Reading the Scottish Enlightenment

Books and their Readers in Provincial Scotland, 1750-1820


It has become commonplace in recent decades for scholars to identify in the books of the Scottish Enlightenment the intellectual origins of the modern world, but little attention has yet been paid to its impact on contemporary readers. Drawing on a range of innovatory methodologies associated with the burgeoning interdisciplinary field of the history of reading, this book explores the reception of books by David Hume, Adam Smith, William Robertson and Thomas Reid (amongst many others), assessing their impact on the lives, beliefs and habits of mind of readers across the social scale. In the process, the book offers a fascinating new perspective on the fundamental importance of personal reading experiences to the social history of the Enlightenment.

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Mark R. M. Towsey, Ph.D. in History (St Andrews, 2007), is Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Liverpool. He has previously held fellowships at Harvard, Yale and London, and has published extensively on eighteenth-century libraries and reading habits.
Shortlisted for the Saltire Society's 2011 Scottish History Book of the Year Award

“[This] book is a triumph. Towsey’s primary research is both impressively detailed and extraordinarily wide-ranging, even by the high standards of studies in this field generally.”
Matthew Bradley, Pembroke College, Oxford. In: Library & Information History, Vol. 27, No. 3 (September 2011), pp. 199-200.

"Towsey pays particular attention to letters, diaries, marginalia and commonplace books. On all these matters he is a splendid mine of well-structured information [...]. In this exhaustively researched book Towsey provides a most persuasive argument for the claim that the works of the literati reached deep into Scottish society, not only in the university towns but across Scotland more generally, and that the books of the literati were not just accessible, but accessed and interpreted."
Alexander Broadie, University of Glasgow. In: The Scottish Historical Review, Vol. 91, No. 2 (2012), pp. 365-367.

"This book gets to the heart of the Scottish Enlightenment ... [Towsey] convincingly sets out his methodologies, provides detailed evidence to support them, and develops and provides new insights into our knowledge and understanding of the social impact of the Scottish Enlightenment in provincial Scotland."
Heather Holmes, Journal of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society.

"The story Towsey tells here is intellectually compelling, even moving."
Stephen W. Brown, Trent University, Ontario. In: The Library, 7.13.3 (September 2012). pp. 347-349.

List of Tables
List of Abbreviations
Introduction “Enlightenment Everywhere”: Locating the Reader in the Scottish Enlightenment 1


Chapter One “One of the Greatest Ornaments to a Gentleman”: Private Libraries

Chapter Two “A Powerful Means of Improving the Neighbourhood”: Subscription Libraries

Chapter Three “Vice and Obscenity Dreadfully Propagated”: Circulating Libraries

Chapter Four “A Taste for Reading in the Country”: Religious and Endowed Libraries


Chapter Five “This Map of my Mind”: Recovering Historical Reading Experiences

Chapter Six “A Man of Moderate Passions”: Fashioning an Enlightened Self

Chapter Seven “That Independency which a Whole Nation had Renounced”: Negotiating Scottish Identity

Chapter Eight “The Patron of Infidelity”: Reading Hume and the Common Sense Philosophers

Conclusion “Improved and Enlightened by Reading”: A Provincial Enlightenment?

All those interested in the social history of ideas, the Scottish Enlightenment and the cultural history of eighteenth-century Britain, as well as book history, library history and the history of reading.
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