Lectures and Correspondence of Professor Macvey Napier (1776-1847)

Scope and Content

The material is composed of: notes of lectures on conveyancing given at Edinburgh University, 1829-1830; notes on lectures on conveyancing, taken down by Sir W. Fraser, 1837-1838; a letter of Napier to J. B. Say of Paris, introducing Mr. Tait, 1817; and, letter to D. R. Hay, 1843;

Administrative / Biographical History

Macvey Napier was born in Kirkintilloch, Dumbartonshire, on 11 April 1776. He was educated locally, then in 1789 went to study at Glasgow University, then to Edinburgh University where he studied law. In 1799 he was admitted to the Society of Writers to the Signet. Napier's interests lay more in the literary world however and, earlier, in 1798, he made the acquaintance of the bookseller, later publisher, Archibald Constable (1774-1827). Their friendship lasted till Constable's death. In 1805, Napier was appointed Librarian by the Writers to the Signet (at the Signet Library), and that year too he became a regular contributor to the Edinburgh Review. In 1814 he undertook editing work for a supplement to the sixth edition of Constable's Encyclopaedia Britannica (1824). This project brought him contact with some eminent writers and thinkers - Malthus, James Mill, and Dugald Stewart. In 1824, Napier became Professor of Conveyancing at Edinburgh University, and was the first to occupy this particular Chair although he had been lecturing in the subject since 1816. He was involved too with the editing of the seventh edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica although the bankruptcy and subsequent death of Constable in 1827 as well as difficulties with Adam Black and partners - the new owners of the work - interfered with the project which was not completed until 1842. Earlier, in 1829, Napier became the editor of the Edinburgh Review. In 1837 he was appointed as a Clerk of Session. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the Royal Society of London. Professor Macvey Napier died on 11 February 1847.

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) Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol. 14. Myllar-Owen. 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 other references to Napier related material (check the Indexes for more details): certificate of Napier stating that George Hume attended the class on conveyancing at Edinburgh University, 1830-1831, at Da.(Class Cards); and, certificate by Prof. A. C. Swinton stating that Robert A. Cathcart attended the conveyancing class until 1847, at Da. (Class Cards). In the Laing Collection, there is: letter to J. Home, at La.II.509; and, letters to D. Laing about book purchases, Bannatyne Club, Signet Library rules and regulations, Lady Erskine of Grange, etc., 1829-1842. There is also a letter to Professor R. Jameson, at Gen. 129, a letter to Napier from Professor John Wilson, 1839, at Gen. 1730-1732, and a mention of Napier in a letter of Sir D. Brewster to J. S. Henslow, 1834.

In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: lecture notes, 1836-1837, St. Andrews University Library, Ref. MS 36981, see Accessions to repositories 1973, and correspondence with James David Forbes, 1841-1842, NRA 13132 Forbes; correspondence with James Browne, 1828-1829, National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, Ref. MS 3700, and letters to Thomas Carlyle, 1830-1832, Ref. MSS 1765, 1773, and correspondence with George Combe, 1821-1843, Ref. MSS 7207-7269, 7377-7388 Passim, and correspondence with Archibald Constable, 1798-1827, Ref. MS 674, and letters to Lord Mounteagle, 1842-1846, Ref. MS 3650, and letters to William Mure, 1842-1846, Ref. MSS 4948-56, and miscellaneous correspondence mainly with Lord Rutherfurd, 1839-1851, Ref. MSS 9708-9719, 10998 Passim; correspondence with John Allen, 1817-1843, British Library, Manuscript Collections, Ref. Add MS 52182, and correspondence and papers, Ref. Add MSS 34611-31; correspondence with Edwin Chadwick, circa 1835-1845, London University, University College, London (UCL), Manuscripts Room, Ref. CHADWICK NRA 21653 Chadwick; letters to Daniel Ellis, Gloucester Record Office, Ref. D1501, 2227 NRA 11418 Viner-Ellis; letters to Lord Lytton, 1830-1839, Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies, Ref. D/EK NRA 4598 Bulwer-Lytton; and correspondence with Nassau Senior, 1841-1845, National Library of Wales, Ref. Nassau Senior NRA 28427 Senior.


Corporate Names