Last revised 5 July 2005
- Jeffrey Smitten, "Bibliography of Writings about William
Robertson, 1755-1996," in William Robertson and the Expansion
of Empire (see below under Collections). A first attempt at a
full listing of secondary sources.
- The Works of William Robertson, 12 vols. (London:
Routledge/Thoemmes Press, 1996). General editor: Richard B. Sher.
The fullest edition. Reprints the last lifetime edition of each
of his published works. Includes preface by Sher, chronology and
selected bibliography of secondary literature by Jeffrey Smitten,
and an introductory essay on Robertson as historian by Nicholas
Phillipson. Vol. 12 contains all Robertson's published
miscellaneous works, unpublished works transcribed from
manuscript, an introduction by Jeffrey Smitten, and reprinted
contemporary commentaries by Robert Liston, James Boswell, John
Erskine, Dugald Stewart, and Henry Brougham.
- The Progress of Society in Europe, ed. Felix Gilbert
(Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1972). Text of vol. 1 of
History of the Reign of Charles V with Gilbert's
There is no collected edition of Robertson's correspondence, and
most of it remains in manuscript. A collected edition of the
correspondence edited by Jeffrey Smitten is in progress. The
items following are a very small sampling of letters to and from
him that may be found in various published correspondences. This
list is confined to modern editions of the correspondence of
those figures with whom Robertson is most often associated. For
general comments on Robertson's correspondence, see Jeffrey
Smitten, "Robertson's Letters and the Life of Writing," in
William Robertson and the Expansion of Empire (see under
- Charles E. Ronan, S. J., "Antonio de Alcedo: His
Collaborators and His Letters to William Robertson,"
Americas 34 (1978): 490-501.
- Jeremy Black, "The Enlightenment Historian at Work: The
Researches of William Robertson," Bulletin of Hispanic
Studies 65 (1988): 251-60. Robertson's correspondence with
Lord Grantham concerning the History of America.
- The Correspondence of Adam Ferguson, ed. Vincenzo
Merolle, 2 vols. (London: Pickering, 1995).
- James E. Tierney, "Unpublished Garrick Letters to Robertson
and Millar," Year's Work in English Studies 5 (1975):
- The Letters of Edward Gibbon, ed. J. E. Norton, 3
vols. (London: Cassell, 1956).
- The Letters of David Hume, ed. J. Y. T. Greig, 2 vols.
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1932).
- New Letters of David Hume, ed. Raymond Klibansky and
Ernst C. Mossner (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954).
- Richard B. Sher and M. A. Stewart, "William Robertson and
David Hume: Three Letters," Hume Studies: 10th Anniversary
Issue (1985), pp. 69-85.
- Dennis R. Dean, "James Hutton on Religion and Geology: The
Unpublished Preface to His Theory of the Earth (1788),"
Annals of Science 32 (1975): 187-93.
- The Correspondence of Adam Smith, ed. E. C. Mossner
and I. S. Ross (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1977).
- Horace Walpole's Correspondence with ... William
Robertson, ed. W. S. Lewis, C. H. Bennett, and A. G. Hoover
(New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1952). Vol. 15 of the Yale edition
of Walpole's correspondence.
Biographies and Memoirs
There is no comprehensive modern biography of Robertson, and the
facts of his life must be pieced together from various sources.
Information in the older sources is often unreliable. A new entry
for Robertson is being prepared for the New Dictionary of
National Biography by Jeffrey Smitten based on a fresh review
of the facts of Robertson's biography.
- Henry Brougham, "Robertson," in his Lives of Men of
Letters and Science Who Flourished in the Time of George III,
2 vols. (London: Knight, 1845). Available in Works, vol.
12 (see under Collected Editions above).
- Stewart J. Brown, "William Robertson (1721-1793) and the
Scottish Enlightenment," in William Robertson and the
Expansion of Empire (see under Collections below). A useful
modern overview, especially for Robertson's ecclesiastical
- Charles Camic, Experience and Enlightenment: Socialization
for Cultural Change in Eighteenth-Century Scotland (Chicago:
Univ. of Chicago Press, 1983). A sociological interpretation of
Robertson's career along with those of other notable
- Alexander Carlyle, Anecdotes and Characters of the
Times, ed. James Kinsley (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1973).
This edition includes Carlyle's comparison of the characters of
Blair and Robertson.
