Lectures and Papers of John Wilson, 'Christopher North' (1785-1854)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-535
  • Dates of Creation
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      15 Letters; 1 album letters; 1 fragment; 1 signature. Access to records in a fragile condition may be restricted.
  • Location
      Dc.3.87/4; Dc.4.101-103; Dk.3.48; Gen. 631-633; Gen. 1732 Wilson; Gen. 2042/99; E91.37; E95.85; E96.14

Scope and Content

The material is composed of: notes of lectures on moral philosophy at Edinburgh University, 1843-1844; extract from his poem Unimore; fragment of the original MS of the Sketch of Professor Wilson by T. de Quincey, 1829; letters to R. Findlay on life in Oxford, 1804-1807; letter to J. Nairne, 1837; letter to Professor Macvey Napier, 1839; letter to P. Robertson on his appointment as judge, 1843; letter to Dr. Blair; letter to 'My dear Man of the Mountains'; letter to 'George'; note promising to pay accounts, 1833; autograph signature; album of testimonial letters solicited for candidacy to Chair of Moral Philosophy; letter to his sister, circa 1820; and, miscellaneous letters and fragment.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Wilson was born in Paisley on 18 May 1785. He was educated at a local school in Paisley and at the manse in Mearns, and from 1797 he studied at Glasgow University. He then went to Magdalen College, Oxford. He had been athletic, interested in logic, and had associated with many different people, and travelled around the country in vacations. He graduated in 1810 and went to Lakeland to live, and there he began to write and became close friends with Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Southey. Mismanagement of his property by a relation however led to his return to Edinburgh where he began to study law. In 1815 he was called to the Scottish Bar though made little progress in the legal profession. In 1817, Wilson became involved with the new journal, Blackwood's magazine and thus also became involved with the deep rivalry between Blackwood's and the Constable publishing house. He wrote under the pseudonym 'Christopher North'. In 1820 he was elected Professor of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University largely for political reasons for he was probably better qualified for a Chair in English Literature. His writing, much of which first appeared in Balckwood's included The isle of palms (1810), The city of the plague (1816), Noctes ambrosianae (1822), The trials of Margaret Lyndsay (1823), and The Foresters (1825). John Wilson died on 3 April 1854 at Gloucester Place, Edinburgh, and he was buried in Dean Cemetery on 7 April 1854. There is a statue to him in Princes Street, Edinburgh, sculpted by John Steell.

Access Information

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

Acquisition Information

Robertson letter, purchased February 1962, Accession no. E62.14. 'George' letter, acquired 1964, Accession no. E64.60. Blair letter, purchased October 1968, Accession no. E68.28. Nairne letter, purchased October 1968, Accession no. E68.29. Napier letter, purchased May 1972, Accession no. E72.18. 'Man of the Mountains' letter, purchased 1974, Accession no. E74.16. Note about accounts, purchased April 1975, Accession no. E75.19. Miscellaneous other letters, purchased March 1973 and 1974, Accession no. E73.13, and E74.3. Album, purchased April 1991, Accession no. E91.37. Letter, 1850, purchased December 1995, Accession no. E95.85. Letter to sister, purchased April 1996, Accession no. E96.14.


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.21. Whichcord-Zuylestein. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1909. (2) Keay, John. and Keay, Julia (eds.). Collins encyclopaedia of Scotland. London: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994.

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 Wilson related material in the Laing Collection and elsewhere (check the Indexes for more details): material relating to course in moral philosophy, La.II.511/1.393 and 359; MS leaf on Noctes ambrosianae, at La.II.583; letter from L. Rumsey, 1851, at La.II.423/195; mention of Lights and shadows of Scottish life in a letter of A. Cunningham to D. Laing, 1822, at La.IV.6; mention in a letter of A. Cunningham to D. Laing, 1836, at La.IV.6; mention in a letter of Thomas de Quincey, at Dc.4.102; letter to 'My dear Lord Ordinary and Extraordinary', at Gen. 1730 onwards; letter from Sir Walter Scott to the Lord Provost of Edinburgh supporting Wilson for the Chair, 1820, at Gen. 1730 onwards; and, letter to Professor R. Jameson at Gen. 129 onwards.

In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: correspondence, literary MSS and papers, National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, Ref. MSS 98, 786, 3394-3396, 4854-4889, 8997, 21240-21241, and correspondence with Blackwoods and relating financial papers, 1817-1851, Ref. MSS 4002-4095, 4729-4896, 4935-4936, and correspondence with J. G. Lockhart, 1824-1852, Ref. MSS 931, 1557, and letters (18) to D. M. Moir, 1827-1833, Ref. Acc 9856 no. 59; MS of poems on various subjects, British Library, Manuscript Collections, Ref. Add MS 40736, and correspondence (copies), 1810-1841, Ref. RP1059(2); correspondence with Alexander Blair, John Fleming and others (3 vols.), 1809-1852, Leeds University Library, Special Collections; correspondence, 1812-1814, Rutgers University Libraries; and miscellaneous correspondence and papers, Yale University Libraries, Beinecke Library, Ref. (WILSON SHORT LIST) NRA 18661 Osborn coll.