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The Scottish Nation

M’GAVIN, WILLIAM, author of ‘The Protestant,’ was born August 12, 1773, on the farm of Darnlaw, in the parish of Auchinleck, Ayrshire, held by his father on lease from Boswell of Auchinleck. When about seven years of age he was sent for a short time to the parish school, and he never was at any other. In 1783 his parents removed to Paisley, and he was soon after employed as a drawboy to a weaver at a shilling per week. He next served an apprenticeship of four years to the weaving of silk, but subsequently he abandoned that trade, and in 1790 entered the service of Mr. John Neilson, printer and bookseller in Paisley. During the three years that he remained there, he applied himself assiduously to the improvement of his mind, and especially to acquiring a correct knowledge of the English language. In 1793 he went to assist his elder brother in the management of a school, of which he soon obtained the sole charge. He taught, besides, a scientific class, to which he delivered lectures on Geography, Astronomy, and some branches of Natural History. After being about two years and a half a schoolmaster, he quitted the profession, and commenced a small concern in the thread line, which was at one time the staple trade of Paisley. This also he was, in about two years, compelled to relinquish, and in January 1799 he was engaged as book-keeper and clerk to Mr. David Lamb, an American cotton merchant in Glasgow, to whose two sons he at the same time acted as tutor. In 1803, on Mr. Lamb’s removal to America, the whole management of the business devolved upon him, and on the death of the father, he entered in 1813 into partnership with the son.

      Mr. M’Gavin belonged to the Anti-burgher communion, and was a member of the congregation of the Rev. James Ramsay, whom he joined about 1800, on his quitting his charge, and subsequently assisted him in his endeavours to form an Independent or Congregational Church, by occasionally preaching for him. In April 1804 he was regularly ordained Mr. Ramsay’s co-pastor. One of his sermons, entitled ‘True Riches,’ was published by the Religious Tract Society, and extensively circulated. He withdrew from the connection in 1807, and afterwards became an itinerant preacher, and an active director and assistant in the various benevolent and religious societies at Glasgow, and a popular speaker at their public meetings. In 1805 he married Miss Isabella Campbell, a lady from the West Indies, residing in Paisley, who had formerly been one of his pupils. His business ultimately proved unprofitable, and in 1822 he was induced to undertake the Glasgow Agency of the British Linen Company’s Bank, when his partnership with Mr. Lamb was dissolved. He had written various religious tracts and stories for the young before he commenced ‘The Protestant,’ a series of papers designed to expose the leading errors of the church of Rome, began in 1818, and completed in 1822. This publication now forms four large 8vo volumes, and has passed through several editions. In consequence of the high character of the work, and the singular ability displayed in its pages, one of the most eminent bishops of the Church of England offered to give him holy orders, but this he declined. Some statements contained in it relative to the building of a Roman Catholic chapel in Glasgow led to an action for libel, at the instance of the priest who officiated there, when the latter obtained a verdict of £100 damages against the author, £20 against Mr. Sym, his informant, and one shilling against the printer. A public subscription produced £900 in Mr. M’Gavin’s favour, and the whole expenses, including the sums in the verdict, having amounted to £1,200, the balance was paid from the profits of ‘The Protestant.’

      In 1827 Mr. M’Gavin edited an improved edition of John Howie’s ‘Scots Worthies,’ with a preface and notes. Soon after he published a refutation of the peculiar views promulgated by Mr. Cobbett in his ‘History of the Reformation,’ and a similar exposure of the pernicious principles of Mr. Robert Owen. He also published a pamphlet entitled ‘church Establishments considered, in a Series of Letters to a Convenanter.’ shortly before his death, he superintended a new edition of ‘Knox’s History of the Reformation,’ and wrote an introduction to the Rev. John Brown of Whitburn’s ‘Memorials of the Nonconformist Ministers of the Seventeenth Century.’ Mr. M’Gavin died of apoplexy, August 23, 1832. A monument to his memory has been erected in the Necropolis of Glasgow. His posthumous works, with a memoir, were published in two volumes in 1834.

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