The Patron, the Professor and the Painter: cultural activity in Dundee at the close of the nineteenth century
An awareness of the industrial and economic strengths of Dundee has tended to obscure the consideration of the artistic and academic life of the city. The purpose of this chapter is to give a sense of such activity as it flourished in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In order to do this I will give specific consideration to the artistic and intellectual activities of three figures whose careers were interlinked, James Martin White, Patrick Geddes and John Duncan. White was the inheritor of industrial wealth and an imaginative and informed patron both in his home city of Dundee and, subsequently, in London. Patrick Geddes was a remarkable polymath – among other things a pioneer of ecologically and culturally-based town planning – who, thanks to White’s financial support, was appointed professor of botany at University College, Dundee, in the early years of that institution. John Duncan, born and trained in Dundee, was the leading artist of the Celtic revival in Scotland. He was, during the period in question, a close colleague of Geddes, whose thinking had a profound influence on the direction of his work. He numbered both White and Geddes among his patrons.
On 9 February 1881, the textile-mill manager Peter Carmichael (of Baxter Brothers) attended a meeting of the Dundee Naturalists’ Society.1 This society had been founded in 18742 and it quickly built up a membership which included as associates not only Peter Carmichael, but his fellow industrialists James Guthrie Orchar and James Farquhar White.3 Speakers to the society addressed a range of topics from those of local geographical interest to explorations of developing technologies. The subject of the meeting of 9 February falls into the latter category; it was an exhibition of Swan’s increasingly successful experiments to establish practical electric lighting. This had been a matter of keen interest in Dundee since 1835, the year in which James Bowman Lindsay’s demonstration of sustained electric light had been reported in the Dundee Advertiser.4
It must be stressed here that the 1880s was a decade in which there was an almost tangible shift in the view of electricity as a matter of research interest, to the consideration of it as a practical form of domestic and industrial power. Revealing here are the contrasting treatments of the subject in different editions of the Encylopaedia Britannica. In 1879 George Chrystal’s article on ‘Electricity’ was published in volume VIII of the ninth edition. Chrystal was professor of Mathematics at the University of Edinburgh working in the wake of James Clerk Maxwell’s insights. (Maxwell had himself been science editor of the same edition and died in the very year Chrystal’s article was published.) For Chrystal the issue was still the theory of electro-magnetism, not its practical application. By the time the equivalent volume of the next fully re-edited edition of the Britannica (the eleventh) was published in 1910, the emphasis had changed, and an entire article was devoted to ‘Electricity Supply’. The author of the ‘commercial aspects’ section of the article5 provides a context for the activities in Dundee in 1881. He writes: ‘Edison’s British master-patent was only filed in Great Britain in November 1879. In 1881 and 1882 electrical exhibitions were held in Paris and at the Crystal Palace, London, where the improved electric incandescent lamp was brought before the general public. In 1882 parliament passed the first Electric Lighting Act.’6
The Dundee Naturalists’ Society thus played a significant role in the dissemination of scientific knowledge. In a letter of 10 February 1881 Carmichael noted that ‘on the whole it seems as if one difficulty after another is being conquered’. He went on to mention that ‘Mr White who purchased the Balruddery property lately is extending the mansion house and has arranged to light it with Swan. The motion is to be got from water power driving a turbine wheel’. 7 The ‘Mr White’ to whom Carmichael referred was James Farquhar White, father of James Martin White. It is likely that both father and son attended the Naturalists’ Society meeting along with Carmichael. As has been noted White, senior, was, like Carmichael, an associate of the Society. His son Martin White (as he is normally known) was by this time a member of the council of the Society. Later in the same year, on 30 November, the society heard the latter’s account of the state of the art demonstrations given at the Paris Electrical Exhibition. His talk was entitled ‘Notes on the Paris Electrical Exhibition – with experiments’ and this subject gives insight into his character as an active amateur, well aware of contemporary scientific advances.8
Further evidence of the forward-looking nature of the Society is clear from a lecture given only a month later. On 27 December 1881 an extra meeting of the Dundee Naturalists’ Society was held on the subject of ‘The Classification of Statistics’. The lecturer was Patrick Geddes, twenty-seven years old at the time and demonstrator in botany at the University of Edinburgh. From a modern viewpoint his topic might seem somewhat dry and specialist for a generalist body with a significant lay membership, such as the Dundee Naturalists’ Society. But in the 1880s the nature and use of statistics and their wider implications for the structure of the social sciences were matters of intense debate, not least with respect to their potential for providing the scientific foundation for the nascent discipline of sociology. Geddes’s talk was based on a three-part presentation he had made to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, earlier in the year. In his own words ‘it was probably the first [paper] which has attempted to organise the whole body of our recorded social knowledge into a form presentable to the cultivators of the preliminary sciences’.9 The ideas that Geddes discussed at that meeting were to have a major influence not only on his own eventual career path, but on the direction of Martin White’s patronage, for White was to become a key source of finance for the development of sociology in the United Kingdom. Indeed Philip Abrams in his classic account, The Origins of British Sociology, notes that White’s ‘interest in sociology was largely formed by his early friendship with Geddes’.10 That early friendship, forged in Dundee, led some thirty years later to White endowing both of the first two chairs of sociology at the University of London.
It is likely that Geddes’s invitation to speak at the Dundee Naturalists’ Society was initiated either by Martin White himself or by the honorary secretary of the society, Frank Young, for both men had, according to Geddes’s biographers, known Geddes since his youth.11 It should be remembered here that Geddes had spent the formative years of his life in Perth, a mere twenty miles up the Tay from Dundee, and well connected to Dundee by steamer and rail links, as well as by road.
