Travel of ideas in the nineteenth century: from Scotland to Chile

by María Ithurria (PhD student, University of Edinburgh) and Claudio Soltmann (Historian, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)

Introductory remarks

Let us go back to the nineteenth century. There is no doubt that Andrés Bello (1781 – 1865) was a prominent intellectual figure for Latin America. His work had a massive impact on the rise of post-independence nation-building. Bello was born in Venezuela but spent his entire adult life between London and Santiago de Chile: the London years (1810-1829) provided him with the most vibrant intellectual environment of those times, and Chile was the perfect place to develop the knowledge acquired there. Bello is widely recognised due to his work as the drafter of the Chilean Civil Code, which was borrowed by many other Latin-American countries. On the other hand, he is well-known as the founder of the Universidad de Chile. Is worth saying that this university played a crucial role in the construction of Chile as an independent country.

At the inauguration of this institution, Bello gave a legendary speech, that is known –or should be known– by every Chilean university student. At the beginning of this discourse, he highlighted the importance of sciences and literature. In doing so, he referred to the Scottish philosopher Thomas Brown, saying that: ‘For the intellect, as for the other human faculties, activity is in itself a pleasure; one that, as a Scottish philosopher says, shakes out of us that inertia to which we would otherwise succumb, to our own detriment as well as society’s’. [1]

With this on the mind, we wondered if the Scottish influenced Bello’s thought. If so, to what extent it impacted the culture of Chile after its independence from Spain. In this brief note, we want to share some interesting facts. Nevertheless, given that his influence is surprisingly vast we decided to focus on only two areas: Andrés Bello and the Scottish Enlightenment and Andrés Bello and the Edinburgh Review.

1) Andrés Bello and the Scottish Enlightenment

During his stay in London, Bello’s philosophical thinking was influenced mainly by two figures: Jeremy Bentham and James Mill. While Bentham introduced Bello to the English Philosophy, Mill took him deep into the Scottish Enlightenment, especially the Scottish School of Common Sense. These philosophers confronted the modern philosophical scepticism with marked attention to the writings of David Hume. [2]

According to Barry L. Velleman, [3] in Bello’s private library, the books of Scottish philosophers stood out. The list was as follows:

  • Thomas Reid (1710 – 1796, Professor of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University), Essays on the Powers of the Human Mind (London, 1822) and An Inquiry into the Human Mind on the Principles of Common Sense (Edinburgh, 1823)
  • Dugald Stewart (1753 – 1828, Chair of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University), Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (4th ed., London)
  • Thomas Brown (1778 – 1820, Professor of Moral Philosophy, Edinburgh University), Lectures on the Philosophy of the Human Mind (Edinburgh, 1820)

These authors influenced Bello’s philosophical thought, as is intensely reflected in his book Filosofía del Entendimiento (Philosophy of Understanding), where he discusses the Scottish philosophical theories.

Obviously, the Scottish Philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) cannot be left out. His influence was marked in Bello’s approach to British Empirical Historiography. Thanks to the reference of Bello’s Catalogue of his private library in Velleman’s work, we know that Bello owned the eight volumes of David Hume’s The History of England from the Invasion of Julius Caesar to the Revolution in 1668 (London, 1822). By contrast, the philosophy of Hume did not influence Bello significantly, but he cited Hume when discussing the accuracy of reasonings in the Philosophy of Understanding.

In the field of Rhetoric, Velleman notes that Bello had an edition of Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (London, 1825), written by one of the most prominent clergymen of the Scottish Enlightenment, Hugh Blair (1718-1800). It should be noted that the influence of Blair in Chile can be traced before Bello’s arrival in 1829. Given the case that Blair’s Lectures were translated into Spanish by Jose Luis Munarriz between 1798-1801, and the Instituto Nacional (National Institute) in Santiago de Chile (Chile’s most prestigious Secondary School founded in 1813) had 300 copies of Blair’s Lectures in the school library. [4] Still, several elements from Blair’s Lectures, especially the ideas regarding the importance of writing, were disseminated by Bello throughout his speeches and articles regarding the development of his project of a Spanish Grammar for Hispanic American speakers (Gramática de la lengua castellana destinada al uso de los americanos) published in 1847. He also owned an edition of The Philosophy of Rhetoric (London, 1823), from the Scottish philosopher, George Campbell (1719 – 1796, Professor of Divinity at Edinburgh University).

2) Andrés Bello and the Edinburgh Review

The Edinburgh Review (or Critical Journal) was a Scottish journal founded in 1802 by Francis Jeffrey, Sydney Smith, and Henry Brougham. As is well known, this periodical publication was the leading journal of its times and played a crucial role in the spreading of philosophical criticism [5] and liberal views.

