The Monboddo Papers and OPL (Of The Origin and Progress of Language)

Early Modern Context

“The principal collection of Monboddo Papers in the National Library of Scotland is one of the most extensive collections relating to any of the eighteenth century Scottish philosophers. The collection comprises letters, notebooks and over 300 manuscripts and legal papers.

Apart from a few very early manuscripts, the Monboddo Papers may be divided into two periods: those evidently written the ten years or so before 1765- when Monboddo undertook OPL – and those belonging to the long period of thirty-four years during which he was composing the six volumes of his unfinished work. The earlier papers are in the form of bound folios with various aspects of Scottish jurisprudence that demonstrate connection with the study of language and society: for example rhetoric, the origin of government, the migration of peoples and the relationship of different languages.

Others illustrate the importance of metaphysics, philosophy and history- especially the  history of man, language and society- in Scottish jurisprudence. Here Aristotle, Cicero and the Stoics are the dominant classical influences.

Some of these early papers – notably ” A Discourse on Language” seem to be connected with debates in the Select Society of which Monboddo was a leading member and which played a key role in the development of the Scottish Enlightenment…..

The papers in the second group  (1765 onwards) were written after the demise of the Select Society and were begun immediately following the Last of Monboddo’s visits to Paris….. the visit of 1765 , which was crucial to the  genesis of OPL .”


I. M. Hammett, Lord Monboddo’s Of The Orgin and Progress of Language, Its Sources, Genesis and Background, With Special Attention to the Advocates Library. P.H.D thesis, Edinburgh University, 1985


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