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Coldstream, Near Kames
Coldstream, Near Kames

Henry Home, Lord Kames, lived from 1696 to 27 December 1782. He was a philosopher, lawyer and judge who became a leading force in the Scottish Enlightenment. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.

Henry Home, Lord Kames was born at Kames in Berwickshire, the son of George Home of Kames. Until he was 16 he was tutored at home. In 1712, at the age of 18, he was apprenticed to a Writer to the Signet (an eminent solicitor) in Edinburgh. In 1723, following a chance meeting with Sir Hew Dalrymple, president of the court of session, Home became a trainee advocate. He was called to the bar the following year.

After pursuing a successful career as an advocate, Henry Home was raised to the bench, in other words appointed to be a judge, in 1752: thus acquiring the title of Lord Kames. Home had a powerful ally within the Scottish government in the shape of the Duke of Argyll, and with his support became Lord of Justiciary in 1763. Perhaps his most notable contribution to Scottish life as a judge was as part of a panel in the Joseph Knight case, which ruled that there could be no slavery in Scotland.

Lord Kames is remembered less as an advocate and judge than as a driving force behind the intellectual revolution that swept Scotland during his lifetime, the Scottish Enlightenment. His contribution was twofold. He was recognised as a powerful thinker in his own right, making valuable contributions in a wide range of subjects. He is best remembered for his three volume Elements of Criticism, published in 1762, which would serve as a standard textbook for rhetoric and literary criticism for a century, in the United States as well as in Britain. Other publications ranged across the areas of religion, moral philosophy, law and agriculture. He also wrote about the history of civilisation in a way that would lead directly to the development of the subjects of anthropology and sociology.

Lord Kames also furthered the Enlightenment by supporting the careers of a number of other outstanding thinkers of his day. As a result of his influence, Adam Smith, John Millar and Thomas Reid all obtained university professorships: though he was less successful in his support of David Hume. In his private life, Henry Home was married to Agatha Drummond, and they had two children, George and Jean Home.

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