Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Laing, David (1793-1878)

LAING, DAVID (1793–1878), Scottish antiquary. born in Edinburgh 20 April 1793, was second son of William Laing, bookseller [q. v.] in that city. David was educated at the Canongate grammar school, and afterwards attended the Greek classes of Professor Dalzell at the Edinburgh University. In his fourteenth year he became apprentice to his father, and by his youthful enthuaisism as a bookseller he soon attracted the notice of literary men. His father at this time was the only bookseller in Edinburgh who dealt in foreign literature, and David occasionally travelled abroad in search of rare or curious books. On one such journey through Holland he made at Rotterdam the acquaintance of John Gibson Lockhart [q.v.], who, in 'Peter's Letters to his Kinfolk' (1819), describes him as 'by far the most genuine specimen of a true old-fashioned bibliopole that I ever saw exhibited in the person of a young man,' and makes mention of his 'truly wonderful degree of skill and knowledge in all departments of bibliography.' The first fruits of his industry appeared in a reprint of the 'Auctariuro Bibhathecæ Edinburgenæ sive Catalogus Librorum quos Gullielmus Drummondus ab Hawthomden D.D.Q. Anno 1697,' which was issued in 1815. Laing was a candidate for the keepership of the Advocates' Library, which fell vacant in 1818, but Dr. David Irving [q. v.] was elected. In 1831 Laing became partner in his fathers business, and he now devoted himself to the study and editing of old Scottish ballads and metrical romances. In 1831 he reprinted Sir Thomas Craig's 'Epithalamium on the Marriage of Damley and Mary Stuart' and the poems of Alexander Scot. He also edited, conjointly with David Irving, the poems of Alexander Moutgomery. In the same year he began the publication in parts of 'The Select Remains of the Ancient Popular Poetry of Scotland,' and in the following year he issued a reprint of 'The Pleasing History of Roswall and Lillian.' In 1823 (27 Feb.) Sir Walter Scott founded the Bannatyne Club, which was to consist of thirty-one members, for the printing of inedited materials or rare tracts relating to the history and literature of Scotland. Sir Walter was the first president, and his friend Laing was secretary and chief organiser until the dissolution of the club thirty-eight years later. Twenty-seven of the publications of the club were edited entirely, or conjointly with others, by Laing, He at first continued to confine himself mainly to ancient Scottish poetry, editing the 'Buke of the Howlet' and the poems of George Bannatyne for the club, and on his own account the first volume of his 'Fugitive Scottish Poetry, principally of the Seventeenth Century' (1823-6). 'Early Metrical Tales' in 1826, and in 1827 'The Knightly Tale of Golagrus and Gawane.' from the unique copy preserved in the Advocates' Library of this the first book known to have been printed in Scotland. But he soon enlarged the field of his research. In 1836 he was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, and for the following fifty years there was scarcely a volume of the society's transactions to which he did not contribute a paper.

In 1830 he edited for the Bannatyne Club 'The Affairs of the Kirk of Scotland.' 1637-1638. by John, Earl of Rothes. In 1831 he brought out the first collected edition of the poems of William Dunbar, to which he added a supplement in 1868. In 1836 he edited, from a manuscript in the Advocates' Library, Nicoll's 'Diary of Public Transactions. 1650-1657,' and in the following year the 'Seven Sages' of John Rolland of Dalkeith.

On 21 June 1837 Laing was elected librarian to the Society of Writers to H.M. Signet, in succession to Professor Macvey Napier [q. v.] Laing thereupon gave up his business as a bookseller, and disposed of his stock by public sale. The Signet Library, when he became its librarian, contained about forty thousand volumes. He left it at his death, forty-one years later, with seventy thousand.

In 1840 he edited, with Adam Urquhart, Sir John Lauder's 'Memorable Occurrents,' 1680-6; and in conjunction with John Hill Burton, for the Abbotsford Club, which had been started in 1834, the 'Jacobite Corrospondence of the Athole Family, 1745-6.' In the following year he published the valuable 'Letters and Journals of Robert Baillie,' 1637-62, in which, according to Carlyle, he exhibited his usual industry, sagacity, and correctness (London and Westminster Review, 1841).

