Mrs Dalzell


In 1813 the discovery of mineral wells at Dunblane meant a huge increase in visitors to the town. The library brought in a short-term subscription option (two shillings and sixpence) so that those visitors could use the library during their stay. Whilst these visitors were initially recorded in the same register as the regular members, they were eventually recorded in a separate booklet, identified thanks to a comical correction in the main register (pictured)


The earliest “water-drinker” borrower is a Mrs Dalzell. With such a common name and with no indication as to her home address it has been impossible to identify precisely who she was, but her borrowing records still give a fascinating example of books borrowed by those visiting to take the waters.  She visits the library in July and August 1815, borrowing 18 times in that period. A full transcript of her borrowing is available here.

Literature and travel make up the most part of her borrowing. Zeluco, the tale of a Sicilian rogue by John Moore, a Scottish author first published in 1789 is not only the very first thing Mrs Dalzell borrows, becomes the most borrowed book in the Leighton Library’s history. Chrysal, an it-narrative, is the tale of a coin (the narrator) making its journey from Peru into various pockets across Europe, witnessing both world-changing events and intimate scandals on the way. Mrs Dalzell borrows “Grant’s Poems” too, an 1803 anthology of poetry by Scottish widow, Mrs Anne Grant. An interest in such works strongly suggest that, in this instance, the library is being used to access books intended to be read for pleasure.

Mrs Dalzell shows an interest in borrowings memoirs, or any work giving an insight into the lives of others. Whilst much of the travel she borrows could fall into this category, it is also joined by Life of Lopez (translated out of the Spanish) and even perhaps Melmoth’s translation of Cicero’s letters. While these works could also feasibly be read for pleasure, her repeated borrowings of Voltaire (volumes 26 and 27), which the Leighton Library only holds in French, suggest an interest in scholarly reading too.

Though she borrows for such a short time, Mrs Dalzell’s borrowing shows that temporary readers visiting the town borrow works from across the library’s collection and not only for pleasure. Other temporary readers (recorded in Leighton MS 30) exhibit similar patterns. Their records also show that, though Leighton founded the library for the benefit of local clergy, by the early nineteenth century it already had a lot to offer the tourist, having sufficiently diversified its offering.

Further Reading

Peter Gordon Stewart, Essay on the Dunblane Mineral Springs (1839)

Full transcription of her borrowings

2 thoughts on “Mrs Dalzell

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s