The following Preface has been transcribed from Vol. I, Part I of the two-volume catalogue, [G.K. Fortescue assisted by R.F. Sharp, R.A. Streatfield, and W.A. Marsden], Catalogue of the Pamphlets, Books, Newspapers, and Manuscripts Relating to the Civil War, the Commonwealth, and Restoration, Collected by George Thomason, 1640-1661, 2 vols. (London: British Museum, 1908).
High in the list of benefactors of the British Museum stands the modest name of George Thomason, Bookseller, of the Rose and Crown in St. Paul's Church Yard. Many English booksellers have acquired distinction or even fame in literature or bibliography, but few, if any, have accomplished so remarkable an achievement as Thomason.
A contemporary who could grasp the full significance of the Meeting of the Long Parliament, and could form the determination to preserve for the use of future generations the mass of fleeting literature which poured every day from the press, was assuredly possessed in a rare degree of historical prescience and imagination; nor could any but a man of resolute determination and strength of character have persevered in so arduous a task through twenty eventful, crowded years.
It is clear from the whole tenour of his notes and manuscripts that Thomason was a cultivated, scholarly man and a shrewd observer. It is clear also that he enjoyed the friendship of many distinguished men; John Milton, William Prynne, Henry Parker, and many others, presented him with copies of their works. He was represented at the time of the Love Conspiracy, 1650-51, as having a considerable influence with the Presbyterian Ministers of London, including such well-known personages as Edmund Calamy and William Jenkin, and in his will he was able to speak of John Rushworth and Thomas Barlow as his honoured friends. Yet little is now known of his life or personality; and in the matter of his biography, beyond a few extracts from the Stationers' Registers and the Calendar of State Papers, I fear I have little to offer but uncertainties and conjectures.
George Thomason was the son of George Thomason, of Sudlow, a hamlet in the Hundred of Bucklow, Cheshire. His father is described in the Registers of Stationers' Hall as a 'Husbandman,' probably a farmer. By an Act of the Common Council in 1556 no person was permitted to take up his freedom as a member of a Company or Guild until he had attained the age of twenty-four. As George Thomason the younger became a member of the Stationers' Company in 1626, it follows that he must have been born in or before 1602. In September 1617 he was bound apprentice for nine years to Henry Fetherstone, Bookseller at the sign of the Rose in St. Paul's Churchyard, the publisher of Purchase his Pilgrimes and some other notable books.
On the 5th June, 1626, Thomason took up his freedom as a member of the Stationers' Company, his name appearing in the Register as 'George Thompson.' It is hardly necessary to say that variations in the spelling of proper names during the seventeenth century are rather the rule than the exception. That George Thompson or Tompson is the same person as George Thomason is clearly proved by later entries in the Stationers' Registers. Thus on the 1st November, 1627, his late master, Henry Fetherstone, assigns to him under the name of George Tompson a share in the property of a work entiled <sic> The History of the Normans and Kinges of England, by William Martin, which share 'Master Thomason' transfers to Richard Whitaker on the 21st May, 1638.
Thomason's principal business was bookselling rather than publishing. For some years, from 1636 to 1642 or 1643, he was in partnership with Octavian Pullen, who was admitted to membership of the Stationers' Company December 14th, 1629. Their shop, which bore the sign of the 'Rose,' was situated in St. Paul's Churchyard, on the north side of the cathedral, between the north door and the Church of St. Faith's. When the partnership was dissolved, Thomason moved to the 'Rose and Crown,' in another part of the Churchyard, while Pullen remained at the original 'Rose' until it was destroyed in the great fire of 1666.
Between the years of 1636 and 1639 the partners published six books, four of which were of slight importance, while the remaining two were sumptuous folios, relating to the visits of Mary de' Medici to the Netherlands and England. The books are entitled Histoire de l'Entrée de la Reyne Mère dans les Provinces Unies and Histoire de L'Entrée de la Reyne Mère dans la Grande Brétaigne, both by Jean Puget de la Serre, Historiographer of France, both illustrated with fine engravings by Hollar and others, and both bearing the imprint, "A Londre, par Jean Raworth pour George Thomason et Octavian Pullen, à la Rose, au Cemetière de Saint Paul, 1639."
Thomason's next essay in publishing was unfortunate. In 1645, David Buchanan, an ardent Presbyterian, wrote a book eulogising the action of the Scotch throughout the Civil War and violently attacking the English Parliament and their army. This book was published anonymously under the title of Truth its Manifest, with the imprint London, 1645. Its contents were sufficiently alarming to create considerable stir, and the Parliamentary Committee of both Kingdoms were ordered to discover the printer and publisher. On the 31st Jan., 1646, evidence was given before the Committee by Joseph Hunscott, a bookseller, that "Mr. Buchanan entered the copy of Truths Manifest in Robert Bostock's name, and after printing it at his own charge, and there being some difference between him and Mr. Bostock about the price, he sold the whole impression to George Thomerson."
Ultimately the book was voted false and scandalous by both Houses of Parliament and ordered to be burnt by the Hangman. In 1646, A Treatise touching the Peace of the Church, by Philip Freher, was "printed for George Thomason and are to be sold at his shop at the 'Rose and Crown.' "
Thomason published no more books until the year 1659, when he issued the only work of real importance which came from his shop, the first part of John Rushworth's Historical Collections, bearing the imprint, "Printed by Tho. Newcomb for George Thomason, at the sign of the Rose and Crown in St. Paul's Churchyard, 1659." It is perhaps worthy of note that the later volumes published between 1680 and 1701 were also issued from the 'Rose and Crown,' then occupied by Thomason's successors, Richard Criswell and Thomas Cockerill.
Meanwhile Thomason and Pullen seem to have established a thriving trade as booksellers. Dr. Macray, in his Annals of the Bodleian, notes that "the booksellers from whom in most years about this time (1640 and the following years) purchases were made were George Thomason and Octavian Pullen, and that in 1650 (by which time Pullen's partnership had come to an end) "A great fraught of books to the value of £69 10s., for which £1 was paid for carriage, was bought of George Thomason."
