Dr Iain Gordon Brown FSA FRSE was, until his retirement in 2011, Principal Curator of Manuscripts in the National Library of Scotland where he was responsible for (among other areas of the collections) material relating to Sir Walter Scott and his world. Over the course of a long career he made numerous important acquisitions for the nation in this and other fields, and mounted many exhibitions and displays. He is the historian of the National Library and its collections, having written Building for Books: The Architectural Evolution of the Advocates’ Library (1989) and Rax Me That Buik: Highlights from the Collections of the National Library of Scotland (2010), as well as numerous articles and essays on its history and development.
Iain is now an Honorary Fellow of the National Library and an Associate of the Centre for the History of the Book in the University of Edinburgh. In 2014 he was appointed Consultant to the Adam Drawings Project at Sir John Soane’s Museum, London. Between 2012 and 2017 he held the office of Curator of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Having been President of the Old Edinburgh Club, 2007-10, and a Trustee of the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, 2011-14, he currently serves as Vice-President of the Edinburgh Decorative and Fine Arts Society; as a Trustee of the Penicuik House Preservation Trust; and as a member of the Faculty of Advocates Joint Abbotsford Advisory Committee and of the Curatorial Expert Advisory Panel for the Abbotsford Trust.
Born in Durban, South Africa (to a Chartered Accountant father and a mother who had read English at the University of Edinburgh under teachers such as the Scott scholar Arthur Melville Clark), Iain was educated at George Watson’s College, where he studied Classics, and at the University of Edinburgh where he read History. He took a PhD at St John’s College, Cambridge, his thesis being on the virtuoso Sir John Clerk of Penicuik and the world of eighteenth-century antiquarianism and cultural patronage. This has resulted in a large number of publications ranging from articles in learned journals to book chapters and short monographs.
In the realm of Scott studies, Iain has edited Scott’s Interleaved Waverley Novels: an Introduction and Commentary (1987) and Abbotsford and Sir Walter Scott: The Image and the Influence (2003). He has written some important articles on aspects of Scott collecting, and on Scott portraiture. His Frolics in the Face of Europe: Walter Scott, Continental Travel and the Tradition of the Grand Tour – a work combining two major scholarly interests – will appear in 2020.
In other fields he has published extremely widely, much of his scholarly work being on topics connected with British art and architecture of the eighteenth century; on antiquarianism, taste and the Grand Tour; and on the literature and culture of Scotland in the age of the Enlightenment. Books include The Hobby-Horsical Antiquary; Poet & Painter: Allan Ramsay, Father and Son 1684-1784; Monumental Reputation: Robert Adam and the Emperor’s Palace; The Todholes Aisle; Elegance and Entertainment in the New Town of Edinburgh; Witness to Rebellion (on the remarkable Jacobite drawings he discovered at Penicuik House); Allan Ramsay and the Search for Horace’s Villa. In 2017 the second, greatly expanded edition of his now-standard edition of David Hume’s autobiography, My Own Life, was published by the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He has contributed to major works of collaborative scholarship such as the Aberdeen History of Scottish Literature; the Edinburgh History of the Book in Scotland, The Grove Dictionary of Art, The International Dictionary of Library Histories and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
In 1985 Iain was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. In 1997 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Scotland’s national academy.
Iain is married to Dr Patricia Andrew FSA, a well-known lecturer on art-historical subjects and also an historian of the Grand Tour and the British in Italy.
Iain was on the Council of the Club from 1989-1993 and has also given 3 lectures to the Club:
2021: Dr Iain Gordon Brown - Frolics in the Face of Europe: Sir Walter Scott, Continental Travel and the Tradition of the Grand Tour [video]
2003: Dr. Iain Gordon Brown – Sir Walter Scott: A Life in Manuscripts [text]
1997: Iain replied to the Toast to the National Library of Scotland at our 88th Annual Dinner [below]