James Burnett, Lord Monboddo

James Burnett, Lord Monboddo

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James Burnett, Lord Monboddo (25 October 1714 – 26 May 1799) was a Scottish
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

 judge
Judge
A judge is a person who presides over court proceedings, either alone or as part of a panel of judges. The powers, functions, method of appointment, discipline, and training of judges vary widely across different jurisdictions. The judge is supposed to conduct the trial impartially and in an open...

, scholar of linguistic evolution
Evolutionary linguistics
Evolutionary linguistics is the scientific study of the origins and development of language. The main challenge in this research is the lack of empirical data: spoken language leaves practically no traces. This led to an abandonment of the field for more than a century...

, philosopher and deist. He is most famous today as a founder of modern comparative historical linguistics
Linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

 (Hobbs 1992). In 1767 he became a judge in the Court of Session
Court of Session
The Court of Session is the supreme civil court of Scotland, and constitutes part of the College of Justice. It sits in Parliament House in Edinburgh and is both a court of first instance and a court of appeal....

. As such, Burnett adopted an honorary title based on his father's estate, Monboddo House
Monboddo House
Monboddo House is a historically famous mansion in The Mearns, Scotland. The structure was generally associated with the Burnett of Leys family. The property itself was owned by the Barclay family from the 13th century, at which time a tower house structure was erected...

. Monboddo was one of a number of scholars involved at the time in development of early concepts of evolution
Evolution
Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

. Some credit him with anticipating in principle the idea of natural selection
Natural selection
Natural selection is the nonrandom process by which biologic traits become either more or less common in a population as a function of differential reproduction of their bearers. It is a key mechanism of evolution....

 that was developed into a scientific theory
Theory
The English word theory was derived from a technical term in Ancient Greek philosophy. The word theoria, , meant "a looking at, viewing, beholding", and referring to contemplation or speculation, as opposed to action...

 by Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
Charles Robert Darwin FRS was an English naturalist. He established that all species of life have descended over time from common ancestry, and proposed the scientific theory that this branching pattern of evolution resulted from a process that he called natural selection.He published his theory...

 (Watt 1985; Bailey 2005; Cloyd 1972).

Early years


James Burnett was born in 1714 at Monboddo House
Monboddo House
Monboddo House is a historically famous mansion in The Mearns, Scotland. The structure was generally associated with the Burnett of Leys family. The property itself was owned by the Barclay family from the 13th century, at which time a tower house structure was erected...

 in Kincardineshire
Kincardineshire
The County of Kincardine, also known as Kincardineshire or The Mearns was a local government county on the coast of northeast Scotland...

, Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

. After his primary education at the parish school of Laurencekirk
Laurencekirk
Laurencekirk is a small town in the ancient county of Kincardineshire, modern county of Aberdeenshire, Scotland, just off the A90 Dundee to Aberdeen main road. It is the largest settlement in the Howe o' the Mearns area and houses the local secondary school; Mearns Academy, which was awarded the...

, he studied at Marischal College
Marischal College
Marischal College is a building and former university in the centre of the city of Aberdeen in north-east Scotland. The building is owned by the University of Aberdeen and used for ceremonial events...

, Aberdeen
Aberdeen
Aberdeen is Scotland's third most populous city, one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas and the United Kingdom's 25th most populous city, with an official population estimate of ....

 from where he graduated in 1729. He also studied at University of Edinburgh
University of Edinburgh
The University of Edinburgh, founded in 1583, is a public research university located in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The university is deeply embedded in the fabric of the city, with many of the buildings in the historic Old Town belonging to the university...

 and the University of Groningen
University of Groningen
The University of Groningen , located in the city of Groningen, was founded in 1614. It is one of the oldest universities in the Netherlands as well as one of its largest. Since its inception more than 100,000 students have graduated...

. At Edinburgh University he graduated in law and was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates
Faculty of Advocates
The Faculty of Advocates is an independent body of lawyers who have been admitted to practise as advocates before the courts of Scotland, especially the Court of Session and the High Court of Justiciary...

 in 1737.

