The Laing Collection

Scope and Content

After the death of David Laing, his private library was sold in an auction occupying thirty-one days. His collection of charters and other papers is of national importance and the most distinguished of its kind in any Scottish university. It is an essential source for the 18th century, and a much used one for all periods of Scottish history from the earliest times. The Laing Collection falls into five sections, designated as La.I., La.II., La.III., La.IV., and La.V.

Administrative / Biographical History

David Laing, eminent historian, antiquary and bibliographer, was the second son of the Edinburgh bookseller William Laing (1764-1832) and was born on 20 April 1793. He was educated at the Canongate grammar school and later on attended Greek classes at Edinburgh University. At the age of fourteen he became apprenticed to his father who, at the time, was the only bookseller in Edinburgh dealing in foreign literature. Laing was able, occasionally, to travel abroad in search of rare or curious books. In 1821, he became a partner in his father's business and throughout his life he was an avid collector of manuscripts and rescued many from destruction. The first published work of his own was Auctarium Bibliothecae Edinburgenae sive Catalogus Librorum quos Gulielmus Drummondus ab Hawthornden D.D.Q. Anno 1627 (1815). Among other works, Laing also reprinted Thomas Craig's Epithalamium on the marriage of Darnley and Mary Stuart (1821). When Sir Walter Scott founded the Bannatyne Club in 1823 for the printing of material and tracts relating to Scottish history and literature, Laing - a friend of Scott's - became Secretary of the Club and chief organiser until its dissolution in the 1860s. Laing was also associated with the Abbotsford Club, the Spalding Club, and the Wodrow Society, each of which had been set up for the publication of manuscripts and for the revival of old texts. When the keepership of the Advocates' Library fell vacant in 1818, Laing was a candidate but was not elected. He became Keeper of the Library to the Society of Writers to Her Majesty's Signet, a post which he occupied from 1837 until his death. On his appointment to the post, he gave up his business as a bookseller and disposed of the stock in a public sale. Laing died at Portobello, in Edinburgh, on 18 October 1878.

Access Information

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Acquisition Information

The Laing collection, the largest single manuscript collection in Edinburgh University Library, was bequeathed in 1878.

Other Finding Aids

Handlists, H1; H2; H3; H4; H5; H.5.1; H5.2; H5.3; H5.4.2. Another important finding aid is the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives. Additions to the typed slips in sheaf binders were made until 1987. As a result of a project supported by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council (SHEFC), section IV of the Laing Collection has been conserved and catalogued.

Geographical Names