On the 3rd November, 1640, the Long Parliament met; and Thomason, who had already accumulated a few books issued during the course of the year, systematically began his collection, acquiring, either by purchase or occasionally by presentation, every book, pamphlet and newspaper issued in London and as many as he could obtain from the provinces or abroad. He continued without interruption to prosecute his enterprise until the coronation of Charles II., 23 April, 1661, adding a few pamphlets up to the end of December of that year, when his collection closes.
Misled no doubt by the terms of the Advertisement issued after his death, all those who have written of Thomason have described him as "the Royalist bookseller."
This, I think, is a complete mistake. For instance, in this catalogue, under the date 5th Dec. 1642, will be found a MS. copy of an order of the Committee for the advance of money for the Parliament's army, naming Thomason and two others as the authorised collectors of subscriptions within their parish. Again, under date 5th June, 1646, will be found a petition to the Lord Mayor and Common Council in support of a strongly-worded Presbyterian Petition presented by the Municipality of London on the 26th of the preceding month, with a note by Thomason reading, "Composed and finished from the 5th I having a hand in it both in composing it and promoting it." I think that these two documents, when taken in conjunction with Thomason's share in the Love Conspiracy and with the influence which he was then said to possess over the Presbyterian Ministers of London, are proofs sufficient that he belonged to the Presbyterian party, of which the great majority of his fellow citizens were members.
As a Presbyterian he was of course in entire sympathy with the Parliament and its Army during the Civil War, 1642-1646. But when in 1647 and 1648 the power began to pass from the Parliament and the Presbyterians into the iron hands of the leaders of the New-Model Army, he, with the mass of citizens of London, changed his attitude and became an ardent advocate of the "personal treaty" with the King. Space will not permit me to offer here any general remarks on the historical value or bearing of this collection, a subject far too wide and important to be treated of in a mere preface, but the mention of the "personal treaty" gives me the opportunity to point out the evidence which the tracts of the years 1647 and 1648 afford as to how confident was the expectation entertained by the Presbyterian citizens of London of the success of the negotiations with the King both before and during the discussions at Newport. If space permitted, it would be easy to give many instances; it is however sufficient merely to read through the titles of the tracts issued during these two years to verify this fact, on which hardly sufficient stress has been laid by any historian of the period. It is unnecessary to say that these hopes and expectations were abruptly cut short by Pride's Purge, 6th December, 1648, one of the many instances in history in which the sword has proved mightier than the pen.
On the 21st May, 1647, Thomason issued a printed catalogue entitled, Catalogus Librorum diversis Italiae locis emptorum Anno Domini 1647, a Georgio Thomasono Bibliopola Londinensi apud quem in Caemiterio D. Pauli ad insigne Rosae Coronatae prostant venales. Londini typis Johannis Legatt, 1647. The catalogue is preceded by a Latin preface, which if written by Thomason himself shows him to have been a very creditable Latin scholar. The preface is to this effect:—
"Courteous Reader: The following is a catalogue of books brought over from Italy, of the greatest use, if I am not mistaken, to all who are interested in theology, medicine, philology or belles letters. I have spared no expense in my attempt to satisfy your needs and to gratify your curiosity. You will find here more Rabbinical and Oriental books and manuscripts than have ever before been collected together, and in addition to these the principal educational and medical writers and the chief authorities on mathematics, history, and languages. There are two points to which I would call your attention at the outset. First, no books from Italy have reached this country for the last nine years, nor are any of this class likely to come here in the future. Secondly, I thought it best to have the catalogue printed without regard to the subjects, that you may, in your own interests as well as in mine, read through the entire list."
The works in this catalogue consist of printed books published during the sixteenth and the earlier years of the seventeenth centuries, with a few manuscripts in Oriental Languages. There are in all 1970 books and manuscripts; 1302 of which are in Latin; 294 in Italian; 36 in Spanish; 6 in Scandinavian Languages; 300 in Hebrew and 32, including manuscripts, in Arabic, Coptic, Persian, Syriac and Turkish.
In March 1647 it was:—
"Ordered by the Lords of Commons in Parliament assembled, that the sum of £500 be charged upon and forthwith paid out of the receipts at Goldsmith's Hall (where the 'Committee for Compounding' sat) unto Mr. George Thomason, Stationer, for buying of the said Thomason a Library or Collection of Books in the Eastern Languages of very great value, late bought out of Italy and having been the Library of a learned Rabbi there, according to the printed catalogue thereof; and that the said Library or Collections of Books be bestowed upon the Publick Library in the University of Cambridge. And the acquittance or aquittances of the said George Thomason shall be a sufficient discharge to the Treasurers at Goldsmiths' Hall for payment of the said £500 accordingly, and it is especially recommended to the Committee at Goldsmiths' Hall to take care that present due payment may be made of this sum accordingly, that the Kingdom may not be deprived of so great a Treasure nor Learning want so great Encouragement. And Sir Anthony Irby is particularly appointed to take care of this Business.
The books were accordingly sent to Cambridge. The late Henry Bradshaw describes them as a "collection of Hebrew Books which had formerly belonged to an Italian Rabbi, Isaac Praji. The books were brought down and soon made available for use. This was the foundation or our Hebrew Library" (Bradshaw, Collected Papers, 1889, p. 195).
Five hundred pounds was a handsome sum of money for some three hundred Hebrew books, but the period was one of financial embarrassment and confusion, and Thomason found it no easy matter to obtain the money promised to him.
On the 31st March, 1648, the Committee for Compounding ordered the sum to be paid from the two and four months' assessments for the Scots Army before Newark.
On the 25th Sept. Colonel Humphrey Matthews of Castle Menech, Glamorgan, was admitted to compound for delinquency, and £500 of his fine was ordered to be paid to Thomason.