Burnett married Elizabethe Farquharson and they had two daughters and a son. Burnett's youngest daughter Elizabeth Burnett was an Edinburgh
Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, the second largest city in Scotland, and the eighth most populous in the United Kingdom. The City of Edinburgh Council governs one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas. The council area includes urban Edinburgh and a rural area...

 celebrity, known for her beauty and amiability. Tragically she died of consumption
Tuberculosis
Tuberculosis, MTB, or TB is a common, and in many cases lethal, infectious disease caused by various strains of mycobacteria, usually Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Tuberculosis usually attacks the lungs but can also affect other parts of the body...

 at the age of 25. Burnett's friend Robert Burns
Robert Burns
Robert Burns was a Scottish poet and a lyricist. He is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland, and is celebrated worldwide...

 had a romantic interest in Eliza and wrote a poem, Elegy on the late Miss Burnet of Monboddo, referencing her beauty and which ultimately became her elegy
Elegy
In literature, an elegy is a mournful, melancholic or plaintive poem, especially a funeral song or a lament for the dead.-History:The Greek term elegeia originally referred to any verse written in elegiac couplets and covering a wide range of subject matter, including epitaphs for tombs...

.

His early work in practising law found him in a landmark litigation of his time, called the Douglas case. The matter involved the inheritance standing of a young heir, Archibald James Edward Douglas, 1st Baron Douglas
Archibald James Edward Douglas, 1st Baron Douglas
Archibald James Edward Douglas, 1st Baron Douglas , was a Scottish politician.-Birth:He was born Archibald James Edward Stewart, in Paris, the twin son of Sir John Stewart, 3rd Baronet and Lady Jane Douglas , daughter of James Douglas, 2nd Marquess of Douglas. The circumstances of the birth were...

, and took on the form of a mystery novel of the era, with a complex web of events spanning Scotland, France and England. Burnett, as the solicitor for the young Douglas heir, was victorious after years of legal battle and appeals.

Later years as patron of the arts and Court of Session Justice


From 1754 until 1767 Monboddo was one of a number of distinguished proprietors of the Canongate
Canongate Books
Canongate Books is a Scottish independent publishing firm based in Edinburgh; it is named for The Canongate, an area of the city. It is most recognised for publishing the Booker Prizewinner Life of Pi...

 Theatre. He clearly enjoyed this endeavour even when some of his fellow judges pointed out that the activity might cast a shadow over his sombre image as jurist. Here he had occasion to further associate with David Hume
David Hume
David Hume was a Scottish philosopher, historian, economist, and essayist, known especially for his philosophical empiricism and skepticism. He was one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy and the Scottish Enlightenment...

 who was a principal actor in one of the plays. He had actually met Hume earlier when Monboddo was a curator of the Advocates Library and David Hume served as keeper of that library for several years while he wrote his history.

In the era after Monboddo was appointed to Justice of the high court, he organised "learned suppers" at his house on 13 St John Street (Grant, 1880), where he discussed and lectured about his theories. Local intellectuals were invited to attend attic repasts, regular guests including Burns, Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson , often referred to as Dr. Johnson, was an English author who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer...

 and James Boswell
James Boswell
James Boswell, 9th Laird of Auchinleck was a lawyer, diarist, and author born in Edinburgh, Scotland; he is best known for the biography he wrote of one of his contemporaries, the English literary figure Samuel Johnson....

. Henry Home, Lord Kames
Henry Home, Lord Kames
Henry Home, Lord Kames was a Scottish advocate, judge, philosopher, writer and agricultural improver. A central figure of the Scottish Enlightenment, a founder member of the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh, and active in the Select Society, his protégés included James Boswell, David Hume and...

 was conspicuously absent from such socializing; while Kames and Monboddo served on the high court at the same time and had numerous interactions, they were staunch intellectual rivals. Monboddo rode to London on horseback each year and visited Hampton Court as well as other intellectuals of the era; the King himself was fond of Monboddo's colourful discussions (Watt, 1985). Monboddo is buried in Greyfriars Kirk
Greyfriars Kirk
Greyfriars Kirk, today Greyfriars Tolbooth & Highland Kirk, is a parish kirk of the Church of Scotland in central Edinburgh, Scotland...

yard in Edinburgh along with his daughter Eliza.

