If you cross the Luxembourg Gardens, in Paris, from Montparnasse to the Latin Quarter, along the main thoroughfare, just before the pond and the lawn that fronts the Senate House, you come across a statue raised in 1906 by the Société d’Économie sociale (the Society of Social Economics) to commemorate the virth centenary of Pierre Guillaume Frédéric Le Play. On one face of the pedestal, you have the social functions performed by Le Play (for example, Commissioner at various times of Universal Exhibitions, Senator of the Republic), on the other, a list of some of his books : Les Ouvriers européens, (« The Workers of Europe »), La Réforme sociale (« Social Reform »), La Constitution essentielle de l’humanité (The Essential Constitution of Humanity)…
If I’ve stopped at Le Play’s statue (indeed I say hello to him every time I pass through the Gardens), which few, very few people do, it’s because this was the man who had such a great influence on the thought and practice of one of the largest and most far-seeing minds to have ever come out of Scotland : Patrick Geddes.
Before picking up on Geddes’ thought, in order to see where it took off from Le Play, it will be useful to look into the Frenchman’s life, work and thought.
Frédéric Le Play was born in April 11th, 1806, in a little town, Rivière Saint-Sauveur, near Honfleur, in Normandy. A brilliant pupil at Le Havre, he was finally considered good material for the presigious École Polytechnique in Paris. It was there, after intensive studies in mathematics, chemistry and geology, that he graduated as a mining engineer and it was as a mining engineer that he was going to travel all over Europe : Belgium, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Italy, the Danube Provinces, Hungaria, Turkey, Britain, Spain, Russia…, taking notes, not only technical, but also social and economic. Whenever and wherever possible, he made those trips on foot. While still a polytechnics student during his first big trip, in Germany, mainly in the Harz, he covered 6800 kilometres, doing 80 kilometres a day at the rate of 8 minutes 30 seconds to the kilometre (he kept precise accounts), which, as anybody who’s done any real walking knows, is pretty good going. And he was always ready for difficult situations. In 1833, coming back from Spain on a ship with a mad captain and a drunken crew, he took over control, fixed the position, directed operations and brought the ship safely into harbour. In Russia, examining a carboniferous area between the Caspian and the Sea of Azof, he suggested technical improvements in the local coal-mining industry, and while he was at it, prospected silver, copper and iron mines in the Urals. When the first Universal Exhibition was held in London, at the Crystal Palace, in 1851, he was a member of the jury for steel tools. Again, while he was at it, he wrote a social and economic report on an English working-class family that was later included in his book, Les Ouvriers européens (« The Workers of Europe », 1855). When the second Wold Exhibition was held in Paris, at the Palais de l’Industrie on the Champs-Elysées, Le Play was General Commissioner. At the third, in London again, in 1862, he was head of the French section. In 1867, at the fourth World Exhibition, he was the main organizer, and he worked out an ingenious scheme for providing a global view of world production, using a system of radial paths and concentric circles. Along the radial paths, you could see all the products of any one country ; round the concentric circles, you could compare any particular product from any one country with its equivalent in another. That exhibition was held on the banks of the Seine, between the Pont Royal and the Pont d’Iéna. To convey visitors easily from one point to another, Le Play had the idea of boats — that was the origin of the bateaux-mouches that still ply along the river. While organizing these exhibitions (for which he became a State Councillor and a Senator), while travelling from place to place taking his innumerable notes, Le Play taught metallurgy at the School of Mining in Paris, later occupying a Chair of Political Economy at the Collège de France. He lived latterly at n° 6, Place Saint-Sulpice, getting up at 6 a. m. every day and working twelve hours (ten on less good days) in a big room (kept at an even temperature between 14 and 15 degrees centigrade), looking out over the square.
What with gothic or romantic images of bloody and noisy revolution, and tinsel conceptions of « Gay Paree », it’s often forgotten that Paris has always been a place of social, political and economic experimentation. As a young man, Le Play attended the meetings of a Saint-Simonist phalanstery up on Montmartre, a practice for which he was condemned by the Haute Cour, risking the guillotine. Pardoned, he was, instead, sent to America. He used his American exile to study social, industrial and economic conditions in the U. S., sending back detailed reports to the Journal des Débats. A great believer in intercontinental communication (though he foresaw the disturbing effect which American industry would initially have on Europe), he advocated canals in Panama and Nicaragua. This is maybe the place to mention too that Le Play was the first to suggest a tunnel under the Channel…
Le Play’s was a free and wide-ranging mind. Socio-politically, if at one time he had been attracted to utopian thinking, he was finally going to give up the idea of Utopia, as well as that of Revolution, with no nostalgia for any ancien régime, and no fixation on the status quo. So what remained ? First hand study, down-to-earth method, experimental sociology, applied social art.
