John Millar’s Borrowings in Spring 1768: A Preview of the Glasgow Professors Borrowing Registers

Millar Borrowing 1768
Professor John Millar’s borrowing from the University of Glasgow Library, April to May 1768. MS LIB 4, f. 16v.

I was part of project to transcribe and analyse the University’s student and professorial borrowing registers in 2018 and 2019. The Glasgow project was one of the three pilot projects for ‘Books and Borrowing’, along with transcribing and analysing registers from the Innerpeffray Library and the University of St Andrews.

Eighteenth-Century Borrowing from the University of Glasgow currently covers student book loans from three registers for dates between March 1757 and January 1771. Users can search, browse, see transcriptions, and click through to images of the pages. (Find out more here.)

Glasgow also has records of professors’ borrowings from 1751 to 1790 which will be included in the Books and Borrowing database.

As a preview of the professors’ borrowings, I have chosen a page of books borrowed by Professor John Millar in 1768. It is page 16v of MS LIB 4 from the University of Glasgow Archives and Special Collections.

John Millar (1735–1801) was professor of civil law at the University from 1761 until 1800. He had been a student at Glasgow and he qualified as an advocate in 1760. He developed the law curriculum and published important books, including Observations Concerning the Distinction of Ranks in Society (1778) and Historical View of the English Government (1787). He was a popular and influential teacher who drew in students from as far away as Russia. He lectured in English, not Latin, and he took time to discuss topics from his courses informally with his students.

The selected page has only a few entries.  In contract to the student registers which are organised by date, the professors’ registers are organised by borrower. There is just enough on this page to cover in a blog post and not too much, so it provides a good preview for the professors’ records.

When transcribed and matched to books in the modern University of Glasgow Library (GUL), the page looks like this on a  spreadsheet:

Possible copy in GUL Author Title Possible modern shelfmark
AA 8 2 Blackston’s Commentary
3 Vols
13 Apr 1768 2 & 4 Vol.s Returned. The 3.d Vol. in D.r Wrights Possession Returned also b1598189 Blackstone, William, Sir, 1723-1780. Commentaries on the laws of England. In four books… Sp Coll
Bm1-h.3-6
AN 8 3 Nugen’s Travels
2 Vols
13 Apr 1768 26 May 1768 b1645630 Nugent, Thomas, 1700?-1772. Travels through Germany … With a particular account of the courts of Mecklenburg. In a series of letters to a friend. Embellished with elegant cuts … Sp Coll
Bk10-h.1-2
NN 8 1 Sharp on Slavery 13 Apr 1768 26 May 1768 b1611834 Sharp, Granville, 1735-1813. The just limitation of slavery in the laws of God, compared with the unbounded claims of the African traders and British American slaveholders. With a copious appendix … Sp Coll
Bi10-h.26
AS 3 6 Q. Mary 23 Apr 1768 26 May 1768 b1433640 Tytler, William, 1711-1792. An historical and critical enquiry into the evidence produced by the Earls of Murray and Morton, against Mary Queen of Scots : with an examination of the Rev. Dr. Robertson’s dissertation, and Mr. Hume’s history, with respect to that evidence. Sp Coll 1453
H 7 1.2 Robertson’s History
2 Vols
23 Apr 1768 26 May 1768 b1579041 Robertson, William, 1721-1793. The history of Scotland, during the reigns of Queen Mary and of King James VI. till his accession to the crown of England. With a review of the Scotch history previous to that period; and an appendix containing original papers. Sp Coll
Bh5-e.3-4
AR 9 8 Rollins An History V 4.th 11 May 1768 26 May 1768 b1643996 Rollin, Charles, 1661-1741. The antient history of the Egyptians, Carthaginians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Macedonians, and Grecians. Translated from the French. Sp Coll
Bk9-h.1-12

In April to May 1768, we find Millar borrowing books that showcase some of his known interests.  Although he did not teach English law until later in his career, he borrowed William Blackstone’s Commentaries of the Laws of England. Or, at least, the second and fourth of its four volumes. Did he also borrow the third volume from Dr Wright and return the three books together? We’ll never know, but it is interesting to speculate on the circulation of books among the faculty beyond the ‘official’ borrowings recorded in the registers. A quick scan through the registers reveals that Millar borrowed volumes of Blackstone’s Commentaries again the in mid-1780s.

Thomas Nugent’s Travels through Germany was newly published. Nugent was known for his travel guides, which were popular with Grand Tourists. Millar seems to have borrowed his title only once.

Another book that he borrowed once may have more significance.  ‘Sharp on Slavery’ now consists of three titles bound together:  The just limitation of slavery in the laws of God, compared with the unbounded claims of the African traders and British American slaveholders. With a copious appendix …; The law of passive obedience, or Christian submission to personal injuries …; and The law of liberty, or, royal law, by which all mankind will certainly be judged! earnestly recommended to the serious consideration of all slaveholders and slavedealers (all London, 1776). Millar was an active supporter of the anti-slave trade campaign. It will be worth examining these works in person.

Two works on Scottish history follow.  The vague description, ‘Q. Mary’, can be matched by shelfmark in the registers to identify William Tytler’s An historical and critical enquiry into the evidence produced by the Earls of Murray and Morton, against Mary Queen of Scots (Edinburgh, 1760). ‘Robertson’s History’ is William Robertson’s The history of Scotland, during the reigns of Queen Mary and of King James VI. till his accession to the crown of England. With a review of the Scotch history previous to that period; and an appendix containing original papers (London, 1759).

Charles Rollin’s works on history were among the most regularly borrowed volumes by both students and professors at Glasgow. ‘Rollins An History’ is his The antient history of the Egyptians, Carthaginians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Medes and Persians, Macedonians, and Grecians. Translated from the French published in London in twelve volumes from 1726 to 1737. Rollin’s works on Roman history and belles lettres were also, as the Glasgow Borrowing Registers project quantifies, among the most-borrowed books at the University of Glasgow in the second half of the eighteenth century.

More on Millar

The University of Glasgow Story: John Millar
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography