On ‘LIAS’, editions, and Elizabeth Elstob

On a day when I should have been in Manchester presenting a paper on Bodleian Student Editions at a workshop organized by the The Lives and Afterlives of Letters Network (but, due to widespread travel disruptions in England as winter extends its tentacles into spring, I am not), it seems a perfect moment to pause and reflect upon the serendipity and coincidence that have been at play within EMLO and at the Cultures of Knowledge project over the past week.

Detail from an initial with Elizabeth Elstob’s portrait, by Simon Gribelin taken from Elizabeth Elstob, ‘English-Saxon homily on the birth-day of St Gregory’ (London, 1709), p. 1. (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

EMLO began by publishing just a week ago enhanced metadata for a small catalogue of the correspondence of Elizabeth Elstob. The manuscripts of this Anglo-Saxon scholar’s correspondence with the antiquarian George Ballard have been in the care of the Bodleian Libraries from the year following Ballard’s death in 1755, and the metadata for these letters have been tucked inside EMLO, courtesy of the Bodleian card catalogue, since 2010. However, Elstob’s letters to Ballard have been worked on more recently by the scholar Dr Dawn Hollis, who has generated transcriptions for the correspondence between the two friends, edited these texts, and published a ‘small’ edition in the Dutch journal LIAS.1

Lias: the Journal of Early Modern Intellectual Culture and its Sources is a peer-reviewed publication which takes its name from the Dutch work for ‘file’; it is committed to publishing primary sources that relate to the intellectual and cultural history of early modern Europe. The journal was established to provide a platform for sources that are relatively short in length. And it is in the pages of this journal that Hollis’s edition of the Elstob-Ballard correspondence may be consulted, either by subscription or through the purchase of a single hard-copy issue; and should users be within a subscribing institution, links to the downloadable text are provided from each relevant letter record in EMLO. The journal’s editor-in-chief, Dirk van Miert, is Assistant Professor of Early Modern Cultural History at the University of Utrecht, where he specializes in the history of knowledge. And it is the second time in as many weeks that I have been posting his name, for here lies one of this week’s many coincidences: eagle-eyes may have spotted that Professor van Miert has been in Oxford to present a paper at the Early Modern Intellectual History seminar organized by Dr Dmitri Levitin and Sir Noel Malcolm. Professor van Miert’s talk bore the riveting title ‘The “Hairy War” (1640–50) and the historicization of the Bible: the role of philology in a public debate on men wearing long hair in the Dutch Republic’, and post delivery (before he had been given so much as the opportunity to catch his breath, let alone check his own hair!), Professor van Miert was requisitioned for an ‘EMLO Gathering’ in the History Faculty in the form of a pop-up Q&A session (see my previous post) concerning his work as co-editor on The Correspondence of  Joseph Justus Scaliger, which was published by Librairie Droz, Geneva, in 2012.

Bodleian Student Editions students and EMLO Digital Fellows at the Q&A pop-up session with Dirk van Miert.

Here we encounter another coincidence: this pop-up Q&A session offered the opportunity to learn more about scholarly editing both to students who have signed up to the Bodleian Student Editions workshops and to EMLO’s loyal, hard-working Digital Fellows who help prepare epistolary metadata for upload into the union catalogue. Bodleian Student Editions, which began in 2016, built on the initiative EMLO had started the previous year with Oxford second-year undergraduates who were taking the Further Subject ‘Writing in the early modern period’ taught by Professor Giora Sternberg. These Further Subject undergraduates worked with a small sub-set of EMLO’s existing metadata contained within the Bodleian card catalogue: they checked and enhanced dates, authors, recipients, origins, destinations, and shelfmarks of letters (for, as we know all too well, this sizeable catalogue is not always as reliable as might be wished) and, as they studied the manuscripts in the Bodleian’s special collections, they created a number of transcriptions. Long-standing followers of this blog may recall some of the announcements of the resulting student-generated catalogues: one for Elizabeth Compton, for example, another for Sarah Chapone (who was, in turn, a good friend to Elizabeth Elstob). Now, this week, students have been in action again with Bodleian Student Editions and Thursday witnessed the concluding workshop for this Hilary term and the transcription of a third batch of Penelope Maitland’s letters to her friend Charlotte [née Perry] West. (Charlotte turned out to be the daughter of Sampson Perry, proprietor of the radical journal The Argus.) Once again, student editors continued throughout the day to capture metadata, transcribe text, and footnote the letters’ contents. This was just one of the aspects of the Bodleian Student Editions scheme I was due to speak about at the Manchester workshop, which had been conceived to explore various approaches to the editing of texts. Thankfully the workshop will not become a snow casualty and it is likely to be rescheduled for a date in May.

Thus a single week has produced a myriad of unexpected twists and, instead of travelling home from Manchester tonight, I am contemplating a remarkable plait of intertwined catalogues (each built upon the foundations of metadata taken from the Bodleian’s collections, and each contributing to the Early Modern Women’s Letters Online [WEMLO] cluster, something to be celebrated as we move towards 8 March and International Women’s Day). And of course, thanks to Professor van Miert, I am left pondering in addition the subject of hair!

Scholarly editing and digital analysis: Q&A breakfast

For students interested in early modern correspondence editions and/or the possibilities of digital analysis

Informal Q&A breakfast with Dirk van Miert (Utrecht University)1

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Gerry Martin Seminar Room, Faculty of History, George Street, University of Oxford

Coffee and croissants will be provided courtesy of Cultures of Knowledge


All welcome, but r.s.v.p. to Miranda Lewis, Early Modern Letters Online [EMLO]: miranda.lewis@history.ox.ac.uk


  1. Dirk is Assistant Professor of Early Modern Cultural History at the University of Utrecht where he specializes in the history of knowledge. He is co-editor of The Correspondence of Joseph Justus Scaliger, 8 vols (Geneva: Droz, 2012) and director of the major new ERC-funded project ‘Sharing Knowledge in Learned and Literary Networks – The Republic of Letters as a Pan-European Knowledge Society’ (SKILLNET). He tweets as @ERC_SKILLNET, and his lecture on digitizing letter catalogues in the Netherlands may be viewed here.

Thomas Hobbes: ‘my letter will haue the effect of a perspectiue glasse’

According to John Aubrey, Thomas Hobbes‘s mother went into labour in Malmesbury on Good Friday 1588 ‘upon the fright of the invasion of the Spaniards’ and thereupon gave birth to twins: the philosopher and fear.1 Despite this alleged inauspicious start, Hobbes, whose correspondence catalogue is the latest to be released in EMLO, lived for more than nine decades. His surviving letters, edited by Noel Malcolm and published in 1994 by Oxford University Press as volumes VI and VII within the Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas Hobbes,2 do not — as Malcolm points out — make up as large a corpus of correspondence as might be expected when compared to the numbers of letters left to historians by many of his contemporaries: the 211 letters brought together in these volumes have been supplemented by just a handful in the last two decades,3 and of this number approximately a third are by Hobbes himself.4 Yet gems aplenty are to be found within the correspondence, and users are encouraged either to take advantage of the subscriptions held by their institutional libraries to follow the links from each record in EMLO to the texts that are mounted in OSEO, or to locate the hard-copy volumes. The metadata for this correspondence were supplied to EMLO by Oxford Scholarly Editions Online [OSEO], and EMLO is delighted to be working increasingly in this phase of funding with OSEO to showcase the correspondences of such key figures as Philip Sidney (from Roger Kuin’s edition), Elizabeth Stuart, Queen of Bohemia (from Nadine Akkerman’s edition), and Elias Ashmole (with metadata teased by EMLO from C. H. Josten’s edition of Ashmole’s own Autobiographical and Historical Notes).

Much of Hobbes’s life is known from the compilation of biographical material provided by his friend Aubrey. The two men had a teacher in common:  the clergyman Richard Latimer (who, as vicar of Westport in Wiltshire, provided Hobbes with a grounding in Latin and Greek, and subsequently, some three decades later as rector of Leigh Delamere, played a key role in the early education of Aubrey). Malcolm points out in his entry on Hobbes in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography that this connection was one reason for the younger man’s interest in and friendship with the author of Leviathan.5 Hobbes’s surviving correspondence contributes significantly to what Aubrey was able to garner and, in addition to charting the epistolary conversations in which Hobbes was involved — including exchanges with Descartes courtesy of the agency of Mersenne — the letters offer invaluable insights into the philosopher’s personality.

In a letter to Gervase Clifton of 30 January 1635 Hobbes writes that his words will ‘haue the effect of a perspectiue glasse, wch shewes you not onely a towre afarre of in grosse, but also the battlements and windowes and other principall partes distinctly …’.6 Users will find they do indeed offer a lens onto the life and work of a man who, again to quote Malcolm, is acknowledged increasingly as ‘a philosopher whose importance extends far beyond the realm of political theory — someone whose work in theology, metaphysics, science, history, and psychology entitles him to be described as one of the true founders of modernity in Western culture.’7

  1.  John Aubrey, Brief lives, chiefly of contemporaries, set down by John Aubrey, between the years 1669 and 1696, ed. A. Clark, 2 vols (1898), p. 327. This reactionary birth seems a little early, even allowing for the difference in calendar date. Good Friday fell on 5/15 April that year; the Spanish fleet did not leave the port of Lisbon for another month.
  2.  The Correspondence of Thomas Hobbes, ed. Noel Malcolm, 2 vols, The Clarendon Edition of the Works of Thomas Hobbes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), vol. 1, 1622–1659, and vol. 2, 1660–1679.
  3. For which see Noel Malcolm and Mikko Tolonen, ‘The Correspondence of Thomas Hobbes: Some New Items’, in The Historical Journal, 51, 2, (2008), pp. 481–95.
  4. For a discussion on and explain of this, including the possibility that Hobbes burnt many papers in his own hand, see Malcolm, Correspondence, vol. 1, ‘General Introduction’, esp. pp. xxi–xxvi.
  5. N. Malcolm, ‘Hobbes, Thomas (1588–1679), philosopher‘, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-09-23).
  6. Malcolm, Correspondence, vol. i, letter 13, p. 25.
  7. Malcolm, ‘Hobbes, Thomas (1588–1679), philosopher’, ODNB.

