Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Black, Adam

BLACK, ADAM (1784–1874), politician and publisher, was the son of a builder in Edinburgh, and was born 20 Feb. 1784 in Charles Street, a few doors from the birthplace of Lord Jeffrey. He was educated at the High School of Edinburgh, and during one session attended the Greek class at the university. After serving an apprenticeship of five years to a bookseller in Edinburgh, he went to London, where he was for two years assistant in the house of Lackington, Allen, & Co., the ‘Temple of the Muses,’ Finsbury. In 1808 he returned to Edinburgh, where, after carrying on a bookselling business for some years in his own name, he took his nephew into partnership, and established the house of Adam and Charles Black. On the failure of Archibald Constable & Co. in 1827 the firm acquired the copyright of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ the seventh and eighth editions of this important work being undertaken while he was head of the firm. In 1851 they purchased from the representatives of Mr. Cadell, for 27,000l., the copyright of Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels and other works, which they immediately began to issue in editions suited to all classes of the community with remarkable success.

Very soon after he settled in Edinburgh he began, at considerable risk to his business prospects to take a prominent part in burgh and ganeral politics as it liberal politician. As a member of the Merchant Company, of which he was elected master in 1831, his energetic advocacy of a thoroughgoing measure of burgh reform was of great assistance in hastening the downfall of close corporations, and in regard to the Corporations and Test Acts his procedure was equally uncompromising. Having become a member of the first town council of Edinburgh after the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832, he was chosen treasurer of the city at the time of its liquidation, and materially assisted in arranging its affairs. He was twice elected lord provost, and on account of his successful administration of the affairs of the city at this critical period, 1843-8, received the offer of knighthood, which he declined. In all prominent public schemes connected with the city he took an active interest, and on the foundation of the well-known Philosophical Institution in 1845 was elected its first president. He was instrumental in introducing Macaulay to the electors of Edinburgh, and, when the latter was elevated to the peerage in 1856, succeeded him as member for the city, which he continued to represent till 1865. His practical shrewdness and straightforward honesty secured him the special confidence of the leaders of the liberal party in parliament, by whom he was much consulted in matters relating to Scotland. He died in Edinburgh, in his ninetieth year, 24 Jan. 1874. By his wife, the sister of William Tait, of ‘Tait’s Magazine,' he left issue, and he was succeeded by his sons in the business of A. & C. Black. In recognition of his services to Edinburgh a bronze statue was in 1877 erected to his memory in East Prince's Street Gardens,

[Scotsman, 26 Jan. 1874; Men of the Time, 8th ed.; Crombie's Modern Albanians, ed. Scott Douglas (1882), pp. 179-B3; Trevelyan’s Life of Lord Macaulay; Nicolson's! Memoirs of Adam Black (1885).]

T. F. H.