Perhaps the invitation came from Frank Young, for he may well have attended Geddes’s lectures at the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Geddes had been elected as a Fellow on 7 June 1880 and Young was elected on 1 May 1882. 12 His proposers included Geddes himself, Geddes’s friend and teacher the geologist James Geikie, and George Chrystal, whom we have already encountered through his Encyclopaedia Britannica contribution on electricity.13 Geddes again lectured to the Dundee Naturalists’ Society on 8 February 1882 on the subject of the occurrence of chlorophyll in animals.14 This biological topic is at first sight in marked contrast to the sociological subject of Geddes’s previous paper on the classification of statistics, yet it shares two important features with that paper. First of all it was a highly-original piece of thinking, an account of the then little understood symbiotic relationship of plant and animal functioning together within one body.15 Secondly it tackled an area which required insights from both botany and zoology. Thus both papers were pioneering and both had an interdisciplinary slant. As such they were typical of Geddes, however different the subject matter may have been. He was elected an Honorary Member of the Dundee Naturalists’ Society later that same year.16
Dundee’s industrial growth in textile manufacturing and shipbuilding had been driven by engineering innovation and financial expertise. But the strength of this pragmatic culture had not been fully echoed in the development of institutions of education. In December 1881 the situation changed completely with the signing of the Deed of Endowment of University College Dundee by Mary Ann Baxter and John Boyd Baxter. In 1883 the new University College enrolled its first students. Towards the end of 1884, applications were invited for the chair of biology and Geddes applied. In the light of some of the letters sent to him at the time from members of the Dundee Naturalists’ Society and others it seems reasonable to regard him as the front runner. He had the strong support of Frank Young; he had the ear of the College Principal, William Peterson. But in the event the chair went to D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson. That was an inspired choice on the part of University College, reclaiming a native of Edinburgh from Cambridge, to give Dundee (and more than thirty years later, St Andrews) the benefit of the teaching and research of one of the great zoologists of the twentieth century. But whatever the benefits of Thompson’s appointment, the issue which must be addressed here is why Geddes, with his influential local support, failed to get the chair for which he was such an obvious candidate.
A factor may have been that Geddes, although he had studied with Huxley in London, and had even come into direct contact with Darwin, had never taken a formal degree. This could have counted against him at a time when the sort of codification of achievement in qualifications which we take for granted today was becoming more important. But it is unlikely that this was a factor of significance, indeed Geddes’s friends in the Dundee Naturalists’ Society while not regarding his appointment as a foregone conclusion, were at first both confident and enthusiastic in their support. One alternative factor has been noted by Paddy Kitchen.17 The suggestion is that Geddes’s failure to be appointed was at least in part due to doubts raised about his religious orthodoxy. This suggestion bears further examination.
On 30 November 1884 Frank Young found himself having to write to Geddes about rumours that were circulating about his religious tendencies, specifically his ‘seeking to eliminate the spiritual element from the natural world’.18 This sense of uneasiness about Geddes’s less-than-conventional religious views, is the more intriguing when one sees it in the context of the Deed of Endowment of University College Dundee. A ‘fundamental condition’ of that deed is ‘that no student, professor, teacher or other officer shall be required to make any declaration as to his or her religious opinions or submit to any test of [them] and that nothing shall be introduced in the manner or mode of education in reference to any religious or theological subject which can reasonably be considered offensive to the conscience’. 19
Geddes was well aware of this ‘fundamental condition’ and consequently of the irony of finding his own hopes of appointment undermined on grounds specifically excluded from the formal process of appointment. He responded with bitter humour to a letter from one of his Dundee supporters, James Cunningham, who had requested ‘a short statement of your philosophical and theological standpoint, that I might use or not at discretion’.20 The question that must be asked is why were Geddes’s religious views an issue with respect to this appointment? It may be naïve to think that they would have no bearing at all in any circumstances, even in the light of the Deed of Endowment. But Geddes himself was not making an issue out of them, so why should anyone else have been? The answer to this conundrum, which saw a major appointment to a newly established institution of higher education made in a way which on the face of it seems quite contrary at least to the spirit of the Deed of Endowment of that institution, lies not in Dundee, but in Aberdeen, and not in biology, but in the study of the Bible.
In the late 1870s and early 1880s the religious and academic structures of the Free Church of Scotland, at that time a major cultural force in the land, had been shaken and split by the controversial writings of William Robertson Smith (1846-1894). In 1881 he had been removed from his post as professor of Hebrew and Old Testament Exegesis at the Free Church College of Aberdeen, on grounds of heterodoxy. The issue in question was the higher criticism, described, in the words of Robertson Smith’s own inaugural lecture, as ‘the fair and honest looking at the Bible as a historical record, and the effort everywhere to reach the real meaning and historical setting, not of individual passages of the Scripture, but of the Scripture records as a whole’. He goes on to say ‘This process can be dangerous to faith only when it is begun without faith – when we forget that the Bible history is no profane history, but the story of God’s saving self-manifestation’.21 G. F. Barbour has pointed out that
for over five years after his appointment in 1870 Smith quietly pursued his scholar’s way in Aberdeen. General statements as to the need for unfettered historical study of the books of the Bible themselves, rather than of traditions regarding them, did not unduly alarm the orthodox, although the more thoughtful might have seen that the postulates of such a critical study were radically opposed to the traditional view of the Bible as of equal historical value in every part. Criticism and a theology based on the idea of literal inspiration could not long exist together.22
The split began to become clear on the publication of Robertson Smith’s article, ‘Bible’, published in December 1875 in volume III of the ninth edition of the Encylopaedia Britannica. To be aware of how this might have affected Geddes one should note Barbour’s emphasis on the public and indeed popular dimensions of the debate which took place from 1876-1881:
As the range of the dispute became clear, the whole mind of the Scottish people was stirred to activity and interest. The debates of Presbyteries or Assemblies on the views of Robertson Smith were followed and reproduced in railway carriages and workshops and country smithies.23
It is important to note that far from being an anomaly within the Free Church, Robertson Smith was part of a tradition of investigative intellectualism which had been strong since the Church’s foundation.24 The Free Church had been formed a little under forty years previously on a point of principle which asserted the independence of religion and state, a principle guaranteed by the Acts of Union in 1707 but subsequently ignored by the Westminster parliament. Those who had supported the formation of the Free Church had been agreed on this principle but were otherwise of diverse view, for example a substantial number of members of the new church had come from academic and artistic circles, not least among these the physicist David Brewster and the painter and photographer D. O. Hill.25 Thus the Free Church had from its foundation, attracted radical thinkers. This was no less true in theology than in science or in art. Robertson Smith, although challenging the idea of the literal truth of the Bible, had a great deal of support in this project within the church itself, both in terms of his right to ‘follow his scholarly way’ and with respect to his conclusions. Indeed, he nearly survived the challenge to his academic role, and remained a minister of the Free Church for the rest of his life. Nevertheless what the Robertson Smith case had done was to make issues of the relationship of religion to academia salient at the time that Geddes’s application for the chair of biology was being considered. It might seem unlikely that such considerations would spill over into an appointment in the sciences in a new university established as a secular institution. Yet it is clear from Geddes’s correspondence that that is exactly what, at least in his view, had happened.