On the 13th Oct. a fresh order was given to him, which seems to have been as futile as the two preceding. Finally on the 16 Nov. he was granted interest at the rate of eight per cent. on the still unpaid capital. (Proceedings of the Committee for Compounding, pp. 133, 807, 809, 1856.)
It is to be hoped that the absence of any further entries in the Proceedings of the Committee shows that Thomason either received his money or remained content with eight per cent. interest.
In the late autumn of 1647 an incident occurred which Thomason has thus recorded on the fly-leaf of a volume dropped in the mud by King Charles I. It will be observed that the note is written after the Restoration.
"Memorandum that Col. Will. Legg and Mr. Arthur Treavor were imployed by his Mâtie K. Charles to gett for his present use a pamphlet which his Mâtie had then occasion to make use of, and not meeting with it, they both came to me having heard that I did employ my selfe to take up all such things from the beginning of that Parlement, and finding it with me, tould me it was for the kings owne use. I tould them, all I had were at his Mâtie command and service, and withall tould them if I should part with it and loose it, presuming that when his Mâtie had done with it, that little account would be made of it, and so I should loose by that losse a limbe of my collection, which I should be very loth to do, well knowing it would be impossible to supplie it if it should happen to be lost, with which answer they returned to his Mâtie at Hampton Court (as I take it) and tould him they had found that peece he much desired and withall how loath he that had it was to part with it he much fearing its losse; wheruppon they were both sent to me againe by his Mâtie to tell me that upon the worde of a kinge (to use their own expressions) he would safely returne it, thereuppon immediately by them I sent it to his Mâtie who having done with it and having it with him when he was going towards the Isle of Wight (11-13 Nov. 1647) let it fall in the durt, and then callinge for the two persons before mentioned (who attended him) delivered it to them with a charge, as they should answer it another day, that they should both speedily and safely return it to him, from whom they had received it, and withall to desire the partie to goe on and continue what had begun, which booke together with his Mâtie signification to me by these worthy and faithfull gentln I received both speedily and safely.
There are fourteen tracts in the volume thus honoured, but of these twelve are sermons, newspapers or satirical pamphlets. It may be assumed that the tract which Charles I. desired to see was either The Reasons of the Lords and Commons why they cannot agree to the Alteration and Addition in the Articles of Cessation offered by his Majesty. With His Majestie's gratious Answer thereunto. April 4, 1643, or A Declaration concerning the present Treaty of Peace between his Majesty and Parliament, April 7, 1643.
There is sufficient evidence in the tracts for the years 1647 and 1648 to show that Thomason served during those years as a member of the Common Council of the City of London. On the 24th June, 1647, an anonymous pamphlet in the Presbyterian interest is accompanied by a printed letter from the author to George Thomason, begging him to present, or to read it, during a meeting of the Common Council (Vol. I. 523). On the 8th April, 1648, a summons to attend a meeting of the Common Council is addressed "to Mr. Thomason St. Pauls Churchyard"; and on the 20th May an Order of the Committee of the Militia of London is addressed to "Mr. George Thomason, Common Councill Man" (Vol. I. 607, 623).
There is unfortunately no list, printed or in manuscript, of the Members of the Common Council during the Civil War or Commonwealth, so it is impossible to say by what ward he was elected. It is, however, certain that he, with the other Presbyterian members who formed the majority of the Common Council in 1648, was excluded by an Ordinance of Parliament passed on the 20th Dec. 1648 (a fortnight after Pride's Purge) forbidding the election to any office in the City to all those who had subscribed to any engagement or petition for the personal treaty with the King.
In April 1651 Thomason was arrested and imprisoned at Whitehall under the charge of being concerned in the affair known as the "Love Plot." Many Presbyterian gentlemen, citizens of London and ministers, were concerned in this conspiracy, the main objects of which were to join the Scotch in the Restoration of Charles II. as a Covenanting Monarch and to secure the establishment of Presbyterianism in England. The evidence against Thomason rested on the confession and examination of Thomas Coke of Drayton, a younger son of Sir John Coke, Secretary of State 1625-1638. Coke, who had acted for some years as a Royalist agent, was declared by an Ordinance of the 20th March, 1651, as attained traitor unless he surrendered himself within four days. He evaded arrest for some days, but was taken prisoner on the 29th March. To save his life he gave information to the Council of State and furnished full lists of the leaders of the conspiracy throughout the country and of the London merchants, tradesmen and ministers who had taken part in it. Coke's confessions are printed in the Thirteenth Report of the Historical Manuscripts Commission (MSS. at Welbeck, Vol. 1. pp. 576-604). According to his evidence, Thomason had taken a leading part in delivering letters written by Charles II. from Breda to the London Presbyterian ministers. Coke asserted, moreover, that he had been told by Alderman Bunce at Rotterdam "that he need not looke after any other persons in the Citie of London, for the management of affaires there, more than Thomazon and Potter (an ex-officer, then an Apothecary in Blackfriars), for that they knew the affections of most of the citizens and allso of the ministers." In a letter of the Council of State to Parliament it is stated that "Mr. Thomas Cooke's information hath been made use of against Captain Potter and Mr. Thomasin solely discovered and apprehended upon his information."
The following entries from the 'Proceedings of the Committee for Compounding,' page 2769, and the Calendar of State Papers, Domestic. 1651, pp. 218, 219, 230, give the history of Thomason's arrest and release.
11 April, 1651. Committee for Compounding. "The County Committee of London ordered to seize, inventory and secure Thomason's estate both real and personal."
Thomason was not included in the indictment against Christopher Love, nor was he called as a witness at his trial, which took place in June and July, 1651. Considering the serious nature of the charges brought against him, he was fortunate in escaping with some weeks of imprisonment and some unpleasant enquiries and researches. The fact was, that so many important and reputable Presbyterians were implicated that the Council probably considered it the wiser course to confine the prosecution to Love and a few of his principal confederates who had, for the most part, made good their escape from England.
