Source 3 : The establishment of the Select Society for promoting the reading and speaking of the English language in Scotland, 1761
Extract from periodical (NLS shelfmark: Sc.Mag, July 1761)
The Select Society, an Edinburgh debating society, was founded in 1754 by the painter Allan Ramsay. Its stated aims were the ‘pursuit of philosophical inquiry and the improvement of members in the art of speaking’.
Promoting the ‘English tongue’
Following a course of lectures on spoken English, given in Edinburgh by the Irish actor Thomas Sheridan in June 1761, there was an increased enthusiasm for studying and promoting the ‘English tongue’.
In July 1761, the ‘Scots Magazine’ reported that the plan of creating ‘a new establishment’ for this purpose was to be put before the committee of the Select Society.
In consequence of the plan mentioned in our last [390.], the following paper has been published.
Regulations of the Select Society for promoting the Reading and Speaking of the English Language in Scotland.
As the intercourse between this part of Great Britain and the capital daily increases, both on account of business and amusement, and must still go on increasing, gentlemen educated in Scotland have long been sensible of the disadvantages under which they labour, from their imperfect knowledge of the ENGLISH TONGUE, and the impropriety with which they speak it.
Experience had convinced Scotsmen, that it is not impossible for persons born and educated in this country, to acquire such knowledge of the English Tongue, as to write it with some tolerable purity.
But with regard to the other point, that of speaking with propriety, as little has been hitherto attempted, it has generally been taken for granted, that there was no prospect of attempting any thing with a probability of success; though, at the same time, it is allowed to be an accomplishment, more important, and more universally useful, than the former.
In other countries, great and beneficial effects have flowed from the regular study of their own languages, and the art of public speaking, under diligent and well-instructed masters. And, in proportion as the dialect of any province is corrupt or barbarous, the necessity of studying purity in speech increases.
Even persons well advanced in life may be taught, by skilful instructors, to avoid many gross improprieties, in quantity, accent, the manner of sounding the vowels, &c. which, at present, render the Scotch dialect so offensive.
Among those in a more early period of life, greater effects may be expected from regular instruction. It is in their power, not only to guard against the more gross faults in speech peculiar to Scotsmen, but to attain, in some degree, propriety and elegance in discourse.
Such as are just entering upon their course of education, whose organs are yet pliable, and capable of being formed to new sounds and new habits, may acquire the power of speaking, not only with purity, but with grace and eloquence.
For these reasons, the SELECT SOCIETY, at a very numerous meeting held in order to consider this matter, did unanimously declare it to be their opinion, That it would be of great advantage to this country, if a proper number of persons from England, duly qualified to instruct gentlemen in the knowledge of the English Tongue, the manner of pronouncing it with purity, and the art of public speaking, were settled in Edinburgh; and if, at the same time, a proper number of masters from the same country, duly qualified for teaching children the reading of English, should open schools in Edinburgh for that purpose.
But being fully sensible, that there could be no prospect of procuring persons with the qualifications requisite for these stations, without giving them proper security for their encouragement and subsistence, the Society, in order to promote this laudable design by their example, did instantly begin a voluntary subscription, for raising the sum necessary towards carrying it into execution; and appointed some of their number to apply to the absent members, to other private gentlemen, and to most of the public bodies or societies in Scotland, that they might give it their countenance and assistance.
And as the direction of this scheme would greatly interrupt the proper business of the Select Society, and as it is equitable, that all contributors should have access to oversee and direct the application of the sums to be levied, it is therefore resolved,
- That the management and direction of this undertaking be vested in sixteen persons, to be elected as Ordinary Directors, in the manner after mentioned.
- That, besides these, ten persons shall be elected Extraordinary Directors.
- That the Ordinary Directors shall be impowered to elect their own Treasurer, Secretary, and other officers; to appoint the time and place of their meetings, and to receive and apply the money subscribed.
- That the Ordinary Directors shall employ as many teachers and masters as the funds will permit, and appoint them such salaries as to them shall appear proper, and oblige them to teach according to such plans or regulations as they shall judge most expedient for promoting the purposes which the subscribers have in view.
- That two of the Ordinary Directors shall, on the first Mondays of July and December, in each year, visit the schools taught by the masters whom they have appointed, examine the children under their care, and make a report in writing to the next meeting of the Ordinary Directors.
- That, on the same days, two of the Ordinary Directors shall call before them the teachers whom they have appointed, take account of their method of instructing those under their care, and inquire concerning their diligence and success.
- That there shall be held two general meetings of the Society in each year, one on the second Wednesday of July, the other on the second Wednesday of December; of which meetings, not only all the members of the Select Society, but every other person, who shall subscribe one guinea yearly, for the space of three years, shall be members, and have a right to vote in all matters that come before them.
- That the Ordinary Directors shall lay before each of these meetings, a report of their transactions during the six months preceeding.
- That the Directors, both Ordinary and Extraordinary, shall be annually elected, on the second Wednesday of December, by the foresaid general meeting of contributors; it being understood, that a third part of the Directors shall be changed each year.
- That on Tuesday, the 4th of August, the Select Society shall elect Directors Ordinary and Extraordinary, who shall continue in office till the second Wednesday of December 1762.
- That the general body of contributors, together with the members of the Select Society, shall take the name of, THE SOCIETY FOR PROMOTING THE READING AND SPEAKING OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE IN SCOTLAND.
N.B. In order to satisfy contributors, that teachers and masters properly qualified may be got, and shall be employed, it is proper to inform them, that MR SHERIDAN, whose ingenious and instructive lectures in this city first suggested the idea of establishing the society proposed, has not only engaged to find out teachers and masters, and to communicate to them his ideas concerning the proper method of performing their duty; but has also offered to visit this place, as often as the situation of his affairs will permit, and, during his residence here, to contribute his advice and assistance, towards carrying forward the operations of the society, in the most extensive and successful manner.
List of Ordinary and Extraordinary Directors named and appointed for the purposes above mentioned.
Sir Adam Ferguson, Baronet
Mr Walter Stewart, )
Mr William Johnstone, ) Advocates
Mr George Dempster, )
Mr James Ferguson, tertius )
Mr Alexander Tait, Clerk of Session
Rev. Dr Hugh Blair
Rev. Dr John Jardine
Rev. Dr William Robertson
Dr John Hope
Professor Adam Ferguson
Mr John Fordyce, Merchant
Mr John Adam, Architect
Mr James Russel, Surgeon
Earl of Errol
Earl of Eglinton
Earl of Galloway
Earl of Elgin
Sir Alexander Dick
Mr James Ferguson, Advocate, Dean of Faculty
George Drummond, Esq; Commissioner of Excise
Mr Charles Hamilton-Gordon, Advocate.
This is a second child of the Select society. The Edinburgh society sprung from it in 1755. Our readers have seen an account [xvi. 184. xvii. 126.] of both, and likewise of the Edinburgh Philosophical society.
- What reasons are given by the Society for wanting to promote ‘purity in speech’ in Scotland?
- How does the Society plan to improve the art of spoken English amongst children and adults?