Patrick Geddes’s farewell lecture to his Dundee students, 1919.

Excerpts from Patrick Geddes’s farewell lecture to his Dundee students, 1919.

How many people think twice about a leaf? Yet the leaf is the chief product and phenomenon of Life: this is a green world, with animals comparatively few and small, and all dependent upon the leaves. By leaves we live. Some people have strange ideas that they live by money. They think energy is generated by the circulation of coins. But the world is mainly a vast leaf-colony, growing on and forming a leafy soil, not a mere mineral mass: and we live not by the jingling of our coins, but by the fullness of our harvests.

But growth seems slow: and people are all out for immediate results, like immediate votes or immediate money. A garden takes years and years to grow – ideas also take time to grow, and while a sower knows when his corn will ripen, the sowing of ideas is, as yet, a far less certain affair.

Star-wonder, stone and spark wonder, life-wonder, folk-wonder, these are the stuff of astronomy and physics, of biology and the social sciences. … To appreciate sunset and sunrise, moon and stars, the wonders of the winds, clouds and rain, the beauty of woods and fields – here are the beginnings of natural sciences.

We need to give everyone the outlook of the artist, who begins with the art of seeing – and then in time we shall follow him into the seeing of art, even the creating of it. In the same way the scholar and the student may be initiated … into the essential outlook of the astronomer and the geographer, of the mathematician and the mechanic, the physicist and the chemist, the geologist and the minerologist, the botanist and the zoologist, and thence more generally, of the biologist. Next, too, the anthropologist … and the economist.

But this general and educational point of view must be brought to bear on every specialism. The teacher’s outlook should include all viewpoints. …. Hence we must cease to think merely in terms of separated departments and faculties and must relate these in the living mind; in the social mind as well – indeed, this above all.

And so – with art inspiring industry, and developing the sciences accordingly – beyond the attractive yet dangerous apples of the separate sciences, the Tree of Life thus comes into view.


For the full text see Amelia Defries, The Interpreter: Geddes, London, 1927.

This selection was made in 2007 by Murdo Macdonald, Professor of History of Scottish Art, University of Dundee.

The excerpts appear in the order they occur in the lecture. There are some small changes to the original punctuation.

For more information about this key lecture see Murdo Macdonald, Patrick Geddes’s Intellectual Origins (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020) in particular chapter 14, ‘A Farewell Lecture’.