Archbishop Ussher and a journey to Malta

At first glance, Valletta might not be where you would expect to stumble across one of Trinity College Dublin‘s greatest scholars. Yet this week, at the University of Malta’s Valletta campus, we are privileged indeed to encounter James Ussher, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh between 1625 and his death in 1656, together with records for the 681 letters that make up his surviving correspondence. The listing for his correspondence is the latest to be released into the EMLO union catalogue, and the reason the archbishop is in Malta could not be more apposite as this publication coincides with the convergence of large numbers of early modern scholars at the third and concluding conference arranged by the COST Reassembling the Republic of Letters Action.

Dr Boran preparing to launch her catalogue of James Ussher’s correspondence in EMLO at the University of Malta, Valletta, 31 January 2018. (Image courtesy of Arno Bosse)

James Ussher was a towering figure across Ireland, England, and Europe throughout the first half of the seventeenth century. His correspondence has been edited and published (Irish Manuscripts Commission [IMC], 2015) in an exemplary three volume edition by Dr Elizabethanne Boran — herself of TCD — who is Librarian of the Edward Worth Library and the scholar behind The Ussher Project. To quote Dr Boran, ‘Ussher’s correspondence reflects his political and ecclesiastical role as the head of the church in Ireland at a crucial time of forging its identity as a separate enclave from the Church of England while his scholarly network reveals his pivotal role in Irish, British and European intellectual life.’

Ussher’s correspondents are to be found the length and breadth of the continent, and he exchanged letters with a large number of the leading scholars of his age. It is entirely fitting that Ussher’s catalogue in EMLO should be launched at this conference with a wide range of European early modern scholars and digital technology specialists in attendance. Dr Boran chairs a working group within the Action entitled Documents and Collections which investigates how best to describe a shared data model that captures both common definitions of the genres of the letter and its physical features. The discussions and presentations at the conference focus on preparing the publication of a ‘blueprint’ for a radical open-access, open-source, transnational digital infrastructure which will be capable of enabling and supporting the multilateral collaboration required to reassemble the scattered documentation of the early modern communities that made up the ‘respublica literaria’.

Detail of a page from ‘Annales veteris testamenti’ (1650). (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

Ussher, who contributed to the scholarly conversation of his age in no small measure with his 1650 publication Annales veteris testamenti, in which he published his calculation of the date of God’s creation of the universe (he placed it at 23 October 4004 B.C.), was a figure who transcended successfully significant religious divide: despite his English royalist allegiance, the archbishop was given a state funeral by Oliver Cromwell in London’s Westminster Abbey. To quote Dr Boran, Ussher  ‘might be appropriated by both royalist and parliamentarian, puritan and anglican. In the world of scholarship his identity was clearer: he was, in the words of John Selden, “learned to a miracle”.’ Enjoy his correspondence!


Intellectual communities and the global transfer of knowledge: applications invited for a summer school in Marbach

As institutions and academics projects announce details of this year’s educational schemes and courses, users of EMLO and followers of the research being conducted at Cultures of Knowledge may be interested to learn of a summer school that will focus upon republics ― note plural ― of letters both past and present as (to reuse an extract from the title of Anthony Grafton’s 2009 publication) ‘worlds made by words’.1 This summer school, A (New) Republic of Letters: Intellectual Communities, Global Knowledge Transfer, will be hosted by the German Literature Archive Marbach and will run between 29 July and 9 August.

Twenty international scholarships are available and doctoral students will be invited to explore and discuss the ‘phenomenon of the Republic of Letters, its historical and theoretical manifestations, and the terminological challenges it poses’. They will be encouraged to consider such questions as the aesthetic, political, and social conditions upon which networks for knowledge exchange are built; to ask what rules and customs those communicating with each other observe; as well as to explore the transformations these communities undergo, and determine terminology and methods that might be employed to describe today’s ‘literary and intellectual landscape on a transnational scale’ ― a landscape itself now termed a ‘New Republic of Letters’ .2 ‘The investigation into the structures of communication between intellectuals lies at the focus of the Summer School. Their exchange regarding scientific, political and social issues will be explored as it developed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries through letter exchanges, academic journals, periodicals, and the intellectual life in salons. The changes in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries by new inventions in technology and in the media will be an object of investigation, just as the introduction of the World Wide Web and its effect on academic collaboration and communication. The discussions thus address challenges research faces today by linking them back to our handling of digital storage of large volumes of data in academia.’3  Interested? This call will remain open until 28 February and further information, including details of how to apply, may be found here.

And whilst considering communities, knowledge, its transfer, and the symmetry of today’s scholars of intellectual history who with their own networks mirror those of their forebears, it is worth noting that members of the COST-funded action Reassembling the Republic of Letters are gathering next week at a conference ― Publishing the Digital Republic of Letters: Systems, standards, scholarship in the context of an enhanced publication ― in Valletta, Malta, to discuss how best to align current research, digital tools, and infrastructure. Should you be interested and not able to attend, it would be worth keeping an eye on the Action’s website and the updates that emerge as the scholars and technical experts within this community continue to explore the works and connections of their early modern counterparts. The Action’s publication, currently in preparation and the subject of focussed discussion in Valletta, will appear later in the year. Details (I’ve no doubt many) to follow …

New year, new skills: a spring workshop in Tallinn and a summer school in Paris

Users of and contributors to EMLO might be interested in the following events scheduled to be held in spring and summer this year.

The earlier — in March (and this post serves as a reminder that applications are due next week) — is the ‘EMLO on the road’ Training School arranged under the aegis of the Reassembling the Republic of Letters COST Action. Organized and hosted by the Under and Tuglas Literature Centre of the Estonian Academy of Sciences in Tallinn, this four-day workshop offers those who focus on early modern correspondence the opportunity to prepare epistolary metadata using tools that will both assist their own research and facilitate publication in a union catalogue. Early career scholars, representatives from institutions with large holdings of early modern correspondence, and individuals interested in disseminating further the taught epistolary standards, techniques, and tools within their scholarly communities are encouraged to apply. Whilst applications are welcomed from scholars in all countries participating in the COST Action, the Training School is funded by an ‘Inclusiveness and Target Countries’ grant, so scholars from these countries are encouraged in particular to apply (further details regarding this may be found in the original call).

Thereafter, mathematical historians, historians of science, and digital humanists may be interested in the International Summer School being organized by the Institut de mathématiques de Jussieu in Paris next July. The week-long event, History of mathematical sciences and digital approaches: materiality of texts, networks, classifications, will include a workshop on EMLO, its metadata collation tools, and editorial standards. The following information about this School, together with details regarding how to apply, has just been released:

Summer school in Paris

A summer school on the theme: History of mathematical sciences and digital approaches: the materiality of texts — networks — classifications will be organized in Paris from 2 to 6 July 2018, at the Institut de mathématiques de Jussieu – Paris Rive Gauche (UMR 7586 of the CNRS, UPMC, Université Paris-Diderot), on the Jussieu campus, in the heart of the Latin Quarter of Paris.

This international summer school aims at:

• giving a comprehensive presentation of — and opening discussions on — current opportunities offered by digital technologies: access to original documents, modes of (collaborative) edition, new opportunities to handle and search corpuses;

• evaluating the impact of digital approaches on the methodology and research practices in the history of science;

• raising questions on their advantages and limits concerning their actual capacity to deliver new results and open new research perspectives.

In addition to classes and lectures, workshops will be organized to enable participants to test approaches and tools on their own corpus and research data. The speakers will include specialists in the digital humanities as well as historians of mathematics who use digital tools. Accommodation and lunches will be free, offered by the summer school. Registration is free of charge but mandatory. To participate in the summer school, please register on the following website: http://school2018.imj-prg.fr/index-en.php, under the section “Registration”. Should you require further information, please contact: school2018@imj-prg.fr.

Juan Luis Vives: body and soul . . .

It has been a packed year for EMLO with a score of new correspondence calendars published, innumerable updates to existing catalogues, a host of academic visitors welcomed to and working within the project, and a plethora of presentations delivered around the globe by members of the Cultures of Knowledge team. Even through this late-December break, work continues with the union catalogue’s weekly refreshes of new metadata either as updates to existing records, or — as most recently for Juan Luis Vives (1493–1540) — with the publication of a new correspondence calendar.

Vives, the Spanish humanist who was both a friend and correspondent of Erasmus, has long been one of the early modern figures whose correspondence is a desideratum for calendaring within the union catalogue, and when EMLO was approached by doctoral student Cristina Erquiaga Martínez from the University of Salamanca with the suggestion that she work with EMLO to facilitate and extend her own research, his correspondence was selected to help her to get to grips with, and understand the preparatory process for upload of, epistolary metadata. Vives’s circle of correspondents is large, varied, and includes humanist scholars (Budé, Erasmus, and Craneveldt), leaders of state and church (Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, Philip II of Spain, and Pope Adrian VI). Vives wrote about church reform, politics, war, pedagogical reform, education, and the publication process involved with his works as he oversaw them from manuscript to print. He is known for his theological and philosophical work and his publications ranged from the early commentary, published in 1522 at the behest of Erasmus, on Augustine’s De Civitate Dei, to his De anima et vita, which appeared just two years before his death. His pedagogical works include Introductio ad sapientiam (1524); he wrote on the education of women (De institutione feminae Christianae, 1524); and on the public relief of the poor (De subventione pauperum, 1526). Vives’s exchanges with the leading scholars and political figures of his day make fascinating reading, and Cristina has included links in EMLO to a number of online resources where manuscripts, printed copies, or translations may be consulted. In particular, Vives’s letters reveal deep and lasting friendships formed over the course of a life spent far from his surviving family and native Valencia. As this catalogue heralds EMLO’s incursion into the first golden age of the republic of letters, it paves the way simultaneously for a number of significant and related correspondences to follow.

