Leonard Horner

Horner was an important figure in transforming the Enlightenment into the Industrial Revolution, using the tools of education and trade. He was a thorough whig, seeking usefulness in everything, including religion: active, optimistic, and impatient in his quest to improve society. Yet this utilitarian public life was built on a private one of close family, warm friendships, pleasure in art and strong religious culture.

third son of John Horner (d.1829), Linen merchant. began as a silk merchant in the house of Dundas and Callander in Edinburgh, and when taken into partnership by Mr Patrick Inglis he found silk mercery a ruined trade so began a new line in linen, which flourished: till 1809 he supplied wholesale linen drapers with Scotch linen. He was a cultured man and an ardent whig. (3 vol.2 p.1) Buried in St John's (4)
Joanna Baillie (1754-1823), daughter of a Writer to the Signet who had given up law to farm in Glasmuir, east Lothian, where Joanna was christened by Dr Robertson, the historian. Buried in St John's (4).
In 1815 they moved from London to 43 Charlotte Square
Joined his father in business as a linen Merchant, Horners and Baxter of Chapel Street. He is chiefly remembered as an educationalist. In September 1821 he inaugurated the Edinburgh School of Arts (predecessor of Heriot Watt University). It was an immediate success with 452 class tickets issued in the first year. Around 30 trades were represented in the enrolments. In 1824 he founded the Edinburgh Academy with Henry Cockburn. He became the first Warden (Principal) of the University of London in 1827, which was a disaster (see 6) In the 1830s and 1840s he became an Inspector of Factories.
Political views
Religious views
In 1814 Horner travelled to Holland to develop the linen business. In his journal he described his impressions of European churches in a way which portrays him more as a spectator than participant. In the Hague on 13 February 1814 he wrote,
The Great Church, or Groote Kerk, is a vast brick building and very ugly both within and without; the only thing worth seeing is the tomb of Admiral Opdam. There was an amazing crowd of people, who were singing the psalms loud enough to drown the sound of a very large organ. The Prince was there with his wife, mother and sisters. They were in a pew in the church, a little elevated above the rest, with a canopy of green cloth, but without any appearance of pomp. It was only nine o'clock in the morning, and intensely cold, and the church like an ice-house, so that I think their Highnesses had infinite merit in submitting to such starvation... The French Protestant Church is handsome, and fitted up with pews in a more comfortable manner.'
Of Bremen he wrote on 23 March 1814,
The great church called the Dom ia vast pile, excessively ugly, and filled from one end to the other with pews and galleries, adorned with all the most distinguished characters of the Old and New Testaments, painted not by a Raphael, certainly. (3 vol.1 p.58)
In the autumn of 1816 Leonard accompanied his brother Francis, who was dying of consumption, on a journey south for the winter. His mother, for whom it must have been a very difficult time, wrote to him on 4 October 1816 in terms which were strongly religious, but with an apologetic air as if she suspected her son would find it ridiculous:
'My dear Leonard... I trust in a kind and merciful Providence, who has blessed me with two good sons; may neither of you ever forget that the Almighty alone can protect you, go where you will. I am no bigot, nor am I what the world calls a Methodist, but I have had the happiness of many pious instructors, and have witnessed the happy end of those who put their trust in the Most High. Don't, my dear Leonard, ever forget your duty to your Maker; for that affords a comfort, nothing in the world can bestow. Sunday, I believe, is too much a day of amusement abroad; be assured something more is required. God bless you, read this with that warmth of affection that I have written it, and take it as it is meant.' (3 vol.1 p.84)
Leonard's description of a Sunday in Paris, written to his wife on 27 October 1816, partly confirms her fears, and suggests Leonard sees religion as a social function more than a personal spirituality:
Everything was gay and active; jugglers, Punch, puppet shows, tumblers, theatres, and all sorts of amusements, very unlike the Sunday evenings in the land you are now in; but without being disposed to moralize, I doubt very much whether there is not more substantial happiness in the calm, decent quiet of the day of rest in our country, than in all this fever of dissipation. It is, however, a very pleasant scene to see so many gay, good-humoured faces. A few of the shops were shut, but the greater number of shopkeepers seem to be following their usual occupations... The Revolution has effectually destroyed the superstition of the Catholic religion among a great proportion of the people of France; but unhappily it has at the same time destroyed that religious feeling, from which so much comfort is derived to the great body of the people, and from which much solid political benefits are derived.' (3 vol.1 p.105)
In Pisa he hoped to find an example of liturgy of high artistic quality, but was disappointed:
'On Christmas eve... we went to the Cathedral about eleven o'clock, to see the grand ceremony and hear the fine music of the service on that occasion. In both we were a great deal disappointed. The high altar was lighted up with a great number of thick wax tapers, and all the other altars in the Cathedral were lighted up, but these were not sufficient to overcome the midnight darkness of so large a building; there was a prodigious assemblage of priests in splendid dresses; the Archbishop of Pisa was seated on his throne with his mitre on his head and chanted part of the service. The vocal music as very indifferent, but we had Corelli's service for the nativity, which was very beautiful indeed. The effect of the ceremonies was lost upon me in a great degree, by not understanding what they were about, but there was very little impressive in it, from the infinite changes and shifting of the scenes, some of which were quite ludicrous. Nor did the effect seem to be very remarkable on the Catholic congregation. There has been a constant ringing of bells since 10 o'clock on Christmas eve, how long it will continue I don't know, but it is a great nuisance. (3 vol.1 p.127)
By 1829 when writing to his daughter Frances on the death of another young girl, his tone has changed, and indeed he sounds rather like his mother. Perhaps he felt that, while uncertain of his own personal spirituality, it was something he thought his children should have. Such tragedies,
should make all who are young, beware of calculating with too much certainty upon life, and be better prepared for a change, should it please God so to order it. Such reflections need not damp the cheerfulness and gaiety of youth, so benevolently implanted in our nature by our Maker; they will only check the needless folly and emptiness of thought of unwise people, and will temper lightness of heart with the sobriety of reason... It being Sunday evening, Mr Macbean proposed that his neices should repeat some chapters of the bible which they did with great accuracy; I should like very much to see my dear girls able to do the same. Besides if the selection is properly made, the most important lessons may be fixed very strongly in the mind by this method. I should like you and your younger sisters to try. The chapters I should wish you to learn are the following: the fifth and sixth of the Gospel of Matthew, the twelfth of the Epistle to the Romans, and the 13th of the first Epistle to the Corinthians.' (3 vol.1 p.245)
Chapel connection
1816 (baptism)
Married on
Anne Lloyd
Anna (1808), daughter (1812), Anne Susanna (1816), Catherine Murray (1817), Leonora (1818), Francis (1820-1824)
Close friend of Henry Cockburn.


  1. Registers of Charlotte Chapel (NAS CH12/3)
  2. Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1818
  3. Katherine Lyell (his daughter) Memoir of Leonard Horner, Consisting of letters to his family and from some of his friends, two volumes (London, Women's Printing society, 1890)
  4. John F Mitchell, Edinburgh Monumental Inscriptions pre 1855, volume 3: St John's Episopal Churchyard, (The Scottish Genealogy Society, Edinburgh 2003) p.11
  5. James Grieg, Scottish men of letters: Leonard Horner FRSE 1785-1864 (Edinburgh: History of Medicine and Science Unit, University of Edinburgh, 1982
  6. A.Chitnis, The Scottish Enlightenment and early Victorian English society (London: Croom Helm 1986)

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