The Intellect of Europe, 18th Century edition: England vs. Scotland

Schooling is something that most everybody must go through while growing up. Education is a key fundamental piece to growing up, whether we like it or not but there was once a time when education was only for the wealthy. Thankfully those days have been left in the past. Different assets of education were favored in London when compared to those favored in Scotland. The gentry of London preferred more literary intellect, whereas those in Scotland preferred the sciences. I am not saying that the Scottish did not also enjoy a good work of literature, they are the birth people of Sir Walter Scott, but they show a greater stress on the celebration of other areas of academia. London did also have their Royal Society, but they pay homage to great authors above all else.

Poet’s Corner- Westminster Abbey Google Image search

Intellect was always an important feature for people in England to have, especially those gifted in the ways of the pen (authors that is). This is evident by the Poets Corner within Westminster Abbey. Poets corner is a section of the abbey that is dedicated to memorials of a plethora of literary intellectuals. Some of the people memorialized within this area include William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Robert Southey, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Sir Walter Scott. Westminster Abbey is the place where English Royalty worship, get married, hold their coronations, have their funerals and for some even keep as their final resting place. In essence the Abbey is a place that was built by Royalty for Royalty, but there is a special place reserved for certain intellectuals. If an author is deemed well enough a memorial may be erected on the walls, or on the floor of Poets Corner for all to see.

Within the readings we did for class before our trip, we read selections from Tobias Smollet’s “The Exbedition of Humphry Clinker”. One of the sections that we read was when the party makes their way into London and whilst in London Jerry Melford spent one of his evenings in the company of a large group of authors. The fact that Smollet chooses to write about a large group of authors converging in London for a dinner party, helps to show that authors are an important group of people for the English. Mr. Melford spend his entire night with a group of unique and outlandish characters, all of whom are authors. It is just amazing to me that Smollet would spend around ten pages discussing one characters night with a group of authors. This goes to show me that their is a great importance on authors in London.

The main portion of John Soane’s book collection. Google Image search

As young gentlemen were on the tour of the continent, one of their destinations in London would be to John Soane’s house. Soane was a famous architect, one of his greatest accomplishments being the Bank of England. Within Soane’s house is a collection of items worthy of any museums. Soane’s collections ranged from books, to paintings including his own architectural designs, to moldings and pottery. Soane also had a sarcophagus in his downstairs. Soane is said to have a “Gentleman’s collection” when it comes to his books. While walking through his house one may see books located in almost every room. Within his displays of books, Soane has whole collections of books on architecture, encyclopedias, large tombs full of works by Wiliam Shakespeare, and many other books in a variety of languages.

Portrait of James Hutton by Sir Henry Raeburn Google Image search

For a long time Scotland’s history was passed down by word of mouth, or storytelling. They had bards that would travel around from castle to castle telling various stories pertaining to the history of Scotland. Even to this day the Scots are well suited to telling stories (As can be personally noted by myself due to the pleasure of taking a Hairy Coo tour with an amazing storytelling driver, Andrew). But the Scots take great importance in the other areas of academia, such as science. The Scottish National Portrait Gallery has an entire exhibit dedicated to enlightenment. One of the portraits that stood out to me was a portrait of James Hutton, painted by Sir Henry Raeburn. Hutton is depicted as sitting without his wig in his studio surrounded by the tools used in his geologic research. I found the lack of wig important, it showed to me that he put aside the physical demands of society in order to work on his findings in geology. Science was a very important topic back then as it is now. People wanted to learn more about the world they lived in, and how things worked. People were so fascinated with the sciences that women would wear magnifying glasses around their wrists so that they may study anything interesting that may have crossed their path.

While reading Johnson’s “Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland” I believe I have found the reason why authors where not held as highly as other intellectuals. Johnson speaks about the storytelling of the Scots, and how he is told one story by one person, but then the next day he is told a different version of the same story by another person! How confusing it would have been to be told different versions of the same story and not know which one is true! No wonder they don’t write anything down! In all reality I do not truthfully know why authors are not held in as high regards as they are in England. What I do know is that both England and Scotland show great admiration for those who succeed in the world of academics.

I also know that by having the opportunity to travel to both of these beautiful countries has been life changing to me. Being able to visit the places that I had mentioned earlier in my blog, was amazing. I learned so much by going into Soane’s house and visiting Westminster Abbey and the National Portrait gallery,and all of the other destinations that we went to. It was all surreal and if I had the chance to do it again, I would in a heartbeat!

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