In 1856, Le Play founded the Société d’économie et de sciences sociales (« the Society for Social Science and Economy »), which turned in a very short time into the Société internationale des études pratiques d’économie sociale (« the International Society for Practical Studies in Social Economy »). This international society had a whole network of local organisms, known as Unions internationales pour la paix sociale (« Unions for Social Peace »). Le Play conceived the whole organisation as a school of social progress. What you might call its motto was the triad : Lieu, Travail, Famille (« Place, Work, Family »). Where Auguste Comte worked on the historical classification of societies, where Durckheim tended to stress social and institutional behaviour, Le Play concentrated on the individual. But the individual, he says, belongs to a group. There are various types of group : workshop, association, county, province, State, but the basic unity is the family. Leplaysian sociology studies the family, and in particular the working-class family, as representing the bottom line. Now a family, he says, belongs to one of three types : the famille patriarchale, gathered under the patriarch, the famille-souche, the stem-family, with sons and daughters leaving and returning, and the famille instable, the instable family, with no coherence, no consistent inheritance. As to method, wary of theoretical systematisation and of statistics, anxious to avoid hasty generalisations, Le Play relies on the monography. Based on direct observation and on questions concerning environment, belief, life-ideal, moral, habits, employment, occupations, budget, means of expression, etc., the Leplaysian monography tries to make as many soundings as possible. It has its limitations, but for the age it was a new and exciting field.
Some of Le Play’s disciples were going to develop his conceptions and his method. Butel, with a monography on the Vallée d’Ossau, was going to criticize Le Play’s notion of the Pyrenean family as a « stem-family ». Working on an idea still latent in Le Play’s Les Ouvriers européens, Henri de Tourville was to develop the idea of the « particularist family formation », which sons and daughters leave in order to find their own ways. In this formation, stress is laid on individual initiative. Picking up from Le Play and de Tourville, Edmond Demolins was to distinguish between the communitarian formation (dependence on the collectivity, passive waiting for authority and the State) and the particularist formation (where the group is secondary to the individual, and where the accent is on self-reliance), taking pains to stress that this particularist formation (where the group is secondary to the individual and where the accent is on self-reliance) does not imply ruthless individualism, since the particularist may well decide to found an association — but an association based on individual dynamics. In order to foster particularism, Demolins founded the École des Roches in 1899. As a geographer too, Demolins tended to stress the influence of geographical environment (without turning this into any absolute geographical determinism). Following this line, studies were to be written concerning less family types than regional types — witness, a study by Paul Bureau on Le Paysan des fjords (« the peasant of the fjords »). Then there were further studies in economy, foretelling the rise of an economy that would be neither individualist nor collectivist, but fiscal.
Out of Le Play’s « Work, Place, Family », and via his multiple monographic method, studies, then, were being made bringing together social structure, geographical environment and systems of economy.
This is where Patrick Geddes comes in.
Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) bears all the marks of a certain type of Scot who, for various reasons, has often, if not always, had a hard time of it in modern Scotland. In an address delivered at the University College of Dundee in 1890, he said that, while being « no less enthusiastic a Scotsman as any here », he was not going to indulge in « the usual cheap flatteries about our being the best educated and the most advanced people in the world ». If, out of Scotland, at all periods, had emerged some of the finest minds in the world (« world-famous scholars, writers and men of action »), the country itself, in its « popular and cultural movements », in its concepts and arguments, was always two or three generations late : « … while the Scotsman has often led the age, Scotland has no less often lagged behind in it ». Lest this be thought of as special pleading, and be reduced to the status of a disgruntled expression of frustration by a man who, despite brilliance in his field, had been refused (in 1888) the Regius Chair of Botany at Edinburgh, and some of whose books were practically boycotted (I’m thinking notably of The Evolution of Sex), here’s a statement by Colin Denovan (in a series of essays, For a Celtic Future, published by the Celtic League, Dublin, 1983) : « Scotland has produced many people who do not appear to have achieved the public recognition at home which their talents and their achievements would seem to merit. Often, it is the case that they are better appreciated abroad. Meanwhile, others of small of even apocryphal achievement loom larger in the public consciousness. » During his life-time, in the field of sociology and town-planning, Geddes was to have more recognition and impact in India than in Scotland, and, so far as his general educational and cultural project goes, it was finally to have its main base in France, a country to which Geddes was attracted from early on. But there sems to be a renewed interest in Geddes’ work today in Scotland, and that could be one of the signs of a new general opening.
