Saturday, 16 September 2017

Meet the Borrower: Samuel Gilfillan

The latest Meet the Borrower comes slightly later than planned as Innerpeffray’s resident PhD student, Jill, has moved to Dundee to focus on writing-up. Innerpeffray Library and its borrowers, however, are inescapable, as this post attests.

Gilfillan Memorial Church, Dundee - Ref: WC1426

Close to the centre of Dundee stands Gilfillan Memorial church, which commemorates George Gilfillian (1813-1878), who was born in Comrie, around 10 miles west of Innerpeffray. Gilfillan was an author and poet as well as a minister, with a strong reputation for supporting working-class poets. Though George does not appear in the register of borrowers at Innerpeffray himself, books from the library were certainly borrowed by his family. This post centres on his father, Rev. Samuel Gilfillan.

Samuel Gilfillan appears in the register on five occasions. He visited in the winter months of 1791 and 1792, before returning almost two decades later in June 1812.  Listing his occupation as preacher of the Associate Congregation of Comrie, his first visits to the library were just months after his ordination, and prior to his marriage to Rachel Barlas in 1793. In 20 years between his visits, Samuel works hard to become proficient as a preacher in Gaelic, as well as English, to reflect the dual language of the parish. He, and other ministers of the same church, began a scheme to set up lending libraries in the highlands for largely religious books. 14 such libraries were created, with one in Comrie itself (possibly the one mentioned in the New Statistical Account of Scotland as opened in 1822). Astonishingly, his own borrowing does not reflect any interest in other languages, and nor does it typify the type of religious borrowing we see among others at Innerpeffray, which he evidently intends for borrowers from his own library scheme.

His early book selections are remarkable in their uniformity: three entries record the Scots Magazine, three Buffon's Natural History, two Robertson's History of Charles V and one other history, Watson's History of the reign of Philip the Second, King of Spain. Buffon is one of the most highly-illustrated works in the collection ("Rhinoceros" pictured below), but also gives remarkably full and detailled account of the natural world as it was understood at the time of composition. The Scots Magazine, bound into volumes which covered individual years, provided contemporary accounts of world events for a Scottish audience. Volume 48, for example, borrowed by Samuel in November 1792, records events for 1786. While other users seem to borrow older volumes to use as historic accounts, Samuel here favours the most recent edition (though the publication continued, the library held 1739-1786) What perhaps links these works is that they are more likely to be found in institutional collections rather than personal: both run to several volumes and, in practicality, require a fair amount of shelf-space, as well as a significant investment. Is he, therefore, supplementing access to books elsewhere with what was available at Innerpeffray?

Whilst it is unclear in his early borrowing years the extent of his book ownership, by the time of his later borrowing, Samuel had built up his own extensive library. Prized among his possessions were Thomas McRie’s Life of John Knox as well as the works of Hannah More (presented to him by the authors), and in 1803 he spent more than 10% of his income on books, binding and printing! He returned to Innerpeffray in 1812, however, to borrow ‘Roger’s Journals’ (Journals of Major Robert Rogers, London, 1765), Xenophon’s Memorabilia (Oxford, 1749) and Grotius ‘on the Christian Religion’ (likely The truth of the Christian religion, London, 1767). While Grotius and the Xenophon were fairly readily-available and standard works, Rogers is likely to have been rare even at the time, with only one London edition (and only 8 reported copies of any edition currently in the UK). It is a primary account of an American colonial frontiersman. As with his earlier borrowing, we see evidence that the library being used to supplement what's available in his personal collection.

Samuel Gilfillan's borrowings of Innerpeffray, and their contrast with the types of work which he intended for other to borrow from a lending library, have the potential to tell us more about the role that Innerpeffray filled. The lending library he envisioned would combat the lack of access to religious works among the lower classes, the type of work which middling sorts, such as himself, might be able to purchase or have access to through other networks. To other more typical borrowers, Innerpeffray does fulfil this role. Gilfillan, however, benefitted from the eclectic collection created through Innerpeffray's unique history, with its seventeenth-century origins as a private collection trying to support reading for all in contrast to its eighteenth-century governors' visions of 'scholarly gentleman'. It's exactly this kind of borrowing which lending libraries of the type he envisaged might not be able to support.

Samuel Gilfillan's Borrowings:
9 Nov 1791 Scots Magazine (1 vol)
9 Nov 1791 Buffon's Natural History (3 vol)
17 Jan 1792 Buffon's Natural History (5 vol)
17 Jan 1792 Scots Magazine (3 vol)
27 Nov 1792 Robertson's History of Charles V (vol 2)
27 Nov 1792 Buffon's Natural History (vol 8)
27 Nov 1792 Scots Magazine (vol 48)
31 Dec 1792 Robertson's History of Charles V (2 vol)
31 Dec 1792 Watson's The history of the reign of Philip the Second, King of Spain 1777
11 Jun 1812 Journals of Major Robert Rogers, 1765
11 Jun 1812 Xenophon’s Memorabilia, 1749
11 Jun 1812 Grotius The truth of the Christian religion, 1767

Aileen Black, Gilfillan of Dundee, 1813-1878, Dundee: Dundee University Press, 2006.
J. Gordon, ed. The New Statistical Account of Scotland. Comrie, Perth, Vol. 10, Edinburgh: Blackwoods and Sons, 1845 pp.578-596
Henry Paton, ‘Gilfillan, Samuel (1762–1826)’, rev. Rosemary Mitchell, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004,  [accessed 30 Aug 2017; sign-in required]
English short title catalogue

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