In his reply to Cunningham, Geddes not only made clear his awareness of the conditions of the Deed of Endowment of University College Dundee but also of a direct link between his own predicament and that of Robertson Smith. What at first sight seems to be an obscure aside in which Geddes writes of ‘the illustration of the beautiful uniformity of cause and effect offered by the association of Britannica articles with heresy-hunts’,26 is in fact a direct reference to the Robertson Smith case. It has been mentioned that the heart of the case against Robertson Smith was based on his writings for the ninth edition of the Britannica. Geddes had himself contributed to the same edition and one must conclude from his comment that this, at least in his view, was an element in the undermining of his position, even though one might have expected contributions to such an eminent publication to bolster rather than hinder his application.
Geddes’s direct reference to the Robertson Smith case does not seem to have been clear to previous commentators. However attention has been drawn to a further element which Geddes’s supporters feared would count against him. This was his friendship with Annie Besant and his disinclination to conceal the fact.27 Mrs Besant was at that time a major figure in the Secularist Movement, and in that role had been prosecuted in 1877 on grounds of obscenity for the publication of a pamphlet on contraception.28 She was also a figure of scandal due to her separation in 1873 from her husband, the Church of England cleric Frank Besant. Part of the background to that separation was Annie Besant’s ceasing to believe in the divinity of Christ, and consequent refusal to take the sacrament with her husband.29 Thus Patrick Geddes through his academic and personal contacts both north and south of the Border was, at the time of his application for the chair of biology at University College Dundee, associated not only with a heresy case but also with an obscenity trial. In addition, the defendant in the latter had recently declared herself to be at odds with a fundamental aspect of Christian doctrine. This was precisely the sort of free-thinking academic and cultural climate in which Geddes thrived, but that can have been of little comfort to him as he saw his hopes of a chair at University College Dundee slipping away.
It is, of course, tempting to conclude that had Geddes’s position not been brought into question on the issue of religion, he would have been appointed to the chair of biology. Had that chair gone to anyone other than the chosen candidate, D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson, one might feel more confident in such a conclusion. But Thompson, though younger even than Geddes, was no light-weight candidate. He was a biologist of brilliance, and as such was well capable of gaining the appointment on merit alone, merit which Geddes himself recognised. Indeed, despite his own disappointment, Geddes offered to accommodate Thompson while the latter was transferring from Cambridge to Dundee and in the light of this (and the Edinburgh connections of both men) it seems likely that the two were already friends. In subsequent years they certainly became so, indeed in a moving letter to Geddes’s daughter Nora Mears, written some years after Geddes’s death in 1932, Thompson referred to his ‘lifelong friendship’ with her father and to his happy memories of Nora herself from her childhood onwards. The occasion of this letter is Nora’s desire to have D’Arcy’s comments on a collection of poetry she was proposing to publish, and in which the letter in due course took its place as a kind of informal preface.30 Nora seemed to regard Thompson as a kind of unofficial uncle, a role he clearly reciprocated. This evidence of closeness between Geddes’s family and Thompson adds an interesting personal dimension to an appreciation of Thompson’s high regard for Geddes as a thinker.31
Whatever the initial disappointment that their candidate had not been appointed, the members of the Dundee Naturalists’ Society took to D’Arcy Thompson soon enough. Not long after taking up his appointment in early 1885 he gave his first lecture to the Society on ‘Modern Methods of Biological Study’.32 That year he was also elected to the council. Martin White by this time had taken on the duties of honorary secretary, sharing them with Frank Young.33 Nevertheless, whatever Thompson’s qualities, Frank Young and Martin White must have been concerned by the way in which Geddes had been treated. However, on a positive and unifying note for all concerned, the scientific standing of the Dundee Naturalists’ Society itself was underlined that same year of 1885 by the election to Fellowship of the British Association for the Advancement of Science of three of its members, James Martin White, Patrick Geddes and D’Arcy Wentworth Thompson.
Geddes’s failure to gain the Dundee chair in biology in 1884 seems to have put his career advancement on hold. He had already failed, in 1882, to be appointed to the chair of natural history at Edinburgh University. In 1888 he failed again to be appointed to an Edinburgh chair, for the regius chair of botany had fallen vacant on the death of his friend Alexander Dickson in 1887. Geddes’s problems were compounded by the fact that he was now showing himself to be a generalist thinker at a time when narrow expertise was beginning to be the index of academic recognition that it still is today. The effective nature of this generalism is indicated by a recent description of Geddes as ‘a seminal influence on sociology and planning and the father of environmentalism’.34 But his pioneering and wide-ranging thinking, frequently in areas which have only been properly defined as academic disciplines in the wake of his exploratory work, was to confuse his more conventional colleagues for the rest of his career. He was capable both of presenting an expert view, and of understanding and valuing the wider cultural context of such expertise. One of his aims was to develop the academic discipline of sociology to give structure and method to the scientific study of such wider cultural contexts, issues and sympathies. His papers to the Dundee Naturalists’ Society in 1881 and 1882 already illuminate this breadth for they reflect both his specialist knowledge of biology and his desire to situate all knowledges within a wider sociological framework. His commitment to such a generalist approach enabled him to develop a holistic, ecological approach. However this same generalism opened him to accusations of lack of focus35 and such comments, sometimes justified, did not help him in his academic career.