The evidence suggests that Bello read the Edinburgh Review during his stay in Francisco de Miranda’s house in London. Miranda had the following volumes in his private library:

  • Vol. XII (April 1808 – July 1808)
  • Vol. XIII (October 1808 – January 1809)
  • Vol. XIV (April 1809 – July 1809)
  • Vol. XI (October 1809 – January 1810)
  • Vol. XVI (April 1810 – August 1810)
  • Vol. XXI (February 1813 – July 1813). [6]

However, Bello went further: he translated into Spanish, throughout the 1830s and 1840s, several articles from the Edinburgh Review in El Araucano. This was a Chilean newspaper published from 1830 to 1877, where Bello served as editor of the literary and scientific section between 1830 and 1850 [7]. Reflecting on this, Velleman points out that ‘there is no doubt’ that the Edinburgh Review played a crucial role in Bello’s intellectual development. [6]

José María Blanco y Crespo (known as Joseph Blanco White) was one of Bello’s closest friends during his London years. Blanco White resided in London under the protection of Lord Holland, the leader of ‘the country’s most influential liberal political circle’. [8] In the so-called Holland House, he met John Allen, a Scottish historian and political writer, who was highly influential in his political views [9]. Through them, Bello engaged with the Edinburgh Review circle. Actually, Sydney Smith and Henry Brougham were frequent visitors of the Holland House.

On the other hand, as noted above, Bello was familiar to Jeremy Bentham and his followers, including the Scottish historian, philosopher, and economist, James Mill. They met in the Reading Room of the British Museum [9]. However, as Ivan Jaksic has shown: ‘Bello was much closer to the views of Lord Holland and those of the contributors to the Edinburgh Review (…).’ [11]

Final remarks

Against this background, it is apparent that Bello read and acquired several Scottish ideas. It is safe to assume that they were not only important but fundamental in his own intellectual development. Bello’s references to Scottish views in his writings are countless. Probably that is why José Gaos [13] asserted that if Bello had been Scottish or French, his name would have appeared in the History of Philosophy. According to him, Bello would be regarded, no more and none less, as one of the most influential philosophers of his days, such as Dugal Stewart or Thomas Brown, Théodore Simon Jouffroy or Royer Coilard, Thomas Reid or Victor Cousin.

Nonetheless, we do consider that the influence of Scottish thinkers is not limited to Bello’s thought. It went much further since it was an intellectual inheritance which Bello re-invigorated with elements of his own, in order to adapt foreign ideas into the Hispanic American soil. In this sense, Bello became a key cultural mediator which allowed the Scottish Enlightenment playing a significant role in the nineteenth-century Chilean thought. Thus, Andrés Bello was a conduct through which the Scottish ideas travelled from Scotland to Chile, creating a fertile environment for new ideas.


[1] Inaugural speech of the Universidad de Chile by Andrés Bello, translated from the Spanish by Frances M. Lopez-Morillas, in Selected Writings of Andrés Bello, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 127.

[2] Bow, C. B. “Dugald Stewart and the Legacy of Common Sense in the Scottish Enlightenment.” Common Sense in the Scottish Enlightenment.: Oxford University Press, May 24, 2018. Oxford Scholarship Online. Date Accessed 14 May. 2020 <>.

[3] Velleman, Barry L. Andrés Bello y Sus Libros. Caracas: La Casa De Bello, 1995, p. 40.

[4] Serrano, Sol, & Jaksic, Ivan. “El poder de las palabras: La iglesia y el Estado liberal ante la difusión de la escritura en el Chile del siglo XIX”. Historia (Santiago), Vol. 33, 2000, pp. 435-460. Web. <>. [accessed 14 May 2020].

[5] Ferris, Ina. “The Debut of The Edinburgh Review, 1802.” BRANCH: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History. Ed. Dino Franco Felluga. Extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net. Web. [accessed 14 May 2020].

[6] Velleman, Barry L. Andrés Bello y Sus Libros. Caracas: La Casa De Bello, 1995, p. 32.

[7] The articles translated from The Edinburgh Review to El Araucano covered several topics such as Travel Literature, Studies about the Americas, and Literary Reviews.

[8] Velleman, Barry L. Andrés Bello y Sus Libros. Caracas: La Casa De Bello, 1995, p. 36.

[9] Jakšić, Ivan. Andrés Bello: Scholarship and Nation-Building in Nineteenth-Century Latin America. Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 35.

[10] Dinwiddy, John R. ‘Los Círculos liberales y benthamistas en Londres, 1810-1829’ in Bello y Londres, Segundo Congreso del Bicentenario, vol. 2, Caracas: Fundación La Casa de Bello, 1980, vol. 2, p. 380.

[11] Reidy, Denis V. ‘El museo británico y el ambiente cultural inglés en el primer tercio del siglo XIX’ in Bello y Londres, Segundo Congreso del Bicentenario, vol. 2, Caracas: Fundación La Casa de Bello, 1980, vol. 2, p. 408.

[12] Jaksic Ivan. Andrés Bello: Scholarship and Nation-Building in Nineteenth-Century Latin America, Cambridge University Press, 2006, p. 44.

[13] Introducción a la Filosofía del Entendimiento, by J. Gaos, Edición del Fondo de Cultura Económica, México, 1948.