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The lowland middle class Scot was at the forefront of the enlightenment of European culture. While the Scottish aristocracy generally encouraged these cultural pursuits, both leadership and grass roots action largely came out of the middle and even lower classes.


Enlightenment, Cultural Progress and an
Information Revolution

The underpinning of the new capitalist system -- the generation of wealth -- did not blind Lowland society to other human needs. The late eighteenth century in Scotland was a period of enlightenment and cultural achievement. Tenant and middle class Scots contributed enormously to the development of philosophy, science, medicine, education, history and literature.

As the old cooperative system of holding land broke down, enterprise was rewarded with a secure personal lease on a good-sized farm. Working their own fields independently of others gave the tenant farmer a sense of individualism on the land. The Lowland tenant class soon learned to express their new identity in cultural terms. However, in the beginning at times, it was a struggle to be heard.

Among the few recorded from Lesmahagow's tenant class to achieve some distinction in cultural endeavours, John Wilson (1720-1789), son of a small farmer, was an accomplished poet and the Parish schoolmaster. He was offered the position of master of the Grammar School at Greenock on condition that "he would abandon that profaine and unprofitable art of poem-making". He thus felt some obligation to burn most of his unfinished manuscripts. (1)

Thomas Whyte, successor of James Whyte of Stockbriggs, was the Minister of Libberton. He was tried before the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for going to see the play of "Douglas" in 1757.(2) Rev. Whyte was one of Lesmahagow's earliest historians, publishing an "Account of the Antiquities and Other Curiosities in Lesmahagow Parish" in the Edinburgh Weekly Magazine in March 1773.(3)

Most of those connected with Lesmahagow who distinguished themselves in science and the arts in the eighteenth century were from the small landowning middle class. Most, if not all, of these were probably reacting to stimuli unconnected with landholding reform. Two sons of Rev. Thomas Whyte of Stockbriggs, David and Douglas, were military surgeons. The Weirs of Johnshill "produced two eminent medical men in the public service".(4)

Dr. William Smellie, the leading London obstetrician, was born in Lesmahagow. Like many other successful Lanarkshire men of the eighteenth century, he had been partly educated at Lanark Grammar School: Gavin Hamilton was a painter and archaeologist; John Pinkerton was a historian; General William Roy conducted surveys; and Dr. Weir was head of the Medical Military Board in London.(5)

The vast majority of the tenant and middle class people obviously did not distinguish themselves in science and the arts: most were too busy maintaining their farms and modest properties. But many, none-the-less, were very interested in the cultural and popular enlightenment around them. The Bible, for centuries perhaps the only book in the tenant's farmhouse, now had to compete with a growing list of popular periodicals and other literary works. The Scots Magazine, started in 1739, was a monthly source of information respecting such diverse topics as foreign affairs and agricultural prices. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, founded in Edinburgh in about 1768, was another early attempt to bring the learned and popular cultures closer together. The earliest newspapers were the Edinburgh Evening Courant (1718) and the Glasgow Journal (1741).

The lower and tenant classes were no longer isolated from the outside world: provided they could afford to buy or borrow it, the print media was a bonafide "information revolution", crucial to the outstanding performance of Scots in world affairs and economic development. In Lesmahagow, the Abbeygreen Subscription Library was organized in 1813.(6)

Two personal libraries on Stockbriggs Estate are worthy of mention.

The mid eighteenth century library of Stockbriggs owner, James Whyte, included: four bibles; "Acts of Assembly from 1721 to 1743"; "McKenzies Observations"; "London? Act of Building"; "Stuarts Index to the Acts of Parliament"; "Wingates Arathmetick"; "Neilsons Justice of Peace, Two Volumes"; "Steells Memoriall"; "Haddings Sermons"; "Gaziteer given to John Weir of Johnshill"; "Haliburton's Great Conquest"; "Flavells Foundations"; "Cockers Arithmathick"; "The Scots Gardner"; "Rutherfoords Tryall and Triumph"; "Scots Acts of Parliament Volume Third"; "Ballantynes Vindications"; and "Baillies Dictionary Volume First given to William Greenshields, Butler to the Duke of Douglas".(7)

Half a century later...


(1) J.B. Greenshields, Annals of the Parish of Lesmahagow, pg. 37-8, Memoir of John Wilson
(2) Greenshields, Lesmahagow, p. 99. 
(3) Greenshields, Lesmahagow,  App. 4-9 
(4) Greenshields, Lesmahagow, p. 99, 165.
(5) Robertson, Lanark, p. 40, 240;  OSA, Lanark, p. 459,  OSA, Lesmahagow, p 489; Lenman, Integration, Enlightenment, p. 92.
(6) Greenshields, Lesmahagow, p. 199. 
(7) CC 14/5/18, Testament Dative and Inventary of James Whyte of Stockbridge, 1756

From When The Ground Fails: An Economic Watershed

The Scarboro Heights Record V11 #4