The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.
§ 3. The Scottish School, influences on its character
A change in the character of British historical writing began in the middle of the century; it was raised by Hume to a foremost place in our prose composition; its right to that place was maintained by Robertson, and, finally, in Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, it rose to the highest degree of perfection that it has ever attained in this, or, perhaps, in any, country. That its two earliest reformers should both have been Scotsmen is one of many illustrations of the activity of the Scots at that time in all the higher spheres of thought and of literary production. When the failure of the Jacobite cause put an end to the struggle for Scottish national life as an independent political force, it would almost seem as though the educated class in Scotland consciously set themselves to endow their country with an independent life in the domains of philosophy, literature, science and art; for their efforts were not made in isolation; they were made by men who constantly communicated with each other or consorted together, especially in Edinburgh, where, from 1754, they formed themselves into the “Select Society,” of which both Hume and Robertson were members, and which met every week to discuss philosophical questions. While this intellectual life was distinctly national, its output was not marred by its local character. Political affairs had for centuries driven or led Scots abroad: the habit of resorting to other countries remained, and Scottish thinkers and writers kept in touch with the intellectual life of other peoples, and especially of the French, the ancient allies of Scotland. In their mode of expression, too, the desire to be widely read and the necessity of gaining a larger and richer market for their books than they could find at home made them careful to avoid local peculiarities, and write in such a way as would be acceptable to English readers. Though this movement attained its full development during the latter half of the century, it had been in progress for several years.