Currently under construction, these pages will provide updates and information relating to the critical edition of the Reliquiae Baxterianae, currently in preparation with OUP.
The Reliquiae Baxterianae
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 edition seeks to supply this apparent 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 better-known 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 the recent Mark Goldie edition of Roger Morrice’s Entring Book from the manuscript held in Dr. Williams’s Library.
A proposal to publish the approximately 1,000,000-word text in five volumes has been approved by Oxford University Press.