The Minervian Library is a collection of stories written by children in the 1860s. Maria, Clara, Alfred and Malcolm Cowan and their cousin Isabella Bremner were aged 6 - 14 when the library first originated in 1865 and spent their summer holidays in Tankerness House (now the Orkney Museum) in Kirkwall and the Hall of Tankerness in the parish of St. Andrews. The Minervian Library consisted at one point of 100 volumes and was a functioning lending library amongst the children's friends and acquaintances.
The stories were a mixture of fairy tales, plays, and news items. The children gathered up all the paper and jotters they could find and bound them together with stitches, or tape or even pins (see below).
But this industry of creating, not only the stories, but also the books themselves has resulted in a wonderful variety of designs and sizes.
|Hand-painted illustrations were sown into jotters|
|Covers were made from hardened lace|
|Some illustrations were cut out and stuck on|
“Dear me, Flora,” cried Amelia Clive, “what nonsense & utter trash you do talk. ‘To Gain His Love!’ indeed, Why will you force me to tell you myself that I am destined by Papa & Mama for him”
“But,” asked Flora, her younger sister, “how do you know that his Papa & Mama destine him for you?”
“I care not. I shall try ‘To gain His Love,’ myself & you need not attempt it, for you will miserably fail.”
“How,” cried the indignant Flora, starting up, “am I then so much less beautiful than you, that you only will be loved by every body!” Then cooling down she added, “And forgive me Amelia, you are eldest & his heart is by right yours, I mean, by right yours sooner than mine. But you are only 18 & I am but one year younger, therefore all difference shall be set aside, in age, & we shall both try our best. Should you succeed I yield without a [?], Should I, why then you must do the same.”
“To Gain His Love,” thought Amelia, “I will visit the poor, dress very simply, read no novels, & will not flirt any more.”
“To Gain His Love,” thought Flora, “I will remain as I am, that he may not love anything superficial in me. If he takes me at all, he must take me as I am, & for myself.”
“I love neither the one nor the other,” said Henry Malborough, two months after this, “but in time I may. At any rate if I do marry I shall fix upon one or the other of them. Lord Clive has an immense fortune, but I hope he will see my true motive, when I come to ask for his daughter & not think I want her money. For indeed, I do not, And Amelia & Flora must try to gain my love before I try to gain theirs; for I am afraid I have a heart of stone & should not otherwise be touched.
“Ah! here you are, Lady Amelia,” said Henry meeting her, “How do you do.”
“Oh! dear, I am very well, but my heart is sick,” said she with affectation.
“Why, what great grief has befallen you?”
“Oh! how could you, you naughty man!” cried she.
“How could I what?” asked he in amazement.
“How could you think I would feel so sorry and unhappy if anything had happened to myself, instead of bearing up against it! But my heart is sick for that poor cotter & his wife. I mean William Cove, whom I have just been to see, their Eldest, only & beloved daughter is dying and really when they asked me to come and see her I could
not refuse, & when I gave her some costly grapes (which cost ten shillings the bunch) & they found she could [
cost] eat them, you should have heard
how they blessed me. It really quite repaid me for the pain I suffered, for I
assure you, I had a sick headache, when I went & though each step
occasioned pain, I could not refuse to go, Ah! no I knew my duty too well for
“At any rate you praise yourself enough for it,” though he, then bidding her good day he walked away.
“Riding alone,” cried Harry Malborough.
“Alone,” cried Flora, for it was she, “yes I always ride alone in my father’s private park. It doesn’t matter there you know.”
“No more it does,” said he. “I hate all those formalities.”
“And so do I heartily,” laughed Flora, “only you know One must attend to the fashions of the time in a slight degree.”
“You are quite right. By-the-bye do you ever visit the poor?” asked he.
“Yes, but only when I think I ought, for I do not think any one would like to have company forced upon them continually, I know I don’t, and I don’t see why the poor should either!”
“Again you are right,” cried Harry enthusiastically, “I declare your ideas are just my own!”
“Then we’re sure to agree,” cried the lovely Flora with a silvery laugh “and I must bid you good-bye, as it time[sic] to return to the house.”
“Now do let me lead you there,” pleaded Harry, “you see it is absolutely needful your horse is already jumping and starting.”
Now the truth of the matter was that Harry wishing much to do as he asked was pinching the poor creature with a pin.
“Well,” said Flora modestly, “as it is wild, I will let you.”
And he did.
Thus for some time things went on. Which of the two Harry loved best will be now seen.
“Do you know, Flora,” said Harry, “I love you so much, that I could even make a formal proposal to you. But you know I mean it - you know me well and I know you.”
Amelia, (who by the bye was listening at the keyhole), moved uneasily, “But she won’t accept him,” though she, “Oh dear no, because she is too good for that.”
“Harry,” said Flora, “does the Marquis, your father, know of this.”
“To be sure, my Flora & your parents also.”
“Then Harry, I-, I- but you know what I mean?”
“No I don’t dearest, tell me.”
“Harry,” she blushed, “I mean, that, - of course – I mean that I have ever loved you dearly only – you – know – I didn’t know - how to say it.”
Harry was in transports.
Amelia rushed angrily in.
“You bad, man, you naughty man, what right have you [
man] propose to her in-
stead of me. You bad girl, after all I have done, I have visited the poor, dressed simply, and given up reading novels ‘to Gain His Love.’”
“The wrong way,” said Harry.
“And I,” said the happy Flora, “prefered[sic] to continue as I was, and not be artificial ‘To Gain His Love.’”
“The right way, my own Flora,” said Harry, and indeed you have Gained my Never-dying most Devoted Love.”
A story written by Alfred Cowan, who was in later years to change his name to Baikie and inherit the Lairdship of Tankerness, is prefaced by this humble text:
"My dear readers, I hope you will not be angry at this because I am as yet a youth of 6 years old (7 next March, 8 the next), I am your dear Alfred Cowan."
The children also performed plays in the dining room which is now the exhibition room of the Orkney Museum.
|The Hairy Drama - Beauty and the Beast|
And they created news items such as this one about the weather:
The weather in the Orcades this weak[sic] has been terrific. The gale of west winds has raged for the last few days with such violence as to put an end to any communication between these Islands and the South. We regret to state that accidends[sic] have been many a fat old lady has been caught up and whirled across the Peerie Sea and deposited on the top of a pig sty at the other side of Wideford Hill. It happen[
n]ed to be an intensely dark
night [ and the old lady went out u] and the old lady went for a
constituonal[sic] walk taking with her a lantern. The effects of this transit
through the air was so [intensely surprising?] that Profost Reid rushed out of his office
exclaiming eh boys siccan[sic] a sight there’s a com[m]ic!! comick yourself,
screamed the old lady from upper stratum whereupon Bailie Reid being so
flabbergasted fainted away [ away] on the spot and afterwards as soon as
he recovered his equimilibrium[sic] forwith[sic] indiked[sic] an epistle to the
editors of the “Round about St Magnus” enquiring[sic] if he or any of his
ever heard a speaking comick.
The poor old lady after the severe shocks was heard to exclaim in a pathetic tone and voice “heck sirs! To think that I should take a flee afore me time!”
The mistress of the farm came out and seeing the old lady seated there she went up to her and kindly asked and hows[sic] your fair boady[sic] which so exasperated the irritable old lady that she fierc[
exclaimed you be blowed[sic] yourself and see how you like it."
Click Here for a link to a BBC News item on the exhibition.
Archive reference: D98 Minervian Library Collection
For more examples of this collection, please click on the label "Minervian Library" below.