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About Scotland

Scotland's Authors, Poets & Literature

"Democratic Intellectualism" was the name coined by the philosopher George Elder Davie to describe Scotland's intellectual tradition, apt considering that Scotland was among the first countries in Europe to teach mass literacy - an ideal rooted in the Reformation of the 1560's.

Before then there was a glittering poetic tradition associated with the Stewart court, and our medieval Makars (Scots for Makers/Creators) William Dunbar, Gavin Douglas, Robert Henryson and Sir David Lyndsay were among the greatest writers in Europe in their day.

After the Union with England, when the culture was felt to be under threat, the 18th century vernacular revival of Alan Ramsay, Robert Fergusson and Robert Burns breathed vigorous earthy life into the Scots tradition. Through his novels and poetry, Sir Walter Scott had a tremendous influence on European romanticism, making Scotland a place of pilgrimage for artists like Felix Mendelssohn to come and be inspired to write his Hebrides Overture.

Significantly, most of the great Scottish writers wrote and collected songs. They were close to the folk tradition and the people, as well as the high art tradition - democratic intellectualism again. From the great Ballads of the Borders to the Gaelic oral tradition of the Highlands, Scotland has always been a country which valued literature and song - indeed many assert it kept the idea of Scotland alive when political power was elsewhere.

The Scottish Enlightenment of the later 18th and early 19th centuries is another of the country's intellectual golden ages, with philosophers like David Hume, and economists like Adam Smith having world wide acclaim. But there were many others, Adam Ferguson who is regarded as the founder of the study of sociology, James Hutton in geology, William Robertson in history, the Adam family in architecture, William Cullen and George Hunter in medicine. William Black in science - all of them outstanding in their field and contributing to their country's international reputation as an intellectual power house. The French philosopher Jouffroy described Scotland as "cette illustre patrie de la civilisation" (that illustrious homeland of civilisation).

The 20th century saw Scottish literature thrive in three literary languages English, Scots and Gaelic. From the wonderful Gaelic poetry of Sorley McLean to the metaphysical Scots lyrics of Hugh McDiarmid and the gritty urban realism of Irving Welsh in novels and films like "Trainspotting", the last 100 years have witnessed an even greater renaissance of Scottish literature. Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Banks, George Macaky Brown, Ian Rankin, Val McDermot, William Boyd, Muriel Spark, Kate Atkinson.

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