The Rawlinson Collection, held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, is undoubtedly one of the most important surviving collections of early modern manuscript sermons. This collection of a wide range of early modern manuscripts contains hundreds of volumes of manuscript sermons. One entire section of the collection, MSS. Rawlinson E, is dedicated to sermons, though manuscript sermons also are found in other sections of the collection. This collection was the work of Richard Rawlinson, who donated the bulk of his books and manuscripts to the Bodleian in the eighteenth century.
Richard Rawlinson, Antiquarian, Nonjuror and Collector
Richard Rawlinson, born on 3 January 1690, was the son of Sir Thomas Rawlinson, a vintner and lord mayor of London in 1706. He was educated at St John’s College, Oxford, graduating with BA in 1711 and proceeding MA in 1713. Rawlinson received the honorary degree of DCL in 1719 and also became a fellow of both the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries. Rawlinson was greatly interested in topography, biography and antiquarian studies. All of these interests were encouraged while he was at Oxford, where he was influenced by Anglo-Saxon scholars and the work of Anthony Wood, who had compiled much information on Oxford and its scholars from the seventeenth century. Rawlinson began collecting books as a student and also spent much time studying manuscripts at the Ashmolean Museum and the Bodleian during his time at Oxford.
Rawlinson’s interest in manuscripts also was encouraged by the fact that he was a dedicated Jacobite and nonjuror, principles which he inherited from his father but also shared with many of his fellow antiquarians at Oxford. In 1716, Rawlinson was ordained as a priest in the nonjuring Church of England by Jeremy Collier. In 1728, he was consecrated as a nonjuring bishop. Like many nonjurors, Rawlinson was interested in finding precedents and traditions to justify nonjuring positions. He also played a very important role in preserving the history of the nonjurors, collecting biographical information on the nonjurors along with many of their letters, sermons and other manuscripts.
Rawlinson’s older brother Thomas helped inspire his interest in book collecting, for Thomas was an avid collector and had accumulated a large collection of books and manuscripts by the time of his death in 1725. Unfortunately, by this time, Thomas also was deeply in debt, partly due to his collecting. From 1726 until 1734, Richard Rawlinson spent much of his time cataloguing and arranging for the sale of his brother’s vast collection, under the supervision of his sister-in-law’s new husband. However, Rawlinson managed to purchase many of his brother’s manuscripts when they came up for auction, and these manuscripts enhanced the collection that he had begun to expand while travelling in Europe in the early 1720s.
Rawlinson’s passion for manuscript collecting only increased from the 1730s. He spent much time not only at auctions and bookshops but also at grocers’ and chandler’s shops, ferreting out important manuscripts from amongst papers sold for scrap. Rawlinson organized all these varied papers and had them bound in volumes to preserve them for the future.
By the time of his death in 1755, Rawlinson had amassed an extensive collection of books and manuscripts related to his interests. Because Rawlinson was single and had no heirs, there had long been speculation about the fate of his collection. Before his death, Rawlinson had begun to donate some of items from his collection to worthy institutions, including the Bodleian, St John’s College and the Society of Antiquaries. The Bodleian’s librarian, Humphrey Owen, sought to cultivate this important patron and always made sure to properly acknowledge Rawlinson’s donations to the library. Fortunately for the Bodleian, the Society of Antiquaries removed Rawlinson from his recently-elected post of vice-president in 1754 because of his Jacobite sympathies, and he took the society out of his will. This left the Bodleian and St John’s as the primary beneficiaries in his will, and Rawlinson bequeathed his manuscripts, charters, seals and some of his books to the Bodleian, providing an important addition to its holdings.
Rawlinson’s Early Modern Sermon Collection
Rawlinson collected a wide range of early modern sermons. The earliest sermon notes in his collection date to the 1560s (MS. Rawl. D. 1061), and the collection includes a number of other sermons from the late sixteenth century. The majority of sermons date to the second half of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. However, the Rawlinson Collection also contains many sermons from the first half of the seventeenth century, including sermon collections by Archbishop James Ussher preached from 1618 to 1634 (MS. Rawl. D. 1290); Dr Thomas Lushington preached c. 1620-30 (MS. Rawl. E. 95), Bishop Robert Sanderson preached c. 1620-30 (MS. Rawl. E. 96) Dr Francis Rogers, vicar of Alkham, Kent, preached c. 1624 (MS. Rawl. E. 128); and John Bayly of Worcester preached from 1635 to 39 (MS. Rawl. C. 216).