Detail of a letter written five-hundred-and-five years ago this month from Juan Luis Vives to Frans van Craneveldt. (KU Leuven, Centrale Bibliotheek BRES: Tabularium – Magazijn LC Ep. 30)

Whilst learning how to compile and prepare epistolary metadata for upload, Cristina continued her own studies on the Spanish scholar and writer Miguel de Unamuno (1864–1936). Amongst Unamuno’s large circle of correspondents, many were from England, and the writer and rector of the University of Salamanca visited Oxford in the final year of his life to receive an honorary degree. In the three months she has worked with EMLO, Cristina has catalogued also the correspondence of Hernán Núñez [El Pinciano] (forthcoming, 2018), and begun work on a calendar for Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda, and, whilst learning about epistolary networks, she has rolled up her sleeves and subjected Unamuno and his circles to extensive examination and visualization. We hope very much this term in Oxford has been an interesting and fruitful experience for Cristina and, whilst we’re sorry to see her return to Salamanca, we wish her well with her research and look forward greatly to following her progress. Should users of EMLO be interested to learn more about the work with correspondence underway here in Oxford and wish to enquire about visiting scholar status, an internship, or work experience, please be in touch.

It is thanks to the early modern scholarly community worldwide who write in with suggestions, corrections, and enrichments that EMLO has seen a large number of catalogue updates this past year. Among the significant additions made this autumn have been additional batches of letters to supplement the correspondences of Cheney CulpeperAlbertine Agnes van OranjePeter Paul Rubens, Georg Lorenz Seidenbecher, and John Worthington, while many links to increasing numbers of manuscript images becoming available online have been set in place, for example the Ortelius letters in the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. This post does not signal the last update to EMLO this year — assuming technical gremlins can be kept at bay — and the team is not setting out shoes or stockings just yet: there will be more to come in the final weeks of 2017. In the meantime, however, as universities wind down and scholars prepare for Christmas and new year revels, enjoy the correspondence of Vives, EMLO, and the glories of these outbound links!

‘But all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare’: the letters of Baruch Spinoza

Of all the letters written by and to Baruch Spinoza, less that one hundred are known to scholars today. When the philosopher died in The Hague in 1677, he was living alone; his friends moved quickly to spirit away his manuscripts, delivering them post-haste to the printer Jan Rieuwertsz. in Amsterdam. This is how works including the Tractatus de intellectus emendation, the Ethica, Spinoza’s Hebrew Grammar, and his unfinished Tractatus politicus, together with seventy-four of his philosophical letters, appeared in print that very same year, under the title B. D. S. Opera Posthuma. With the exception of just a handful, the manuscripts of the letters that passed through the offices of Rieuwertsz. have not been traced.

Metadata for the surviving letters, however, may be found in Spinoza’s catalogue in EMLO. This publication situates the philosopher’s correspondence alongside that of the Royal Society’s secretary Henry Oldenburg, who was one of Spinoza’s main correspondents, and that of the Dutch mathematician Christiaan Huygens, who was an admirer of — in particular — Spinoza’s skill as a lens-grinder and of his contribution to the design and construction of telescopes. Each letter record in EMLO’s calendar has been linked to its corresponding entry in the Spinoza’s Web project (based in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Utrecht) where images of the manuscripts that have been located, of known manuscript copies (for example, those in the hand of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz), and of the printed texts of these letters may be consulted.

Spinoza’s Web project. (Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, University of Utrecht)

The Spinoza Web project was established with funding from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research [NWO], and its database and ‘The Timeline Experience’ were released in their current beta format in 2016. The ambition of this project is to assemble all primary source documentation and to provide ‘a source-based contextual approach pertaining to this philosopher who, revered and reviled, has had countless rumours and myths attached to his name over the course of the centuries’.1

Spinoza’s work continues to be of relevance. ‘I took great pains not to laugh at human actions, or mourn them or curse them,’ he wrote, ‘but only to understand them. So I’ve contemplated human affects — like love, hate, anger, envy, love of esteem, compassion, and the other emotions — not as vices of human nature, but as properties which pertain to it in the same way heat, cold, storms, thunder, etc., pertain to the nature of the air.’2 In the introduction to his English edition of the letters, A. Wolf noted that Goethe considered Spinoza’s correspondence to be ‘the most interesting book one can read in the world of uprightness and of humanity’.3 It is to be hoped that everyone consulting EMLO will join Spinoza’s already considerable following to take advantage of these links in EMLO and explore what is to be found in Spinoza’s Web.

  1. See Spinoza’s Web, < https://spinozaweb.org/ >, accessed 15 December 2017.
  2. See B. de Spinoza, The Collected Works of Spinoza, ed. and tr. Edwin Curley (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), vol. II, p. 505.
  3. See Goethe’s Gespräche, ed. Woldemar Frhr. von Biedermann (1909), vol. 1, p. 35 and The Correspondence of Spinoza, ed. and tr. A. Wolf (London, 1928), p. 24.

