Richard Baxter (1615-91) was described by A G Matthews in Calamy Revised as “the outstanding figure among ejected ministers”. Although he was one of those ministers appointed chaplains to the King in 1660, and despite his attendance at and contribution to the negotiations held at the Savoy to decide on the shape and details of the restored Church of England, he was harassed and imprisoned in the reigns of both Charles II and James II. The biographical dictionary, accompanying the Entring Book of Roger Morrice (Woodbridge 2007), states that Baxter “retired from the Church of England on the passing of the Act of Uniformity”. The word retire may give a misleading impression of genteel withdrawal from public life, rather than the principled and self-denying choice which he and perhaps some 2000 nonconformist divines felt compelled to make. Yet, in spite of harsh treatment after 1662, Baxter consistently favoured the cause of ecclesiastical comprehension and did not actually leave the Church of England, although he was inhibited in the continuance of his ministry. In fact he sought to and did attend the parish church whenever he could, though that attendance also brought him some criticism.
Neil Keeble has described Richard Baxter as “throughout his life a voluminous correspondent” and the volume of his correspondence is matched by that of his many other writings which demonstrate a consistent engagement with current affairs, with movements in theology and with the vicissitudes of everyday life. Dr Williams’s Library contains the great majority of the extant manuscripts which relate to Baxter, among which are numerous letters, the subject of Keeble and Nuttall’s two volumed Calendar of the Correspondence of Richard Baxter(1991). Certainly Baxter could not refrain from writing. This puritan minister who did not attend university lived as much through his writings as through any other medium. The annotated list of Baxter’s works, compiled by A G Matthews in 1932, contains 135 works written and published in his lifetime and 6 more published posthumously, including his autobiography the Reliquiae Baxterianae (1696). A further 37 contributions to other works were also listed by Matthews, to which Geoffrey Nuttall added another 17, in his own copy of Matthews’ list (now held at Dr Williams’s Library). That is, Baxter wrote or contributed to something like 195 published works.
The manuscripts, contained in the Baxter Treatises at DWL, offer drafts and copies of some of his better known works, including much that makes its way into the later published Reliquiae Baxterianae. As a whole the treatises offer revealing insights into the creation of his published works, as well as his responses to the work of other major figures of the period. They are not easy to consult, however, for they have been arranged haphazardly. They also contain some scoring out and some marginal notes and, at times, a good deal of shorthand.
In addition then to the six volumes of Baxter letters in the DWL holdings (containing some 621 separate items), are several so called volumes of Baxter ‘Treatises’, the first seven of which are the most weighty and most significant. These seven volumes contain about 274 separate items. Furthermore there are fourteen slighter volumes containing some 86 items which take the total of items in the Baxter Treatises to 362. Many of the items are subdivided and some are bulky, making a substantial amount of material overall. This catalogue of these treatises aims to provide readers with an outline of each treatise so that they might readily see the possible benefits from consulting them. These ‘volumes’ of treatises have been in effect loose gatherings of manuscripts jumbled together at some time in the past and subsequently maintained in modern and more appropriate boxes, designed to hold such archives, in contrast to their previous homes. The recent disbinding of the volumes allows greater scope for their examination and has improved their long-term preservation prospects.
The volumes consist of treatises, tracts, disputations, sermons, exercises, drafts, letters and miscellaneous papers. Although as a collection, the Baxter holdings at DWL are widely recognised to be of considerable importance, the treatises themselves have been largely ignored or overlooked by scholars, unaware of their existence or daunted by their diversity, complexity and perhaps by their physical condition.
The treatises were not all written by Baxter, although most relate to him in some way, but again not all. For instance, RB/1/65 contains the remarks of Sir Francis Nethersole (1587-1659) concerning two articles in The Solemn League and Covenant of 1643. Nethersole saw the articles as resembling a creed, although he had no deep conscientious problem with the covenant itself, for he believed that parliament had raised its forces for the houses’ “just defence” against the army of the king.
Nevertheless the treatises are correctly known as the Baxter Treatises because they were found to be in his possession at his death, probably by his executor, Matthew Sylvester (1636/7-1708), also an ejected minister, to whom Baxter in his will left £20 and the care of all his manuscripts, none of which were to be published without the approval of certain named nonconformist ministers, among whom were Roger Morrice (1628/9–1702) and Daniel Williams (c 1643-1716). Unfortunately Sylvester proved unable to impose order upon Baxter’s ‘great quantity of loose Papers’ - hence the confused state of the Reliquiae Baxterianae which reflects the similar disorder of the treatises.
