Dr Adam Budd on Andrew Millar, George Drummond, and the Malt Tax Riots

In a lively and informal lecture, Dr Adam Budd presented new research on the early careers of two important figures in Scottish cultural history, George Drummond (six times Lord Provost of Edinburgh) and Andrew Millar (the important London-based Scottish bookseller).

Millar was born in Paisley in 1705, was apprenticed in Edinburgh during the 1720s, and moved to London to set up shop in the Strand shortly afterward. He amassed an enormous fortune by purchasing copyrights from promising authors, paying them well to retain their loyalty. Millar’s authors included most of the leading lights of the Scottish Enlightenment, and many of the century’s most famous novelists, including Henry Fielding and Samuel Richardson.

Samuel Johnson famously told Boswell, ‘I respect Millar, Sir; he has raised the price of literature’. Millar was a zealous defender of his exclusive ‘rights’ to copy: he initiated at least 45 law suits against Scottish printers over the course of his career, though he never won because the High Court in London couldn’t decide whether the 1710 Statute of Anne was valid north of the border. Their decision came down, in Millar’s favour, just after he died in 1768.

In the summer of 1725, Millar was 18 years old and training under the bookseller James McEuen of Parliament Square. McEuen was also Glaswegian, and had moved to Edinburgh because it was the centre of bookselling in Scotland. Between 1700 and 1725, Glasgow printed around 300 books; Edinburgh printed around 4500.

While Millar continued his apprenticeship in Edinburgh, the citizens of Glasgow raged against the London government’s attempt to impose a new tax on malt. The brewers stopped brewing, and no beer meant no bread.

Spurred on by memories of the famines they had suffered over the last forty years, some Glaswegians rioted. They destroyed Shawfield House, a mansion belonging to MP Daniel Campbell, cousin of the Duke of Argyll and brother of James Campbell. Lord Advocate Duncan Forbes — a friend of the Campbells, and on their payroll — blamed the local magistrates for the riots, and sent Glasgow’s entire city council to the Tolbooth Prison in Edinburgh.

Dr Budd presented a newly uncovered letter that Millar wrote, revealing that the Glasgow magistrates sent McEuen ‘a piece of news … anent yt [about that] Affair at Glasgow’, hoping that he would publish it in his newspaper, the Edinburgh Courant. George Drummond, then an aggressive junior magistrate, paid a group of ‘gentlemen’ to threaten McEuen with prison if he published any defence of the Glasgow town council. Dr Budd explained the complex web of debts and loyalties that led Drummond to resort to bribery.

When McEuen was threatened, Millar decided to take matters into his own hands. Possibly without his employer’s knowledge, the young Glaswegian apprentice carried the document three miles out of Edinburgh and printed it in Leith, beyond the easy reach of Drummond’s authority. Millar then circulated the document in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Despite the eventual failure of the malt tax protests, which were less violent but also more focussed in Edinburgh than in Glasgow, Drummond was elected Lord Provost of Edinburgh — with the support of James Campbell and Duncan Forbes.

Drummond would later be celebrated as Edinburgh’s greatest Lord Provost: the man who founded the Royal Infirmary, built Edinburgh’s New Town, and drained the Nor Loch. But in 1725 he found himself outmanoeuvred by an 18-year-old bookseller’s apprentice who ‘thought it hard yt both Parties could not be heard’. When McEuen couldn’t publish in Edinburgh, Millar published in Leith. In his letter he concluded the story: ‘from yt day to this no body has troubled me, but indeed I believe they wou’d done it if they could’.

The seminar ‘Broadside Printing and Town Politics: Andrew Millar, George Drummond and the Malt Tax Riots’ (19 September 2014) was held jointly by the CHB and the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, as part of the Scottish History seminar series.

This seminar anticipates the open-access web exhibition of historical documents and e-learning modules that Dr Budd and his project team are developing, which will launch in July 2015.

Dr Adam Budd is Lecturer in Cultural History in the University of Edinburgh’s School of History, Classics and Archaeology. He is the author of John Armstrong’s The Art of Preserving Health (2011) and editor of The Modern Historiography Reader (2008). In 2013 he took up an AHRC Early-Career Research Grant, enabling him and his research team to complete a cultural history of Andrew Millar and his literary career.

Report by Olivia Ferguson, PhD student in English Literature at the University of Edinburgh.

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