chapter  8
18 Pages

Reading John Anderson’s Will

Improving Human Nature, Science and Scotland in a Commercial Society
WithTom Furniss

In his chapter, Tom Furniss develops the complex role of Scottish civic institutions as vehicles for Scotland’s material and cultural modernization. His reading of the 1796 will of Professor John Anderson outlining the anatomy, function and mission for a new University in Glasgow provides a snapshot of a civic-educational vision against the backdrop of a rapidly industrializing commercial society. Furniss unpacks Anderson’s will to highlight how ‘national improvement, the nature of commercial society and the role of university education’ have often suffered from historical misunderstanding in subsequent appropriations. As Furniss demonstrates, Anderson was part of a civically active professoriate at Glasgow University as Professor of Natural Philosophy from 1757 until his death in 1796, and sought to adapt the ancient Scottish university’s social remit to engage more directly with the needs of the city’s expanding industrial classes. However, this socially engaged pedagogical practice has often been distorted as a one-dimensional legacy for a twenty-first century notion of ‘useful learning’. Furniss shows how the will joined together moral, technical and humanistic aims for an ideal university that were already manifest in the intellectual sociability of late eighteenth-century urban Scotland. These pedagogical aims invite us to re-assess the role of literary and humanistic education during the late Scottish Enlightenment. As Furniss puts it, ‘for Scottish intellectuals at the end of the eighteenth century liberality of sentiment was a necessary aspect of a modern commercial society, not an optional extra’.