Clubs and Societies

Societies & Clubs

‘Connoisseurs’ from ‘A series of original portraits and caricature etchings by the late John Kay’, 1837 (NLS shelfmark: H.22.b.9)

Discussion, debate and conviviality

Many of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment knew each other well, both professionally and socially.

The 'literati', or intellectuals, were mainly based in the university towns of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, and were often members of the same clubs and societies. These ranged from literary, philosophical and scientific debating societies, to more convivial dining and drinking clubs. Whatever their particular focus, they all encouraged lively debate, mutual improvement, and the exchange of ideas.

Crossing boundaries

The 18th-century clubs and societies were also characterised by their cross-disciplinary focus. The boundaries between different subject areas were not as fixed as they are today. It was quite common for philosophers, artists, scientists, churchmen, and lawyers to be members of the same society and to share ideas and discoveries from their different fields of knowledge.

The membership of the more convivial drinking and dining clubs often spanned different social and professional classes - advocates and surgeons rubbed shoulders with bakers and builders.


  • Source 1

    List of members of the Select Society
  • Source 2

    Questions debated by the Select Society
  • Source 3

    The aims of the Edinburgh Society
  • Source 4

    A description of the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh, 1754
  • Source 5

    Members of the Cape Club
  • Source 6

    An account of the Cape Club
  • Source 7

    Extract from the Highland Society of London Minute Book, 1784