The National Library of Scotland had a top-secret guest today when Scots screen legend Sir Sean Connery stopped by to visit their George IV Bridge building in Edinburgh.
During his two-hour visit, Sir Sean was given a guided tour of the Library and took the opportunity to view a selection of items from the recently acquired John Murray Archive. The chance to see such unique literary treasures first hand in Scotland prompted Sir Sean's first ever visit to the National Library. The items on show included a letter from Charles Darwin outlining On the Origin of Species, a manuscript of Byron's 'Childe Harolde's Pilgrimage' and an 1862 letter from Edward Whymper to his father recounting a failed attempt to climb the Matterhorn. During the tour, Sir Sean quipped: 'History wasn't this interesting at school!'
A passionate advocate of the promotion of literacy, Sir Sean was impressed by the plans to make the archive available to the public both through refurbishment of the George IV Bridge building and through digitisation. Sir Sean said: 'Having viewed the John Murray Archive, I very much hope that others will be given the same opportunity as I've had today.'
He added: 'Although it took me 70 years to realise it, I had my first break when I was five years old — I learned to read. My visit to the National Library of Scotland today just brings home again the importance of reading and writing.'
As well as the archive, the Edinburgh-born actor saw some of the Library's other treasures including the last letter of Mary Queen of Scots (1587), written some six hours before she was executed, and the written order for the massacre of Glencoe (1692). He also perused at length 'Vocabula', the 1636 Latin textbook by Aberdeen schoolteacher David Wedderburn, which famously proves that the game of football was invented in Scotland.
Sir Sean was also surprised to encounter another treasure borrowed from his former employer, Scotmid — a Co-op payslip of his from 1948!
Speaking after the visit, NLS Director of Development Giles Dove said: 'We were delighted to hear of Sir Sean's interest in both the National Library of Scotland and in the John Murray Archive and we were only too pleased to invite him to share in the treasure that the John Murray Archive represents. The total cost of the project is £33.2 million. We are now fundraising for the final £6.5 million to complete this project. Today's visit by Sir Sean Connery represents an encouraging development in our campaign.'
David McClay, Senior Curator of the John Murray Archive added: 'It's always a pleasure to be able to share in the delights of the archive, but it's not every day you get to do so with the likes of Sir Sean Connery. He was really engaged and excited by the archive, asking lots of questions, and he was particularly keen on our plans to make it accessible to the public.'
Note: The Heritage Lottery Fund generously donated a grant of £17.7 million towards the purchase price of the John Murray Archive, while a further £8.3 million came from the Scottish Executive.
22 August 2006