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Karen Baston

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What was the Scottish Enlightenment and where and when did it take place? This book explains why lawyers and their libraries were important in the development of the Scottish Enlightenment. Scottish advocates were part of an international intellectual world and they helped to disseminate ideas and reforms. Lawyers of Charles Areskine’s generation studied Roman law, natural law, and the legal systems of other places all the while absorbing continental cultural opportunities while they studied abroad to train for their profession. When they returned to Scotland, it was take their places as leaders of society. Advocates had their professional collection, the Advocates Library in Edinburgh, as a model for their own book collecting. The Advocates Library, although created as a resource for legal practitioners, included works beyond the scope of identifying, practicing, and serving the law. At the very least, an advocate needed knowledge of the works of classical antiquity and an understanding of the texts of the Corpus iuris civilis. Advocates’ status as legal virtuosi gave them the confidence to inspire the advancement of secular thinking, to promote the evolution of the Scottish legal system, and to encourage the development of the “Athens of the North”.

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Karen Baston

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This chapter provides biographical information about Charles Areskine of Alva and explains the unique opportunity his library offers for a case study of book ownership in the first half of the eighteenth century. Areskine’s book catalogue, which survives as a manuscript which is now in the National Library of Scotland, and the books he once owned, some of which are currently in the Alva Collections housed in the National Library of Scotland and in the Advocates Library provide evidence for his professional and intellectual interests. This chapter reflects on the role of advocates in Scottish society and discusses early modern advocates’ libraries in Scotland more generally while placing Areskine and his books in context. Areskine was known for his scholarship throughout his career and his reputation for erudition survived long after his death in 1763. He and his books are ideal for a study of the origins of the Scottish Enlightenment.

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Karen Baston

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The rise of secularism in late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century Scotland can be considered by comparing the experiences of two young Scottish arts scholars who met very different fates. Charles Areskine became a university teacher. Thomas Aikenhead, a reader and sharer of “atheistical” books, was executed for blasphemy. When Areskine launched his teaching career as a regent in early eighteenth-century Edinburgh, the issues surrounding Aikenhead’s trial and execution were still very much alive. Aikenhead read, or supposedly had read, Descartes, Hobbes, and Locke, authors suspected of promoting atheism: their names were cited at Aikenhead’s trial as the inspiration for his blasphemous ideas. The books that young Scottish university scholars read mattered and this chapter considers the secular and scientific ideas they took from them. Areskine taught a shifting and changing curriculum and went on to become the first professor of the law of nature and nations at Edinburgh in 1707. His acceptance and promotion of Newtonianism, with its insistence on the existence of a supreme being, ensured that his intellectual positions were considered sound and he was thus able to engage with ideas and share them without fear of prosecution.

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Karen Baston

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The Scottish practice of travelling to be educated in the professions profoundly influenced the development of the early Scottish Enlightenment. Understanding the connection that Scots had with the Continent is essential when studying their intellectual world in the early years of the enlightened era. The Netherlands was a centre of radical ideas and of publishing and some Scots, including Areskine, continued on from there to Germany and Italy to further enhance their social and academic experience. When they returned to Scotland, it was with new ideas, key texts, and a network of international contacts in the Republic of Letters. Their programmes of lectures abroad depended upon the use of set textbooks, and these became the cornerstones of the libraries they would go on to collect throughout their lives, accompanying them in legal practice throughout their careers.

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Karen Baston

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On their return from their legal and cultural travels, learned Scots helped encourage the growth of increasingly busy book markets in London and Edinburgh. Book buyers used catalogues, sales, and auctions to build their collections. Areskine’s patron Archibald Campbell, earl of Ilay, accumulated a large library and set an example for those in his circle. Agents, booksellers, and librarians such as Alexander Cunningham and Thomas Ruddiman helped buyers tap into international and national markets. Book auctions helped circulate foreign-produced legal texts throughout the Scottish legal community. A bookseller’s records show that Areskine attended the auction of the law books of Alexander Seton of Pitmedden and made several purchases. Legal texts and other books moved between members of Scotland’s well-educated and socially active community of advocates until they came to be kept and recorded in private libraries collected by lawyers with an eye on their family legacies.

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Karen Baston

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Alongside his style books and collections of Acts of Parliament, Areskine had works of serious scholarship in civil law and natural law in his private library. The reliance on Roman law in Scotland in the early modern era led to the development of a “mixed” legal system. Areskine had been the first Regius Professor of the Law of Nature and Nations at Edinburgh and he retained his interest in the subject, collecting the works of Grotius, Pufendorf, and their followers. Natural law was also greatly influential in early eighteenth-century Scotland and found its way into key works by Scottish jurists. It inspired the development of not only Scots law but also the wider philosophies of the Scottish Enlightenment. Interest in English law grew in Scotland after the Union of 1707. Legal books carried ideas across regions and borders and their readers interpreted, grafted, or wove them into their own legal systems as these developed across Europe throughout the early modern era. Scottish lawyers exploited books to find the best arguments to present in court but their deep knowledge of legal authorities and Classical history spilled out beyond the courts and into Edinburgh’s intellectual community.

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Karen Baston

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The Advocates Library acted as a model for book collection for Scottish lawyers (especially in Edinburgh) from the 1680s on. The Faculty of Advocates included non-legal books from their library from the start and so did private legal collectors. Areskine collected substantially in many subjects beyond law with some of the most notable themes being history, religion and secularism, modernisation and the state of Scotland, and ancient and modern poetry. These themes were all important to the development of the Scottish Enlightenment’s progressive ethos. This chapter describes Areskine’s polite learning within the contexts of the Union of 1707 and the growth of North-British culture.

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Karen Baston

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Books and sociability were linked in the legal community of early eighteenth-century Scotland. By organising his library, the ancient Roman advocate Cicero felt that he had given his house a soul. Eighteenth-century Scottish lawyers agreed with this idea. Prominent legal families created libraries for their collections and used them not just as places to keep books but also as social meeting places and drawing rooms. Several notable Scottish legal libraries were built by Areskine’s contemporaries, including those created at Arniston for the Dundas family and at Newhailes for the Dalrymples. The creation of a library catalogue was an indication of a desire not just to find but to lend books. This chapter considers the physical space of the library as the centre of an enlightened gentleman’s life with special reference to the Scottish legal community. The library kept by Areskine’s wife Grisel Grierson is also considered as are the books collected by Areskine’s sons Charles and James Erskine.

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Karen Baston

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The Alva Collections housed in the National Library of Scotland and the Advocates Library in Edinburgh contain many of Areskine’s surviving books. These collections are made up of books from Areskine’s library and those from his son Lord Alva’s library. A survey of the books was completed in 2008–2009. Provenance information found in some of the books has allowed for tracing their histories both before and after they were part of the Areskine family library. Areskine’s collection was broken up in the mid-nineteenth century when its legal books were no longer useful for legal practitioners and the great private book collections of the Scottish Enlightenment were being dispersed. The close study of a particular collection allows for considering the relationship between Areskine’s library and his legal practice. The contents of Areskine’s library can provide insights about the meaning of the Scottish Enlightenment for a legal professional and ‘enlightened’ person in the first half of the eighteenth century.