We recently bought a collection of Scottish poems (shelfmark: RB.s.2811(1-13)) written in the late 18th century. What makes this small book so interesting is that most of the poems were either written or edited by a physician: Andrew Duncan the elder (1744-1828).
Duncan was a key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment, a period which came to an end at the close of the 18th century. But he is still well known today, as the founder of two Edinburgh institutions: a dispensary for the sick poor, and a lunatic asylum where patients were treated humanely.
Not only did Andrew Duncan write poetry, but he composed much of it in Scots! Here is the title page of the collection:
I am fascinated by the Scottish Enlightenment figures. Like David Hume, who you can read about in the previous blog, Andrew Duncan had multiple talents, and this is true for most other eminent representatives of that period. Adam Ferguson was an army chaplain and sociologist, the economist Adam Smith wrote his first book on moral sentiments, the painter Allan Ramsay of Kinkell published a book on government, the poet James MacPherson wrote a history of Great Britain, and Thomas Telford published poetry before he became famous as a civil engineer. And there are more examples like this!
Like the other Enlightenment figures, Andrew Duncan was a convivial man with great energy, and founded many clubs and societies, such as the Aesculapian Club, the Harvein, Gymnastic and Royal Caledonian Horticultural societies. His poetry, admittedly of indifferent quality, was often read out or sung at meetings of these clubs. The atmosphere in the taverns where they met must have been amazing!
You can get a great insight into the figures and achievements of the Scottish Enlightenment from our Learning Zone feature “Northern Lights“. It is particularly designed as a resource for secondary schools, but there is something in it for everybody: town planning, Ossian, Scotticisms, clubs and societies like those founded by Andrew Duncan, and the Statistical Account of Scotland.