In this situation of uncertainty for Geddes the patronage of Martin White was of all the more importance. White had come to control the family wealth on the death of his father in 1884. By 1886 the relationship of patronage as well as of friendship between Geddes and White had begun to assume a pattern which was to continue for more than thirty years. This pattern consisted on the one hand of Geddes asking White for money for various schemes, and on the other of White attempting to finance Geddes in a way which was both controlled and creative. Not surprisingly, there were tensions between the two men. For example in a letter of 27 January 1886 White writes from Dundee to Geddes with reference to the terms of a £200 loan requested by Geddes for some unspecified purpose. The tone of the letter is very much that of a close friend, indeed part of the letter refers to a trip to Greece which the two men were about to make. However this intended journey also draws attention to the stresses consequent on disparity of wealth, for Geddes’s participation in the trip was made possible because he was being employed as a tutor. White continues
now regarding going away I assure you I wish you not to feel, and I shall not, the rich and poor sentiment you expressed. If I can put a good scientific man in ‘real good shape’ consciousness of accomplished duty is my reward, for I advance science. And you must in this instance remember the pleasure I have in scientific company and in yours especially. You are to be cashier and we are to travel unrestrained and joyously . . . Hurrah for Greece – I wish I were off.36
The main body of the letter is full of suggestions about Geddes’s future which show White’s concern that Geddes’s work should not be lost to academia, and the fact that White even mentions the possibility of such loss, suggests Geddes’s uncertainty of academic direction at this time. It is clear that White sees himself both as a personal and as an academic advisor to Geddes (quite apart from his role as a patron). For example, without even starting a new paragraph, White shifts from loan repayment details to considering Geddes’s future:
I think you want some true stimulus to take you out of the in some respects, unproductive speculative and give the world some of your matured thoughts or conclusions. Your publications would be valuable in themselves, and their loss must not be risked.
White goes on to write of introducing Geddes more fully to the public where he would ‘gain an enlarged sphere of usefulness, beneficial influence and enlarged aims towards further work . . . And all this you could do without much sacrifice to your pursuits’. Here White seems to be sounding out Geddes with respect to some sort of stable employment. In due course, after Geddes had failed to be appointed professor of botany at Edinburgh University (1888), White and his siblings financed a part-time chair of botany, named in memory of their father James Farquhar White, for Geddes at University College Dundee, a post that allowed Geddes the freedom to engage with his other interests for most of the year. It is by no means clear that this scheme was in his mind when he wrote to Geddes in 1886 but from the tone of the letter it seems likely that White was at least beginning to consider some such idea. One wonders how much an awareness of the injustice done to Geddes in the treatment of his application for the chair of biology was a factor in White’s suggestion to University College Dundee that such a chair, specifically for Geddes, might be appropriate. Whatever the case, in 1888 Geddes was appointed and University College Dundee found itself with two remarkable biologists (both also outstanding visual thinkers) on its professoriate. They were to remain so for the next three decades.
The correspondence between Geddes and White over the next decades repeats a familiar pattern of loans and friendship, the loans often now directly related to Geddes’s Dundee chair, but also to other projects such as the finishing of Geddes’s Ramsay Garden project in Edinburgh.37 This remarkable building was at the heart of an informal college, which comprised, along with flats for academics, a network of student residences and the teaching materials of the Outlook Tower. Along with associated civic activities, architectural conservation and renewal projects, and gap-site gardens this comprises one of the most extraordinary educational experiments of this period. Geddes’s civic activities in Dundee were also notable. As noted elsewhere in this volume,38 it is highly likely that it was Geddes’s appointment in 1888 that stimulated the professoriate of University College to establish the Dundee Social Union on 24 May of that year, six weeks after Geddes took up his post. Another notable, but unsuccessful project was Geddes’s proposal to establish a botanical garden at the eastern end of Magdalen Green.39
Geddes’s part-time role and growing involvement with sociology, cultural revivals and town planning, left him open to criticisms of neglecting his role in Dundee. For example, Martin White himself wrote in 1904 of hearing ‘various rumblings at the little attention Dundee gets from you’.40 There may have been some justice in White’s comment, for at the best of times Geddes was not a conventional academic, but it must be stressed that by 1904 Geddes had made possible a remarkable contribution to botanical research in Dundee, inspiring work of the highest quality from one student in particular, the brilliant but short-lived Robert Smith. Alexander Mather has made clear the quality of Geddes’s academic leadership during his years in Dundee:
The golden age of vegetation mapping in Scotland can be attributed to a remarkable coincidence of several factors: the inspirational genius of Geddes and his European connections, the industry and enthusiasm of Robert Smith, the cartographic innovations of John Bartholomew in producing the maps and of the (Royal) Scottish Geographical Society in publishing them.41
The author goes on to suggest that this vegetation survey project: ‘can be seen as a metaphor for, and flagship of, the greater Geddes project. For a few years around 1900, there was a real prospect that a distinctive Geddesian geography could emerge that was international in outlook, conceptually aware but empirically grounded, holistic, and practical in orientation. Given the setting in a period that was critical in the evolution of geography (and other disciplines), the significance of the enterprise could have been profound and fundamental: in essence Geddesian geography was human ecology.’
But the enterprise was not sustained, for at the time there was no critical mass of like-minded botanist-geographers in Scotland to support Geddes’s initiative. Robert Smith’s tragic death made things worse. What is clear with hindsight is the high quality of research made possible by Geddes. The point made about the importance of John Bartholomew’s mapping to the project leads one to note also the high production values of the Scottish Geographical Magazine in which these Geddes-inspired botanical surveys were published. In volume 16 in 1900, Robert Smith published the first two parts of his ‘Botanical Survey of Scotland’, those for Edinburgh and for North Perthshire.42 In a sad irony, this volume also includes Smith’s obituary, written, of course, by Geddes.43 Robert Smith’s work was continued by his brother, William. Further valuable papers were written for volumes 18, 20 and 21 of the Scottish Geographical Magazine.44 Geddes maintained his close links with the magazine, and notable is another obituary, that of the French anarchist geographer, Elysée Reclus.45 Along with William Smith’s ‘Botanical survey of Forfar and Fife’, this lengthy obituary occurs in two parts in volume 21.
