Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Laing, John (1809-1880)

LAING, JOHN (1809–1880), bibliographer, was born in 1809 at Edinburgh, but spent his early youth at Dalmeny, where his father was for many years factor to the Earl of Rosebery; his mother was Mary Fyfe, of a Banffshire family. After the usual course at Edinburgh University in arts and theology, he was in 1842 ordained assistant and successor to John M. Robertson, minister of Livingston, Linlithgowshire. At the disruption in the following year he withdrew from the establishment, joined the newly formed free church, and for a time continued his ministry in the same parish. In 1846 he became chaplain to the presbyterian soldiers at Gibraltar and afterwards at Malta. Failing health, together with an invincible repugnance to appear in public, caused him to resign his charge. In 1850 he was appointed librarian in New College, Edinburgh, where his love of books found free scope, and his researches into bibliography began. After the death of Samuel Halkett [q. v.] in 1871, the materials collected by the latter for a dictionary of anonymous literature were entrusted to him, and Laing more than doubled the store. But he died 3 April 1880, before the work went to press. The whole, with the exception of the indices, was arranged and edited by his elder surviving daughter, and appeared with the title ‘A Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous Literature of Great Britain,’ 4 vols. 8vo, between 1882 and 1888. Laing published the ‘Catalogue of the Printed Books and Manuscripts in the Library of New College, Edinburgh,’ 4to, 1868.

On 29 Aug. 1843 he married at Livingston Catherine Fyfe, daughter of a West India proprietor, and had three daughters, the eldest of whom predeceased him.

[Library Chronicle, 1888; private information.]

J. K-y.