Historical linguistics


In The Origin and Progress of Language he painstakingly analyses the structure of primitive and modern languages that argues that mankind had evolved language skills in response to his changing environment and altering social structures. His work in language evolution departed radically from then existing theories. This analysis was totally remarkable, since Burnett was partially deaf. He was intrigued with the systematics he discovered in codifying a multitude of primitive languages. Burnett was the first to discover that primitive language
Evolutionary linguistics
Evolutionary linguistics is the scientific study of the origins and development of language. The main challenge in this research is the lack of empirical data: spoken language leaves practically no traces. This led to an abandonment of the field for more than a century...

s create unnecessarily lengthy words for rather simple concepts. He reasoned that in early languages there was an imperative for clarity, so that redundancy was built in and seemingly unnecessary syllables added. He concluded that this form of language evolved as a method of survival when clear communication might be the determinant of avoiding danger. He demonstrated that he was aware of the advantages to those peoples who could develop superior language skills. This quasi-evolutionary idea, whilst common today, was then unusual. Burnett himself was deeply religious and often digressed to credit God with the divine first mover concept as argued in a similar vein by Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

.

Monboddo studied in great detail the languages of peoples colonised by Europeans, including those of the Carib, Eskimo
Eskimo
Eskimos or Inuit–Yupik peoples are indigenous peoples who have traditionally inhabited the circumpolar region from eastern Siberia , across Alaska , Canada, and Greenland....

, Huron, Algonquian
Algonquian languages
The Algonquian languages also Algonkian) are a subfamily of Native American languages which includes most of the languages in the Algic language family. The name of the Algonquian language family is distinguished from the orthographically similar Algonquin dialect of the Ojibwe language, which is a...

, Peruvian
Demographics of Peru
This article is about the demographic features of the population of Peru, including population density, ethnicity, education level, health of the populace, economic status, religious affiliations and other aspects of the population....

 (Quechua
Quechua languages
Quechua is a Native South American language family and dialect cluster spoken primarily in the Andes of South America, derived from an original common ancestor language, Proto-Quechua. It is the most widely spoken language family of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, with a total of probably...

?) and Tahitian
Tahitian language
Tahitian is an indigenous language spoken mainly in the Society Islands in French Polynesia. It is an Eastern Polynesian language closely related to the other indigenous languages spoken in French Polynesia: Marquesan, Tuamotuan, Mangarevan, and Austral Islands languages...

 peoples. He was the first to see the preponderance of polysyllabic words, where some of his predecessors had dismissed primitive language as a series of monosyllabic grunts. He also made the astute observation that in Huron (or Wyandot) the words for very similar objects are astoundingly different. This fact led Monboddo to perceive that primitive peoples needed to communicate reliably regarding a more limited number of subjects than in modern civilizations, which led to the polysyllabic and redundant nature of many words. He also came up the idea that primitive languages are generally vowel rich and that correspondingly, very late advanced languages such as German and English are vowel starved. According to Burnett, this disparity partially arises from the greater vocabulary of modern languages and the decreased need for the polysyllabic content.

Monboddo also traced the evolution of modern European languages and gave particularly great effort to understanding the ancient Greek language
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

, in which he was proficient. He argued that Greek is the most perfect language ever established because of its complex structure and tonality, rendering it capable of expressing a wide gamut of nuances. Monboddo was the first to formulate what is now known as the single-origin hypothesis, the theory that all human origin was from a single region of the earth; he reached this conclusion by reasoning from linguistic evolution (Jones, 1789). This theory is evidence of his thinking on the topic of the evolution
Evolution
Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

 of Man.

Evolutionary theorist


Monboddo is considered by some scholars (Cloyd 1972; Gray 1929; Lovejoy 1933; Watt 1985; Bailey 2005; and Encyclopædia Britannica) as a precursive thinker in the theory of evolution
Evolution
Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

. However, modern evolutionary historians do not give Monboddo an equally high standing in the influence of history of evolutionary thought
History of evolutionary thought
Evolutionary thought, the conception that species change over time, has roots in antiquity, in the ideas of the ancient Greeks, Romans, and Chinese as well as in medieval Islamic science...

