Correspondence and Papers of Sir John Leslie (1766-1832)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-415
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      14 letters, 1 mss volume, 3 portraits, 1 sketch, 1 bundle miscellaneous.
  • Location
      Mic.M.1; Mic.M.4; Phot.1144; Dc.1.101/3-4; Dc.2.57, f. 94, and ff.97-; Gen. 129; Gen. 1429/3; Gen. 1999/1/109; MS 2636

Scope and Content

The correspondence and other material includes: batches covering the periods 1794 and 1832, and 1815 to1828; letters from 1788 to 1823; miscellaneous letters including those requesting loans of books, to publishers, related to billing etc., on scientific instruments, and Tweed suspension bridge; a commission of the Town Council appointing Leslie as joint-Professor of Mathematics with Adam Ferguson, 1805; and, notes of lectures on electricity, circa 1827.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Leslie was born in Largo, Fife, on 16 April 1766. He studied at St. Andrews University until 1783 or 1784 after which he studied Divinity at Edinburgh University. With strong interests in science however, in 1787 he abandoned the intention of going into the Church. In 1788 his paper entitled On the resolution of indeterminate problems was published by the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 1789, Leslie was tutoring in Virginia, North America. On his return to Britain he stayed for a time in London before going to Etruria, Staffordshire, between 1790 and 1792. There he translated The natural history of birds by Comte de Georges Louis Leclerc Buffon (1707-1788), and also published Observations on electrical theories. A short stay in the Netherlands followed, after which he returned to Largo where he studied and conducted experimental research. Leslie invented instruments for use in the study of heat and for meteorology. During his stay in Largo he also travelled to London and in Europe - to Germany and Switzerland, observing glaciers in the latter. In 1805, he was appointed to the Chair of Mathematics at Edinburgh University, and in 1819 he was elected to the Chair of Natural Philosophy at the University. His publications include Experimental inquiry into the nature and properties of heat (1804), Elements of geometry, geometrical analysis and plane trigonometry (1809), Geometry of curve lines (1813), Philosophy of arithmetic (1817), Elements of natural philosophy (1823), and Mathematical treatises. Leslie was knighted in early 1832, and Sir John Leslie died the same year at his estate, Coates, in Fife, on 3 November 1832.

Access Information

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

Acquisition Information

Lecture notes, purchased May 1986, Accession no. E86.36.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol.11. Kennett-Lluelyn. 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 other references to Leslie related material in the Laing Collection (check the Indexes for more details): letter of Leslie to C. Hutton, enquiring about the possibility of obtaining a post at Woolwich Academy, 1804, La.II.425/30; letter to Messrs. Tait, Booksellers, with proposals for an edition of Rudiments of plane geometry, 1828, at La.II.583/8; and, mention of Leslie in a letter of Sir J. Banks, 1819, at La.II.425/6. There is also: a letter to Leslie from J. B. J. Delambre, 1820, at Dc.1.101/1; a letter from Professor John Playfair, 1804, at Dc.2.57, f.239; a letter from Sir Walter Scott, circa 1826, at Phot.534; mention of Leslie in a letter of Sir J. Ivory, 1789, at Dc.2.57, f.26. In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: correspondence and notebooks, 1814-1831, Private, Ref. NRA(S)0059 NRA 9763 Marjoribanks; family correspondence and papers, 1794-1832, Private, Ref. NRA(S)1560 NRA 21276 Leslie; correspondence with Sir Joseph Banks, 1794-1820, National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, Ref. MS 9818, and, correspondence with Archibald Constable, 1803-1826, Ref. MSS 331, 789-92; correspondence with James David Forbes, St. Andrews University Library, NRA 13132 Forbes; correspondence with J. S. Langton, 1825-1829, Lincolnshire Archives, Ref. Langton NRA 8678 Langton; and, letters to Macvey Napier, 1811-1832, British Library, Manuscript Collections, Ref. Add MSS 34611-15 passim.

Corporate Names