As a youth, Geddes was fired by the example of Scottish personalities such as the Admirable Crichton, and over the years he came to see himself as a modern avatar of the Wandering Scot, a particularly errant and erratic example of the medieval wandering scholar, nailing his theses up on any convenient wall, and ready to take on all-comers. Not, as we shall see, that Geddes’ project was anything like a neat bundle of cut-and-dried theses — it had more scope, wider reference and larger aims. Geddes belongs to that scattered band of extravagant Scots that includes, say, to take some recent examples, Ruskin and Carlyle (in a different way, MacDiarmid). When he lived in London, he haunted Cheyne Row, and in an essay, « Homes and haunts of famous authors » tells of seeing Carlyle and a friend in the street and thinking of « ancient peripatetic philosophers ». He was for a while too in correspondence with Ruskin. Geddes himself was endowed with an extraordinary initiatory and inspiring energy, knowing, as he wrote in one of his multitudinous and multifarious notes : « Etho-polity (it’s one of his many neologisms) occurs when some initiator emerges from his retreat. »
It’s customary, in presenting Geddes, to make out a list of his many activities : botanist, sociologist, urbanist, educator, literary man… and then classify him as an « all-rounder », more or less vaguely implying eclectic amateurism and versatile, confusionistic enthusiasm. I am no enemy of classification (seen as temporary model, movement towards coherence — not as an intellectually respectable way of getting rid of worrying phenomena), but I submit that « all-rounder » is insufficient, and all too vague. What some call eclecticism can be the initial move towards a larger coherence, what some see as extravagant displacement can be the drift towards some new unidentified centre. The various aspects of a mind like that of Geddes only take on coherence and cogency when you see their prospect. That’s what I want to do in the central part of this essay. Geddes called himself « a synthesizing generalist ». That’s certainly a better definition than « all-rounder ». In his general introduction to Geddes’ work, The Worlds of Patrick Geddes (Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1978), Philip Boardman calls him, in passing, « at heart a poet ». In the context, this does not mean a great deal (it refers to some emotional repression due to a Presbyterian upbringing and to an occasional shot at verse). But I’ll use the word in a larger sense — as Geddes himself used it at times. And I think that poetics, as the expression of synthetic study, multi-streamed thought and a world-vision, was a problem for Ruskin, Carlyle and MacDiarmid. Near the end of his life, in 1931, Geddes spoke of « the Teufelsdröckhian bags of papers » he felt he had to unravel. Throughout his studies and cogitations, experiences and meditations, he piled up masses of notes and fragments (« idea-middens », he called them), which only rarely got to the state of coherent opus. The image I have in my mind’s eye of Patrick Geddes is of him sitting in « The Edinburgh Room » at the Town Planning Exhibition in London, 1910, surrounded by a congeries of diagrams, postcards, newspaper clippings, woodcuts… and talking his head off to anyone who cared to listen.
Originally intending to study botany, Geddes went up to Edinburgh University, decided he didn’t like the teaching methods (« conning inventories of plant-mummies ») and went back home after a week. It was only some time later he got the chance to study biology under T. H. Huxley in London. That was his real start.
Huxley was exactly what Geddes was after. This was the man who delivered public lectures with provoking titles such as « Man and the Other Animals », in which he made fun of the fundamentalists and Bible-thumpers, and who wrote wide-ranging books such as Man’s Place in Nature (1863). He was also a real teacher : Geddes liked both his methods and his general outlook. In an essay on « Huxley as Teacher », he described Huxley’s lectures as « broadly biological », saying that they « early opened to us in its colours and perspectives » the « larger physiology of Nature-ecology ». What particularly interested Geddes was the borderline between plant and animal life, as revealed, for example, in the « yellow cells » of radiolarians. The work went on well, but if Geddes liked Huxley, he liked London less, and he’d early made it clear that when the time came he’d be keen to continue his studies at Continental centres of research rather than at any institution to be found in England, or Scotland. Probably anxious to keep him, Huxley got his very promising pupil a job as demonstrator in practical physiology at University College, London, but, seeing that Geddes was chafing, finally sent him in the Spring of 1877 to Roscoff in Brittany, where Professor Lacaze-Duthiers of the Sorbonne had founded a marine biology station. That was Geddes’ introduction to France, and he loved it. He was back at Roscoff in the Summer of 1878, continuing his studies of a certain primitive flatworm found on the beaches of Brittany. Thereafter, he followed Lacaze-Duthiers to Paris, where he published, in French, his paper : « Sur la chlorophylle animale et la physiologie des planaires verts » (on animal chlorophyl and the physiology of green planarians), while studying with Lacaze-Duthiers at the Sorbonne, and with Wurtz and Gautier at the École de Médecine.