On ashes and archives: the account of John Worthington

In the main it is for his association with key members of the circle known as the Cambridge Platonists that John Worthington (1618–1671) is remembered today. However, a sub-set of letters contained within EMLO’s catalogue of Worthington’s correspondence charts the friendship between the German-born Samuel Hartlib and this English clergyman, translator, and editor. These letters tell also of the latter’s involvement in Hartlib’s legacy. The erstwhile Cultures of Knowledge post-doctoral researcher Dr Leigh Penman has pieced together in meticulous detail the fate of the intelligencer’s papers between 1662 and their ‘re-discovery’ in a solicitor’s office in 1933; it turns out that a journey north from London to Cheshire which Worthington undertook in the autumn of 1666 and his subsequent residency at Brereton Hall the following winter helps to plug what had been previously a crucial gap in the afterlife of this archive.1

In conjunction with the entries in his diary, Worthington’s letters tell of the series of misfortunes that befell him in the unsettled years following the end of the Commonwealth and the restoration of the Stuarts. Six years into the reign of Charles II and just four and a half years after Samuel Hartlib’s death at his home in Axe Yard, Westminster, Worthington found himself in the autumn of 1666 with access to the papers that made up the remnants of his old friend’s archive. ‘I met with two trunks full of Mr. Hartlib’s papers, which my Lord Brereton purchased’, he recalled later on 10 June 1667 to Nathaniel Ingelo. ‘I thought they had been put in order, but finding it otherwise, I took them out, bestrewed a great chamber with them, put them into order in several bundles, and some papers I met with not unworthy of your sight.’2

Brereton Hall, Cheshire, before 1829. Engraving. (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

Worthington had accepted an invitation from William Brereton, third Baron Brereton of Leighlin (1631–1681), and moved to Cheshire as preacher at Holmes Green and household chaplain. Fellow guests at Brereton Hall included the mathematician (and former tutor of Brereton) John Pell (1611–1685); Hartlib’s son-in-law Frederick Clodius (1629–1702) and his wife Mary (Hartlib’s daughter, d. c. 1668); Daniel Hartlib (the intelligencer’s Danzig-born nephew, fl. 1657–1677), and Francis Cholmondeley (1636–1713). Robert Boyle (1627–1691) had been invited also, but had declined.3 Dr Penman has deduced that Brereton bought Hartlib’s archive from the intelligencer’s son, young Samuel (1631–after 1690), sometime in 1664.4 The convergence of Hartlibian figures at Brereton Hall appears to have been part of an attempt to further a scheme wholly in keeping with the ideals of the deceased reformer, namely one that would result in the education and relief of the poor of Cheshire, assisting with the provision of education and optimal husbandry, whilst working more generally for universal reform. Despite having family in Manchester (where he had been born), Worthington explained in a letter some years later to Elizabeth Foxcroft: ‘Nothing did or could more induce me to that northern journey I took in the year 1666 but that I was told by one that he did exceedingly affect and would begin such a design of Christian societies if I would remove thither. And if I would take pains there and preach sometimes abroad, he would allow me a competency a year . . .’5 Brereton was not able to fulfill promises to the assembled company, however, and the circle crumpled, together with its aspirations, as members disbanded and drifted elsewhere.

Prior to his departure in April 1667, the letters Worthington wrote from Cheshire offer a sequence of fascinating glimpses into his time spent with Hartlib’s papers. Clearly he must have suggested to Seth Ward (1617–1689), for example, that the latter’s letters be removed, for the then bishop of Exeter wrote on 15 March 1666/7: ‘I am very glad that the papers of Mr. Hartlib are preserved, and that they are fallen into your hands, who are able and disposed to make the best of them . . . those letters of mine own which concerned either Hevelius or Mercator, which although I have forgotten, yet so much I am sure of that they were carelessly and perfunctorily written (or else, indeed, they had not been mine), so that it will be to my advantage to suppress them. However, sir, I leave them wholly to your disposal, either to bring them to me, when I may have the happiness to see you, or to burn them, or leave them among the rest.’ 6 Ward’s letters are not to be found today in the Hartlib Papers in the Hartlib Papers at Sheffield University Library.

The reason Worthington had accepted Brereton’s invitation in the first place, however, was not to sift through Hartlib’s papers. Rather, from September of 1666, he was no longer in a position to refuse. St Benet Fink in Threadneedle Street, where he had been rector since May 1665 and where he had worked throughout the course of the plague took hold that year across the city, had been destroyed in the fire of London. Worthington’s own house had been razed, many of his possessions were lost, his church and his parish lay in ruins.

Map showing the extent in London of the Great Fire of 1666, by Wenceslas Hollar. Engraving [with a red circle added to indicate the location of St Benet Fink]. (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

In the immediate aftermath of the fire, on 11 September, Worthington wrote to Dr George Evans (1630-1702): ‘By reason of this late dreadful fire, the church, the house, and the whole parish hath been consumed, and the people scattered (every one shifting for himself) . . . Next to the danger of the fire was the confusion in the street (in ours especially, being a great thoroughfare) so that to me it was a wonder that many were not crowded to death, or trampled and crushed in pieces by carts and horses . . .’ He continued: ‘Many are quite undone, others almost. Bee hath lost £6,000, some say £10,000; other booksellers £4,000 or £2,000. Dr. Bates hath lost £200 in books. Dr. Tuckney’s library in Scrivener’s Hall was burnt. Sion College destroyed, and many of the books. Gresham College was preserved by the activity and bounty of some in it, and the fire was stopped in Broad Street, the Dutch minister’s houses and Dr. Bolton’s house being burnt, but the Dutch church not burnt, and but a little of Dr. Bolton’s at the Soho end . . . Of ninety-seven parish churches there are but twelve remaining. Of the rest only the walls, or some pieces, and the steeples. If it were not for these, it could not be known where the streets were. Blackfriars church (that had no steeple) is so buried in the heaps that the old clerk who hath been there forty years could not discern where the church had stood.’7