Further insight into Geddes’s wider activities while he held the chair of botany at University College Dundee is afforded by other papers in volumes 20 and 21, specifically those reporting the work of another Geddes student, this time an Edinburgh one, the polar explorer William Speirs Bruce. Bruce had earlier laid out his ambitious scientific plans for his Scottish National Antarctic Expedition in the pages of the magazine. His voyages were a significant scientific success. It can be noted in the context of the present chapter that Bruce’s first taste of Antarctic exploration had a direct link with Dundee, for he had sailed as scientific and medical officer on the whaler Balaena on its first foray to explore the possibilities of Antarctic whaling in 1892–93.46 Although this Dundee expedition was primarily commercial rather than scientific the writings and lectures given by Bruce and his colleague W. G. Burn Murdoch on their return ‘started an interest and led to Bruce’s further and purely scientific voyages which placed him in the forefront of naturalist navigators and explorers’.47 Peter Speak, whose scholarship has done a great deal to re-awaken interest in Bruce’s work, has credited this Dundee expedition with the reopening of Antarctic research after a break of some fifty years.48
In 1904 White was writing to Geddes not in Dundee or in Edinburgh but at a new address, Low Valleyfield, Dunfermline. This was Geddes’s temporary residence while employed on the making of a report, which was to become recognised as a classic statement of the principles of urban conservation and renewal.49 This report was Geddes’s proposed plan for the area around Pittencrieff Park in Dunfermline, which he had undertaken in response to a request for proposals from the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust. By the time Geddes was ready to publish this copiously illustrated report of over 200 pages, White appeared distinctly unenthusiastic about reading yet another ideas-packed document by his old friend. He wrote from London on 15 June 1904: ‘I shall be glad to see the Dunfermline report but hope it is not too long’.50 Too long it may well have been for the long-suffering White, but it was nevertheless one of the most important early twentieth-century documents on town planning and city development. It had a significant impact on twentieth-century thinking, on the one hand through the work of Geddes’s American disciple, the theorist of cities Lewis Mumford,51 and on the other through its influence on British planners such as Patrick Abercrombie.52
It is an irony that having helped to set up Geddes in a career with a degree of security White’s enthusiasm for Geddes’s schemes was showing signs of waning at the very time when his support for Geddes was beginning to bear fruit. The essential creativity of the relationship between these two men is indicated by the fact that thanks in large part to Geddes’s inspiration as far back as 1881, White was increasingly conscious of the possibilities of the new discipline of sociology, and was by this time firmly committed, as a patron, to establishing sociology on the academic map. Geddes was still very much involved in this project but White was beginning to view the subject with a different emphasis. For example, although both were involved in the foundation of the Sociological Society in London (in due course a key port of call for the young Lewis Mumford), White criticised a circular by Geddes relating to the foundation of the Society as ‘too purely scientific’. Instead he advocated more emphasis on philosophy, and this in turn should correspond to two distinct sections of the Society.53 Where once White might have deferred to Geddes on academic matters, it is clear that he no longer did so. At the end of the letter White introduced a topic which was to have major ramifications: he mentioned his anxiety to establish a chair of social and political philosophy at St Andrews. It seems that nothing came of this scheme at St Andrews, or indeed in Scotland, but it did bear fruit in London, for, as already noted, White went on to endow the first two chairs of sociology at the University of London. From 1905 he had given money for ‘temporary endowments of Teacherships in Sociology, including Ethnology’ and on 21 September 1907 he gave £10,000 for the foundation of a permanent chair in sociology, in due course held by Hobhouse. One can note, in the light of White’s injunction to Geddes in 1903 to pay more heed to philosophy, that Hobhouse was by training a philosopher. In 1911 he made money available for a second chair, to which Edward Westermarck was appointed.54 It is, perhaps, something of a surprise to realise that the University of London owes its early pre-eminence in social science, at least in part, to the wealth created by the Dundee textile industry.
While White was hoping that the Dunfermline report was not too long, another Dundee figure had contributed to it. This was the painter John Duncan who made five illustrations for the report, including proposals for an allegorical statue Time and the Fates: the Dial of History, and other statues of St Columba and Ossian. He also contributed a mural design of one of the key events in the history of Dunfermline, The Marriage of Malcolm and Margaret. However his contribution was not limited to illustration, for in his text Geddes invoked the example of Duncan’s murals in Ramsay Lodge in Edinburgh to demonstrate the practicality of revitalising cultural history through the visual arts.55
John Duncan was more than a decade younger than Patrick Geddes. He had been born in Dundee in 1866, the son of a grocer father and weaver mother.56 He was a talented illustrator and from an early age contributed to the burgeoning journalistic culture of Dundee. Like many Scottish artists of the day he was also well travelled having studied in Antwerp and Italy. It is unlikely that he met Geddes before his return from Italy in 1891,57 but that meeting was almost certainly in Dundee, perhaps at the Dundee Art Society. By 1893 the two were working closely together. In due course Duncan was to become the leading artist of the Celtic revival in Scotland, and he owed much to the opportunities afforded him by his links with Geddes. It is easy to assume that it was Geddes with his interest in cultural revival in general who inspired Duncan to Celtic revival work. In fact Duncan showed clear interest in things Celtic at least six years before he is thought to have met Geddes, for he signs himself in a Gaelicised version of his name, ‘Eoin Donnchadh’, in a letter to his friend William Craigie written on 3 August 1885.58 It thus seems that the meeting between Duncan and Geddes was very much a meeting of minds, it may even be that it was at least in part Duncan’s influence that guided Geddes in the direction of specifically Celtic – as well as general Scots – revival. It can be noted that Geddes’s other main collaborator in the Celtic revival aspect of his activities, William Sharp, did not even meet him until the autumn of 1894.59
In another letter to Craigie, Duncan made reference to his earliest project for Geddes.60 In this letter he asked for Craigie’s help with ideas for a series of murals showing the history of the bagpipes which he had agreed to paint for Geddes’s new flat in Ramsay Garden. He introduced Geddes as ‘Professor Geddes whose name you may have heard – who occupies the chair of Botany at Dundee’. The mural scheme was carried out, but has been since destroyed, so its precise composition is not known. As Duncan outlines it the original proposal proceeded from an image of reeds blown in the wind, to Pan teaching Apollo, the first musician, to play the pan-pipes, thence to pipes played before Moses parting the Red Sea. Then followed a Bacchanalian scene with satyrs and maenads; the Pied Piper of Hamelyn; a medieval Celtic piper (Duncan asks Craigie for a suitable incident to illustrate), and as a final image the body of the early Jacobite leader Claverhouse being carried from the field of Killiecrankie ‘with the pipes of the highland clans that fought with him marching beside their slain chief’.61
