David Laing (antiquary)

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David Laing LLD (20 April 1793 – 18 October 1878) was a Scottish antiquary.

Portrait of David Laing by Sir William Fettes Douglas


The grave of David Laing, New Calton Burial Ground, Edinburgh

He was born in 1793, the son of William Laing (1761–1831), a bookseller in Edinburgh, and his wife, Helen Kirk.[1] They lived and worked from the head of Chessels Court on the Canongate.[2]

He was educated at Canongate Grammar School and then attended the University of Edinburgh. At fourteen he was apprenticed to his father. They formed W & D Laing Booksellers at 49 South Bridge, living at Ramsay Lodge at 66 Lauriston in 1830.[3] Shortly after the death of his father in 1837, Laing was elected to the librarianship of the Signet Library in replacement of Macvey Napier, a post he retained till his death. Apart from general bibliographical knowledge, Laing was best known as a student of the literary and artistic history of Scotland.

In 1864 he was awarded an honorary doctorate (LLD) by the University of Edinburgh.[4]

Laing was struck with paralysis in October 1878 while in the Signet Library, and it is said that, on recovering consciousness, he looked about and asked if a proof of Wyntoun had been sent from the printers. He died a few days afterwards, in his eighty-sixth year at his home, 13 James Street in Portobello.[5] He is buried in New Calton Burial Ground in east Edinburgh. The grave lies on the north wall near the north-east corner.

His library was sold at auction by Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge over a period of thirty-one days, and realized £16,137. He bequeathed his collection of manuscripts to the University of Edinburgh.[6]

Plaque in Portobello


Laing published no original books but edited the works of others. Of these, the major ones are: William Dunbar's Works (2 vols., 1834), with a supplement added in 1865; Robert Baillie's Letters and Journals (3 vols.; 1841–42); John Knox's Works (6 vols.; 1846–64); Poems and Fables of Robert Henryson (1865); Andrew of Wyntoun's Orygynale Cronykil of Scotland (3 vols.; 1872–79); and Sir David Lyndsay's Poetical Works (3 vols.; 1879).

For over fifty years, Laing was a member of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, and contributed over a hundred papers to their Proceedings. He was an original member of and the long-standing secretary to the Bannatyne Club, many of whose publications were edited by him.


  1. ^ Grave of David Laing, New Calton Burial Ground
  2. ^ Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1794
  3. ^ Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1830
  4. ^ Cassells Old and New Edinburgh, vol II p.376
  5. ^ Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1878
  6. ^ "David Laing: our most important manuscript collection". The University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 22 January 2016.

Further reading[edit]

  • "Biographical Memoir" prefixed to Select Remains of Ancient, Popular and Romance Poetry of Scotland, edited by John Small (Edinburgh, 1885)
  • Thomas George Stevenson, Notices of David Laing with List of his Publications, etc. (privately printed 1878).

External links[edit]