For the Wodrow Society he edited in 1841 Row's 'History of the Kirk of Scotland from 1558 to 1639,' and for this same Society he issued in 1840 the first volume of his most important work, 'The Collected Works of John Knox,' which was completed by the publication of the sixth volume in 1864. His 'Notes of Ben Jonson's Conversations with Drummond of Hawthoraden' (Shakespeare Society) appeared in 1842, and his edition of Sir Gilbert Hay's 'Buke of the Order of Knighthood' in 1847. Another inedited work of Sir John Lauder, his 'Historical Notices of Scottish Affairs from 1661 to 1688,' was published by him in 1848. In 1849 he issued to the members of the Abbotaford Club two volumes of ancient poetry from the Auchinlack Manuscript : 'Sirre Degarre, a Metrical Romance of the end of the Thirteenth Century,' and ' A Penni worth of Witte ; Florice and Blauncheflour,' 4c. These were followed by two volumes of 'Original Letters relating to the Ecclesiastical Affairs of Scotland, 1603-23' (Bannatyne Club, 1851), and Lodge's 'Defence of Poetry, Music, and Stage Plays,' &e. (Shakespeare Society, 1853).

In 1854 Laing was elected honorary professor of autiquities to the Royal Scottish Academy. In 1855 he issued a volume of etchings' (1773-9) by John Clerk of Eldin [q. v.], to which he prefiied an account of the artist, for the Bannatyne Club, and wrote the preface to Mr. Slew's edition of the 'Aberdeen Breviary.' In 1856 he edited the 'Letters of John Colville, 1582-1603,' and, conjointly with Mr. Macknight, 'Memoirs of the Insurrection,' 1715, by John, master of Sinclair. In the same year appeared his 'Cataloyue of the Graduates of the University of Edinbough from 1680 to 1868.' In 1859 he edited the 'Registrum Cartarum Ecclesite S. Egidii de Edinburgh, 1344-1667,' and in 1861 the 'Registrum Domus de Soltre necnon Ecclesiæ Colkgiale S. Trinitatis prope Edinburgh,' &c., both for the Bannatyne Club.

In 1863 Laing edited for the Spalding Club 'Extracts from the Diary of Alexander Brodie of Brodie, 1663-80, and of his son James Brodie, 1680-5.' In the following year ho received the honorary degree of LL.D. from the university of Edinburgh. In 1866 he contributed to the Abbotsford Club a volume of poems by Stephen Hawes, and in 1867 to the Bannatyne Club a volume of papers relating to the colonisation of New Scotland, 1621-38. In 1865 appeared also his edition of the poetical works of Robert Henryson. His edition of 'The Gude and Godlie Ballates' appeared in 1866, followed in 1671 by his popiuar edition of the works of David Lyndsay, In 1871-2 he published 'Wyntoun's Chronicle' for the series of 'Historians of Scotland,' and in 1678 he issued for the Hunterian Club the 'Poetical Works of Alexander Craig of Rose Craig, 1604-31.' In 1875 he published, in two volumes, the 'Correspondence of Sir Robert Kerr, first Earl of Ancram, and his son, thian, 1616-67. In 1878 he edited in one volume, for the Hunterian Club, 'Theatre of Scottish Worthies,' and the 'Lyf, Doings, and Deathe of William Elphinstoun Bishop of Aberdeen.' In the year of his death he issued as a present to his friends a facsimile reproduction of the copperplates which illustrated the French translation of Becaccio's 'Fall of Princes,' printed at Bruges in 1476, and prefixed to the volume an account of the origin of engraving.

Laing died unmarried, in his eighty-sixth year, at Portobello 18 Oct. 1878. His unrivalled knowledge of books, and all that concerned books, in every department literature and art, with his well-known readiness to assist all inquirers, brought round him a large circle of friends. 'Sitting in that fine Signet Library, of which he holds the keys,' said Professor Cosmo Inues 'he is consulted by everybody in every emergency. No wise man will undertake a literary work on Scotland without taking counsel with Mr. Laing.'

His large private library of printed books was, by his direction, sold by auction. The sale, conducted by Messrs. Sotheby, Wilkison, & Hodge, occupied thirty-one days (1879-80), and realised 16,137l. 11s. He bequeathed a collection of drawinga to the Royal Scottish Academy, and a valuable collection of manuscripts to the university of Edinburgh.

His portrait, painted by Robert Herdman R.S.A., for the Society of Antiquaries, the fiftieth anniversary of Laing's admission as a fellow, is preserved in the hall of the society. Another portrait was painted by Sir William Fettes Douglas, R.S.A., and was presented by the artist to the Royal Scottish Academy in 1863.

[Notices of David Laing. LL.D., with list his Publications and Leoturwi on Scottish Art &c., by T. G. Stevenson, Edinburgh (privately printed), 1878; Biographical Memoir (with protrait) prefixed to new edition of the Select Remains of Ancient Popular and Romance Poetry of Scotland, drawn up by John Small, M.A., Edinburgh, 1885.]

T. G. L.