Sep 192017
 

Grave of William Smellie,Greyfriars Kirkyard, 1 Greyfriars, Edinburgh EH1 2QQ

William Smellie was a printer, naturalist and friend of the poet Robert Burns at the height of the Scottish Enlightenment. In 1768 Smellie was hired to edit the first edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1768–71). It was envisaged as a more conservative answer to Denis Diderot’s Encyclopédie (1751–72), which embodied many of the more radical ideas of the French Enlightenment. He not only edited it but wrote large parts of it himself, while also borrowing liberally without acknowledgement from other great writers including Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Johnson. He was a keen natural historian, writing several well-known books on the subject. In 1779 stood for the chair of natural history at the University of Edinburgh, but was pipped to the post by John Walker.

William Smellie (1740–95), engraved by Henry Bryan Hall after George Watson (1840).

William Smellie (1740–95), engraved by Henry Bryan Hall after George Watson (1840).

Inscription on WIlliam Smellie's grave.

Inscription on WIlliam Smellie’s grave.

 

Title page for first edition (1771) of Encyclopaedia Britannica, or, A Dictionary of Arts and Sciences.

Title page for first edition (1771) of Encyclopaedia Britannica, or, A Dictionary of Arts and Sciences.

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Sep 192017
 

The MeadowsMelville Dr, Edinburgh EH9 9EX

This large public park used to be a lake known as the South Loch until the early eighteenth century. The loch provided much of the city’s drinking water until 1621, when the first piped water supply was established. Its draining and conversion into a park by Sir Thomas Hope in 1722 is a good example of the Enlightenment enthusiasm for ‘improvement’. Later in the century it became a favourite place for James Hutton, the geologist, Adam Smith, the economist, and Joseph Black, the chemist, to take a stroll and discuss the latest ideas in science and philosophy.

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Friends of the Meadows and Bruntsfield Links – History and Archaeology

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Sep 082017
 

Tomb of David HumeOld Calton Burial Ground, 27 Waterloo Pl, Edinburgh EH1 3BQ

David Hume’s two key works, A Treatise of Human Nature (1739–40) and An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748), are still studied by students of philosophy today. Although he is now best known as a philosopher, in his own day he was equally famous as a historian. While his genius was universally acknowledged, his sceptical philosophy was extremely controversial and led to him being passed over for professorships at the Universities of both Edinburgh and Glasgow. Instead he found a job as librarian at the Faculty of Advocates. His Essays on Natural Religion were so provocative that he never dared publish them in his lifetime.

Portrait of David Hume (1711–1776) by Allan Ramsay.

Portrait of David Hume (1711–1776) by Allan Ramsay.

Inscription on the tomb of David Hume.

Inscription on the tomb of David Hume.

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The University of Edinburgh, Philosophy – David Hume

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – David Hume

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Sep 082017
 

Grave of Archbald PitcairneGreyfriars Kirkyard, 1 Greyfriars, Edinburgh EH1 2QQ

There has been much debate among historian about the extent ot which the Scottish Enlightenment was a consequence of the Union with England in 1707. The existence of figures such as Archibald Pitcairne (1652–1713) provides powerful ammunition fo those who trace the roots of the Scottish Enlightenment back to before the Union. Pitcairne was an noted Edinburgh physician and scholar. He had been professor of medicine at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, but returned to Edinburgh in 1693. He was also an important early disciple of Isaac Newton, one of a group of Edinburgh Newtonians who played a significant role in the spread of Newton’s theories. His satirical writings criticising the Church earned him a reputation as an atheist and freethinker. Other inportant Edinburgh virtuosi, as they are sometimes called, included Sir Robert Sibbald (1641–1722) and Andrew Balfour (1630–94).

 

Portrait of Archibald Pitcairnce (1652-1713) by Rob Stranae.

Portrait of Archibald Pitcairne (1652-1713) by Robert Strange.

Inscription on the grave of Archibald Pitcairne.

Inscription on the grave of Archibald Pitcairne.

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Jul 252016
 

Memorial to John Playfair, Calton Hill.38 Calton Hill, Edinburgh, EH7 5AA

Mathematician, physicist and geologist, John Playfair is perhaps best known as James Hutton’s most influential disciple. His Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth (1802) probably did more to popularise his theory than Hutton’s own notoriously impenetrable writings.  In his career he was consecutively professor of mathematics and professor of natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. As first president of Edinburgh Astronomical Institution he enthusiastically supported the construction of Edinburgh’s observatory on Calton Hill, which his monument stands beside, but sadly died before its completion.

 

Portrait of John Playfair (1748-1819) by Henry Raeburn.

Portrait of John Playfair (1748-1819) by Henry Raeburn.

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Apr 172016
 

8-12 Niddry Street South, Edinburgh, EH1 1NS

The Oyster Club This weekly dining club for scientists and philosophers met regularly throughout the 1770s. It had been established by the great economist and political philosopher Adam Smith, the chemist Joseph Black and the geologist James Hutton. The club was attended by a veritable constellation of Edinburgh’s most brilliant thinkers, including John Playfair, Adam Ferguson, David Hume and Sir James Hall. It also payed host to a wide variety of visiting international scientists, including the French geologist Barthélémy Faujas de Saint Fond, James Watt the engineer and inventor from Glasgow, and Benjamin Franklin the American scientist and inventor.

Now a private venue – no free public access.

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