.
"Monboddo: Scottish jurist and pioneer anthropologist who explored the origins of language and society and anticipated principles of Darwinian evolution." Encyclopædia Britannica

"With some wavering, he extended Rousseau's
Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a Genevan philosopher, writer, and composer of 18th-century Romanticism. His political philosophy influenced the French Revolution as well as the overall development of modern political, sociological and educational thought.His novel Émile: or, On Education is a treatise...

 doctrine of the identity of species of man and the chimp into the hypothesis of common descent of all the anthropoids, and suggested by implication a general law of evolution." Lovejoy.


Charles Neaves
Charles Neaves
Charles Neaves, Lord Neaves FRSE was a Scottish advocate, judge, theologian and writer. He served as Solicitor General , as a judge of the Court of Session, the supreme court of Scotland , and as Rector of the University of St Andrews .Neaves was known as one of the early analysts of the history...

, one of Monboddo's successors on the high court of Scotland believed that proper credit (Neaves, 1875) was not given to Monboddo in evolutionary theory development. Neaves wrote in verse:
"Though Darwin now proclaims the law
And spreads it far abroad, O!
The man that first the secret saw
Was honest old Monboddo.
The architect precedence takes
Of him that bears the hod, O!
So up and at them, Land of Cakes,
We'll vindicate Monboddo."


Erasmus Darwin
Erasmus Darwin
Erasmus Darwin was an English physician who turned down George III's invitation to be a physician to the King. One of the key thinkers of the Midlands Enlightenment, he was also a natural philosopher, physiologist, slave trade abolitionist,inventor and poet...

 notes Monboddo's work in his publications (Darwin 1803). Later writers (Cloyd 1972; Gray 1929) consider Monboddo's analysis as precursive to the theory of Evolution. Whether Charles Darwin read Monboddo is not certain. Monboddo debated with Buffon
Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon
Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon was a French naturalist, mathematician, cosmologist, and encyclopedic author.His works influenced the next two generations of naturalists, including Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Georges Cuvier...

 regarding man's relationship to other primates. Charles Darwin did not mention Monboddo, but commented on Buffon: "the first author who in modern times has treated [evolution] in a scientific spirit was Buffon". Buffon thought that man was a species unrelated to lower primates, but Monboddo rejected Buffon's analysis and argued that the anthropoidal ape must be related to the species of man: he sometimes referred to the anthropoidal ape as the "brother of man". Monboddo suffered a setback, in his standing on evolutionary thought, because he stated at one time that men had caudal appendages; some historians failed to take him very seriously after that remark, even though Monboddo was known to bait his critics with preposterous sayings.

Bailey's The Holly and the Horn (Bailey 2005) states that "Charles Darwin was to some degree influenced by the theories of Monboddo, who deserves the title of Evolutionist more than that of Eccentric." Henderson says:
"He [Monboddo] was a minor celebrity in Edinburgh because he was considered to be very eccentric. But he actually came up with the idea that men may have evolved instead of being created by God. His views were dismissed because people thought he was mad, and in those days it was a very controversial view to hold. But he felt it was a logical possibility and it caused him a great deal of consternation. He actually did not want to believe the theory because he was a very religious person."


Monboddo may be the first person to associate language skills evolving from primate
Primate
A primate is a mammal of the order Primates , which contains prosimians and simians. Primates arose from ancestors that lived in the trees of tropical forests; many primate characteristics represent adaptations to life in this challenging three-dimensional environment...

s and continuing to evolve in primitive man (Monboddo, 1773). He writes about how the language capability has altered over time in the form not only of skills but physical form of the sound producing organs (mouth, vocal cords, tongue, throat), suggesting he had formed the concept of evolutionary adaptive change.

He also elaborates on the advantages created by the adaptive change of primates to their environment and even to the evolving complexity of primate social structures. In 1772 in a letter to James Harris, Monboddo articulated that his theory of language evolution (Harris 1772) was simply a part of the manner that man had advanced from the lower animals, a clear precedent of evolutionary thought. Furthermore, he established a detailed theory of how man adaptively acquired language in order to cope better with his environment and social needs. He argued that the development of language was linked to a procession of events: first developing use of tools, then social structures and finally language. This concept was quite striking for his era, because it departed from the classical religious thinking that man was created instantaneously and language revealed by God. In fact, Monboddo was deeply religious and pointed out that the creation events were probably simply allegories and did not dispute that the universe was created by God. Monboddo was a vigorous opponent of other scientific thinking that philosophically questioned the role of God (see Monboddo's prolific diatribes on Newton's theories).