Soon afterward Duncan was closely involved in Geddes’s magazine, The Evergreen: A Northern Seasonal, which was published by Geddes and Colleagues from the Lawnmarket (that is to say, the Ramsay Garden/Outlook Tower/Halls of Residence complex) in Edinburgh. A number of his designs for the magazine echo the subjects of the murals, for example Apollo’s Schooldays, from the Book of Spring published in Spring 1895, and Bacchanalian Revel, published in the Book of Summer, in 1896. The close relationship between these murals and the Evergreen images is demonstrated by Duncan’s request to Geddes to send his watercolour sketch of his Bacchanalian procession because he is ‘about to do my drawing for The Evergreen, and I can’t get along without having that sketch by me’.62 Writing in July 1895 Duncan requests two copies of the first issue of The Evergreen (the aforementioned Book of Spring), one for himself and one for a fellow artist in Dundee, Stewart Carmichael.63 The latter contributed in due course in 1903 to a student magazine, The Meal Poke, which shows every sign of being inspired in its design, by The Evergreen.64 There were certainly copies of The Evergreen within the student body, for Geddes used this first issue as a prize in his Dundee botany classes.65
John Duncan had the leading role in Geddes’s Old Edinburgh School of Art, a key part of his Old Town renewal activities in Edinburgh. As ever, Geddes was short of money for the project and, as John Kemplay has noted, this led to friction with Duncan.66 But as with White, any friction was within a context of creative collaboration based on mutual respect, and Duncan remained faithful to Geddes’s ideas for the rest of his life. This is not the place to explore this relationship in depth, but a letter from Duncan to Geddes, written in 1898 can illuminate it for the purposes of this chapter. There Duncan makes a very polite request for money for work done, which shows just how far he had, by this time, come to evolve a modus operandi with Geddes. Duncan wrote from his studio in Dundee and referred to having the services of a talented assistant, presumably the able but short-lived George Dutch Davidson (1879–1901). He also referred to Tayport-based Miss Nell Baxter. Along with Duncan she had made a substantial contribution to The Evergreen and had been one of the several women whom he had trained at the Old Edinburgh School of Art.67 The letter ends with reference to an Arts and Crafts society ‘forming in Glasgow at the present moment’, and Duncan was clearly delighted to have been asked to become one of its twenty founder members. He listed the others in full, and it is indeed an impressive list. The two foremost architects of the day, Rowand Anderson and John James Burnet were included as were Duncan’s Evergreen colleague Robert Burns and the foremost sculptor of the day Pittendrigh MacGillivray (also an Evergreen contributor, both of graphic work and poetry). Also listed were a number of key proponents of the Glasgow style associated with Charles Rennie Mackintosh, including Mackintosh himself, his wife-to-be Margaret Macdonald and his key supporter, the director of Glasgow School of Art, Francis Newbery. Newbery’s talented wife Jessie was also included as were David Gauld, George Walton, and the outstanding all-round craftswoman and artist Phoebe Anna Traquair. All in all a list that allows one to appreciate Duncan in the wider context of his peers.68
Over the next fifteen years or so both Geddes and Duncan further developed friendships with a number of these artists, not least Margaret Macdonald and Charles Rennie Mackintosh. One finds this reflected in an affectionate note, written not later than 1914, from Margaret to Geddes’s wife Anna. Margaret referred to seeing that Geddes had been lecturing in the Outlook Tower and regretted not having ‘someone like him here’. She went on to mention visiting John Duncan and his wife in their new house in Edinburgh.69 Patrick Geddes was an admirer of Mackintosh’s architecture, and a few years later commissioned him to produce designs which almost certainly relate to planning work in India.
It was now over thirty years since Patrick Geddes had given his first papers to the Dundee Naturalists’ Society. Soon, in 1914, in his sixtieth year, he would begin to develop a new phase of his work, in India, Palestine and France, departing his Dundee chair for the new chair of civics and sociology at the University of Bombay in 1919. But there was one last great event in the history of the city of Dundee in which Geddes’s influence was felt and in which James Martin White and John Duncan also played a part. This was the meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in September 1912.70
It has been mentioned that Martin White, Patrick Geddes and D’Arcy Thompson had all been elected as fellows of the British Association in 1885. By 1912 Thompson had become a key figure in the organisation, not least as president of Section D (zoology) at the 1911 meeting of the Association. Although this chapter has not dealt with Thompson’s contribution to the intellectual and cultural life of Dundee, it will be clear from those references that have been made that his contribution was immense. He was a key figure in the local organising committee for the British Association meeting in 1912, and was also a vice-president of Section D.
Among the contributors to Section D was W. S. Bruce, speaking on ‘Zoological Results of the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition’. Both Geddes and Thompson had supported Bruce in this venture, and one might at first sight suppose that Bruce’s results would have been one of the highlights of this Dundee meeting. Geddes himself, reflecting his growing role as a sociologist, was a vice-president of Section F (economic science and statistics). He contributed a paper entitled ‘Regional and Civic Surveys: the needed Co-operation of the Sciences towards the Town Planning Movement’. Among other contributors to this section was Ramsay MacDonald MP, speaking on ‘The Minimum Wage’. Geddes’s former student, William Smith, building on his botanical survey work at University College Dundee, gave a paper (jointly with C. B. Crampton) on ‘The Influence and Origin of Grasslands’. This was presented to the newly formed Section M (agriculture) which had developed out of Section F.
Geddes may well have been present to hear Bruce speak in the session of Section E (geography) devoted to Antarctica. It is, however, notable that Bruce is not even listed as a contributor. This gives a clue to a dramatic aspect of polar research during this period. A vice-president of Section E was Sir Clements Markham, who contributed a paper on ‘Antarctic Discovery’ that was noted in the proceedings as opening a discussion on the Antarctic. The full discussion is reported in the Geographical Journal,71 and there one finds that Markham’s paper was directly followed by a shorter, but substantial, contribution by Bruce. Reported also is discussion from Bruce’s supporter (and later biographer) Rudmose Brown, and others. In recent years Markham’s complex character has become a subject of some interest,72 and his attempts to thwart Bruce’s careful scientific explorations in favour of the more heroic style of his own protégé, Robert Falcon Scott, have been noted.73 Certainly the fact that Bruce’s paper to the British Association in Dundee is not recorded in the proceedings is consistent with this. The tragedy of Markham’s contribution is that part of his agenda seems to be to make of Scott a legend in his own lifetime, yet by that date, unbeknown to Markham, Scott had lain dead and undiscovered for several months. An irony is that, in his selective account of Antarctic exploration, Markham not only ignores Bruce, he also makes no mention of Amundsen. The latter had by this time not only reached the South Pole in advance of Scott, but had also survived to tell the tale, although the tale had not yet been told. By contrast in the discussion reported in the Geographical Journal, Rudmose Brown made sure that Amundsen’s previous explorations are given due credit.74 A final, sad, critique of Markham comes from another discussant, T. V. Hodgson, who describes Markham’s advocacy of human rather than animal traction in polar exploration as ‘a serious mistake’.75 Whether Scott’s death can be attributed to this ‘serious mistake’ is a moot point but the comment illustrates the clash in the ideologies which surrounded Antarctic research. For many years such controversy was obscured by the myth of Scott that Markham so assiduously created. While one cannot be sure that Patrick Geddes and D’Arcy Thompson managed to attend this session, their sympathies would have been with Bruce’s science rather than Markham’s mythologising.
