In 1707, the year in which the Act of Union between the Scottish and English crowns formally constituted the kingdom of Great Britain, the population of Scotland stood at around one million, a sixth of the whole. By then, driven initially by the post-Reformation Calvinist church, Scotland’s renowned education system was already established. Allied to Scots’ innate sense of democracy, initiative and self-discipline, it inspired a wellspring of intellectual inquiry and creativity that positioned Scotland as a major contributor to the Age of Enlightenment and the notion of modernity. In 1723, a commentator wrote that ‘The Scots have made a greater Figure Abroad than any other Nation in Europe’ and attributed this as ‘entirely owing to the Fineness of their Education’. In 1750, an English visitor remarked: ‘Here I stand at what is called the Cross of Edinburgh, and can, in a few minutes, take fifty men of genius by the hand’. And in the mid-1940s, Winston Churchill – whose parliamentary career included the years 1908 – 1922 as member of parliament for Dundee – averred that: ‘No nation of its size since Ancient Greece has made a comparable impact upon the world’. Notable Scots from the eighteenth century onwards, in diverse fields, include: the philosopher David Hume; the political economist Adam Smith (author of The Wealth of Nations); the inventors James Watt (steam engine) and Alexander Graham Bell (telephone); the factory owner David Dale (founder, together with his social-reformist son-in-law Robert Owen, of New Lanark); the civil engineer Thomas Telford (canals, roads and bridges); the poet and lyricist Robert Burns; the novelists Walter Scott and Arthur Conan Doyle; the explorers Mungo Park and David Livingstone (both in Africa); the naturalist Charles Darwin (author of On the Origin of Species); the medical pioneers Alexander Fleming (penicillin) and Joseph Lister (antiseptic surgery); the physicists Lord Kelvin (electricity and thermodynamics) and James Clerk Maxwell (electromagnetic theory); and the industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 – 1894), travel writer as well as novelist, became the most famous member of a dynasty of pioneering engineers who, from the 1780s onwards, effectively monopolised the design and construction of lighthouses around the hazardous coastline of Scotland….
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