As an agriculturist and horse-breeder, Monboddo was quite aware of the significance of selective breeding and even transferred this breeding theory to communications he had with James Boswell
James Boswell
James Boswell, 9th Laird of Auchinleck was a lawyer, diarist, and author born in Edinburgh, Scotland; he is best known for the biography he wrote of one of his contemporaries, the English literary figure Samuel Johnson....

 in Boswell's selection of a mate. Monboddo has stated in his own works that degenerative qualities can be inherited by successive generations and that by selective choice of mates, creatures can improve the next generation in a biological sense. This suggests that Monboddo understood the role of natural processes in evolution; artificial selection
Artificial selection
Artificial selection describes intentional breeding for certain traits, or combination of traits. The term was utilized by Charles Darwin in contrast to natural selection, in which the differential reproduction of organisms with certain traits is attributed to improved survival or reproductive...

 was the starting-point for many of the proto-evolutionary thinkers, and for Darwin himself.

Monboddo struggled with how to "get man from an animal" (Cloyd) without divine intervention. This is typical of the kind of thinking which is called deist. He developed an entire theory of language evolution around the Egyptian civilization to assist in his understanding of how man descended from animals, since he explained the flowering of language upon the spinoff of the Egyptians imparting language skills to other cultures. Monboddo cast man in his primitive state to be a wild, solitary, herbivorous quadruped
Quadruped
Quadrupedalism is a form of land animal locomotion using four limbs or legs. An animal or machine that usually moves in a quadrupedal manner is known as a quadruped, meaning "four feet"...

. He believed that contemporary man suffered many diseases because he had removed himself from his natural state in the environment of being unclothed and exposed to extreme swings in climate
Climate
Climate encompasses the statistics of temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, rainfall, atmospheric particle count and other meteorological elemental measurements in a given region over long periods...

.

Burnett wrote of numerous races of man in primitive areas (mostly based upon accounts of explorers); for example, he described the semi-human races "insensibles" and "wood eaters" in Of the Origin and Progress of Language. He was fascinated by the nature of these peoples' language development and also how they fit into the evolutionary scheme.

Against all this, Monboddo's contribution to evolution is today regarded by historians of evolution as being notable.

Bowler acknowledges his argument that apes might represent the earliest form of humanity (Monboddo 1774), but continues:
"He [Monboddo] regarded humans (including savages and apes) as quite distinct from the rest of the animal kingdom. The first suggestion that the human species was descended via the apes from the lower animals did not come until Lamarck's Philosophie Zoologique of 1809."


The history of the theory of evolution is a relatively modern field of scholarship.

Metaphysics


In Antient Metaphysics, Burnett claimed that man is gradually elevating himself from the animal condition to a state in which mind acts independently of the body. He was a strong supporter of Aristotle in his concepts of Prime Mover. Much effort was devoted to crediting Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton PRS was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."...

 with brilliant discoveries in the Laws of Motion, while defending the power of the mind as outlined by Aristotle. His analysis was further complicated by his recurring need to assure that Newton did not obviate the presence of God.

An eccentric


Burnett was widely known to be an eccentric
Eccentricity (behavior)
In popular usage, eccentricity refers to unusual or odd behavior on the part of an individual. This behavior would typically be perceived as unusual or unnecessary, without being demonstrably maladaptive...

. He often asserted that he followed practices of the ancient Greeks to keep in good physical condition. Accordingly when he came out of court one day in a downpour, he calmly placed his wig
Wig
A wig is a head of hair made from horsehair, human hair, wool, feathers, yak hair, buffalo hair, or synthetic materials which is worn on the head for fashion or various other aesthetic and stylistic reasons, including cultural and religious observance. The word wig is short for periwig and first...

 in his sedan chair and walked home. Habitually he rode on horseback between Edinburgh
Edinburgh
Edinburgh is the capital city of Scotland, the second largest city in Scotland, and the eighth most populous in the United Kingdom. The City of Edinburgh Council governs one of Scotland's 32 local government council areas. The council area includes urban Edinburgh and a rural area...

 and London instead of journeying by carriage
Carriage
A carriage is a wheeled vehicle for people, usually horse-drawn; litters and sedan chairs are excluded, since they are wheelless vehicles. The carriage is especially designed for private passenger use and for comfort or elegance, though some are also used to transport goods. It may be light,...

