sure about the way he compared Hume's predilection for backgammon to having "a go on the eighteenth-century PlayStation" – but, unlike any other historian I've encountered, he has moved me to go and check out David Hume's works. In book form, that is, the DVD of the eighteenth century.”

See what I mean? It’s the Enlightenment season in full swing. This is all good, of course, for tourism, a most neglected part of the Scottish scene when it comes to Scottish intellectual history.

The spate of books, tv programmes, column inches and features in newspapers, and, now, speeches by politicians, about the Enlightenment and the people in it, suggests we might be on the verge of a genuine surge of interest in David Hume, Adam Smith, James Hutton, Joseph Black, James Watt, and Adam Ferguson, plus all the others from every scientific and literary profession, a veritable galaxy of stars from Edinburgh’s golden decades that closed with the 18th century. ('Will we see their like again?')

A little rivalry is also reflected in Scotland’s national newspapers (Smith would approve) in that in The Herald (Glasgow) its articles and comments on the Enlightenment tend to focus on David Hume and in The Scotsman (Edinburgh) the focus is on Adam Smith. Ironically, Smith had more to do with Glasgow than David Hume, studying there at Glasgow University from 1737-40 and becoming a Professor there from 1751-64. He also lived in Edinburgh from 1748-51 and from 1773-90, with interludes in London.

However, be that as it may, the rivalry between Scotland’s two main national newspapers seems to have more to do with political leanings, with The Scotsman more right of centre than The Herald, more left of centre.

Whatever, it’s all good news for students of the Enlightenment and its ideas.


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