Monthly Archives: August 2021

A ‘starter’ installment of Samuel Rutherford’s letters

In the midst of pulling together separate strands of multiple initiatives, it’s a delight to announce publication of the third in a trio of inventories collated during EMLO’s collaboration with the ‘Pastoral Care, Literary Cure, and Religious Dissent: Zones of Freedom in the British Atlantic c. 1630–1720’ research project. Dr Alison Searle (University of Leeds) and Dr Emily Vine (formerly a post-doctoral researcher on the Pastoral Care project and now at the University of Birmingham) have compiled metadata for a subset of letters in the correspondence of the Protestant covenanting divine Samuel Rutherford (c. 1601–61), and this fledgling catalogue now joins two catalogues published earlier this year under the aegis of the project: those for the correspondences of Richard Baxter and The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.

Samuel Rutherford, attributed to Robert Walker. (University of St Andrew; source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

Rutherford’s letters have been regarded as a devotional and literary classic within puritan, pietist, and evangelical circles since their posthumous publication by his secretary, Robert McWard, as Joshua Redivivus, or, Mr Rutherfoord’s Letters in 1664. They have been constantly reprinted and translated. The current standard scholarly edition of the Letters (1848) is that produced by the Free Church of Scotland minister Andrew Bonar (1810–92). As part of the Pastoral Care project, examining how letters were used as a material technology for literary caregiving in early modern Britain, metadata from Bonar’s edition were extracted to create 365 new correspondence records in EMLO. The limitations of this legacy data-set are recognised, but incorporating it into EMLO helps to make visible the critical epistolary networks that underlay the covenanting revolution, and particularly the significance of women as agents of this process. Both religious data-sets and Scottish letter writers remain under-represented within digital recreations of the republic of letters, despite the exciting scholarship being produced on the political and literary cultures of covenanting Scotland. Work is underway at present on a much-needed complete scholarly edition of Rutherford’s writings, and the letter descriptions created by the project will form part of this, drawing on wider research into the cultures of manuscript dissemination and translation that have formed a key part of the long and rich reception history which shapes how Rutherford’s letters are read and used within a range of scholarly, religious, and political communities around the world today.

With Baxter’s and Rutherford’s correspondences currently at different stages in their preparation for publication in full editions, each stands testament to the value of EMLO’s inventories for scholarly editors whether the edited texts are intended for hard-copy or for born-digital publication. Many of the inventories collected in EMLO to date describe letters for which the texts are not published, and these cry out for further work. Additionally, as scholars, students, and research projects continue to contribute epistolary listings to EMLO, descriptions of letters coalesce around certain early modern individuals whose correspondences have not been a focus of study hitherto. Such ‘accidental’ catalogues stand incomplete and offer potential areas for study. Over the past three years, under the banner of the Networking Archives project, we have been assembling in EMLO a list of what are termed (for the present) ‘starter catalogues‘ in the hope that scholars, students, and projects worldwide will step forward to engage with an inventory and will augment it with new letters, helping to bring the listing to completion and, in many cases, engaging with the texts. EMLO’s list of ‘Starter Catalogues’ grows apace; if you would like to be involved with any one of these correspondences, you are invited most warmly to be in touch.