The Library at Auchinleck House

As part of the Landmark Libraries series, Landmark Librarian for Scotland, Adrienne Cochrane, takes a closer look at Auchinleck.

“If these walls could talk, the tales they would tell...”  - Unknown 

What a wealth of stories our Landmark Buildings would relate, and none more so than the great library at Auchinleck House in Scotland.  The house and library were built between 1755 & 1760 by Alexander Boswell, father to James Boswell, the famous diarist and biographer of Samuel Johnson.  Alexander became Lord Auchinleck in 1754 after his appointment as a Judge of the Court of Session, and the library would have contained his excellent collection of Greek and Roman classics.

Situated on the first floor, it’s a magnificent room with windows along its 40 ft length providing, on clear days, lovely views of the mountains of Arran.  The facing wall houses a wonderfully large, well stocked bookcase.  The walls below the cornicing have been painted a rich red and, with sofas and armchairs arranged around a fireplace at each end, the scene is set for after dinner sessions of lively conversation, games or debate.

Indeed, on Saturday 6th November 1773, this room witnessed the famous clash between Lord Auchinleck and Dr Samuel Johnson.  The visit of Dr Johnson and James to his father’s estate was the culmination of their tour of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.  James must have been dreading such an outcome as the acquaintance of his father and his no less distinguished friend.  Both men, though near enough in age, held diametrically opposed religious and political opinions.  Lord Auchinleck (cantankerous, plain speaking, and contemptuous of his son’s unconventional attachments) was a Presbyterian and a Whig, while Dr Johnson (famously anti-Scottish) was an Anglican and a Tory.  Nevertheless, the rules of hospitality and politeness had prevailed until, to the dismay and embarrassment of the hapless James, the blue touch paper of politics in the guise of a medal of Oliver Cromwell caused the explosion: “They became exceedingly warm and violent, and I was very much distressed by being present at such an altercation between two men, both of whom I reverenced…”.  Unusually for Boswell, he records little more about the incident, and the walls, of course, remain obstinately dumb.

We have, however, a wealth of information and entertainment in the grand bookcase.  Here the Boswell story is fleshed out with complete runs of his diaries, journals and correspondence, generously donated by the Yale Editions of the Boswell Papers. (34 volumes).  There are a further 46 books by and about Boswell and Johnson and their circle, which are added either by donation or by myself when they become available. Runs of handsome, leather bound law books grace the higher, less accessible shelves. But very much to hand are the books on the range of subjects to be found in every Landmark that are sure to interest, entertain and inform visitors of all ages, and to further illuminate the experience of staying in this wonderful historic building.    

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