- John Erskine, "The Agency of God in Human Greatness," in his
Discourses Preached on Several Occasions, 2 vols.
(Edinburgh, 1801-1804). The funeral sermon preached by
Robertson's co-minister at old Greyfriars with a biographical
appendix. Available in Works, vol. 12 (see under Collected
- Robert Liston, "A Character of Dr. Robertson," London
Magazine 41 (April 1772): 151-52. The earliest biographical
sketch. To be read with James Boswell, "Sceptical Observations
upon a Late Character of Dr. Robertson," London Magazine
41 (June 1772): 281-83. Both available in Works, vol. 12
(see under Collected Editions above).
- Jeffrey Smitten, "William Robertson," Dictionary of
Literary Biography, Volume 104: British Prose Writers
1660-1800, ed. Donald T. Siebert (Detroit: Gale, 1990).
- Dugald Stewart, Account of the Life and Writings of
William Robertson (Bristol: Thoemmes Press, 1997). Reprints
1802 edition with critical and historical introduction by Jeffrey
Smitten. Still the fullest single biography of Robertson and
often prefixed to nineteenth-century editions of Robertson's
works. Available in Works, vol. 12 (see under Collected
- William Robertson and the Expansion of Empire, ed.
Stewart J. Brown (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997). Eleven
contributions largely focused on Robertson's historical career.
Monographs and Articles
Overviews of Robertson as Historian
- J. B. Black, "Robertson," in The Art of History: A Study
of Four Great Historians of the Eighteenth Century (London,
1926). Pioneering study though now largely superseded.
- Owen Dudley Edwards, "Robertsonian Romanticism and Realism,"
in William Robertson and the Expansion of Empire (see
under Collections above). Discusses Robertson's characteristic
treatment of his historical subjects.
- Daniele Francesconi, "William Robertson on Historical and
Unintended Consequences," Cromohs 4 (1999): 1-18.
Available online at http://www.unifi.it/riviste/cromohs/4_99/francesconi.htm.
- Neil Hargraves, "The 'Progress of Ambition': Character,
Narrative, and Philosophy in the Works of William Robertson,"
Journal of the History of Ideas 63 (2002): 261-82.
- David B. Horn, "Principal William Robertson, D.D.,
Historian," University of Edinburgh Journal 18 (1956):
155-68. Thoughtful survey by a noted historian drawing on the
work of Schlenke.
- Karen O'Brien, Narratives of Enlightenment: Cosmopolitan
History from Voltaire to Gibbon (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ.
Press, 1997). Focuses on the theme of cosmopolitan history with
Robertson as crucial figure. Her analysis is available in more
condensed form in "Robertson's Place in the Development of
Eighteenth-Century Narrative History," in William Robertson
and the Expansion of Empire (see under Collections above).
- Nicholas Phillipson, "Providence and Progress: An
Introduction to the Historical Thought of William Robertson," in
William Robertson and the Expansion of Empire (see under
Collections above). Analyzes Robertson's handling of providence
in history. A revised version of Phillipson's introduction to
Works (see under Collected Editions above).
- J. G. A. Pocock, Barbarism and Religion, 2 vols.
(Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999). Volume 2, subtitled
Narratives Of Civil Government, contains a section on
"William Robertson and the History of Europe."
- Manfred Schlenke, "Aus der Fruhzeit des englischen
Historismus: William Robertsons Beitrag zur methodischen
Grundlegung der Geschichtswissenschaft im 18. Jahrhundert,"
Saeculum 7 (1956): 107-25.
- Manfred Schlenke, "Kulturgesschichte oder politische
Geschichte in der Geschichtsschreibung des 18. Jahrhunderts:
Wiliiam Robertson als Historiker des europäischen
Staatensystem," Archiv für Kulturgeschichte 37
(1955): 60-97. Schenke's two studies, still untranslated, are
important surveys of Robertson's place in the history of
- David J. Womersley, "The Historical Writings of William
Robertson," Journal of the History of Ideas 47 (1986):
497-506. Examines Robertson's developing romanticism in handling
his historical subjects.
History of Scotland during the Reigns of Queen Mary
and of King James VI (1759)
- J. H. S. Burleigh, "The Scottish Reformation as Seen in 1660
and in 1760," Records of the Scottish Church History
Society 13 (1959): 241-56.