Fire, and the ever-present fear of it, dogged both Worthington and his old friend’s archive. Indeed, the entire society assembled in Cheshire almost fell victim to it, along with Brereton’s rump of Hartlib’s papers. On Saturday, 12 January 1666/7, Worthington wrote in his diary, ‘at about twelve o’clock, was a fire in Mr. F. C.’s bed. His cap (a napkin about his head) was in part burnt; and his pillow, bolster, and sheet in part. He was fast asleep. Our maid being up then (which was unusual) and sister Hephzibah Whichcote smelt the fire, found our hall full of smoke, looked into one part of the house, but could find no fire. At last they knocked on Mr. F. C.’s door and awakened him, who was near to be burnt in his bed, and so might we all have been burnt. God be praised for his preservation.’8

Nor was this the first escape from fire for Hartlib’s archive. On 6 February 1661/2, Hartlib wrote to Worthington that it ‘pleased God to visit my chamber with a very sad and fearful accident of fire.’ An iron stove in his chamber, stoked by his own son, Sam, had overheated; ‘many of my things were spoiled’, Hartlib wrote.9 Although the papers are not mentioned here as having fallen victim in any way, Worthington had remarked previously on the ‘many bundles of paper’ in Hartlib’s study.10 Worthington’s words of consolation, ‘I was sorry to hear of your late danger by the fire in your study, which might have been more devouring and terrible had it been in the night. I hope that the violence was prevented from destroying many of your papers‘, did little to console his friend, who died the following month on 10 March 1662.11 Although the threads that weave in and out of these surviving texts tell sad tales of dreams shattered and aspirations unachieved, the connections between the individuals involved are complex. How and why this group converged upon Brereton Hall is itself a story that cries out to be explored, and where better place to start than with John Worthington.

  1. Leigh T. I. Penman, ‘Omnium Exposita Rapinæ: The Afterlives of the Papers of Samuel Hartlib’, Book History, 19 (2016), pp. 1–65.
  2. Letter of 10 June 1667, Worthington to Ingelo; James Crossley and Richard Christie, eds, The Diary and Correspondence of Dr. John Worthington, 2 vols in 3 (Manchester, 1847–86), vol. II, part I, pp. 229–33.
  3. For the life of Frederick Clodius, see Vera Keller and Leigh T. I. Penman, ‘From the Archives of Scientific Diplomacy: Science and the Shared Interests of Samuel Hartlib’s London and Frederick Clodius’s Gottorf’, ISIS, 106, no. 1 (2015), pp. 17–42; and for an account of this gathering at Brereton Hall, and the aspirations of William in drawing this circle together, see Penman (2016).
  4. Penman (2016), p. 14.
  5. Letter from Worthington to Elizabeth Foxcroft, c. 1670–1671; Crossley and Christie, vol. II, part I, p. 228.
  6. Letter of 15 March 1667 from Ward to Worthington; Crossley and Christie, vol. II, part I, p. 226–7.
  7. Letter of 11 September 1669, Worthington to Evans; Crossley and Christie, vol. II, part I, pp. 209–13.
  8. See Crossley and Christie, vol. II, part 1, pp. 223–4. ‘Mr. F. C.’ is identified in a note as Francis Cholmondeley. It’s possible, however, that ‘Mr F. C.’ could refer to Frederick Clodius. Hephzibah Whichcote was the sister of John Worthington’s wife Mary, and both women were nieces of Benjamin Whichcote.
  9. Letter of 6 February 1662, Hartlib to Worthington; Crossley and Christie, vol. II, part 1, pp. 106–7.
  10. Letter of 26 October 1661, Worthington to Hartlib; Crossley and Christie, vol. II, pt. 1, p. 67.
  11. Letter of 24 February 1662, Worthington to Hartlib; Crossley and Christie, vol. 2, pt. 1, p. 110.

Signed, Sealed, and Undelivered: the postal treasure at COMM

Celebrations are afoot in The Hague following the reopening last weekend of the city’s Museum voor Communicatie [COMM]. This museum, which has been undergoing renovation for the past eighteen months, was established in 1929 around the collections of the philatelist Pieter Wilhelm Waller (1869–1938) and is dedicated to the history of post and telecommunications.1 As COMM throws open its doors on a range of new vibrant and engaging exhibits, at EMLO we would like to draw attention to the catalogue of the remarkable corpus of letters known as the Brienne Collection which resides in its care.