. Another time after a decision went against him regarding the value of a horse, he refused to sit with the other judges and assumed a seat below the bench with the court clerks. When Burnett was visiting the King's Court in London in 1787, part of the ceiling of the courtroom
Courtroom
A courtroom is the actual enclosed space in which a judge regularly holds court.The schedule of official court proceedings is called a docket; the term is also synonymous with a court's caseload as a whole.-Courtroom design:-United States:...

 started to collapse. People rushed out of the building but Burnett who, at the age of 71, was partially deaf and shortsighted, was the only one not to move. When he was later asked for a reason, he stated that he thought it was "an annual ceremony, with which, as an alien, he had nothing to do".

Burnett in his earlier years suggested that the orangutan
Orangutan
Orangutans are the only exclusively Asian genus of extant great ape. The largest living arboreal animals, they have proportionally longer arms than the other, more terrestrial, great apes. They are among the most intelligent primates and use a variety of sophisticated tools, also making sleeping...

 was a form of man, although some analysts think that some of his presentation was designed to entice his critics into debate.
The orangutan was at this time a generic term for all types of monkeys. The Swedish explorer whose evidence Burnett accepted was a naval officer who had viewed a group of monkeys and thought they were human. Burnett may simply have taken the view that it was reasonable for people to assume the things they do and the word of a naval officer trained to give accurate reports was a credible source. Burnett was indeed responsible for changing the classical definition of man as a creature of reason to a creature capable of achieving reason although he viewed this process as one slow and difficult to achieve.

At one time he said that humans must have all been born with tails, which were removed by midwives at birth. His contemporaries ridiculed his views, and by 1773 he had retracted this opinion (Pringle 1773). Some later commentators have seen him as anticipating evolution
Evolution
Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

ary theory. He appeared to argue that animal species
Species
In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biological classification and a taxonomic rank. A species is often defined as a group of organisms capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring. While in many cases this definition is adequate, more precise or differing measures are...

 adapted and changed to survive, and his observations on the progression of primates to man amounted to some kind of concept of evolution
Evolution
Evolution is any change across successive generations in the heritable characteristics of biological populations. Evolutionary processes give rise to diversity at every level of biological organisation, including species, individual organisms and molecules such as DNA and proteins.Life on Earth...

. Burnett also examined feral children and was the only thinker of his day to accept them as human rather than monsters. He viewed in these children the ability to achieve reason. He identified the orangutan as human as his sources indicated it was capable of experiencing shame. The notion that human identity can be defined by emotion is debatable.

In popular culture


In his 1981 dystopian novel Lanark, Alasdair Gray
Alasdair Gray
Alasdair Gray is a Scottish writer and artist. His most acclaimed work is his first novel Lanark, published in 1981 and written over a period of almost 30 years...

 names the head of the mysterious Institute Lord Monboddo. He makes the connection explicit in a margin note, adding that it is not a literal depiction.

Lord Monboddo's descendant, Jamie Burnett of Leys, has sponsored a stage work 'Monboddo-The Musical' which is a biographical re-enactment of the life of his ancestor. It received a first run at The Aberdeen Arts Centre in September 2010.

In her short story "The Monboddo Ape Boy," Lillian de la Torre depicted a slightly fictionalized Monboddo meeting Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson
Samuel Johnson , often referred to as Dr. Johnson, was an English author who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer...

, and being presented with a supposed "wild boy."

Writings of Lord Monboddo

  • Of the Origin and Progress of Language (6 volumes, 1773–1792)
  • Antient Metaphysics (6 volumes, 1779–1799)
  • Decisions of the Court of Session (1738–1760)
  • British Museum
    British Museum
    The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London. Its collections, which number more than seven million objects, are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world and originate from all continents, illustrating and documenting the story of human culture from its...

    , James Burnett to Cadell and Davies, 15 May 1796, A letter bound into Dugald Stewart
    Dugald Stewart
    Dugald Stewart was a Scottish Enlightenment philosopher and mathematician. His father, Matthew Stewart , was professor of mathematics in the University of Edinburgh .-Life and works:...

