David Robertson (1795-1854), bookseller, the “John Murray of Glasgow”

Born in Perthshire in 1795, Robertson moved to Glasgow, where he became a successful and highly respected bookseller and publisher. He was appointed Her Majesty’s bookseller for Glasgow in 1837. His monument is at the Glasgow Necropolis.


For further biographical details, see Whistle-Binkie, Or The Piper of the Party, Being A Collection of Songs for the Social Circle, volume one, 1873, pages 66-70; his obituary in The United Presbytery Magazine, November 1854, pages 506-7; and Kirstie Blair, Working Verse in Victorian Scotland: Poetry, Press, Community, 2019.


The notice of the sudden death of David Robertson, “bookseller to her Majesty”, at 51 South Hanover Street, on the 6th October, 1854, was published on page 5 of The Glasgow Herald on Monday the 9th. His obituary is on the same page, and reads:


Death of David Robertson, Esq. –  The appearance in our obituary to-day of the name of Mr. David Robertson, bookseller to the Queen, will fill many hearts with profound sorrow. Few of our fellow-citizens were better known; none were more respected and beloved. He was the friend of Andrew Henderson, Kennedy, Motherwell, Carrick, Alexander Roger, and numerous other kindred spirits; and his place of business in Trongate continued, until the day of his demise, the resort of many of our local celebrities. His love of Scottish song was intense, while his exquisite sense of the ludicrous imparted a peculiar unction to his relish for wit and humour. In “Whistle Binkie” and the “Laird of Logan”, he gave full scope both to his taste for lyrical poesy, and his lively appreciation of the facetious. The publication of these works, particularly of the former, supplemented as it was by an admirable collection of “Nursery Songs”, brought him into correspondence with nearly all the minor poets of Scotland, over some of whom he exercised an almost paternal care. He was one of the most kind-hearted, upright, and lovable of men, and the intelligence of his death has come upon us with so much surprise that we feel a difficulty as yet in realizing it to our own mind. A series of afflicting family bereavements might possibly of late have somewhat weakened his constitution; but on Thursday night Mr. Robertson went to bed in his usual health; shortly after midnight he was seized with the terrible distemper, which still appears to be lingering in the midst of us; and at half-past two o’clock on Friday, our friend had ceased to exist.”


In Literary Landmarks of Glasgow, 1898, pages 213-4, James A. Kilpatrick wrote:


“David Robertson, the ‘John Murray of Glasgow.’ who did more for local literature than has perhaps yet been realised, by collecting into volume form those utterances of minor poets which Jeffrey found to contain ‘more touches of genuine pathos, more felicities of idiomatic expression, more happy poetical images, and, above all, more sweet and engaging pictures of what is peculiar in the depth, softness, and thoughtfulness of our Scotch domestic affections, than I have met within anything like the same compass since the days of Burns.’