Although no certain information can be obtained, I think it highly probable that it was during the course of the Love Conspiracy, perhaps immediately after hearing of Coke's arrest, that Thomason sent the whole of his collection, as far as it then existed, to the care of Dr. Barlow, at the Bodleian, and obtained from him the document described in the Advertisement given below, which could be produced to prove that a sale had actually taken place and might thus prevent the confiscation of his treasure. The fact that he had for some years been in the habit of sending books to Oxford may well have facilitated this method of securing his collection. Presumably he sent the remainder to Oxford at different times.
However this may have been, it is interesting to note that Thomason's imprisonment in no way impeded the progress of his collection. During the months of April, May and June, 1651, there is no diminution in the number of newspapers or pamphlets, and the latter are regularly dated by Thomason himself.
On the 11th Dec., 1656, Robert Bostock, one of the most important booksellers of the period, died, and his copyrights, fifty-seven in number, were transferred to Thomason.
The notes with which Thomason frequently annotated his books seldom relate to his own person or fortunes. The four which I give here are the only ones which can be said to be autobiographical:—
On the 7th Feb., 1657, he writes on the fly-leaf of a pamphlet, "The day of my sad accident."
On the 24th March, 1658, he writes on a blank leaf:-—
"This day I did cease my elaborat collection, because the number was so exceeding few and inconsiderable and not now worth my labour, and the year 1658 beginning to-morrow I did prefer to put an end to my great paynes and charges."
Fortunately Thomason repented of his despairing resolution and continued to collect as carefully, or nearly as carefully as before.
Owing in part to the more efficient exercise of the laws against unlicensed printing under Cromwell's rule he was justified at the moment in considering the pamphlets issued 'few and inconsiderable,' but in the years of anarchy and expectation which followed the death of Cromwell the flow of pamphlets increased rapidly, and the years 1659 and 1660 are among the fullest and most interesting periods of the entire collection.
On page 221 of Vol. II. will be found a MS. in Thomason's handwriting entitled, Some things relating to the thirtie Tyrants of Athens, with the addition of the names of some of the chiefe Traytors and Tyrants of England. The MS consists of extracts from Raleigh's History of the World with a list of the 'Regicides' and a note reading:—"Which with these aditions of mine, I was very desirous to have published, but noe printer then durst venture upon it. Anno 1658. Geo. Thomason." It will be observed that this note also has been added to the original text after the Restoration.
Among the pamphlets issued in 1659 is a broadside entitled Six New Queries, dated by Thomason 29th Oct., and bearing also a note in his handwriting which reads "N.B.G.T. " I think that it may be taken as at least probable that he himself is the author of these queries which tersely express the opinions of a Presbyterian or moderate Royalist keenly desirous of the suppression of the army, and of the free election of a new Parliament. The first query, which may be taken as summing up the contents of the other five, reads "Whether or No, any rational man in England can or may expect any good from Parliament when an army is in power at the same time in the Nation. "
On the 21st Nov., 1664, Thomason signed his will. His wife Katherine had predeceased him and was buried in the South Aisle of the Church of St. Dunstan's in the West, 12th Dec. 1646. He had also lost a daughter, Elizabeth, whose funeral sermon, preached by Edward Reynolds, Vicar of St. Lawrence, Jewry, after the Restoration Bishop of Norwich, will be found in the collection under the date 11th April, 1659.
When Thomason made his will he had six surviving children. His eldest son George graduated at Queen's College, Oxford, in 1655, was afterwards ordained, became a Prebendary of Lincoln in 1683, and died in 1712. His eldest daughter Katharine was married to William Stonestreet. To these two, Thomason leaves only small legacies, explaining that they had on their respective marriages "a liberall and plentifull portion" of his property.
To his four younger children, Edward, Grace, Henry (who succeeded his father in his business, and for some years carried it on at the Rose and Crown), and Thomas, he bequeaths the greater part of his estate to be divided equally amongst them. To his daughter Grace, in addition to her share in his estate, he bequeaths the sum of £600 to be paid to her within twelve months after her marriage. He leaves also a number of legacies to servants and to the Stationers' and Haberdashers' Companies, and endowments for sermons at St. Paul's and St. Dunstan's. He appoints as his executors his son Henry and his son-in-law William Stonestreet.
Finally, he disposes of his collection of pamphlets in these terms:—
"And whereas I have a collection of Pamphletts and other writeings and papers bounde up with them of severall volumes gathered by me in the tyme of the late warres and beginning the third day of November A.D. 1640 and continued until the happie returne and coronacion of his most gracious Maiestie King Charles the second, upon which I put a very high esteeme in regard that it is soe intire a work and not to be pararelled and also in respect of the long and greete paynes, industry and charge that hath bin taken and expended in and about the collection of them, now I doe give the said collection of Pamphletts unto my honoured friends Thomas Barlowe, Doctor of Divinitie and now Provoste of Queenes Colledg in Oxon, * and Thomas Lockey, Doctor of Divinitie and principall Keeper of the Publicke Library in Oxon, † and John Rushworth of Linconenes ‡ upon trust to bee by them sold for the use and benefit of my three Sonnes Edward, Henry and Thomas to be paid unto them equally and proporconably parte and parte alike."
The whole tone of this will is that of a thriving and prosperous man of business, but the two codicils attached to it show that within a few months after its execution Thomason was suffering from grave and growing anxieties concerning his pecuniary position, especially with regard to the sale of his collection.
In the first of these codicils, dated 20th Jan. 1665, he writes: —
"Now not knowing how my estate may fall out after my death according to my Will lately made in case it shall fall short, Then I doe give to my two deare children, my daughter Grace Thomason and my sonne Thomas Thomason That full summe of money that my collection of Pamphletts shal be sold for to bee equally divided betwixt them both for their advancement, which collection is in the hands of Doctor Thomas Barlow . . . who is now in treaty with me about them for the publique Library and I doubt not but neere a conclusion which being concluded then shall I intreate and desire my good friend Mr. Matt. Goodfellow to be assistant to my sonne his servant in that perticular which I have no cause of doubt of."
