William Robertson Smith : the scientific, literary and cultural context from 1866 to 1881
This thesis examines a formative period of William Robertson Smith's life, from his entry in 1866 to New College, Edinburgh, as a theological student, until 1881, when he became joint editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica following his deposition from the chair of Hebrew and Old Testament Literature at Aberdeen Free Church College. The aim of the thesis has been to explore a number of the less well-known and relatively neglected influences upon Smith's thinking during those years and to relate the interaction of these with the more familiar factors of his personality and early education at his father's hand. The opening chapters focus upon the significant impact of Smith's interest in science and mathematics - and in particular upon the consequences of his close association at Edinburgh with Peter Guthrie Tait, professor of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh University. Smith's student writings, particularly on prophecy, are then examined for the light they shed on his subsequent work as well as for the subtle influence exerted on the psychological aspects of that work through his earlier training under Alexander Bain at Aberdeen University. Robertson Smith's brief verbal duel with John Tyndall in 1874 is recounted for the light it sheds upon the vigorous and often fierce debate between science and theology which so characterised the period. A similar level of controversy is found within both those respective fields between traditionalists and liberals, illustrated here by reference, amongst many others, to the writings of Matthew Arnold, Ruskin, Huxley and Mark Pattison. Smith's emergence as a significant protagonist is marked by his first contributions, in 1875, to the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The radical and "unsettling" nature of those critical assays brought immediate accusations of heresy, leading to his protracted trial at the hands of the Free Church of Scotland.