'The Webmaster' – Lord Hailes (1726-1792), historian and judge
Lord Hailes, historian and judge, who created a knowledge network connecting in Edinburgh and beyond.
The heart of the Scottish Enlightenment was the old town of Edinburgh and the judge Lord Hailes was right in the thick of it. As well as his Edinburgh residence he had a big, beautiful house with a massive library about five miles away called Newhailes which he loved to visit for peace and inspiration. Being a judge and a writer he spent almost all of his time sitting down: like Adam Smith, he had a very sweet tooth but almost the only exercise he got was being jolted around in his carriage between Edinburgh and Newhailes!
Like the other great Enlightenment figures Lord Hailes wrote brilliant books about his expert subjects: the law, ancient and modern literature, and history. He wrote one of the most important books on the history of ancient Scotland ever: his Annals of Scotland. However, books were expensive and most people couldn’t get hold of them. Lord Hailes saw how important access to good books was for carrying on this learning revolution, so as well as lending his own he gave money, books and advice to set up other libraries – public ones which anyone could go into and start learning.
Lord Hailes was a man of connections: he visited and wrote to dozens of other scholars all over Britain, helping them with their work and getting information for his own. It was these kinds of connections that really made the Enlightenment glow and Lord Hailes was definitely one of its 'webmasters'.
Why was he important?
- He had one of the largest private libraries in Scotland and helped to set up new public libraries for ordinary people
- He was one of the first really reliable historians of early Scotland
- He lent books and gave advice to the most important Enlightenment figures, such as David Hume and Adam Smith.
- He was a legal expert and a humane judge who used the law to protect the rights of people as well as to do their duty.
Things to do:
• Pick a great event in history, find out some facts about it, and write an account.
Have a debate in your Great Minds Club about some things that Lord Hailes did:
• How does the law help us to live better lives today?
• Do public libraries still have a place in the internet age?
• Parliament Hall where Edinburgh’s judges sat to hear cases
• Newhailes where Lord Hailes lived and worked in his huge library
• The National Library of Scotland which has lots of the books which Hailes owned and used.
Curriculum Links: Social studies, Language