Prof. David Masson

1822 - 1907

Academic. Born in Aberdeen, the son of a stone-cutter, Masson was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and went on to become an exceptional student at the University of Aberdeen. He came to Edinburgh to study divinity at a difficult time leading up to the Disruption of 1843. One of his tutors was Dr. Thomas Chalmers (1780 - 1847), a leader of that schism. Masson decided not to become ordained and instead returned to Aberdeen, where he became editor of a weekly journal known as The Banner. He visited London with Prof. Alexander Bain (1818 - 1903) and there he met Thomas Carlyle (1795 - 1881). This trip encouraged him to begin writing professionally. He worked for the publishers W. and R. Chambers in Edinburgh (1844-47), but then returned to London becoming part of a large literary circle and was appointed to the Chair of English literature at University College London. In 1865, Masson was appointed Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature at the University of Edinburgh, replacing Prof. William Edmondstoune Aytoun (1813-65).

In 1867, Masson called for women to be given the same educational opportunities as men and each year from 1868 he gave a course of lectures on English Literature until women were finally allowed to lawfully attend the universities of Scotland. Masson Hall of Residence, the first university-provided accommodation for female students, was named in his honour. This opened in 1897 in George Square, later moving to the Grange and then, when this property was sold, the name was transferred to a new building within Pollock Halls of Residence.

His works include a six-volume Life of Milton (1859-80), an exhaustive biography of Drummond of Hawthornden (1873) and a three-volume set of essays on Wordsworth, Shelley and Keats (1874). He edited the works of Goldsmith (1869), Milton (1874), and De Quincey (1889-90).

Masson died at his home in Lockharton Gardens and lies buried in Grange Cemetery. His likeness was painted by Sir George Reid (1841 - 1913), which is in the collection of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, while his marble bust by Pittendrigh MacGillivray (1856 - 1938) is held by the University of Edinburgh.

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