Science in the Scottish Enlightenment
Science in the Scottish Enlightenment

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Science in the Scottish Enlightenment

3.3 Architecture

Printing and publishing, then, had their connections with the Enlightenment programme. Architecture too was related. The Adam family of architects (the father and his two sons) moved in the Edinburgh circle of the intellectuals. The young Robert Adam, for example, attended both McLaurin's mathematics lectures and Monro's anatomy lectures at the university, and his home life was enlivened by regular visits from the leading lights of the city. As one contemporary described the household, in a rolling eighteenth-century sentence:

The numerous family of Mr Adam, the uninterrupted cordiality in which they lived, their conciliatory manners and the various accomplishments in which they severally made proh'cience, formed a most attractive society and failed not to draw around them a set of men whose learning and genius have since done honour to that country which gave them birth …

(quoted in Fleming, 1962, p. 5)

Figure 3
(By courtesy of the Edinburgh City Libraries.) ©
Edinburgh City Libraries
Figure 3: North view of the new and old towns of Edinburgh, from Inverleith, 1781

In the mid-century, Edinburgh was still an ancient city clustering around the castle and stretching down the hill to the neglected royal palace of Holyrood. But in 1752, the astute provost of the city, George Drummond, launched a plan to lay out a new town, beyond the North Loch, which would itself be drained. There were setbacks, but steadily there arose a rational grid of coolly elegant streets and squares, relieved by the occasional curve or gradient.

As it arose, however, the New Town, as it became known, was failing quite to realise the grandeur implicit in the ground plan, and in 1791, Robert Adam, who was by then making his fortune in England, was called in to design a monumental square in order to demonstrate just what could be done with urban housing, if conceived on a grand scale. The result is Charlotte Square, in which rows of terraced houses, built for the prosperous bourgeoisie, are successfully subordinated to a conception of a single, palatial edifice.

It would be too slick to present the elegant, rational Edinburgh New Town simply and baldly as the embodiment of Scottish Enlightenment – especially as the leading lights of the movement preferred to stay over in the racier old town – but in tracing the networks of people and ideas that flourished in the city, the route that leads to architecture and town planning is not to be ignored.

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