Sir David Dalrymple 1726-92, 3rd Baronet of Hailes and later Lord Hailes, was an undersung hero of the Scottish Enlightenment whose defence of religion was important since three-quarters of the Enlightenment leaders were ministers of the Kirk. As Scotland became a world leader of thought and debate, he transformed into a 'mansion of the mind' his home begun at the end of the seventeenth century to a design by James Smith which took its inspiration from Palladio's quest for the spirit of peace and reflection.

Mark Hailes

Dalrymple's grandfather had been Lord Advocate at the time of the Act of Union,  when he oversaw the orderly transfer of political power to London that left lawyers to fill the resultant vacuum. The family had owned Hailes Castle east of Haddington on the Tyne, so their new home five miles from Edinburgh was called Newhailes. The father had sixteen children, and unusually for the time sent two sons including David to Eton, where he learned the social polish that would enable him to move at ease in high society and thus commend the efforts of his fellow Scots that might otherwise have seemed uncouth. David Hume in history, Adam Smith in economics and James Hutton in geology were leading the Scots to punch well above their weight in Europe, and Dalrymple endeared them to people like Samuel Johnson who were not known for being naturally Scotophile. Despite a temperament that was as tranquil and level-headed as the other's ranged from impulsive to depressed, Hailes acted like an older brother to James Boswell, persuading his father to let him go to Utrecht rather than the more conventional Leyden for his studies in the principles underpinning Scots law, offering hope that the law could be combined with a literary career and introducing him to Johnson. In pre-new town Edinburgh where the churches, law courts, university and town council were all gathered together, everyone knew each other at least by sight, and Hailes was prominent in the Select Society which excluded only religion and Jacobinism from its deliberations. He helped found the Edinburgh Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, Science, Manufactures and Agriculture which adopted a practical approach to what would be useful in the city???s development, and when a pamphlet called for public works on a par with those happening in London  he published a counter-proposal suggesting that at this time when conditions were far more basic than in the affluent south what Edinburgh needed above all was decent sanitation.


Hailes's letter-writing helped make literary Edinburgh glow, and he was warm in his appreciation even of people that he had never met. His library grew to nearly seven thousand volumes, and he loaned them willingly to his friends, his generous enthusiasm extending to helping fund new libraries in the presbyteries of Dalkeith and Haddington. Johnson called his the 'most learned drawing-room in Europe', but he had a falling out with David Hume over the removal of three French titles from the Faculty of Advocates' Library of which Hume was the librarian. He collected ancient Scottish poetry and helped publish Border ballads. Famous trials over which he presided included those of Deacon Brodie, the Douglas inheritance and the Jamaican slave Joseph Knight. However his most notable was perhaps the action that he led to ensure that the orphaned Elizabeth Leveson-Gower should succeed to the Earldom of Sutherland, for which she rewarded him by presenting the Sutherland Waiter, a huge silver plate on legs that bears the coats of arms of both the Sutherlands and his own, with the text 'by him old truths receive a clearer light'.


The back entrance to Newhailes House bears a text from Horace that urges wise use of the gifts of the Gods, and tributes on Hailes's passing acknowledged how well he had used his, including a cartoon by John Kay with the lines also from Horace 'the man who is just and resolute will not be moved from his settled purpose, either by the misdirected rage of the mob or by the threats of the overbearing tyrant'. These words by Hailes summarise his hopes for Newhailes :

Thou future Lord, who'er thou art,

Of groves, of lawns which once were mine,

O use them with a bounteous heart,

With chearfull gratitude resign!

With the death of the last baronet in 1971, the books went in lieu of death duties to the National Library of Scotland, where they are set to remain because Newhailes could not offer the conditions needed for their conservation. However the National Trust for Scotland who acquired the estate in 1997 have just announced plans for  investment in keeping with Newhailes' survival as a last relic of Edinburgh's rural hinterland, including rebuilding of the walled garden and restoration of the doocot, creation of a children's play area and provision of a synthetic surface on the pond to allow all-year curling.