William Sheriff

While the library was founded for the free use of clergy in Dunblane, the introduction of a subscription in 1734 for those who did not meet the narrow criteria meant that many more people could benefit from access to the Leighton collections, not least clergy from outside Dunblane. William Sheriff (or as he appears in the registers, “Shireff”) was one such user, Minister at nearby St Ninians 1788-1823. He accesses the library between November 1790 and October 1806, with 111 entries in the register. A full transcription of his borrowing is available here.

The dates on which Sheriff returns and is issued items are always a couple of days apart, suggesting that items are issued and returned by post rather than in person. This remains true throughout his borrowing life and means that users such as Sheriff, may never have even set foot in the library. Prior to the publication of the first catalogue in 1793, we cannot be certain how works of interest were identified by the external user. Fascinatingly, despite his occupation, Sheriff’s borrowing record begins in 1790 with many works associated with the Scottish Enlightenment (Ferguson, Smith, Kames, Robertson, Reid) and very few religious works at all. By 1792, his tastes move on to travel books, as Sheriff reads his was around the globe (France, Russia, Ireland, Spain, India, China, Egypt). He could, therefore, have provided the librarian with a rough impression of the types of work which interested him, whether he had read about those authors elsewhere or heard by word of mouth.

From 1793 it is far more difficult to ascertain specific types of work which interested Sheriff, which may be explained by the availability of a printed catalogue for the first time. His religious borrowings become more prevalent, including multiple works by early church fathers (Justinian, Tertullian, Ignatius) as well as more accessible sermons and general works. He repeatedly borrows “Buxtorf Thesaurus”, a Hebrew Grammar (Leighton holds the 1629 4th edition). This suggests real scholarly theological work across multiple languages, exactly the type of thing for which Leighton may initially have envisaged the library being used.

Throughout this period too, however, Sheriff begins to borrow John Bell’s series of literature-for-the-masses (referred to in the register as Bell’s Poets or B: Poets or British Poets) sometimes even being issued with 12 at a time. Inexpensively produced and running to 109 volumes, these works are no longer in the Leighton collection, but add to our impression not only of the library, but also of its borrowers. In stocking this title, we see the library actively expanding its collections with inexpensive literary works, which reflect its expanding target readership. That Sheriff intersperses his weighty, academic borrowing with such works shows that he maintained an interest in using the library for other purposes, as he had from his earliest use.

In 1823, William Sheriff left for Glasgow to lead a Baptist congregation, breaking away from the Church of Scotland. It is pleasing, therefore, to see his religious borrowings lean towards interpretation of text and informing himself of the views of others, leading towards a change in his own beliefs. Overall, however, religion makes up so small a part of Sheriff’s borrowing that it serves as a reminder that the Leighton Library was not just used by clergy in their work lives, but for their rounded interests, from politics to poetry.

Further Reading

Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae: The Succession of Ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation Vol IV (1923)  p.315

Full transcription of his borrowings

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