The people who helped shape Edinburgh Libraries: David Mather Masson

Our series of blog posts about our principal library benefactors continues with David Mather Masson, literary scholar, biographer and editor. Masson was born on the 7th December, 1822 in Aberdeen. He graduated from Marischal College in 1839 with a Masters of Arts degree and although intended for the ministry he chose the literary life instead.

He worked with the publishing firm W & R Chambers before moving to London in 1847 where he became friends with many literary figures including the Rossettis and Charles Dickens.  He was appointed Professor of English Language and Literature at the University College London in 1852.

Returning to Scotland in 1865 he was appointed Regius Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature at Edinburgh University, a post he held until 1895. He was named Historiographer Royal for Scotland in 1893.

In 1853 he married Emily Rosaline Orme, a campaigner for women’s suffrage. He was active in the Edinburgh Association for the University Education of Women and in recognition of his work Edinburgh University’s first residence for women students was named Masson Hall in his honour.

Professor Masson was one of the leading lights in the campaign to open the first public library in Edinburgh assisting in the negotiations which led to the foundation of the Central Library. He served on the first Public Libraries Committee and the sub-Committee on Branch Libraries helping to found Fountainbridge, Stockbridge, Portobello, MacDonald Road and Morningside libraries.

Foundation stone laying of Central Library

His best known work is his book The “Life of John Milton which was considered the most authoritative work on Milton of his time. 

David Mather Masson died on the 6th October 1907. His wife and daughters respected his wish that no-one should write his biography or publish his letters.

Catch up with the previous posts in this series about the characters who helped shape Edinburgh Libraries here:

Henry Dyer: engineer, educationist and Japanophile

Robert Butchart: City Librarian and Old Edinburgh enthusiast

Charles Boog Watson: antiquarian and ARP warden

William McEwan: brewer and philanthropist

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