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James Nairne

Most significant donation of the late 17th century.

James Nairn, or Nairne (1629-1678), left the Library 1,840 items, mainly theological, but also including scholarly works on history, philosophy, literature, classics, medicine and science.

The son of an Edinburgh merchant, Nairne entered the Tounis College in 1646, graduating in 1650. Two years later he was appointed to the post of Librarian of the College which he held until December 1653, when he resigned to become Chaplain to the Countess of Wemyss. He held charges in a number of parishes near Edinburgh, in Lothian, and finally in Wemyss in Fife. Among his friends he numbered Robert Leighton, who became Bishop of Dunblane where his own library remains, and Gilbert Burnet, Bishop of Salisbury and author.

Nairne’s bequest increased the size of the Library by one-third. It is one of the largest surviving Scottish private libraries of its time, and presents a picture of the intellectual interests of an educated Scotsman of the day. He was clearly receptive to current developments in European thought and the collection contains books which were widely seen as revolutionary, such as the works of Spinoza.

A catalogue was printed at the time of the donation: 'Catalogus librorum quibus Bibliothecam Academiae Jacobi Regis Edinburgenae adauxit R. D. Jacobus Narnius' (Edinburgh, 1678). A detailed modern listing is contained in Murray C. T. Simpson, 'A Catalogue of the Library of the Revd James Nairn' (Edinburgh University Library, 1990). 133 items appear to have gone astray over the years. All the books known to survive are listed in the Library's pre-1985 main catalogue and many are now catalogued online. Locations are scattered but the collection can be virtually reconstructed using Murray Simpson’s catalogue.