Geddes delighted in the Parisian context. In a typescript « student days in Paris », he evoked those times and expressed his love of France :
« The University and the City were each richer in impressions, experiences and impulses than all I had known before… Here, the energy and helpfulness of Lacaze and the other teachers. There the superman-like intensity of Pasteur, beyond all men I have ever seen. The patriarcal Chevreul (at 90 he was still director of the Jardin des Plantes) I remember with particular distinctness and no little gratitude… And what vivid conversation everywhere ! When I read Anatole France I hear his old master and mine — Pierre Lafitte — talking. And even the single lecture of Renan’s I went to was enough to give me an enduring idea of that subtly mingled mind. It was indeed a time of renewal. »
Again and again, in letters and in lectures (I’m thinking of his 1910 lecture in Chicago : « The Real France »), in conversations and in texts, Geddes came back on his appreciation of the territory « over the water ». The elements he insisted on were moral freedom (France freed Geddes from the Wee Free Kirk and from Victorianism), intellectual vivacity, the search for truth (« To see the thing as it is, that is the perpetual quest, the essential atmosphere of French criticism ») and the ethos of action : « What else does one learn in Paris ? How its world-surpassing clearness of thought and excellence of workmanship have developed simply by following the one main road to these fundamental human moralities of truth and action : that of doing a day’s work. For here is the hardest working of all great cities. »
Given this appreciation, it’s no surprise to see Geddes, from that moment on, striving beyond all Auld Alliance havering and romantic jacobitism, to strengthen the contact betwen Scotland and France. In 1900, in the aftermath of the Exposition Universelle in Paris, he got together an « international assembly », which included eminent figures such as Pasteur and Renan, with the idea of reviving the old Scots College (it dates back to 1325) in the Rue du Cardinal Lemoine. During the latter part of his life, say from 1924 on, this idea of a renewed Scots College became an obsession with him. As to place, his attention focussed on Montpellier, in Southern France. With money received as compensation for the loss of his Cities Exhibition (it had sunk on its way to India during the 14-18 War), he was able to buy a place just a few miles from Montpellier, at Assas, spelling out its address with pleasure as : Collège des Écossais, Garrigue des Brusses, Montpellier, Hérault, France. He saw this Scots College as, geogaphically, situated between the meteorological station on the Aigoual, in the Cévennes, and the marine biology station at Sète, on the Mediterranian coast, while being in intellectuel contact with centres of learning in Arles, Nîmes, Avignon, Tarascon, Béziers, Narbonne, etc. Closely related to the Scots College, which would house, not a coterie, not a party, but « an evolutionary group », were, to Geddes’ eyes, the School of Archaelogy at Les Eyzies and the School of Regional Survey at Domme in the Dordogne, run by Paul Reclus, the son of an old friend of his, Elie Reclus, the ethnologist brother of Elisée Reclus the geographer. Around the Scots College, he envisaged a College of Americans, a College of Indians, in fact a College of every nation, region and group under the sun. Gathered there in « the incomparable region of Languedoc », they would create the equivalent of the old Oc culture, able to make of the area « a cross-roads, a strategic point of learning and culture ».
Lewis Mumford, disciple of Patrick Geddes, author of The Culture of Citis (London, Secker and Warburg, 1938) called this project « a white elephant ». Well, long live white elephants ! The world would be poorer without them.
But to come back to Geddes’ life-line.
It’s often asked why, in the latter years of the 1870’s, there was a break in that line, with Geddes abandoning what promised to be a succesful career in biology for… something else, that was a lot more undefinable. The first thing to be said is that there was never any real « break ». Geddes never abandoned biology (he brought out Life : Outlines of General Biology in the last year of his life), he never abandoned anything, be it country or discipline, he extended them into a wider context, he radiated them out into a larger field. But around 1878, 1879, a sea-change, a modification of vision, rather than anything like a catastrophe (even in the mathematical sense) took place.