Martin White had no active role in the meeting but had written to Geddes on 6 September hoping to see him there.76 He did, however, make a less obvious contribution to the event for he had presented a work by John Duncan to Dundee Corporation in 1912. This work, The Riders of the Sidhe, had been displayed at the Royal Scottish Academy the previous year, and shows Duncan at the height of his skill as a Celtic revival symbolist. It was exhibited as part of the major loan exhibition mounted in the Victoria Galleries to mark the visit of the British Association.77 This exhibition was notable both for its scale and its quality. International in scope, it had Scottish art at its heart, including a large number of works by Raeburn. Among much else there was a previously unexhibited late work by William McTaggart who had died in 1910. Through the patronage of McTaggart’s friend James Guthrie Orchar, Dundee had developed a close link with this artist.
By this time John Duncan was resident in Edinburgh, Martin White was ever more closely involved in affairs in London, not least through his advocacy of sociology, and Geddes would soon embark on the final international phase of his career. The British Association meeting of 1912 is thus as good a point as any to conclude this glimpse of the interplay of patronage, academia and artistic culture in Dundee. Its programme, participants and associated events are symbolic of the achievement of University College Dundee in little more than three decades.78
1. E. Gauldie, The Dundee Textile Industry, 1790–1885: from the papers of Peter Carmichael of Arthurstone (Edinburgh, 1969), 228–9. Thanks must go to Lesley Lindsay for drawing my attention to the significance of this society.
2. See F. Young, The Coming of Age of the Dundee Naturalists’ Society (Dundee, 1895); Dundee Public Libraries [DPL], Lamb Collection [LC] 378 (8).
3. DPL, LC 142(26), 8–12, Membership list appended to Dundee Naturalists’ Society, Tenth Annual Report, 1882–83.
4. Dundee Advertiser, 31 Jul. 1835.
5. Emile Garcke, Managing Director of the British Electric Traction Company.
6. ‘Electricity Supply’, Encylopaedia Britannica, 11th edition, vol. 9, 198–9.
7. Gauldie, Dundee Textile Industry, 228–9.
8. DPL, LC, 142(25), 4, Dundee Naturalists’ Society, Ninth Annual Report, 1881–82.
9. P. Boardman, The Worlds of Patrick Geddes: Biologist, Town Planner, Re-educator, Peace-Warrior (London, 1978), 55.
10. P. Abrams, The Origins of British Sociology (Chicago, 1968). Abrams notes also the influence of Geddes’s close collaborator Victor Branford, whose contribution to the early formations of sociology was substantial, but has been little researched. Branford’s papers are held at Keele University.
11. Boardman, Geddes, 78; and P. Kitchen, A Most Unsettling Person: An Introduction to the Ideas and Life of Patrick Geddes (London, 1975), 84.
12. Proposed by Professors Rutherford, Stirling, Turner and Sir Wyville Thomson. All fellowship information reported here is courtesy of Dr Lesley Campbell, Fellowship Officer, Royal Society of Edinburgh, who located it in the archive of the Society.
13. Young’s other proposer was Professor Alleyne Nicholson.
14. DPL, LC 142(25), 4, Dundee Naturalists’ Society, Ninth Annual Report, 1881–82.
15. Professor A. D. Peacock, quoted in Boardman, 54.
16. The membership list published with the DNS annual report for 1882–83 shows Geddes to be one of only 7 honorary members, another of whom was James Geikie.
17. Kitchen, Unsettling Person, 84 ff.
18. Ibid., 85.
19. D. Southgate, University Education in Dundee (Edinburgh, 1982), 31.
20. Kitchen, Unsettling Person, 85.
21. G. F. Barbour, The Life of Alexander Whyte (London, 1923), 203. Whyte is himself quoting from the biography of Robertson Smith by G. S. Chrystal and J. S. Black. One can note that G. S. Chrystal is the already mentioned Professor Chrystal.
22. Barbour, Life of Whyte, 203–4.
23. Ibid. 201.
24. Robertson Smith continued to be a figure of international reputation. Some indication of his overall influence can be found in the work of his younger contemporary Sigmund Freud, who devoted a substantial section of Totem and Taboo to a discussion of Smith’s work (and that of Smith’s pupil James Frazer).
25. It was Hill’s desire to make a painting to commemorate the founding of the Free Church that led Brewster to suggest to him that he made use of the newly-invented technique of photography to ease the task. In the next few years this led to the development of programmatic documentary photography by Hill and the chemist Robert Adamson.
26. Kitchen, Unsettling Person, 85.
27. Ibid., 86.
28. D. Nash, Secularism, Art and Freedom (Leicester, 1992), 22–3.
29. M. Lutyens, Krishnamurti: The Years of Awakening (Boston, 1997), 13–14.
30. N. Mears Intimations and Avowals (Edinburgh, 1944).
31. Boardman, Geddes, 437.
32. 11 Mar.; DPL, LC, 142(27), Dundee Naturalists’ Society Twelfth Annual Report, 1884–5.
34. T. M. Devine, The Scottish Nation, 1700–2000 (Edinburgh, 1999), 296.
35. Kitchen, Unsettling Person, 87–8.
36. National Library of Scotland [NLS], MS 10524, fos.71,72.
37. For example, NLS, MS 10530, fo.209, from White to Geddes dated 20 Sep. 1898, details the arrangement for a loan which seems to relate to the completion of Ramsay Garden, and NLS, MS 10533, fos.222–24, a letter from White dated 12 Nov. 1902 seems to relate to repayments of the same loan.
38. M. Baillie, ‘The Grey Lady: Mary Lily Walker of Dundee’.
39. Significant but as yet unpublished research has been carried out on this topic by Ann Prescott, and my thanks to her for drawing my attention to it. Prescott has pointed out that the scheme failed to gain council approval by the narrowest of margins in 1909.
