James Anderson 1662-1728

From Book Owners Online

James ANDERSON 1662-1728

Biographical Note

Born in Edinburgh, son of Patrick Anderson, presbyterian minister at Walston, Lanarkshire. MA Edinburgh University 1680, after which he became an apprentice to the lawyer Robert Richardson, and a Writer to the Signet in 1691. He developed a successful legal practice in Edinburgh, while developing antiquarian interests and becoming a friend of other contemporary Scottish antiquaries, including Sir Robert Sibbald and Sir James Dalrymple. His Historical essay shewing that the Crown and Kingdom of Scotland is imperial and independent (1704) won acclaim and money from the Scots Parliament, and he began work on a large project to publish medieval Scottish seals and charters. His personal investment in this work was meant to be repaid, but the 1707 Act of Union left him without support and he spent many years thereafter in London, seeking patronage and a position. In 1715 he became deputy postmaster-general for Scotland, but lost this in 1717. Thereafter he was mostly in London in a state of poverty, trying unsuccessfully to raise money to complete his work on early Scottish documents; this was eventually published after his death, edited by Thomas Ruddiman, as Selectus diplomatum et numismatum Scotiae thesaurus (1739).


Despite his financial difficulties, Anderson accumulated a substantial library to support his antiquarian work. He tried to sell his library to the Crown in 1721, but the scheme did not succeed. Around that time, Ruddiman described Anderson's library, in a letter to Robert Gray, as "the best collection of not only Scottish but English historians of any I know" (Bodleian Library MS 15291). Over 700 books were however purchased from him by the Advocates' Library in Edinburgh in 1724. This first sale comprised mostly histories of Britain and Ireland but with some exceptions, such as John Major, Introductio in Aristotelicam dialecticen (Paris 1521) and Giovanni Imperiale, Musaeum historicum & physicum (Venice, 1640). His son Patrick apparently refers to a printed catalogue of Anderson's books in a letter of 12 January 1723: "Pray send me one or two of your own printed Catalogues, the list made by Mr Campbell & of the Arcana and likewise the long List made by yourself, because these will enable me to discourse of them."

His property was seized by his creditors immediately after his death and his library was auctioned in London by Andrew Millar, 17 April 1729.


  • Alston, R. C., Inventory of sale catalogues ... 1676-1800, St Philip, 2010.
  • Catalogus librorum præstantissimorum in omnibus ferè artibus & scientiis: or, a catalogue of the libraries of the learned and judicious James Anderson, London, 1729, ESTC t61934.
  • Register of proceedings of curators and keepers of the Advocates' Library, chiefly in the handwriting of Thomas Ruddiman. (National Library of Scotland - F.R.117).
  • Toit, Alexander Du. "Anderson, James (1662–1728), historiographer and antiquary." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
  • Cadell, P. M., Matheson, Ann. For the Encouragement of Learning: Scotland's National Library 1689-1989. Edinburgh: HMSO, 1989. 53-54.
  • Letter from Patrick Anderson, 12 January 1723. (National Library of Scotland - Adv MS.29.1.2(i) fols 127-128).
  • Information from Brian Hillyard.