- Mary Fearnley-Sander, "Philosophical History and the Scottish
Reformation: William Robertson and the Knoxian Tradition,"
Historical Journal 33 (1990): 323-38.
- Neil Hargraves, "National History and 'Philosophical'
History: Character and Narrative in William Robertson's
History of Scotland," History of European Ideas 26
- Colin Kidd, "The Ideological Significance of Robertson's
History of Scotland," in William Robertson and the
Expansion of Empire (see under Collections above).
- David Raynor, "Hume and Robertson's History of
Scotland," British Journal for Eighteenth-Century
Studies 10 (1987): 59-63.
- Jeffrey Smitten, "Robertson's History of Scotland:
Narrative Structure and the Sense of Reality," Clio 11
The History of the Reign of the Emperor Charles V
- Robert Birley, "William Robertson: The History of the
Reign of Charles V," in his Sunk without Trace: Some
Forgotten Masterpieces Reconsidered (New York: Harcourt,
Brace & World, 1962).
- Richard B. Sher, "Charles V and the Book Trade: An
Episode in Enlightenment Print Culture," in William Robertson
and the Expansion of Empire (see under Collections above).
Excellent study of how the market for the history was in good
part created by booksellers.
- Frederick G. Whelan, "Robertson, Hume, and the Balance of
Power," Hume Studies 21 (1995): 315-32. Examines a key
idea in Robertson's historical thought.
The History of America (1777)
- Bernard Aspinwall, "William Robertson and America," in
Eighteenth-Century Scotland: New Perspectives, ed. T. M.
Devine and J. R. Young (East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 1999). An
unfocused survey of Robertson's impact on American culture.
- Stewart J. Brown, "An Eighteenth-Century Historian on the
Amerindians: Culture, Colonialism, and Christianity in William
Robertson's History of America," Studies in World
Christianity 2 (Autumn 1996): 204-22.
- Mark Duckworth, "An Eighteenth-Century Questionnaire: William
Robertson on the Indians," Eighteenth-Century Life 11
(1987): 36-49. Examines Robertson's use of a questionnaire to
gather historical information. For studies of specific responses
to the questionnaire, see Nicholas B. Wainwright, "The Opinion of
George Croghan on the American Indian," Pennsylvania Magazine of
History and Biography 71 (1947): 152-59, and Milton W. Hamilton,
"Guy Johnson's Opinions on the American Indians," Pennsylvania
Magazine of History and Biography 77 (1953): 311-27.
- Alexander Du Toit, "Who Are the Barbarians? Scottish Views of
Conquest and Indians, and Robertson's History of America,"
Scottish Literary Journal 26 (1999): 29-47. Argues that
Robertson's view of empire is more ambivalent than usually
- Neil Hargraves, "Enterprise, Adventure, and Industry: The
Formation of 'Commercial Character' in William Robertson's
History of America," History of European Ideas 29
(2003): 33-54. Lucid study of Robertson's handling of the
- R. A. Humphreys, "William Robertson and His History of
America," in his Tradition and Revolt in Latin America and
Other Essays (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1969). General
study first published in 1954.
- Bruce P. Lenman, "'From Savage to Scot' via the French and
the Spaniards: Principal Robertson's Spanish Sources," in
William Robertson and the Expansion of Empire (see under
- Jeffrey Smitten, "Impartiality in Robertson's History of
America," Eighteenth-Century Studies 19 (1985): 56-77.
Examines the sources and functions of a characteristic rhetorical
stance in Robertson's histories.
The History of America, Books IX and X (1796)
- Jeffrey Smitten, "Moderatism and History: William Robertson's
Unfinished History of British America," in Scotland and
America in the Age of the Enlightenment, ed. Richard B. Sher
and Jeffrey R. Smitten (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press, 1990).
Examines the reasons for Robertson's abandoning his history.
An Historical Disquisition concerning the Knowledge
Which the Ancients Had of India (1791)
- Geoffrey Carnall, "Robertson and Contemporary Images of
India," in William Robertson and the Expansion of Empire
(see under Collections above).
- Jane Rendall, "Scottish Orientalism: From Robertson to James
Mill," Historical Journal 25 (1982): 43-69.
In addition to his histories, Robertson published a number of
miscellaneous pieces, including book reviews, a highly regarded
sermon, and a memorial concerning the University of Edinburgh. He
also left items in manuscript, and some of his speeches were
recorded. There are no individual studies of these works. For an
overview of these writings, see Jeffrey Smitten, "Introduction to
Robertson's Miscellaneous Works," in Works, 12:ix-lv (see
under Collected Editions above).
