/ The Edinburgh Guide
Edinburgh — By Andy Hayes on January 27, 2010 at 6:03 pm

Who the heck is Dugald Stewart?

Recognise this view?

The above photo is probably one of the most famous views of Edinburgh – looking out southwest from Calton Hill,  with Edinburgh castle in the background and both the New Town and Old Town spreading across the backdrop.  But see that gorgeous monument there in the front left corner of the photo?  It graces the cover of many travel brochures, travel guides, and other tourism literature for the city of Edinburgh.  But do you have any idea what it is?

Probably not.  Yesterday, I noticed in a popular guidebook the monument was actually mis-attributed.  It is, in fact, the Dugald Stewart Monument.

Who the heck is Dugald Stewart?

Dugald Stewart was an Edinburgh-based philosopher.  He went to school at the Royal High School in Edinburgh, one of the oldest schools in the world, although the beautiful high school building that sits below his monument on Calton Hill was built just at the end of his life.

Stewart was a replacement mathematics professor (covering for his father, a very well respected professor) at the University of Edinburgh.  It was his later lectures on philosophy that gained him far greater prominence in the academic world, one of the first Scottish philosophers to talk on ethics and politics.  Some say Stewart put Scottish philosophy on the map in Europe at the time, though this is a hotly contested subject – one wouldn’t expect any less from this subject area, though.

The Monument

The monument was built just a couple of years after Stewart’s death in 1831.  It was designed by William Playflair, one of the more influential Scottish architects of the time and indeed many, many of the buildings on and around Calton Hill bear his handiwork.

Well-travelled visitors may recognise the monument to be design based on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, Greece.  This isn’t the only Choragic-like monument outside of Athens; others are scattered thorughout Britain, in places such as Alton Towers, Elgin, and Shugborough.  There’s also several of these monuments in the United States.

I can’t say why this style of monument was chosen – the Choragic monument is typically dedicated to the Greek god of theatre.  However, given that many of the buildings in the area erected during this period reflect a heavy Greek influence, it could simply be that Playfair felt only a monument worthy of the Greek gods was fitting enough for this esteemed Scot.

So, next time you see this breathtaking view of Edinburgh, whether in real life or on a postcard, stop and reflect about that man who is honoured there.

Note:  There’s no direct access to the monument, but the view and the walk around Calton Hill is, of course, free.

photo by photojenni

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