Lectures and Correspondence of Professor Colin MacLaurin (1698-1746)

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection is composed of: Ane introduction to the Mathematicks, being notes of lectures, circa 1725; a letter to an unnamed, 1717, with an engraved portrait; letters and microform of letters to Archibald Campbell of Knockbuy, 1725-1745; memorial to the Commissioners of excise, 1735; A collection from Mr. McLaurin's course of experiments; A treatise of algebra and An introduction to the method of fluxions; a copy of the inscription on the tomb of Colin MacLaurin in Greyfriars Churchyard; and, a photograph of a portrait of Maclaurin.

Administrative / Biographical History

Mathematician and natural philosopher Colin MacLaurin was born in Kilmodan, Glendaruel, in Argyllshire, on February 1698. He was educated in Dumbarton and studied at Glasgow University where he showed an early mastery of mathematics. On being awarded his MA he briefly studied Divinity. In 1717 he became Professor of Mathematics at Marischal College, Aberdeen. In 1719 he visited London, meeting Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) and becoming a member of the Royal Society. On a second visit in 1721 he met Martin Folkes (1690-1754), President of the Royal Society. In 1722 MacLaurin was engaged by Lord Polwarth as a tutor to his eldest son, and they travelled to Lorraine. In 1725 he became deputy Professor to the ageing James Gregory at Edinburgh University. His skill lay in experimental physics, astronomical observation, and practical mechanics. He proposed an astronomical observatory for Scotland and he improved the maps of Orkney and Shetland. His publications include his thesis on the power of gravity, Geometria organica, sive descriptio linearum curvarum universalis (1720), A treatise of fluxions (1742), and Account of the philosophical discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton. In 1745 he was involved in the construction of defences in Edinburgh against the advancing Jacobites and when the city was occupied he escaped to England where he fell ill. Colin Maclaurin died on 14 June 1746.

Conditions Governing Access

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Acquisition Information

A treatise of algebra, purchased March 1961, Accession no. E61.9. Letters to Campbell of Knockbuy, acquired October 1970, Accession no. E.70.40. Notes of lectures, purchased February 1987, Accession no. E87.21.


Note that when this record was created any associated photographic/illustrative was unseen.

The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol.12. Llwyd-Mason. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1909.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.

Related Material

The local Indexes show various references to Maclaurin related material in the Laing Collection, Special Collections, Edinburgh University Library (check the Indexes for more details): letters to Professor C. Mackie and to Rev. R. Wallace, 1735, and 1743, at La.II.236; letter from Sir D. Brewster to D. Laing, 1864, at La.IV.17. There are also items relating to MacLaurin in the Colin Campbell Collection, Special Collections, Edinburgh University Library, being: letters and thesis, at MS 3099 15. In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: papers relating to spheroids and Nugae Poeticae, British Library, Manuscript Collections, Ref. Add MSS 4437, 52247; memorial to Commissioners of Excise, 1735, National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, Ref. Adv MS 23 1 13; papers, Royal Society, see HMC MS papers of British scientists 1600-1940, 1982; letters to Sir John Clerk, 1737-1742, National Archives of Scotland, Ref. GD18/5097 NRA 29182 Clerk; letters to James Spreull etc (copies), Glasgow University Library, Special Collections Department, and papers relating to projected biography by J. C. Eaton; letters (11) to James Stirling, 1728-1740, Private, Ref. NRA(S)2362 NRA 14810 Stirling.


A copy of An early manuscript of MacLaurin's: mathematical modelling of the forces of good; some remarks on fluids is available to be read by courtesy of Ian Tweddle, B.Sc., Ph.D., D.Sc. This piece deals with the Maclaurin manuscript MS 3099.15.6 in the Colin Campbell Collection, Special Collection, Edinburgh University Library. The copy is contained in the Handlist 38 (H38) which relates to the Colin Campbell Collection.