Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kirkwood, James (1650?-1708)

KIRKWOOD, JAMES (1650?–1708), advocate of parochial libraries, was born at Dunbar about 1650. He graduated M.A. from Edinburgh University in 1670, and after passing his trials before the presbytery of Haddington became domestic chaplain to John Campbell, earl of Caithness, afterwards first earl of Breadalbane [q. v.], by whom, on 12 May 1679, he was presented to the living of Minto. Deprived of this benefice after 1 Nov. 1681 for refusing to take the test, Kirkwood, following the example of a large number of ‘outed ministers,’ migrated to England, where, on 1 March 1685, through the friendship of Bishop Burnet, he was instituted to the small rectory of Astwick, Bedfordshire.

While residing in the highlands with Lord Breadalbane's family Kirkwood had been much impressed by the ignorance on the part of the Gaelic people of the scriptures, and, indeed, of all kinds of literature, and in 1690 he commenced a correspondence with the Hon. Robert Boyle [q. v.] on the subject. Boyle presented him with two hundred copies of his Bible in Irish for immediate circulation, and subscribed towards the printing of three thousand more copies, which Kirkwood succeeded in distributing over the north of Scotland, in spite of the opposition to his scheme in England, on the ground that it would obstruct the desired extirpation of the Gaelic tongue. In 1699 appeared anonymously a tract, now of great rarity, entitled ‘An Overture for Founding and Maintaining Bibliothecks in every Paroch throughout the Kingdom.’ This was printed at Edinburgh, the word ‘overture’ being the technical term for a proposal to the old Scottish parliament. Under the arbitrary and comprehensive scheme therein contained the parish minister's private books were to form the nucleus of each library, the parish schoolmaster was to act as librarian, and a uniform system of cataloguing was to be adopted throughout the country. Among other inducements which the scheme offered is mentioned the fact that ‘it will in a short time carry away the whole trade of printing from all the rest of Europe.’ The tract was reprinted by William Blades in 1889 from a copy preserved in the Public Library at Wigan. The only other copy known is in a private library at Glasgow. The ‘Overture’ is traced to Kirkwood by means of a second tract, of which only one copy is known; it is entitled ‘A Copy of a Letter anent a Project for Erecting a Library in every Presbytery, or at least every County in the Highlands. From a Reverend Minister of the Scots Nation now in England’ (no place nor date), to which is appended the following printed statement: ‘The author of this Letter is a person who has a great zeal for propagating the knowledge of God in the Highlands of Scotland, and is the same who did promote contributions for the printing of Bibles in the Irish language, and sent so many of them down to Scotland.’ The general assembly approved the project, but do not appear to have translated their approval into action. Charters, however, states that a library was established for the clergy in the highlands by Kirkwood in 1699 (Cat. of Scotish Writers, s. n. ‘Girwod, James,’ p. 61). In recognition of the activity displayed in these various projects Kirkwood was, on 4 March 1703, elected a corresponding member of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (S. P. C. K. Minutes, pp. 217–43), and on 11 Nov. following were read at one of the society's meetings ‘Letters and Papers from Mr. Kirkwood relating to the Erection of Lending Libraries in the Highlands.’ The ‘papers’ are probably identical with the unique tract mentioned above, which contains elaborate suggestions and rules for the conduct of a lending library. A dry place was to be chosen; the books to be kept under lock and key. Some may be lent out, but no one to have more than two at a time, and the borrowers must be approved preachers, schoolmasters, and students. Each book to have its price against it in the catalogue, and every borrower to deposit a quarter more than the value, as a security for its safe return. Kirkwood had previously, on 7 Jan. 1702, been ejected from the living of Astwick for ‘neglect in not abjuring according to the statute 13 and 14 William III.’ No further mention of him has been traced, but he appears to have died in 1708, when he bequeathed his books and papers with ‘some other things’ to the presbytery of Dunbar, his native place.

Besides the tracts mentioned, Kirkwood wrote ‘A New Family Book, or the True Interest of Families.… Together with several Prayers for Families and Children and Graces before and after Meat.’ The second edition of this work, with a preface by Dr. Anthony Horneck [q. v.] and a grotesque frontispiece engraved by M. Vandergucht, dated 1693, is preserved in the British Museum Library. Charters assigns the date 1692 to this work, but in a letter to Kirkwood, dated 18 Oct. 1690, Boyle acknowledges the receipt from the author of a ‘pious and sensible book,’ which, from other remarks that he lets fall, is evidently the ‘New Family Book.’ It must therefore have been published in or before 1690.

[Scott's Fasti, pt. ii. pp. 506, 756; Birch's Boyle, 1772, clxxxviii–cciv; Library Chronicle, 1888, p. 116; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. v. 29; MacClure's A Chapter in English Church History, pp. 217, 243; Miller's Dunbar, pp. 207–9; notes kindly supplied by F. A. Blaydes, esq.]

T. S.