Simon Somerville Laurie: his educational thought and contribution to Scottish education. 1855 - 1909
Templeton, Ian Godfrey
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Simon Somerville Laurie was born in Edinburgh on 13th November 1829. He was the eldest son of James Laurie, who was at the time chaplain to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, and Jean Somerville, herself the daughter of a presbyterian minister. Laurie was educated at the Edinburgh High School and subsequently at Edinburgh University. He graduated from Edinburgh University in 1849 and spent five years as a private tutor before returning to Edinburgh to take up, in 1855, the post of secretary to the education committee of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. He held this post for fifty years and added to it two other official posts: visitor and examiner for the trustees of the Dick bequest, from 1856 until 1907, and professor at the University of Edinburgh, as the first holder of the Bell Chair in the Theory, History and Art of Education, from 1876 until 1903. Laurie was also invited to write reports for the Merchant Company of Edinburgh pointing the way to reform of their endowed schools, to give evidence to a number of royal commissions and parliamentary inquiries, and to act as secretary to one royal commission, the Colebrooke Commission, and to the Association for the Promotion of Secondary Education in Scotland. He also wrote books and articles and gave numerous lectures, many of which were subsequently published. Laurie was thus both a leading theorist and closely concerned with almost all of the practical developments in the provision of education in Scotland for half a century. In an anonymous obituary published in 1910 the author described Laurie as ‘a singularly attractive personality’ and suggested that a full account of his influence should be written. With the exception of a brief chapter on Laurie in Alexander Morgan’s book, The Makers of Scottish Education published in 1929, this never happened. There is, however, a doctoral thesis lodged in the special collections of Edinburgh University library on Laurie which was submitted in 1949 by H. M. Knox entitled The Educational Writings of Simon Somerville Laurie MA, LLD, FEIS, FRSE (1829-1909) First Bell Professor of The Theory, History, and Art, of Education in the University of Edinburgh (1876-1903). It is evident from even this very brief sketch of Laurie's work that he was a man of considerable energy with an appetite for hard work. This work can be conveniently divided into three interdependent categories. As a philosopher he published three major philosophical works: Ethica, under the pseudonym ‘Scotus Novanticus’ in 1885, Metaphysica Nova et Vetusta, under the same pseudonym, in 1889 and Synthetica: being meditations epistemological and ontological in 1906. He wrote many books and articles on educational topics, some theoretical and some commentaries on the issues of the day. And as an administrator he was practically involved with the inspection of schools, the running of training colleges and the writing of reports and memorials to government.