Two reasons can be adduced for it : one technical, the other intellectual. The technical reason is the one that is usually highlighted, since it is more graphic. The intellectual one is often played down, but it is, to my mind, more significant. In any case, they are connected.
Bad eyesight ran in Geddes’ family and he had strained his eyes with months of intense microscopic work. Add to that the glaring light of the Mexican plateau, and it will come as no great surprise that in the course of a scientific expedition to Mexico in 1879, during which he was to pursue research in geology, botany and zoology, Geddes went temporarily blind, spending ten weeks’ convalescence in total darkness. Microscopic research was over for him — but, as often happens in creative careers, this negative event had a positive result : it was while feeling with his hands the frame and bars of a window that Geddes got the idea of his « thinking machines », that is, those graphs, grids, schemata that he worked out in order to co-ordinate and interrelate thought, comparing them to Mercator lines or the logarithms of Napier. Beginning with a nine-square frame inspired by the window (« transplanted » on to folded paper), Geddes finally worked out one of 144 squares. By way of illustration, I’ll stick to the 9-square grid. Putting PLACE in the first square, WORK in the fifth and FOLK in the ninth, you can work out combinations of PLACE-WORK, PLACE-FOLK ; WORK-PLACE, WORK-FOLK ; FOLK-PLACE, FOLK-WORK, and see them interacting. The same goes with, for example, SENSE, EXPERIENCE, FEELING ; EMOTION, IDEATION, IMAGERY ; ETHO-POLITY, SYNERGY, ACHIEVEMENT. What you get out of the grid depends, obviously enough, on what you feed into it — which is to say that if the graph is to be more than a trivial game, it requires intellectual preparation. This brings us to the second, in my estimation, more fundamental reason for Geddes’ sea-change.
One day in Paris, walking along the Rue Jacob, Geddes’ eye was caught by a poster advertising lectures by one Edmond Demolins on something called « La nouvelle Science sociale » (« the new Social Science »). Intrigued, he attended the lecture — and it was a revelation. If this introduction by one of the disciples of Le Play to Le Play’s thought struck Geddes so powerfully, it was because his mental terrain was at least partly prepared for it. While studying, assiduously, under Huxley, Geddes had also been following his own idiosyncratic course of reading. Among the authors that interested him most (Huxley approved of neither of them) were Herbert Spencer and Auguste Comte. Over against the hardcore Darwinists (among them, Huxley) who saw in natural evolution only blood-and-claw competition and a ruthless survival of the fittest, Spencer, while hardly denying those other elements, saw also signs of co-operation. Geddes was interested. As to Comte, the Frenchman’s ideas were in the English air ever since 1865, when John Stuart Mill published his Auguste Comte and Positivism. Geddes had read that book, as well as some of Comte’s works, and he had got in touch with the English Positivists headed by Richard Congreve. What attracted Geddes to Comtian social science was its attempt at overall coherence and its project, Comte’s motto being : Induire pour déduire afin de construire (« induce before you deduce in order to construct »). He was also intellectually fascinated by Comte’s classification of human social history : from the theological-military society to the State-and-individual society and from there to the industrial-scientific society, as well as by its idea that mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology should all be seen as preliminaries, prolegomena, to a new science. As to Le Play, who, as we have seen, considered Comte too systematc and abstract, his work might at least have been accepted as a complement, but it was almost totally unknown. The Edinburgh Review, which in its best days had an eye to France, makes no mention of it between 1855 and 1860, though Le Play’s Workers of Europe had appeared in 1855 and the International Society for Practical Studies in Social Economy was founded in 1856. The Westminster Gazette made a brief mention in 1858. And that was it. Le Play’s work had no influence either in concepts or in field techniques till Geddes discovered it and took it over. Certainly, he took what he wanted, what he could use. He dropped the study of family budgets, the distribution of power within the family group, the mode of succession, and concentrated on the triad Place-Work-Family, which he immediately translated into Place-Work-Folk, using for his third factor a term at once less precise, but also less restricted that that of Le Play. Again, the terrain was prepared, in that this sociological triad was parallel to the triad of environment, function, organism he was familiar with in biology. What Le Play inspired in Geddes was the idea of the regional monograph, which in turn lead to his famous Valley Section diagram : a river-profile from its source in the mountains to its entry into the sea, with hunter, miner and shepherd in the hills, farmer and woodsman in the middle reaches, fisherman and trader at the stream-mouth. But while monographing, Geddes never lost sight of the general scheme, provided by Comte. Indeed, he came to see his action in the field of sociology as a combination of Comte and Le Play, as he wrote in The Sociological Review (n° X, 1918) : « The science of sociology was born when Auguste Comte […] saw the long record of human history as a conflict and co-operation of the four social types : People, Chiefs, Intellectuals and Emotionals. At the same time Frédéric Le Play […] was revealing the importance of rustic types for geography and economics. Long overdue is the problem of uniting these two standpoints […] That is the purpose of the Regional Survey, at once rustic and civic. »
The vocabulary here is slightly quaint (Geddes often oscillates between quaintness and neologism), and to interpret Le Play’s work purely in terms of « rustic types » is more than a bit reductive, but the general tendency is there, and that tendency was to deepen as time went by.