    , Account of the Life and Writings of William Robertson, D.D., F.R.S.E, 2nd ed., London (1802). Shelf no.1203.f.3
  • Letter from Monboddo to James Harris
    James Harris (grammarian)
    James Harris, FRS was an English politician and grammarian.-Life and works:He was born at Salisbury and educated at the grammar school in the Close at Salisbury, and at Wadham College, Oxford. On leaving the university he was entered at Lincoln's Inn as a student of law, though not intended for...

    , 31 December 1772; reprinted by William Knight 1900 ISBN 1-85506-207-0
  • Letter from Monboddo to Sir John Pringle
    John Pringle
    Sir John Pringle, 1st Baronet, FRS was a Scottish physician who has been called the "father of military medicine" ....

    , 16 June 1773; reprinted by William Knight 1900 ISBN 1-85506-207-0
  • Letter of Lord Monboddo to William Jones dated 20 June 1789 reprinted by William Knight, Lord Monboddo and some of his contemporaries Thoemmes Press, Bristol, England (1900) ISBN 1-85506-207-0
  • Yale University
    Yale University
    Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

     Boswell Papers, James Burnett to James Boswell
    James Boswell
    James Boswell, 9th Laird of Auchinleck was a lawyer, diarist, and author born in Edinburgh, Scotland; he is best known for the biography he wrote of one of his contemporaries, the English literary figure Samuel Johnson....

    , 11 April and 28 May 1777 (C.2041 and C.2042)

Publications


  • Bailey, Eileen A. FSA, James C.A. Burnett, Charles J. Burnett and Christopher Croly, The Holly and the Horn, Leys Publishing, Banchory (2005) ISBN 0-9538640-2-2
  • Brown, M.P., ed. General Synopsis of the Decisions of the Court of Session
    Court of Session
    The Court of Session is the supreme civil court of Scotland, and constitutes part of the College of Justice. It sits in Parliament House in Edinburgh and is both a court of first instance and a court of appeal....

    , 5 vols. (William Tait, Edinburgh. 1829 'Decisions Collected by Lord Monboddo' V, 651-941
  • Boswell, James, The Essence of the Douglas Case, J. Wilke, London (1767)
  • Cloyd, E.L., James Burnett, Lord Monboddo (1972)
  • Darwin, Erasmus, The temple of nature, J. Johnson, London (1803)
  • Encyclopædia Britannica
  • James Grant Cassell's Old and New Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland (1880–1887)
  • Gray, W. Forbes, A Forerunner of Darwin, Fortnightly Review n.s. CXXV pp 112–122 (1929)
  • Graham, Henry Grey, Scottish Men of Letters in the Eighteenth Century, A.& C. Black, London (1901), pp 188–198
  • Hobbs, Catherine, Rhetoric on the Margin of Modernity, Vico
    Giambattista Vico
    Giovanni Battista ' Vico or Vigo was an Italian political philosopher, rhetorician, historian, and jurist....

    , Condillac
    Étienne Bonnot de Condillac
    Étienne Bonnot de Condillac was a French philosopher and epistemologist who studied in such areas as psychology and the philosophy of the mind.-Biography:...

    , Monboddo, Southern Illinois University Press (1992)
  • Johnson, Samuel and James Boswell, A Tour to the Hebrides, Oxford University Press, first published in 1773, reprinted 1930. 1933, 1948
  • Knight, William Angus
    William Angus Knight
    William Angus Knight was a British writer, born at Mordington, Scotland, and educated at the University of Edinburgh. From 1876 to 1902 he was professor of moral philosophy in the University of St. Andrews...

    , Lord Monboddo and some of his contemporaries, John Murray, London (1900) ISBN 1-85506-207-0
  • Lovejoy, Arthur O., Monboddo and Rousseau, Essays in the History of Ideas (Baltimore, 1948) p61, first appearing in Modern Philogy XXX, pp 275–96, Feb, 1933
  • Neaves, Charles, Lord Neaves, Songs and Verses, Fourth Edition, London p5 (1875)
  • Nichols, W.L., Lord Monboddo Notes and Queries VII, 281 (1853)
  • Watt, Archibald, A Goodly Heritage, Halcon Printing Ltd., Stonehaven, UK (1985)