The second codicil, dated the 22nd May, 1665, is written in an even less hopeful tone. After appointing his son Thomas as a third executor, Thomason writes:—
"As for the six hundred pounds in money bequeathed to my dear daughter Grace if the accustomary parte fall shorte as I feare it maye then that the said summe be paid her out of that money which the Pamphletts shal bee sould for. And the like somme of six hundred pounds issueing out of the sale of these Pamphletts I bequeath to my deare sonne Thomas . . . and the remaynder thereof to my sonne Henry and his brother Edward."
Like most of the events of his life the exact date of Thomason's death is uncertain. In his will he directs that he should be buried in St. Dunstan's in the West as near as possible to the tomb of his wife Katharine Thomason. In the Burial Registers of the Church I find the two following entries:— "Mrs. Katherine Thomasin wife of George Tompson buried (in the) Church, 12 Dec. 1646." "George Tompson statõner was buryed in the Upper Churchyd, 13 Febuary 1666 (N.S.)."
There was, it is true, a bookseller named George Thompson who had a shop at the sign of the White Horse, Chancery Lane. But it seems to me highly improbable that he can be the person to whom this entry relates. It will be observed that the spelling of the name Tompson is identical in describing Katherine Thomason's husband and in the later entry. There could in fact be no room for doubt that George Thomason was buried on the 13th Feb. 1666, were it not that in the Obituàry of Richard Smyth, being a catalogue of all such persons as he knew in their life from 1627 to 1674 (Sloane MS. 886, edited for the Camden Society, 1849), the following passage appears: "10th April, 1666, Geo. Thomason, bookseller buried out of Stationers Hall (a poore man)."
Richard Smyth is well known as a collector of valuable books, and had probably had dealings with Thomason. His statement bears all the marks of authenticity, and the reference to Thomason's poverty is in accordance with the fears expressed in the codicils to his will. Mr. C.R. Rivington, Clerk of the Stationers' Company, who has been so kind as to take a personal interest in the matter, tells me that the Court Minutes for 1666 were destroyed in the great fire; that there is no separate book in which entries were made of the funerals which were frequently celebrated from Stationers' Hall; and that there is no reference to the cost of any funeral in the Wardens' Accounts for the years 1665 to 1667. From the Probate Registers I find that Thomason's will was proved on the 27th April, 1666. Thus, while there can be no doubt as to the year of his death, the exact date must rest an open question.
The pamphlets remained at Oxford in the custody of Barlow and his co-trustees, thus escaping destruction in the great fire of Sept. 1666. On the 27th June, 1675, Barlow was consecrated Bishop of Lincoln, and in the next year when he left Oxford he addressed the following letter to George Thomason the younger, who was not pecuniarily interested in the sale of the collection bequeathed to his younger brothers. It was printed for the first time in Beloe's Anecdotes of Literature, 1807, Vol. II. pp. 251-52, and subsequently with some slight variations in Notes and Queries, 1857, Second Series, Vol. IV. 413.
Oxon. Feb. 6, 1676.
No exact record of what befell the collection immediately after the date of this letter exists. It is probable that the books were returned to London, and certain that they passed shortly afterwards into the hands of Samuel Mearne, the celebrated bookbinder, who held the office of Stationer to Charles II. The petition from Mearne's widow, which I give below, shows that negotiations were entered into between Mearne and Sir Joseph Williamson, Secretary of State, and for some years Keeper of the Royal Library at Whitehall, for the purchase of the collection by the King, but nothing is known as to the terms on which it was offered or the cause of the failure to dispose of it. There can be little doubt that the printed advertisement now preserved in the Library was issued by Mearne. It ran thus:—
"A Complete Collection of Books and Pamphlets Begun in the Year 1640 by the Special Command of King Charles I. of Blessed Memory, and continued to the happy Restauration of the Government, and the Coronation of King Charles II.
This advertisement is an abridged and corrected version of a manuscript formerly affixed to the first volume of Thomason's Catalogue entitled "Mr. Thomason's Note about his collection," which was printed in full in 1857 in Notes and Queries, Second Series, Vol. IV. pp. 412-13. It could not have been written by George Thomason the elder, since it contains a copy of Bishop Barlow's letter dated ten years after Thomason's death, and must be attributed to Mearne, or to Thomason's sons, who may have founded it on notes left by their father. The manuscript is somewhat longer than the advertisement, but the only matter contained in it which is not given in the printed document consists of the following paragraphs:—
"His Majesty being very well pleased with the design, which was a great encouragement to the undertaker, else he thinks he should never have been induced to have gone on through so difficult a work, which he found by experience to prove so chargeable and heavy a burden, both to himself and his servants that were employed in that business, which continued above the space of twenty years, in which time he buried three of them, who took great pains both day and night with him in that tedious employment. And that he might prevent the discovery of them when the army was northward, he packed them up in several trunks, and by one or two in a week he sent them to a trusty friend in Surrey, who safely preserved them; but when the army was westward, and fearing their return that way, he was faigne to have them sent back again, and thence safely received them, but durst not keep them by him, the danger being so great; but packed them up again, and sent them into Essex; and when the army ranged that way to Tripleheath [the Rendezvous at Triploe Heath, June 1647] was faigne to send for them back from thence, and not thinking them safe anywhere in England, at last took a resolution to send them into Holland for their more safe preservation. But considering with himself what a treasure it was, upon second thought, he durst not venture them at sea, but resolved to place them in his warehouses in form of tables round about the rooms covered over with canvas, continuing still without any intermission his going on; nay, even then, when by the Usurper's power and command he was taken out of his bed and clapt up close prisoner at Whitehall for seven weeks space and above [in April and May 1651], he still hoping and looking for that day, which thanks be to God is now come, and then he put a period to that unparalleled labour, charge, and pains, he had been at."
