James McCowan's Library
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... Half a century later, the library of James McCowan, tenant of the Stockbridge Coalworks, bore a more modest yet strikingly diversified character. Apart from a number of bibles and "Psalms of David", McCowan's library included:

  • "Christ's Cross and Crown" (mid 18th c);
  • "A Cloud of Witnesses for the Royal Prerogatives of Jesus Christ: Or, the Last Speeches and Testimonies of Those Who Have Suffered for the Truth in Scotland Since the Year 1680" (1769);
  • "Sermons Preached on Different Occasions" (1798, Robert Chalmers);
  • "The Confession of Faith" (early 19th c);
  • "Fletwood's Life of Christ" (early 19th c);
  • "The Christian Journal; or Common Incidents, Spiritual Instructors: Being a Series of Meditations on a Spring, Summer, Harvest, Winter, and Sabbath Day" (1814, John Brown);
  • "A View of the History, Literature and Religion of the Hindoos" (1824, Rev. William Ward);
  • "A Companion for the Festivals and Fasts of the Church of England" (1826, 37th Edition, Robert Nelson);
  • "Popery, The Mystery of Iniquity" (1829, William Symington);
  • "An Abridgement of The History of Scotland" (1793, Robertson and Stuart);
  • "The History of Berwick Upon Tweed" (1799, John Fuller);
  • "The Ready Reckoner; or Trader's Sure Guide: Adapted for the Use of all Persons Who Buy or Sell any Sort of Commodities, Wholesale or Retail" (1794, for Silvester Doig, Royal Exchange);
  • "The Cottagers of Glenburnie: A Tale for the Farmer's Ingle-Nook" (1808, Elizabeth Hamilton); and
  • "Marmion: A Tale of Flodden Field" (1810, Vol. 1, Walter Scott).

McCowan's library comprises a good example of the range of human responses to the profound social and economic changes of the late eighteenth / early nineteenth centuries: evangelical Christianity; Scottish history; the romanticized Scottish past; and a curiosity for others within the widening sphere of British influence.

The sorry plight of those wrested from the soil into poverty by the relentless forces of economic change was another theme in the early nineteenth century literature. The rural cottar society had been destroyed and some writers thought not that it should be forgotten:

Let not ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure,
Nor grandeur hear, with a disdainful smile,
The short and simple annals of the poor.

The Cottagers of Glenburnie, Title Page, 1808

Politics and the reform movement was another reaction that received more and more attention in the media as social problems became increasingly acute. In the British government's response to the French Revolution, many of the Scottish authors of this type of literature were charged with sedition.

From When The Ground Fails: An Economic Watershed


James McCowan took his wife, eight children -- and his precious library -- from Lesmahagow, Lanarkshire, to Scarborough, Upper Canada, in 1833.  James library, letters and an account book were left with his fourth son William. William’s executor was Alexander McCowan. Alex’ daughter, Georgina, and then her brother David A. came into possession of the bulk of the collection. With respect to James McCowan's interest in other cultures, including Hindooism, we suspect that George McCowan, Surgeon to His Majesty's Police of Calcutta, may have been one of his cousins with whom he corresponded.