This veritable treasure trove is made up of approximately 2,600 letters, although the precise number is still to be determined. Over the course of the seventeen years between 1689 and 1706, not one of these letters, for a myriad of evocative and mundane reasons, reached the hands of its intended recipient. Rather, each undelivered (or ‘dead’) letter was retained in The Hague as property of the Postmaster and (until her death in 1703) Postmistress. Simon and Marie Brienne were responsible for mail both to and from ‘the city of Antwerp and all surrounding places and cities in Brabant, France, Flanders, Mons in Hainaut, and Spain’.2 The undelivered letters (which have been the subject of a couple of previous posts on this blog) are being examined and catalogued at present in meticulous and methodical detail by our partners the Signed, Sealed, and Undelivered project.3 To coincide with the reopening of COMM, we are delighted to release into EMLO metadata for the first batch of letters from the Collection and to inform you that further ‘installments’ will be uploaded over the coming months.

New metadata fields in EMLO include letterlocking details and date of receipt.

We hope EMLO’s users will seize the opportunity to explore these pioneering records both with respect to content (each letter has been photographed and images made available for consultation) as well as for the richness of details collated. Over the past year, EMLO has worked particularly closely with the SSU team. A week-long workshop dedicated to scrutiny of the metadata that could and should be captured for these remarkable letters was held in Oxford last March and provided the ideal opportunity for the two projects to discuss a number of fields which had not been considered in the epistolary data model when construction of EMLO-Edit took place back in 2010. As Cultures of Knowledge set out to create its pilot union catalogue of scholarly correspondence, the assumption was that (almost always) the manuscript letters under consideration — whether draft, letter sent, copy, or extract — would be conserved flat, as is usual in all the libraries with which we work. Not in our wildest (epistolary) dreams did we anticipate the inclusion of thousands of letters that had been sealed and sent, but not received and opened. Yet the Brienne Collection — with approximately six hundred letters that have managed to evade earlier curatorial ‘intervention’ and as a result have remained locked and sealed for more than three centuries (and will continue thus in perpetuity, thanks to the considered ethos of the SSU project and to enlightened curation at the museum, their contents revealed to us instead by use of ‘non-invasive’ scanning procedures) and more than two thousand with broken seals that are stored still today as folded originally — has opened up a compelling new field of study.

A wrapper (DB-2124) from the Brienne Collection. (Museum voor Communicatie [COMM])

The dedicated and pioneering SSU letterlocking team, headed by Jana Dambrogio and Daniel Starza Smith, has developed an entirely new vocabulary (details of which are explained on their Letterlocking website and will be available in print in their forthcoming publication, A Dictionary of Letterlocking). Of course such metadata requires designated fields for storage and display. Whilst we have always known we would work at EMLO with scholars who wish to focus on postage marks and routing notes, we did not imagine as we built our database that so many wrappers would become available for study, nor that metadata from this fascinating and invaluable Brienne Collection would stream in such profusion into EMLO. It’s rare to encounter an early modern wrapper in an archive: in the Brienne Collection, these have survived in abundance.

The discussions held between the two projects resulted in the rolling up of sleeves (in particular by Oxford’s developer Mat Wilcoxson) and we are exceptionally pleased to report that EMLO is able now to capture and store a range of new fields, including those for the folding, wrapping, and letterlocking metadata; the postal route a letter is recorded to have taken; date(s) of receipt (which have been set out in other EMLO catalogues hitherto as a ‘general note’ rather than in a dedicated field — as you will find with, for example, the calendars of correspondence compiled by Alexandre J. Tessier for both John Doddington and Francis Vernon); and the reason for non-delivery (many of which are heart-breaking when considered alongside the content of the letter). With fitting serendipity, the Brienne Collection — described so beautifully as an ‘accidental archive’ by Rebekah Ahrendt and David van der Linden — has provided the ideal opportunity to expand EMLO’s data model, whilst what is written in the letters contained therein present for historians a plethora of insights into early modern lives and events that otherwise would have been lost entirely.4 In Ahrendt and van der Linden’s words, these letters represent ‘the thoughts, cares, and dreams of a cross section of society: ambassadors, dukes and duchesses, merchants, publishers, spies, actors, musicians, lovers, parents, expatriates, refugees, women as well as men. Here is an archive that will let the voices of the past speak again.’5

  1. Waller was the author of De eerste postzegels van Nederland: uitgifte 1852 (Haarlem: Enschedé, 1934).
  2. Simon took office in 1676 and retained the position until his death in 1707. See the Charter appointing Simon de Brienne as postmaster, The Hague, 13 January 1676, Gemeentearchief, Delft, Weeskamer nr. 11851, and Rebekah Ahrendt and David van der Linden, ‘The Postmasters’ Piggy Bank. Experiencing the Accidental Archive’, in French Historical Studies, 40, 2 (2017), p. 200, and note 21.
  3. See Hadriaan Beverland, routes to and from the Dutch Republic, and the postmasters Brienne and Reading the folds: students of letter-locking.
  4. See Rebekah Ahrendt and David van der Linden, ‘The Postmasters’ Piggy Bank. Experiencing the Accidental Archive’, in French Historical Studies, 40, 2 (2017), pp. 189–213.
  5. Ibid., p. 190.