The last paragraph in the printed advertisement in which Thomason is stated to have refused four thousand pounds for this collection is not to be found in the Manuscript. It is hardly necessary to say that such a statement is difficult of belief. Thomason was evidently an embarrassed man during his last days, and it is not probable that he would have refused a sum equal to quite £16,000 of our present currency. Nor is it easy to imagine that any library or collector would have offered such a sum for a collection, however complete and well arranged, of almost contemporary pamphlets and newspapers.
Nothing could be more natural at this period, especially if the main object of the writer was to sell the collection to King Charles II., than to make this and the other interesting assertions contained in the advertisement. It is quite possible that he believed what he wrote. In any case it was highly politic to assume that Thomason acted on behalf of, and under the direct orders of, the King, and had formed his collection solely "for his Majesty's Use," while running every conceivable risk from the violence of the Army and the vengefulness or cupidity of the "Usurper. " But in point of fact, the undoubtedly genuine note of Thomason on the volume lent to Charles I. in the autumn of 1647 proves that the King then heard of his collection for the first time. Nor is it easy to understand why he should have found it necessary to send his collection in various directions or to conceal it with so much elaboration in London. In common with his fellow Presbyterians, Thomason was no doubt ready to believe any evil of Cromwell and of the Independent army, but there is nothing in the history of the Civil War to justify the idea that the officers or soldiers would have revelled in breaking up a bookseller's stock; while Cromwell was more likely to have bought the collection and commended the collector than to have wilfully confiscated or destroyed a library. *
The account of the wanderings of Thomason's books given in the advertisement is highly circumstantial, but I am inclined to think that the narrative may possibly refer to a later date than the years 1645 to 1647. It may be that when Thomason was in real danger in consequence of his complicity in the Love Conspiracy he endeavoured to save his collection by dispersing or concealing it before he finally adopted the scheme of sending it to Oxford and placing it under Barlow's care.
Nor, again, is it true that the manuscripts bound up with the printed matter are royalist papers which "no man durst then venture to publish." I describe them below, and will only note here that it would be difficult to imagine anything more outspoken, bolder, or on occasion more abusive, than the pamphlets and newspapers which were printed in such profusion and must have had some sort of circulation.
In 1683 Samuel Mearne died. By his will he bequeathed his stock of books, including the Thomason collection, to his widow, Anne Mearne. On the 15th May, 1684, the Privy Council issued an Order which is printed in Beloe's Anecdotes, Vol. II. page 253, and in Notes and Queries, 1857, Second Series, Vol. IV. 413. The Order is thus worded:—
"At the Court at Whitehall,
From Ann Mearne the collection passed successively to her son-in-law Thomas Sisson, to his son Henry Sisson, a druggist in Ludgate Hill, and to Henry's daughter, Miss Sisson of Ormonde Street.
Although it remained unsold its existence was at no time entirely forgotten, and the Sisson Family made repeated efforts to sell it. In the Monthly Miscellany or Memoirs for the Curious, 1708 (Vol. II. pp. 167-182), appeared an Account of several Libraries in London, written by John Bagford, in which he describes the collection as the work of Mr. Tomlinson (a mistake repeated as late as 1812 in Nichol's Literary Anecdotes). Bagford gives a legendary account of the incident related by Thomason. "Charles I.," he writes, "wanting a small tract after strict enquiry at last was informed that it was in the collection, upon which he took coach and went to Thomason's house in Paul's Church-yard and there read it and for his encouragement gave him £10." The same article attributes the catalogue in twelve volumes to Marmaduke Foster, an Auctioneer of the later years of the seventeenth century. William Oldys, who continued and enlarged Bagford's notes, adds: "The present owner has not yet had, as I hear, more than three or four hundred offered for them and that by the Duke of Chandos."*
On the 3rd December 1709, Robert Jenkin, afterwards Master of St. John's, Cambridge, writing to Thomas Baker of the same college on materials for his History of St. John's College, says: "There is another rarity here [in London] to be sold which is proferred to my Lord [the first Viscount Weymouth]. It is an entire collection of Pamphlets in number 30,000 bound in 2008 volumes. The Collection was begun by King Charles' order, 1640 and is continued to 1660." (Cole Collection. Vol. 30. Add. MSS. 5831, fol. 120)
In October 1761 the collection was brought under the notice of Mr. Thomas Hollis, a wealthy "patron" of literature and art, who was generally known to his contemporaries as "Republican Hollis, " and who is perhaps best remembered by Johnson's pithy characterization: "He was a dull poor creature as ever lived, but I believe he would not have done harm to a man whom he knew to be of very opposite principles to his own. "
The following passage from Blackburne's Memoirs of Thomas Hollis, 1780 (page 121), relates to this circumstance, but leaves us in doubt as to whether Hollis himself advised either George III. or the Earl of Bute to purchase the collection:—
"Oct. 18, 1761. Mr. Hollis had a visit from Mr. Kent who left with him a MS. account of a most curious and important collection of all the books and pamphlets printed from the beginning of the year 1641. . . . Mr. Kent was informed that this valuable collection was then to be sold, as he apprehended, for a trifling consideration ; and as he heard had been offered to the Earl of — [Bute]. But he had not learned either the name of the person who made the collection, or who then owned it. To this intelligence Mr. Hollis subjoins this memorandum. 'To inquire farther about this matter, which may be of importance, and to procure the collection, if possible, somehow for the public.' The event of this discovery was that the Earl of Bute purchased this collection of Miss Sisson of Ormonde Street for £300 by order of his Majesty, and it was presented by him 'royally, most royally' says Mr. Hollis, 'to the British Museum, where probably it will long, very long, rest in peace.' "
A somewhat different version of the purchase is given in a letter to the London Chronicle, Dec. 17, 1763, printed in Hollis' Memoirs, page 717, and reprinted in the Annual Register, 1763, page 117: —
"These tracts were collected by a private gentleman by command of King Charles II. who after the gentleman had, with the greatest assiduity, diligence and fidelity, completed his task was mean enough to offer him such a price for the collection as he could not accept of. The books remained in the collector's family till 1761, when they were purchased by Lord Bute for between £300 and £400. But as it was much to be regretted that such a valuable collection should be shut up in any private library, to which no access can be had, as there may be several noblemen's libraries at Paris, his Majesty returned to Lord Bute the money he gave for the books and presented them to the British Museum."