40. NLS, MS 10537, fo.56; Balruddery, 22 Sep. 1904.
41. A. S. Mather, ‘Geddes, Geography and ecology: The Golden Age of Vegetation Mapping in Scotland’, Scottish Geographical Journal, 115, 1, (1999), 35–52.
42. R. Smith, ‘Botanical survey of Scotland. I. Edinburgh District’, Scottish Geographical Magazine, 16, (1900a) 385–415; R. Smith, ‘Botanical survey of Scotland. II. North Perthshire District’, Scottish Geographical Magazine, 16, (1900b), 441–67.
43. P. Geddes, ‘Robert Smith BSc, University College Dundee’, Scottish Geographical Magazine, 16 (1900), 597–9.
44. W. G. Smith, ‘A botanical survey of Scotland’, Scottish Geographical Magazine, 18 (1902), 132–9; W.G. Smith, ‘Botanical survey of Scotland III and IV: Forfar and Fife’, Scottish Geographical Magazine, 20 (1904), 617–28; and 21, 4–23, 57–83 and 117–26.
45. P. Geddes ‘A Great Geographer: Elysée Reclus’, Scottish Geographical Magazine, 21 (1905), 490–6, 548–55.
46. Another Geddes student in Edinburgh, W. G. Burn Murdoch, had accompanied Bruce. He recalls how during a lunch in the hall in Mound Place, Bruce suddenly invited him to go to the Antarctic. A week later they left from Dundee. Burn Murdoch writes: ‘This was away back in 1892. Fifty years previously to this Dundee expedition of 1892–93, Sir James Ross had reported seeing great numbers of right whales in the Antarctic regions and the Dundonians having whaling vessels almost idle owing to the scarcity of right whales in the Arctic, fitted out this expedition to get these whales in the South; and our scientific bodies selected promising scientists to go as doctors on board three of the vessels and supplied them with scientific equipment’. Burn Murdoch writes of the return of that first expedition to Camperdown Dock in Dundee, noting that they were met by Geddes and his wife. W. G. Burn Murdoch in R. N. Rudmose Brown, A Naturalist at the Poles (London, 1923), 31
47. Ibid., 31.
48. P. Speak, introductory chapters to W. S. Bruce, The Log of the Scotia (Edinburgh, 1992).
49. P. Geddes, A Study in City Development: Parks, Gardens and Culture-Institutes (Dunfermline, 1904). The title page as a whole is of interest. It continues: ‘A report to the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust by Patrick Geddes, Professor of Botany, University College Dundee (St Andrews University), President of the Edinburgh School of Sociology’.
50. NLS, MS 10538, fos.67–70.
51. See, for example, F. Novak, ed., Lewis Mumford and Patrick Geddes: The Correspondence (London, 1995).
52. See, for example, P. Abercrombie, Town and Country Planning (London, 1933).
53. NLS, MS 10534, fos.29, 35. Letter dated 16 Feb. 1903.
54. University of London: The Historical Record 1836-1912, (London, 1912), 184–7.
55. Geddes, City Development, 145.
56. J. Kemplay, John Duncan a Scottish Symbolist (San Francisco, 1994), 12.
57. Ibid., 15
58. NLS, MS 9987, fo.11. Letter of 3 Aug. 1885, written from Dundee Advertiser Office. ‘Any reply to addresses to John T. Duncan, Artistic Department, Advertiser Office’.
59. E. A. Sharp, William Sharp (Fiona Macleod): A Memoir (London, 1910), 249–55.
60. NLS, MS 9987, fo.32, letter of 25 Apr. 1893.
61. NLS, MS 10588, fo.96, (1895–6). This fragment of letter from Duncan suggests that the Claverhouse mural was painted.
62. Strathclyde University Archives [SUA], T GED9/137. Letter of 10 Jul. 1895, written from 13 Union Street, Kirkcudbright.
63. NLS, MS 10588, fo.24, 30 Jul. 1895.
64. The Meal Poke, eds H. B. Baildon & R.C. Buist (Dundee, 1903).
65. For example a copy of The Evergreen: Book of Spring, in the author’s possession, awarded to Charles Somerville, as a special prize in the Practical Botany Class in Jun. 1895.
66. Kemplay, Duncan, 18–19.
67. Also notable here is Edinburgh-based Helen Hay, an artist about whom even less is known, but whose work merits further research.
68. NLS, MS 10530, fo.122 (1898), 5 May 1898, 31 Albert Square Dundee.
69. SUA, TGED9/2175. This letter from ‘Margaret M. Mackintosh’ to ‘Mrs Geddes’ is written from 6 Florentine Terrace, Hillhead, Glasgow. It has no date but is datable to 1912–14 inclusive. The Duncans moved into their new house in St Bernard’s Terrace, Edinburgh, in 1912. The Mackintoshes left Glasgow in 1914.
70. See, for an excellent guide to Dundee in 1912, Handbook and Guide to Dundee and District: Prepared for the Members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, on the occasion of their visit to Dundee, under the direction of the Local Publications Committee, eds A. W. Paton & A. H. Millar (Dundee, 1912). For proceedings, abstracts of papers, programmes, membership, etc. see British Association for the Advancement of Science, Dundee Meeting 1912 (London, 1913). For popular interest in the British Association meeting, see, for example, The Piper o’ Dundee, various issues for Aug. and Sep., 1912; DUA, MS 88/11/6.
71. Geographical Journal, 40, 537–50, Jul.-Dec. 1912; papers by E. A. Reeves, C. Markham, W. S. Bruce.
72. See, for example, F. Spufford, I May be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination (London, 1996), 273 ff.
73. Speak, introduction, Log of the Scotia. See also Don Aldridge, The Rescue of Captain Scott (East Linton, 1999).
74. Geographical Journal, 40 (1912), 548.
75. Geographical Journal, 40 (1912), 549.
76. SUA, TGED 1107.
77. Illustrated Catalogue of a Loan Collection of Paintings Watercolours and Engravings in the Victoria Galleries Dundee on the Occasion of the British Association Meeting with an introduction by A. H. Millar (Dundee, 1912).
78. At first in its own right, and, from 1890 under the broader wing of St Andrews University.
This essay was published by Dundee University Press as chapter eight of Victorian Dundee, edited by Christopher A Whatley, Bob Harris and Louise Miskell, ISBN: 9781845860912 in 2011. It first appeared (in similar form) in the first edition of the book published in 2000 by Tuckwell Press, ISBN 186232171 X.