There is no full or even extended study of Robertson's career as
principal of the University of Edinburgh. The following items are
thus only a starting point for further study.
- Alexander Bower, The History of the University of
Edinburgh, 3 vols. (Edinburgh, 1817-30).
- Andrew Dalzel, History of the University of Edinburgh from
Its Foundation, 2 vols. (Edinburgh, 1862).
- Andrew G. Fraser, The Building of Old College: Adam,
Playfair, and the University of Edinburgh (Edinburgh:
Edinburgh Univ. Press, 1989).
- Sir Alexander Grant, The Story of the University of
Edinburgh During Its First Three Hundred Years, 2 vols.
- David Bayne Horn, A Short History of the University of
Edinburgh, 1556-1889 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press,
- Jeremy J. Cater, "The Making of Principal Robertson in 1762:
Politics and the University of Edinburgh in the Second Half of
the Eighteenth Century," Scottish Historical Review 49
(1970): 60-84. Study of the politics surrounding Robertson's
appointment as principal of the University of Edinburgh.
- Ian D. L. Clark, "From Protest to Reaction: The Moderate
Regime in the Church of Scotland, 1752-1805," in Scotland in
the Age of Improvement: Essays in Scottish History in the
Eighteenth Century, ed. Nicholas Phillipson and Rosalind
Mitchison (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press, 1970). Important
article drawn from Clark's Ph.D. dissertation, which is still a
valuable study of the subject.
- Alexander Du Toit, "'A Species of False Religion': William
Robertson, Catholic Relief, and the Myth of Moderate Tolerance,"
Innes Review 52 (2001): 167-88. Vigorous argument against
the view that Robertson was a sincere supporter of Catholic
- James L. McKelvey, "William Robertson and Lord Bute,"
Studies in Scottish Literature 6 (1969): 238-47.
Robertson's relationship with an important patron.
- John Robertson, The Scottish Enlightenment and the Militia
Issue (Edinburgh: Donald, 1985). Focused on the role of the
literati in a key Scottish political issue.
- Richard B. Sher, Church and University in the Scottish
Enlightenment: The Moderate Literati of Edinburgh (Princeton:
Princeton Univ. Press, 1985). Landmark study of the political,
intellectual, and social role of the Moderates. Essential
- Richard B. Sher, "Moderates, Managers and Popular Politics in
Enlightened Edinburgh: The 'Drysdale Bustle' of the 1760s," in
New Perspectives on the Politics and Culture of Early Modern
Scotland, ed. John Dwyer et al. (Edinburgh: Donald, 1982).
Religious Thought and Writings
- John R. McIntosh, Church and Theology in Enlightenment
Scotland: The Popular Party, 1740-1800 (East Linton: Tuckwell
Press, 1998). The only full-length study of Robertson's
- Ann Matheson, Theories of Rhetoric in the 18th-Century
Scottish Sermon (Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1995).
Passim references to Robertson but providing useful background on
the theory and practice of the Scottish sermon as Robertson would
- Richard B. Sher, "1688 and 1788: William Robertson on
Revolution in Britain and France," in Culture and
Revolution, ed. Paul Dukes and John Dunkley (London and New
York: Pinter, 1990). Study centered on Robertson's unpublished
sermon commemorating the Glorious Revolution.
- Jeffrey Smitten, "The Shaping of Moderation: William
Robertson and Arminianism," Studies in Eighteenth-Century
Culture 22 (1992): 281-300. General overview of Robertson's
religious outlook with attention to its Continental sources.
Translations and Reception Abroad
- Laszlo Kontler, "William Robertson's History of Manners in
German, 1770-1795," Journal of the History of Ideas 58
(1997): 125-144. Focuses on the translation of Charles V.
- Laszlo Kontler, "William Robertson and His German Audience on
European and Non-European Civilisations," Scottish Historical
Review 80 (2001): 63-89.
- John Renwick, "The Reception of William Robertson's
Historical Writings in Eighteenth-Century France," in William
Robertson and the Expansion of Empire (see under Collections
- Gianfranco Tarabuzzi, "Le traduzioni italiane Settecentesche
delle opere di William Robertson," Rivista storica
italiana 91 (1979): 486-509.
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