The collection was presented to the Trustees of the British Museum, with a letter from the Earl of Bute, dated 22nd July, 1762, stating that "His Majesty had purchased a curious collection of about 32,000 tracts contained in about 2,000 volumes relating to the history of England during the Civil Wars and ordered the same to be sent to the British Museum to be kept there with the Royal Library for the use of the Public." The volumes were rebound in a manner following as closely as possible the style and order of the original binding and placed on the shelves which they still occupy.
Of the many donations which have enriched the Library since its foundation in 1759 few have been of greater benefit to successive generations of scholars and students than this collection which we owe to the generosity of King George III.
Macaulay, Thomas Carlyle *, and many other distinguished authors, have drawn largely from its varied stores. To students of our own day, the Thomason Tracts will be most closely associated with the name of Samuel Rawson Gardiner, whose knowledge of the contents of the collection, founded upon many years of close and constant study, was in an extraordinary degree profound and exhaustive.
To turn from the history of the Thomason Tracts to the Tracts themselves. A century had elapsed between the completion of the collection and the date of its purchase by George III., and during that long period it was transferred from Oxford to London, and probably more than once removed from one part of London to another. It is not astonishing that some portion of it should during all these years have been lost or stolen.
The following is a complete list of the volumes which were missing when the collection was deposited in the British Museum. I give the numbers as they appear in Thomason's Catalogue—
Thomason uses the term "Octavo" for all small books, which he bound up rather according to size than date. The missing octavo volumes contained in all 41 tracts of varying dates. There are in all 145 missing tracts, which were bound in 29 volumes.
The earlier estimates of the extent of the collection, since it came into the possession of the Trustees of the British Museum, are little more than guess work. Mr. Falconer Madan, however, in his interesting article on the tracts published in Bibliographica, Vol. III. pp. 291-308, has carefully calculated the number of pieces. If my own estimate differs from his, it is because we adopt a different basis of calculation. I count each book or pamphlet as one item, irrespective of the number of volumes or parts, when these were issued at the same time; but when the parts were published separately (as, for instance, in the case of Edward's Gangraena, part one of which was issued 26th Feb., part two, 28th May, and part three 28th Dec. 1646), I count each part as a separate publication. Reckoning on this system I estimate the numbers thus:—
The total being 22,255 pieces bound in 2,008 volumes.
The question has often been asked, how far the collection can be considered complete; a question which does not admit of an unqualified reply. Thomason's design was to form an historical rather than a bibliographical library. Consequently he cared little to amass a number of editions of the same book. A good instance of this is furnished by the one copy of Eikon basilike in his collection. This he dates as published, or received by him, on the 9th Feb. 1649, adding the note, "Ye first impression," whereas there are in the British Museum twenty-two editions issued before the close of March 1650, eleven of which are dated 1648; showing that they were published in February and March 1649.
Again, he was usually contented with London reprints of the productions of presses in the other towns of England, Scotland and Ireland. If any of the original editions came into his hands they were, no doubt, welcome, but he had no means of making exhaustive purchases outside London, and a considerable number of books, pamphlets and newspapers printed at Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Dublin, and elsewhere escaped him altogether.
In 1653 and subsequent years the pamphlets known as 'Quaker Tracts' began to pour forth in amazing profusion. The epithet which Thomason applied to George Fox (see below) expresses the contempt of an orderly and respectable Presbyterian citizen of the period for this new body of "Sectaries." His collection of Quaker Tracts is therefore quite fragmentary. To give only two instances, only forty-four pamphlets by George Fox the elder and twenty-four by James Naylor appear in the Collection. These are supplemented in the Library by ninety-three additional tracts by Fox, and thirty-one by Naylor, most of which appeared before the year 1661.
But after allowing for these deficiencies the collection of books printed or sold in London is, as nearly as possible, complete. During the past ten years it has been my duty to examine large numbers of books and pamphlets issued between 1640 and 1660, either offered to the Library or included in sale catalogues; and while a certain proportion of works published at Oxford, Cambridge and other provincial towns, as well as large numbers of Quaker Tracts, have been added to the Library, I have found only five London pamphlets not already included in the Thomason Collection.
In the spring of 1641 Thomason began to write on the title-pages of many of the tracts the date when each came into his possession, or in some instances the date of publication. These memoranda are of the highest value, often enabling us to date books which it would otherwise be impossible to arrange in chronological order. But useful as they are, Thomason's dates are not infallible. They must, as a rule, be taken to represent only the approximate date of actual publication. In some instances two copies of the same issue are given different dates. In many cases five or six books are dated on the same day, followed by an interval of four or five days after which several others are dated together, showing that Thomason either purchased several books on the same day and then waited for a few days before he bought the next batch, or that he had not always time to mark the exact date on which he acquired each book.
The manuscripts, ninety-seven in number, are bound up in chronological sequence with the printed portion of the collection. Eighty-seven of them are in Thomason's handwriting. A list of these will be found in the Index (Vol. II. pp. 739-40). They hardly bear out the description given of them in the Advertisement as being written "on the King's behalf, which no man durst then venture to publish without endangering his Ruine;" nevertheless, many of them are of considerable historical value. Such, to give a few examples, are, The Kentish Petition of Nov. 1644 (Vol. I. 346); An unanimous Answer of the Souldiers to the Commissioners with a rhymed address found posted upon the Lobby of the House of Commons, 2nd June, 1647 (Vol. I. 514); The Address to the London Apprentices, 11th June, 1647 (Vol. I. 518); The Resolutions of the Court of Common Council in favour of a personal treaty with the King, 24th June, 1648, presumably taken down by Thomason, then a Member of the Common Council (Vol. I. 639); An Ordinance of the Commons of England constituting the High Court for the Trial of Charles I.* There are also a number of verses and epigrams, of which perhaps the most interesting is the 'Distik made upon the ffower honble lords yt usually sate and made a howse in the yeare 1648" (Vol. I. 735).
