Papers of David Ramsay Hay (1798-1866)

Scope and Content

The collection includes the unbound papers of Abstract of an inquiry into the geometrical principles which determine the typical relative position of the more important points in the skeleton and on the surface of the human body, a volume of circa 80 letters between 1840 and 1859, and circa 109 letters from members various correspondents including members of the Aesthetic Society 1849 to 1863.

Administrative / Biographical History

The decorative artist and writer on art David Ramsay Hay was born in Edinburgh in March 1798. After his education, he became a 'reading boy' in a printing-office. Showing a talent for drawing he was apprenticed at the age of fourteen to Gavin Beugo, a heraldic and decorative painter in Edinburgh. David Roberts (1796-1864) who became a life-long friend of Hay was a fellow-apprentice. His spare time was spent developing skills in higher art, particularly the painting of animals, and he attracted the attention of Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832). Scott recommended that he approach decorative art and house-painting as a profession, and employed him in the decoration of his home at Abbotsford in the Scottish Borders along with George Nicholson and William Nicholson (1781-1844). Around 1828, Hay started his own business in Edinburgh's George Street and became a successful house decorator, winning many public works commissions including the hall of the Society of Arts, London. He was a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and also a founder of the Aesthetic Society established in Edinburgh in 1851. Hay's publications on art include The laws of harmonious colouring adapted to house painting (1828), Proportion, or the Geometric principle of beauty analysed (1843), The principles of beauty in colour systematized (1845), and The geometric beauty of the human figure defined (1851). David Ramsay Hay died in Edinburgh on 10 September 1866.

Access Information

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


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Stephen, Leslie. and Lee, Sidney (eds.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol. 9. Harris-Hovenden. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908.

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.

Related Material

The local Indexes show another reference to Hay related material (check the Indexes for more details), namely: an abstract of an inquiry into geometrical principles, at Gen. 290. Also, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: papers relating to the Parthenon, 1852-1860, National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, and correspondence (25 items) with John E. Ingpen, 1860-1861, and also 1828-61: correspondence with David Roberts, 1828-1861, Ref. MSS 3521-22, 10276; and, letters (12) to David Roberts, mainly relating to Scott Monument, 1835-1838, Victoria and Albert Museum, National Art Library, NRA 13466 V and A Museum.