Richard Baxter’s 800-page folio Reliquiae Baxterianae (1696) is an unrivalled primary source for early modern historical, ecclesiastical, cultural and literary studies. Its first-hand account of events from the 1620s to the 1680s is both a strikingly original autobiographical work of personal reflection and insight, and a powerful apologia in defence of Baxter’s moderate Puritan churchmanship. Its contribution to the literary struggle of the 1690s for the master historical narrative of the seventeenth century shaped Puritan memory and passed on to the eighteenth century a significant Baxterian tradition of nonconformist ecclesiology and theology.
Despite its significance, the available text of the Reliquiae is defective in a number of ways. Its editor, the nonconformist minister Matthew Sylvester, confessed himself ‘deeply sensible of my inability for such Work’ as editing Baxter’s ‘great quantity of loose Papers’ and he wrote feelingly of the oppressive weight of the task. His own description of the result of his labours as a ‘Rhapsody’ is apt, for the 1696 folio is formally confused, textually unreliable, and inadequately indexed. Its wealth of historical data are hence very difficult to access. ‘No book of its importance was ever worse edited’ observed the Unitarian historian Alexander Gordon.
This project seeks to supply this deficiency by providing for the first time a fully annotated and reliable scholarly edition of the complete text, enabling Baxter’s first-hand account to take its proper place beside those of such better-known (and better-served) witnesses as Burnet, Clarendon, Evelyn and Pepys.
To this end, the planned edition will seek, first, to establish a reliable text, and, secondly, to make that text readily accessible. About half of Baxter’s original manuscript is extant, much of it held in Dr. Williams’s Library. It is possible the Library once held the entire manuscript but, if so, portions were subsequently lost, and, of those that remained, a significant part afterwards went missing, to find its way into the holdings of the British Library, where it forms Egerton MS. 2570. The edition will take the manuscript as its copy text where this is extant. In so doing, it will not infrequently restore Baxter’s own words for, in his role as editorial assistant to Sylvester, Edmund Calamy, the third seventeenth-century divine of that name, persuaded him to excise ‘some passages of private and personal detail’ and to omit Baxter’s censures of ‘persons and families of distinction, which would be offensive, though the matters related were true enough’. A comparison of the folio text with the manuscript indicates that there were also a good many other silent changes to Baxter’s wording, probably intended to refine his mid-century prose style to suit the notions of taste and politeness that had developed by the end of the century.
To make the text accessible, the editorial apparatus will identify all persons, places and events mentioned in the text; it will provide supporting documentation; it will relate Baxter’s text to his other works; and it will provide full indexes of persons, places, books and general topics. A full introduction will, inter alia, trace the reception history of the text. The editors have in mind as models the eleven-volume William Matthews/ Roger Latham edition of Pepys’s diary and Mark Goldie’s recent seven-volume edition of Roger Morrice’s Entring Book from the manuscript held in Dr. Williams’s Library.
The edition will be published in five volumes by Oxford University Press. Copy is due to be submitted in December 2015.
The project has won funding support from a number of sources. Work on digitising and keyboarding the published 1696 text and the sections extant in manuscript in Dr Williams’s Library has been supported by an International Collaboration Grant from the British Academy and Association of Commonwealth Universities, by a Small Research Grant from the British Academy, and by a University of Otago Strategic Research Grant. A Major Arts and Humanities Research Council Grant (c. £400K) is funding a three-year Postdoctoral Research Fellow, editorial meetings and costs, and a number of events associated with the project to be held at Dr Williams’s Library.
The Project Team
Professor Keeble, who collaborated with the late Dr Geoffrey F. Nuttall on the two-volume Calendar of the Correspondence of Richard Baxter (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), leads an editorial team consisting of: Dr Tim Cooper, Senior Lecturer in the History of Christianity at the Department of Theology at Otago University; Professor John Coffey, Professor of Early Modern History at the University of Leicester; and Dr Thomas Charlton, who took up the three-year AHRC-funded Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in September 2011.