Almost as valuable as the manuscript pieces are Thomason's notes, upwards of eighty in number. In attempting to trace his biography I have already given a few of these notes which relate to himself personally. By far the greater number consist of annotations on the pamphlets as they came into his hands. Sometimes he supplies the name of the writer, fills in initials or conjectures authorship. It will suffice to give one instance of his ingenuity in doing the latter. On the title-page of a pamphlet entitled, A way to make the poor happy. By Peter Cornelius van Zarick-Zee, Thomason writes, "I believe this pamphlet was made by Mr. Hugh Peeters, who hath a man named Cornelius Glover" (Vol. II. 235). A very shrewd deduction.
In no less than fifteen instances, Thomason notes that a broadside, or as he usually terms it a 'Libell,' was scattered up and down the streets during the night. In a few other cases he states that a pamphlet or broadside was given away in Westminster Hall, fastened on a church door, or distributed by Quakers. Sometimes his notes record an interesting event or are of a satirical character. Here are a few examples.
18 June, 1642. A Proclamation forbidding Levies of Forces without His Majesties Pleasure. Thomason writes, "This proclamation should have been proclaimed by the Sherifes of London, but attempting it they were knockt off their horses" (Vol. I. 122).
June, 1642. A Sermon by Thomas Cheshire, a royalist divine. Thomason adds to the words, "Printed for the Author" the note "because none else would" (Vol. I. 126).
6 April, 1646. A defence of Christian Liberty at the Lords Table, by John Graunt; the words "A comfit maker in Bucklersbury" are added after the author's name (Vol. I. 430).
On the 2nd August, 1647, a serious riot took place in the Guildhall. A number of aggrieved Independents published Two petitions to the Army and the House of Lords concerning the late Lord Major, Alderman Bunce and others who were engaged in the bloody murther at Guild Hall. Thomason adds the note, "Both abominably false" (Vol. I. 563).
22 March, 1652. To a tract by William Lilly, Thomason appends to the author's name the unquotable epithet which will be found on page 864 of Vol. I.
1 June, 1657. To the name of George Fox, Thomason adds, "Alias Goose, Quaker" (Vol. II. 187).
These few examples will serve to illustrate the interesting character of these notes.
Accompanying the collection is a MS. folio catalogue in twelve volumes. This catalogue is attributed by Bagford (Monthly Miscellany, Vol. III. 177) to Marmaduke Foster, an Auctioneer, but I think that there can be no doubt that it was compiled under the direction of George Thomason. The entries are in several different hands and were probably transcribed by his clerks.
The only passage undoubtedly in Thomason's own handwriting is the motto written on the margin of the first page of Vol. I. "Actions yt may be presidents to posteritie ought to have their records, and merit a careful preservation. Know. Turk. Hys." The words are obviously quoted from Richard Knolles' 'History of the Turks,' but I regret to say that I have not succeeded in verifying the reference.
The principle of arranging the entries in chronological order was adopted by him throughout his catalogue, but it has been marred by an unfortunate division of the work into five parts, Small Quartos, Large Quartos, Folios. Octavos and Acts (the latter a somewhat unintelligible heading, since it contains not only acts and ordinances, but includes many political pamphlets). Thus the reader would be unable to obtain the books or newspapers of any special date from his catalogue without consulting each part, a serious drawback to the practicability of Carlyle's suggestion to print and distribute Thomason's original Catalogue. (Minutes of Evidence before the Royal Commission on the British Museum, 1840, pp. 274, 282.)
The present catalogue is divided into three sections. The first consists of a chronological list of all the books, pamphlets and manuscripts contained in the collection, arranged, as far as possible, according to the dates of the events which they record. In the case of books or pamphlets not referring to any special event, Thomason's own dates have been used. In many instances where he affords no information, it has been possible to discover from the text or otherwise the month of publication. In all such cases the books have been grouped at the end of each month. In other instances (fortunately not very numerous), where it has only been possible to find or conjecture the year of publication, the books have been placed at the end of the year to which they refer. The new style has been adopted throughout; each year beginning with the 1st January. A small number of tracts of the years 1658-1661 which had been separated from the rest of the collection were found too late to allow of the insertion of their titles in their proper place. These have been placed in the Appendix, Vol., II. Pp. 441-446.
The second section of the Catalogue is devoted to Newspapers, arranged chronologically according to the year and month of their issue, thus enabling the reader to see at a glance what newspapers were published during each month between 1640 and 1662.
The third section consists of an Index, which includes the titles of books, pamphlets, etc., as well as the names of persons and places, religious and political bodies, historical events, and in fact any matter which may be of assistance to the reader.
In this Index the title of each book is given under the name of the author, if known. Anonymous books are entered under the first word of their title; while all books relating to a definite event or subject will be found also under the heading of the event or subject to which they refer. Newspapers are indexed under their titles followed by the date of publication.
Since this catalogue was printed Mr. Falconer Madan has discovered that a number of pamphlets issued during the course of the Civil War and bearing the imprint of Leonard Lichfield and other Oxford printers were in reality printed in London. Mr. Madan hopes shortly to publish a list of these forged imprints.
The work of cataloguing and indexing the collections has been carried out, under my editorship, by Messrs. R.F. Sharp, R.A. Streatfeild and W.A. Marsden, Assistants in the Department of Printed Books.
Keeper of Printed Books