James Burns (publisher)

James Burns (1808 – 11 April 1871) was a Scottish publisher and author.

During the last half of the nineteenth century his work in the cause of Catholic literature and Catholic church music contributed much to the rapid advancement of the Church in Great Britain and to the many conversions that were made throughout that period.


Burns was born near Montrose, Angus. His father was a Presbyterian minister and sent him to a college in Glasgow with the idea that he should follow the same calling. But feeling no inclination for it, he left the school in 1832 and went to London where he found employment with a publishing firm. He acquired a knowledge of the trade and then set up for himself in a modest way. He soon won success and Anglican ministers adopted him, in their literary campaign of tracts and polemic publications. He then became a "Puseyite", or High Church man. From his press were issued books of a high literary tone in the series he called The Englishman's Library and The Fireside Library. The Oxford Movement under John Henry Newman drew him within its range, and he became a Catholic convert in 1847.

The Anglican publications of the old house were sold off. Burns succeeded, in a comparatively brief time, in building up a reputation as publisher of Catholic literature. To his "Popular Library" Cardinal Wiseman contributed Fabiola and Cardinal Newman, Callista. Other volumes from well-known writers, prayer books, and books of devotion made the name of the firm of Burns & Oates a household name.[1]

Burns himself also wrote constantly on church music, and edited and republished many compositions. He died from cancer in London.


His widow, who was also a convert, survived him twenty-two years, dying a member of the Ursuline community at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., January, 1893. Of his five daughters, four entered the Ursuline Order and the other became a Sister of Charity. His only son was ordained a priest, serving for a long time as chaplain at Nazareth House, Hammersmith, London.


  1. ^ Brian Alderson, Some Notes on James Burns as a Publisher of Children's Books, Bulletin John Rylands Library, escholar.manchester.ac.uk, p. 122. Retrieved 4 November 2020.
  •   This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "James Burns". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. The entry cites:
    • Catholic Family Annual (New York, 1884);
    • London Tablet and Weekly Register, files (15 April 1871).

External linksEdit