Monday, February 23, 2009

A Query for Wordsmiths

Does anybody know what William Magee, Bishop of Dublin, may have meant in 1809 by the words ‘scolists and whitlings’?

Magee used the words to describe David Hume and Adam Smith for their religious scepticism.

I have tried the Oxford English Dictionary and Google to little avail.

My crytic crossword expert, a.k.a. my wife, says it has something to with 'wormlike creatures nibbling away at bits of things'.


Blogger Unknown said...

Another sighting of the word "scolist."
In Miscellaneous Writings and Speeches — Volume 4 by Macaulay, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Baron, 1800-1859:

And what but mischief,
public and private, can we expect from the temerity and conceit of
scolists who know no more about the heavenly bodies than what they have
learned from Sir John Herschel's beautiful little volume.

Wikipedia tells me that Sir John Herschel was a scientist (among other things).

Maybe it has something to do with the science vs religion thing, since he wrote "A preliminary discourse on the study of natural philosophy, part of Dionysius Lardner's Cabinet cyclopædia (1831, new edition 1840)."

I also found a references to Scolists in an old Encyclopaedia Brittanica:
(you can search the book)

The doctrine of Attrition had not the undivided support of the theologians of the later medieval church; but it was taught by the Scolists and was naturally a favourite theme with the sellers of Indulgences.

5:42 pm  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

Thanks Jdvn1.

You are on the right track definitely.

Bishop Magee was arguing that David Hune and Adam Smith, suspected of atheism were 'scolists and whitlings'. It must have something to do with that debate.


6:21 pm  
Blogger mus said...

Gavin: Could scolist be a variant on sciolist, from sciolism: "A pretentious attitude of scholarship; superficial knowledgeability."

Brian Ferguson

8:53 pm  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...

Hi Brian

It could well be; Bishop Magee's words are quoted by John Rae, biographer of Smith (1895), and many derivative quotes from him; by D. D. Raphael (editor of Moral Sentiments) and a 1969 article in an academic Journal, but nowhere do I find an explanation of the meanings (including of Whitlings).

I shall keep looking.

Thanks for your comment and suggestion.

7:00 am  
Blogger Leigh Caldwell said...

Now you've got me intrigued. I found "Scolist" in A NEW ORCHARD AND GARDEN, OR The best way for planting, grafting and to make any ground good, for a rich Orchard: Particularly in the N or [**] and generally for the whole kingdome of England, as in nature,
reason, situation and all probabilitie, may and doth appeare

The context is:

[Sidenote: Skilfull.]

Concerning his skill, he must not be a Scolist, to make shew or take in hand that, which he cannot performe, especially in so weighty a thing as an Orchard

"Whitling" I can only find as a young trout during its second season but no doubt you have seen that already.

2:57 pm  
Blogger mus said...

Gavin: While I'm on variants, witling means a person of little wit.

Brian Ferguson

3:45 pm  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...


Thanks for your reference. The picture is emerging, slowly.

Scolists is obviously redundant now, but I am still looking for its meaning then, to Bishop Magee at least.

4:24 pm  
Blogger Gavin Kennedy said...



It was because Whitling was supposed to feed off the beds of rivers that Patricia thought it was a 'nibbler' of sorts.

4:25 pm  
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