Papers of Professor James Lorimer (1818-1890)

Scope and Content

The Lorimer papers consist of: manuscript material on Institutes of law; manuscript material and proofs for The institutes of the law of nations; lectures and University papers; biographical material compiled from Lorimer's family history; articles, offprints and correspondence; pamphlets on the Eastern Question; and, printed papers and cuttings. There are bound volumes containing lectures, notes and printed matter.

Administrative / Biographical History

Jurist and political philosopher James Lorimer was born at Aberdalgie, in Perthshire, on 4 November 1818. He was educated at Perth High School, and then at the universities of Edinburgh, Berlin, and Bonn, and also in Geneva, studying Philosophy, Zoology and Chemistry. A brief career in commerce followed, in Glasgow, but in 1845 he was admitted as a member of the Faculty of Advocates of Scotland. Some practice at the bar followed and experience as sheriff-substitute of Midlothian but his career was to continue in the development of jurisprudence. Lorimer made his mark as an author with The universities of Scotland past, present, and possible (1854), Political progress not necessarily democratic, or, Relative equality the true foundation of liberty (1857), Constitutionalism of the future, or, Parliament the mirror of the nation (1865). In 1865 he was appointed to the Chair of 'The Law of Nature and of Nations'. He then devoted his energy into teaching the philosophy of law and described his system in Institutes of law (1872) which was translated into French in 1890. Though familiar to continental European lawyers, Lorimer's school of thought which attached little importance to the historical method, tended to be ignored in England where the utilitarian and positive schools were strong. Lorimer's method of jurisprudence, that of constructing a system of reasoning from cause to effect, was more appreciated in France and Germany. Lectures in international law were expanded in The institutes of the law of nations: a treatise of the jural relations of separate political communities (1883-1884). In his work he discussed neutrality, nationality, and proportional disarmament. Lorimer even put forward a scheme for the organisation of an international government of Europe with Geneva as its centre. At Edinburgh University, he sought to develop the Faculty of Law and extended its studies in order to qualify its graduates not only for the practice of law in Scotland but for the civil and diplomatic services. Lorimer was an advocate of political reforms such as proportional representation and the enfranchisement of women. Professor James Lorimer died in Edinburgh on 13 February 1890, and was survived by his wife and three sons, one of whom was J. H. Lorimer an accomplished artist, and another Sir Robert Stodart Lorimer (1864-1929), architect.

Access Information

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


The biographical 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.

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 other references to Professor James Lorimer material (check the Indexes for more details): a portrait photograph in JY 1202; typescript of a history of the Lorimer family at Mic.M.1366. In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: letters at the National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division.