Two Tracts on the Founding and Maintaining of Parochial Libraries in Scotland/Introductory Note


" AN Overture for Founding and Maintaining Bibliothecks in every Paroch throughout the Kingdom" was published anonymously in 1699; the original is now a tract of great rarity. In 1889 William Blades reprinted it in facsimile from a copy in the Wigan Public Library. This first tract or "overture" is traced to Kirkwood by means of a second tract, entitled "A Copy of a Letter anent a Project for Erecting a library in every Presbytery, or at least County in the Highlands. From a Reverend Minister of the Scots Nation now in England." The author of these tracts, James Kirkwood, was born about 1650 at Dunbar, Scotland. He was graduated in 1670 at Edinburgh University, receiving the degree of M.A. He served John Campbell, Earl of Caithness, as domestic chaplain till May 12, 1679, when he was presented by the earl to the parish of Minto. He refused to take the test, and was deprived of this benefice November 1, 1681, and removed to England, where he was instituted to the rectory of Astwick, Bedfordshire, March 1, 1685, through the favour of Bishop Burnet.

During his life in the Highlands with the Earl of Caithness' family, Kirkwood had been much impressed by the great ignorance on the part of the Gaelic people of the scriptures and of all writings, and in 1690 he began a correspondence with Hon. Robert Boyle on the subject; he succeeded in distributing over three thousand copies of the Bible in Irish in the north of Scotland. Following this work he published the first tract mentioned above. Under the plan therein the parish minister's private books were to form the nucleus of each library, the parish schoolmaster was to be the librarian, and the classification of the work was to be uniform throughout the country. The General Assembly approved the scheme, but did nothing toward carrying it into effect. In Girwod's "Catalogue of Scottish Writers," Kirkwood is credited with having established a library for the clergy in the Highlands in 1699.

On March 4, 1703, Kirkwood was elected a corresponding member of the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, and on November 11th following were read at one of their meetings: "Letters and papers from Mr. Kirkwood relating to the erection of lending libraries in the Highlands." The only further references to Kirkwood that can be traced are that on January 7, 1702, he was ejected from the living of Astwick for "neglect in not abjuring according to the statute 13 and 14 of William III," and that at his death, in 1708, he left his books and papers to the presbytery of Dunbar.

The editor has made no attempt to alter the spelling of the two tracts, but he has undertaken to set right the compositor's numerous blunders.