THERE could hardly be a stronger contrast than that between the old moribund Glasgow Athenaeum in Ingram Street in the early sixties, when, for lack of funds, the directors, hardly able to pay their gas bill, had to cease employing a secretary, and the Athenaeum in St. George's Place to-day with its three thousand members and revenue of £20,000. Founded first in 1845 as the Glasgow Commercial College, it had blossomed two years later amid much éclat into the full-blown Athenaeum for the advancement of literature, science, and art, with its home in the old Ingram Street Assembly Rooms, but had gradually fallen upon evil times, until the reading room was monopolised by two or three old gentlemen who sat upon the newspapers they were not perusing, and Mr. Henry Johnston found, at his appointment as secretary, that he and Donald Clark, the janitor, had to discharge between them the duties of secretary, superintendent, librarian, janitor, and boy, and keep the institution open from 6.30 a.m. till 10 p.m. Mr. Johnston began the resuscitation of the fortunes of the Athenaeum, but he resigned the secretaryship in 1870 on receiving his appointment to the Western Infirmary, and the immense strides which the institution has made since then have been largely owed to the energy of his successor.
Mr. Lauder is a Border man, born almost within sight of Abbotsford. He was educated in Edinburgh at the public schools and the Watt Institution, now the Heriot-Watt College, and at an early age entered the office of Messrs. Oliver & Boyd, publishers of the famous Almanac. When appointed to the secretaryship of the Athenaeum he was little more than out of his teens, but he headed the list of seventy candidates, and his subsequent work has justified the choice. At his appointment the number of officials and teachers was 15, now they are 170; the members numbered 900, and now they are over 3,000; the students numbered 500, and now they are 4,000; while the income has increased from £2,000 to £20,000. The great event of these years of the Athenaeum's history was the removal to the new building in St. George's Place in 1887. The chief work of that removal, the raising of means, and the organisation of the institution on its present great scale, lay on the shoulders of Mr. Lauder, and to him is largely due the success of its popular School of music, its Civil Service and Professional Department, its Reading-room second in importance in the city only to that of the Royal Exchange, its large circulating library, its recreation rooms, and its great restaurant. Under his charge to-day the Athenaeum far more than fulfils the project of its first founders, of a great commercial college.
In 1892 Mr. Lauder was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and he was for some time a member of its council. At the jubilee of the Athenaeum in 1897 by request of the Directors he wrote a history of the institution, under the title of "The Glasgow Athenaeum, a Sketch of Fifty Years' Work." The book was favourably received both by press and public, and forms a most interesting record which is entitled to its own niche among Glasgow histories.
Index of Glasgow Men (1909)