Seminar 2013

1. 9 January 2013
‘Memoirs of Dissenting Academies, 1660-1860’
Professor Françoise Deconinck-Brossard (Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense)

The printed materials and archives listed in Dissenting Academies Online: Database and Encyclopedia include a large number of memoirs, mostly but not exclusively autobiographical, for example ‘Some Remarkable Passages in my life, Decr 20, 1714’ by William Bilby (1664-1738), Philip Doddridge’s ‘account of Mr [John] Jennings’s method of academical education’ (1728), Memoirs of Dr. Joseph Priestley (1806), and Thomas Raffles, Memoirs of the Life and Ministry of the late Reverend Thomas Spencer [1791-1811] of Liverpool (2nd ed. 1813). This raises a number of historiographical issues. As sincerity does not necessarily guarantee truthfulness, one may wonder to what extent they provide the historian with reliable information about life in the academies. The paper will discuss several categories of dissenting academy memoirs, from the spiritual diary to the retrospective narrative. Whether remembering past experience for personal use, or addressing a stated or implied reader, each of these accounts was written for a particular purpose. Particular attention will be paid to that (hidden) agenda, and to the questions of whether it changed over time, how it affects our appreciation and interpretation of the data, and how it has contributed to the construction and reconstruction of the identity and history of the academies.

2. 6 February 2013
‘The Savoy congregationalists, the association movement, and England’s last puritan church settlement, 1653-1659’
Dr Joel Halcomb (Cambridge)

3. 13 March 2013
‘Private Books for Educational Use – the Formation of the Northern Congregational College Library’
Dr Benjamin Bankhurst (Queen Mary)
Dr Rachel Eckersley (Queen Mary)
Ed Potten (Cambridge University Library)

This AHRC-funded project has built upon Dissenting Academies Online: Virtual Library System, an innovative online resource which uses modern library software to represent the holdings and loans of historic academy libraries. The current project will make available in digital form the Catalogue of the Library of the Lancashire Independent College, Manchester (1885) and details of the 2,450 surviving books from the library of the Northern Congregational College, formed in 1958 from the amalgamation of two major Congregational colleges founded in the 19th century, Lancashire Independent College and Yorkshire United Independent College. In 1984 the Northern Congregational College became Northern College (United Reformed and Congregational). Selected books were acquired in 1975/6 by the John Rylands Library, Manchester.
Most northern academy libraries were founded on private collections and supplemented over generations through bequest and donation. Consequently, the surviving Northern Congregational College books are rich in provenance. Their study en masse provides rare insight into the private ownership and use of nonconformist books. Occasional former owners are figures of real historical significance – the 1498 editio princeps of Aristophanes’ Comoediae novem was owned and annotated by John Ponet (1514–1556), Bishop of Winchester and Marian exile. Significant portions of these private collections are unresearched, and yet these books have extensive marks of ownership and use of the everyday reader.
This seminar will demonstrate a series of new resources available through the VLS, resources which allow for the identification and study of the private ownership of books by nonconformists. It will conclude with an analysis of what the project has unearthed thus far, a discussion of the research potential offered by the VLS and some comments on where the study of nonconformist books and readers sits within our current understanding of the landscape of book ownership.

4. 17 April 2013
‘Researching Henry Crabb Robinson: What Became of his Early Interest in German Thought?’
Dr James Vigus (Queen Mary)

The texts published in my edition of Henry Crabb Robinson’s Essays on Kant, Schelling, and German Aesthetics (2010) demonstrate that during his three years as a student at the University of Jena (1802-1805) Robinson was the best-informed English mediator of the ongoing revolution in German philosophy. In Weimar in 1804, he presented a series of private lectures to Madame de Staël, which influenced the section on philosophy in her bestseller On Germany. At the same time, Robinson’s extensive correspondence reveals his inner journey: he shocked his Unitarian, broadly Lockean friends at home by declaring himself a ‘convert’ to ‘Kantianism’, before immersing himself in idealist speculations. But once Robinson returned to England, the evidence of his diaries suggests that his engagement with German thought rapidly subsided. Aside from some book reviews, and his role as a lender of books to Carlyle and Coleridge, did Robinson pursue this previously all-consuming interest in any way? This is one of many questions that the Crabb Robinson Project, launched this year within the Dr Williams’s Centre for Dissenting Studies, will eventually be in a position to answer comprehensively. By way of introducing the editorial project, the paper will present a preliminary exploration of this particular topic. It will show that Robinson’s Unitarian-based concern ‘philosophical necessity’, or determinism, which drove his initial interest in Kant, did persist in an important friendship with the theologian Wilhelm Benecke, whose Exposition of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans Robinson critically annotated.

5. 12 June
‘A Unitarian at Trinity: Robert Garnham (1753-1802) and the Politics of Late Eighteenth-Century Cambridge’
Dr Chris Reid (Queen Mary)

By the end of the eighteenth century Trinity was Cambridge’s largest and socially most prestigious college. It was also a stronghold of liberal opinion in the university at a time of sharpening political and religious controversy. Among its resident fellows were men, some of them in senior positions in the college hierarchy, who held reforming and heterodox views. One of these was the scholar and polemicist Robert Garnham, about whom little has hitherto been written. Garnham was an active member of the Unitarian Society at a time when he was also College Preacher, a correspondent and supporter of the reformer William Frend, and one of the principal collaborators in Joseph Priestley’s plan for a new translation of the Bible. Drawing on the extensive collection of Garnham’s papers held at Dr Williams’s Library, this paper will discuss his connections with the dissenting community at Bury St Edmunds, the town of his birth, examine his interventions as a writer and preacher in the context of university politics, and trace the remarkable shifts of opinion which characterized his thinking in the 1790s.

6. 3 July 2013
‘“Cramped by a sort of superstition”? Editing Baxter and the Literature of Seventeenth-Century Dissent’
Dr Tom Charlton (Stirling)

When Richard Baxter died in 1691, he bequeathed a ‘great quantity of loose Papers’ to his literary executor, Matthew Sylvester. Despite its historical significance as a guide to the political and religious vicissitudes of seventeenth-century England, the resulting posthumous publication of Baxter’s ‘life and times’, the Reliquiæ Baxterianæ, has received critical disapprobation ever since, and the 1696 folio is generally considered to be formally confused and textually unreliable. Chief amongst the complaints levelled at it is that Sylvester was insufficiently firm and decisive in the process of editing itself, accounting the text a ‘sacred’ thing that he was ill-equipped to alter.
This seminar will introduce the research that the Reliquiæ Baxterianæ Project has undertaken thus far in preparing Baxter’s text. In exploring the two key processes of textual retrieval that our new edition is undertaking (the text omitted by Sylvester, and that deleted by Baxter himself), and other decisions faced by the current editorial team, the seminar will also offer a re-evaluation of Sylvester’s work in the context of seventeenth-century editing.