By 1890, Geddes was teaching sociology in Edinburgh. In 1903, with Victor Branford and others, he founded, in London, The Sociological Society, that had started off as a study group trying to apply the work of Comte and Le Play. In 1908, came The Sociological Review. Very little of Le Play’s work appeared in its pages : in 1912, there was a translation of a monography that was part of The Workers of Europe : « Domestic Life and the Consumption of Wealth. The Economic Method of Le Play », and in 1920 appeared a short biography. An at least partial translation of The Workers of Europe only came in 1936, with Zimmerman’s Family and Society. Attention seemed to be directed rather to Le Play’s disciples : de Tourville, de Rousiers, Demolins, since it was felt that the master himself stuck too close to family studies, and that more openings, more enlightenment, could be expected from the Place, Work, Folk triad. This comes across in a review by Victor Branford of a study « Life in a Highland Glen » (The sociological Review, XIX, 1927) : « This paper illustrates the Le Play method at a phase in its development where the details of family life tended to obscure the dramatic interplay between Place, Work and Folk. » One of the work-groups of The Sociological Society, the « Social Science » group, spent two years translating Demolin’s Comment la route crée le type social (« how roads create social types »). And The Sociological Review published studies along these lines : « Norwegian studies » (1924), « The Brenner Region » (1927), « Rome, Past, Present and Possible » (1927), by Patrick Geddes and Victor Branford (1927). But Le Play remained the source-insiration. When the Sociological Society aquired new premises in 1920, the place was called : Le Play House. When the Le Play Society, which had begun its existence in the Department of Geography, University College, London, started up in 1930, (merging later with The Regional Association and The Civil Educational League to form The Institute of Sociology), the reference was again explicit and the Le Play method (laid out in R. E. Dickinson’s : The Le Play Method in Regional Surveying — London, The Le Play Society, 1934) was considered the best way of studying, in interaction, landscape, social settlement and human types. Relevant papers appeared in quick succession : Luxembourg Studies (1933), Les Eyzies and District (1934), Polish Studies (1934), Eastern Carpathian Studies (1936), Scandinavian Studies (1938).
It was Patrick Geddes who was behind all this movement. But by the time it was in full swing, he was already elsewhere. What can you do with a sociologist who writes (as Geddes did in his Evergreen Review, 1895), about « the sociology of Autumn » ? Try and follow him into yet another field.
In that strange and attractive essay « The Sociology of Autumn », Geddes restates the main thesis of Human Evolution he got from Le Play : that surroundings — soil and climate — determine all the primary forms of labour, that this labour in its turn determines the nature of the family, that the nature of the family leads into the structure of society, and that the given social structure influences the individual in his life and thought. But from now on, Geddes will be insisting on possibility. It happens, he says, that, at some moment or another, an individual will look out through his or her « narrow window », momentarily aware of latent possibilities in life, science and art, only to be dragged away from it to workshop or « bed and table ». Of those who remain obstinately looking out from their window, most will devote themselves to « the unnnumbered descriptive specialisms » of this or that discipline, be it on the physical, organic or social plane. There exists however now the possibility of creating, beyond all the narrow windows, an Open Tower, allowing « a larger view of nature and Life », a synthetic experience, bringing together again art and science, physics and aesthetics, economics and ethics, as at the time of the Renaissance with, say, Leonardo da Vinci. Both materialism and spiritualism, the two results of mechanical dualism, have had their day, and the way lies open to a great « single discipline », which is « complex indeed, but no more a mere maze than a mere chaos » and which leads to « a single presentment of the world », « a growing Cosmos, a literal Uni-verse ».
