The most philosophically systematic accounts of natural rights emanated from the group of writers generally known as members of the ‘Scottish Enlightenment’ — in particular, Hume, Hutcheson and Adam Smith. A slender but tensile thread connects the armchair with the hustings, urbane, idealistic philosophy with revolutionary rhetoric and fervour. Nowhere is this unexpected connection more visible than in the ‘Jacobin’ novels of the 1790s. Since novelists need to be culturally literate at least in their own genre, writers like Wollstonecraft and Godwin show that they know the traditions of novels written along ‘enlightened’ lines in the eighteenth century, but they are equally stirred by contemporary debates about revolution in France and its significance for England, and the rights of women and slaves. Equally, it is clear, as we have seen, that a novel like Mackenzie’s The Man of Feeling or Goldsmith’s The Vicar of Wakefield could hardly have been written without influence, whether at first- or second-hand, from the philosophers who emphasise benevolence as a social glue, with natural rights as a set of ground rules. The circle is closed when we note the cultural omnivorousness of somebody like Adam Smith, who aspired to write ‘a connected history of the liberal sciences and elegant arts’, and of his teacher Hutcheson. They would certainly have been aware of those developments in the novel which were compatible with their own social, moral, and political philosophies.


Free Speech French Revolution Political Speech General Happiness Habeas Corpus 
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© R. S. White 2005

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