The collection includes sermons by a diverse range of preachers. Rawlinson acquired many sermons by well-known and high-ranking preachers, including numerous bishops. There are multiple-volume collections of sermons by Bishop Peter Gunning (MSS. Rawl. C. 613-25); Bishop Francis Turner (MSS. Rawl. C. 627, E. 8-9, E. 191-94); Dr Thomas Turner, president of Corpus Christi College, Oxford (MSS. Rawl. C. 626, E. 186-90); and Daniel Price, dean of St Aspah (MSS. Rawl. E. 176-85). There also are sermons by Dr Brian Walton, later bishop of Chichester (MS. Rawl. E. 23); Dr Nathaniel Hardy, dean of Rochester (MS. Rawl. E. 1); Archbishop John Tillotson (MS. Rawl. E. 125); Dr Anthony Horneck, preacher at the Savoy, London (MS. Rawl. E. 167); Dr Edmund Gibson, vicar of St Mary, Lambeth and later bishop of London (MSS. Rawl. E. 116-17); and Dr Samuel Clarke, rector of St James, Westminster (MS. Rawl. E. 127).
In addition to the sermons by notable clergy, Rawlinson purchased many sermons by ordinary or even unidentified preachers. There are sermons by Thomas Lydiat, rector of Alkerton, Oxfordshire, from the 1610s (MS. Rawl. E. 168); Dr Thomas Swadlin from c. 1660-70 (MSS. Rawl. E. 136-47); Thomas Naish, sub-dean of Salisbury, from the 1690s (MS. Rawl. D. 1300); and a Mr. Constable, who is likely George Constable, lecturer of St Paul Shadwell, London, from 1706 to 1728 (MSS. Rawl. E. 105-6). There are many volumes of anonymous sermons, such as a collection of sermons preached in Hertfordshire, Essex and Middlesex between 1692 and 1716 (MSS. Rawl. E. 81-89), and of miscellaneous sermons, such as MS. Rawl. E. 21, which contains eighteen sermons that date from 1598 to 1661.
While the bulk of the sermons in Rawlinson’s collection were preached in England, there are some volumes that come from further afield. There are several collections of sermons from Scotland, including three volumes by Robert Leighton, archbishop of Glasgow (MSS. Rawl. D. 142, E. 26-27), and a series of notes recording sermons by a number of Scottish preachers in 1669-70 (MS. Rawl. C. 26). One manuscript contains sermons preached in Scotland and Ireland from the 1630s to the 1650s (MS. Rawl. D. 830), and there is another Irish sermon c. 1630-40 (MS. Rawl. E. 114). There are a number of sermons from Wales, such as some of the sermons by Daniel Price c. 1685-1706 (MSS. Rawl. E. 176-85), and sermon notes from a variety of Welsh preachers from the 1650s (MS. Rawl. C. 261). The collection even includes a few sermons that were preached in Newfoundland by Jacob Rice, who went to the new world in 1705, but later returned to England (MSS. Rawl. E. 173-74).
Although the majority of sermons are by clergy of the Church of England, Rawlinson also acquired sermons by other preachers. Most notably, the collection includes twenty-four volumes of sermons from 1691 to 1715 by the Presbyterian minister Robert Fleming, which were preached in Rotterdam and London (MSS. Rawl. E. 44-67), and eleven volumes of sermons by the Independent minister John Beaumont of Deptford, Kent from 1688 to 1730 (MSS. Rawl. E. 97-103, E. 109-112). There also are several sermons by puritan preachers from the mid-seventeenth century (MS. Rawl. D. 1348), sermon collections by nonconformists from the early 1660s (MSS. Rawl. E. 77, E. 93), sermons by the Baptist minister John Piggot from 1698 to 1703 (MS. Rawl. D. 1352), and collections of sermon notes from a variety of nonconformist preachers from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries (MSS. Rawl. E. 108, E. 121). Rawlinson obtained a number of French sermons by Huguenot clergy in London from the 1660s to the 1710s (MS. Rawl. D. 641), and sermons and lectures by Jean Nissolles of Jersey from 1699 to 1705 (MS. Rawl. E. 18). There also is a volume of thirty-five German sermons among Rawlinson’s collection, but it is unclear where they were preached (MS. Rawl. E. 25). Unsurprisingly, Rawlinson collected a number of volumes of sermons by nonjurors. He acquired sermons by the nonjuring bishops Samuel Hawes (MSS. Rawl. E. 10-14) and George Hickes (MS. Rawl. E. 20), and by the nonjuring preacher Denis Granville (MS. Rawl. D. 852).
Richard Rawlinson’s passionate, eclectic and undiscriminating interest in early modern manuscripts resulted in a diverse collection of manuscript sermons. Many of these sermons may have been lost without his efforts, and scholars benefit from the fact that Rawlinson was interested not only in well-known but also obscure and anonymous preachers. We currently are entering the details of these manuscript sermons into GEMMS to make this valuable collection more accessible to sermon scholars.
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