As against all short-sighted action and reaction, as against all short-term views coming forward in the name of realism, Geddes advocates, not imagination (which is compensation rather than live thought), not utopian projection, but reality-vision, a conception more complex than realism. He insists on a basis in science, not requiring specialist knowledge, only, say, in mathematics, some acquaintance with simple algebraic equations, elementary geometry, and, in physics and physiology, some awareness of the preservation and dissipation of energy, the permanence of matter through transformation, and the functions of a living organism. Such preliminary scientific knowledge is pushed out into sociology and economics, and these in their turn extend into aesthetics : « We have thus reached the new paradox that the sphere of practical physical economics is to discuss the ways and means of increasing not so much bread, as Art » (« An analysis of the principles of economics », 1884).
Socio-economically, Geddes had been demonstrator in Botany, then assistant in Practical Botany, at Edinburgh University, till the philanthropist Martin White, interested in experimental education, created for him a Chair at Dundee, the big advantage of which was that Geddes could pack all his teaching into three months (April to June), free the rest of the time to move about. And move about he did, his intensive and extensive mind going in all directions.
A lot of the time, he had his Cities Exhibition on his back. This was one of his contributions to « active sociology », which he saw as an alternative to party politics, as well as to nationalism and marxism (as early as 1886, in a series of lectures, « Conditions of the Capitalist and of the Labourer », he said he’d like to look at it all « in a quiet, natural-history sort of way »). The Cities Exhibition was an attempt to analyse cities, see what could be done to make dead or dying ones livable, and create institutions, study-groups, associations to foster that high living called culture. From Edinburgh to Bombay, « active sociology meant also what he called « conservative surgery » and the improvement of slum areas. To the Carnegie Trust in Dunfermline he presented « A study of Parks, Gardens and Culture-Institutes ». He created a botanic garden at Dundee, landscape-gardening (what he called « garden-writing ») being an old love of his. In 1914, he was invited to undertake town planning reform in Ireland, and took the opportunity, since War was in the air, to voice his ideas about « dynamic Peace ». In India, where he was finally to occupy a Chair of Sociology at Bombay, he introduced the physicist J. C. Bose to the poet Rabindranath Tagore, and tried to persuade Gandhi to bring about « a further reorganisation of the evolutionary sciences ».
In addition to presenting his exhibitions, Geddes decided to start publishing live books, outside the confused mass of « literature ». To do this, he set up his own house, Patrick Geddes and Colleagues, with W. H. White, of the Edinburgh Riverside Press, as distributor. In addition to his review, The Evergreen, he had three lists : an « Evolution Series », with books like The Armenian Question by Victor Branford and himself, and The Biology of Colour by Marion Newbigin ; an « Ethic Art » series, with, for example, a book on St Genevieve of Paris by Puvis de Chavannes ; and a « Celtic Library », publishing old Celtic poems (Lyra Celtica), Breton tales (The Shadow of Arvor) and « mountain songs and island runes » (From the Hills of Dream) by Fiona Macleod. With these latter books, Geddes hoped to provide the basis for a « Scots Renascence », an idea that was going to be picked up later. Geddes well knew it was only the beginning of a beginning : « Our recent and current writers have but touched a fringe of their possibilities » (preface to the Autumn volume of The Evergreen). As to the review The Evergreen, which took its name from the writings of the XVIIIth century poet Allan Ramsay, it was based on the general idea of a « return to Nature », a slogan seen as « a rallying call which each age must answer in its own way. » The XIXth century had written its answer large in Science, Industry, Literature and Art — « yet many solutions are still lacking ». Geddes was feeling his way out into a larger field. If he was and is mainly known as a town-planner, a city-surveyor, he was also looking to a new exodus into « the outside world », that of the other animals, of plants and rocks.
There was the city, there was the univer-sity (which I take here to stand for all culture-institutions) — there was also the universe.
It was to city, univer-sity and universe, to this universalist conception of things, that Geddes consecrated his Outlook Tower, considered by him as the acme and symbol of his work, the concrete embodiment of that « open tower » he evoked in his essay « The Sociology of Autumn ». The place, reputed to have been the town mansion of the Laird of Cockpen, later known as Short’s Observatory (Short being an optician who had installed a periscope at its summit) was a high house situated near the castle in Edinburgh. Discovering that it was available on lease, Geddes, with his flair for locations, saw immediately that he could use it, not only as a kind of cosmorama, conducive to concentric and expanding vision, but also as a place to concentrate all his plans, projects and work-in-progress, and which would be in close contact with similar institutions all over the world. Furthermore, since 1892, Geddes had been inviting to give talks in Edinburgh all the liveliest minds he had come in contact with or had heard of : Elisée and Paul Reclus, Kropotkin, Haeckel, Paul Desjardins, Edmond Demolins, William James — psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, geographers, ethnologists, philosophers… He now invited them to the Outlook Tower, which, in his ever-developing conception of things, was to contain also an « inlook tower » (a bare-walled room for solitary meditation), and which, again, was seen by him only as a beginning. In 1902, with the idea of supplementing, if not actually incorporating, the Royal Geographical Society, he worked out with the geographer Bartholomew plans for a new National Institute of Geography that to his mind would be « a super outlook tower ». And in a letter he referred to Outlook Tower as a kind of prototype for « that great citadel of culture I have so often dreamt of but must leave others to build ».
During all this time, to come back to more intellectual matters, Geddes was trying out a whole constellation of terms in order to express his cosmic vision and define that global « single discipline » he had in mind.
To prevent, or at least curcumvent, any facile dismissal of his project as « utopian », Geddes stressed that he was concerned, not with utopia (etymologically : no place) but with eu-topia (good place). If we refer back to Comte’s analysis of the stages of human history : theological and militaristic ; State-controlled and individualistic ; scientific and industrialist, Geddes felt the time was ripe to try and move in to another stage, that he sometimes called etho-polity, sometimes ethicosm, based on psychorganic, eu-psychic, biosophical living, the process towards this stage being what he sometimes called eu-polito-genics (the science of good cities). None of this is very satisfactory, but it is not difficult to see what Geddes was trying to get at. Within this global nebula, an inner circle of more technical vocabulary is at once more precise and more pleasing to the ear of the mind : paleotechnics, neotechnics (or eutechnics), biotechnics and geotechnics. Paleotechnics meant waste of natural resources, blighted landscapes, pandemoniac cities full of factories, offices, slums and stunted human lives. Neotechnics meant the use of non-polluting energy and the attempt to reunite utility with beauty, city with landscape. Biotechnics would promote new life-thinking, leading to more developed human lives, more expanded psyches. As to geotechnics, it was the means for human beings to learn how to really and fully inhabit the earth. In his book From Geography to Geotechnics (University of Illinois Press, 1968), Benton MacKaye of the Tennessee Valley Authority said that he had wanted to use this Geddesian concept as early as 1928 (in his book The New Exploration, New York, Harcourt Brace) but had been dissuaded to do so by Lewis Mumford (who later regretted his advice), accepting an orthodox, unergetising « regional planning ». It had taken him, he said, thirty years to come out into the open.
« Coming out into the open » — that is exactly what Geddes proposed, in a letter of 1917, that he and Victor Branford should do. What did he mean by that ? He meant, again, without abandoning them, but integrating them into a higher and more open unity, coming out from behind Town Planning, the work of the Sociological Society, Valley Section diagramming and even the Outlook Tower. If the Valley Section presented a river from the sociological point of view, what Geddes proposed now was a plunge into the « cosmic life-stream », which, with its « extraordinary magnitude and extensiveness » would provide « more of a world-vision » and hence complete « our otherwise too micro-cosmal and local ones ». Already, in notes of 1902, he was talking about « carrying things farther and deeper » and about possible extensions of the Outlook Tower beyond geography and civics into « actual autogenetic process ».
This kind of opening actually happened to Geddes now and then throughout his life, and it was then that he broke into poetry. On occasions such as those, Geddes hardly knew what had hit him. At times he deprecates it all as « bardic yells ». At other times he treads warily around it, talking about « the life of feeling » and its expression as a necessary « basement or catacomb » to « the tower of thought and action ». At other times again, he sees practical energy, scientific intellect and poetic emotion coming together into a higher unity — « like the three colours that make up white light ». It’s interesting too to see him not stopping at emotion in his conception of poetry. He sees Goethe’s essay on morphology « not only as a culmination of his scientific work, but as perhaps the very greatest of his poems ».
It’s in this outer circle of Geddes’ work that we are obviously approaching the shores of geopoetics.