The treatises reveal not only Baxter’s contacts with the highly placed like Archbishop Ussher of Armagh, Gilbert Sheldon, Bishop of London and later Archbishop of Canterbury, Sir Edward Hyde, Lord Chancellor, later Lord Clarendon, Lord Orrery, Lord Conway ( Baxter’s step-mother was Conway’s aunt and he addressed Baxter’ father as ‘cousin’) but also his dealings with humble apprentices, troubled wives, Baptists and Quakers. Moreover they touch on the bizarre, eccentric and the mundane. The treatises show a concern for both the saving of souls and the saving of bodies.
The wide ranging nature of Baxter’s concerns are evident in other of his writings here. Some time after 1662, Baxter wrote a political, ecclesiastical and historical tract on the true state of the divisions in England RB/1/13 in order to inform better any foreigners who might “marvel at the madness and misery of distracted and divided England”. Yet, he wondered, “Is any great part of this world in any better case?”
Inevitably the treatises touch on Baxter’s brushes with the law. One document from June 1669, is directed to the Keeper of His Majesty’s Gaol, known as the New Prison, in Clerkenwell. It states that Baxter had preached “in an unlawful assembly, conventicle or meeting” and as a result he was to be detained and imprisoned in the New Prison. Also in 1669 RB/1/53 is the warrant for Baxter’s arrest, issued to the constables of Acton where Baxter was then living. The constables were informed that they must straightway apprehend Baxter and bring him before the justices at the Red Lion in Brentford on the following Friday.
In 1683 Baxter wrote in defence of nonconformist ministers to an unnamed Scottish lord (RB/1/22) who did not understand, in Baxter’s words, “our case”. “My Lord, you tell me that you were among some great men, when one said, He went to here Mr Baxter and that he preacht & prayed so well that his judgment was, He ought to beaten with many stripes”.
However in October 1686 we have, but not in Baxter’s own handwriting, his petition to the king, then James II (RB/1/33). In this Baxter asked the monarch to allow his discharge from the bond and penalties imposed upon him unjustly, in his view, two years previously. By then he had been in prison for over a year and he was not to be released for another 6 months or so.
Almost at the end of his life, Baxter’s concern for common folk surfaced in “The Husbandman’s advice to rich racking landlords”, which was “written in Compassion especially of their soules and of the land” (RB/1/93). He exhorted “the Lords, Knights and Gentlemen of England … not to come to Dives’ place of torment [a reference to the biblical story of the rich man and Lazarus – Luke 16:19-31]: and to believe Christ who assureth them that by what they faithfully give to the poore, they give incomparably more to themselves, as giving it to him that will reward them”. This manuscript, consisting of 7 chapters, was written by Baxter in October 1691, a few weeks before his death.
One obvious fact which emerges from a study of the Baxter Treatises is that Baxter himself, perhaps like many of his contemporaries among English and perhaps other ministers, was to modern eyes extraordinarily well read. That is the Treatises throw up his acquaintance not only with the celebrated writings of Augustine, Origen and Lactantius, with the reformers Calvin, Bucer and Beza, and with contemporary philosophers like Hobbes and Spinoza, all of which might be expected, but also with the Dutchmen, Hugo de Groot (Grotius) and J J Scaliger, the French Reformed theologians, Raymond Gaches, David Blondel and Daniel Chamier, the Germans Schwenckfeld, Polanus and Johnannes Clauberg, the disciple of Boehme, Quirinius Kuhlmann, the Italian, Girolamo Zanchi (Zanchius), the medical scholar, Jan Jesensky of Prague, and the Polish Reformed thinker, Jan Makowski (Maccovius), among many others, revealing a network of intellectual contacts which transcended national boundaries and prejudices. This erudition enabled him to provide the thoughtful responses to immediate issues, which marked his writings and rendered his work so difficult to dismiss.
Throughout Argent's Calendar to the Treatises he includes, in sequence, 'header notes' to the volumes. These notes are descriptive of the often uneven gatherings and of their authorship and composition. As this catalogue is descriptive of the treatises after their disbinding we decided to move these notes to the Scope and Content section of the catalogue:
- Volume IVBlack: Treatises vol. iv, containing numbers 75-131 of the first series of papers.
- Volume VIContaining the first part of a third series, described in the old list as ‘A bundle of imperfect Papers’.
- For Volume VIII (items 285-292) see Volume XXII
- Volume IXBlack: All (except art 5) written by the same hand as the signature on the corner of the first leaf (folio 1), ‘Tho. Hall of Kingsnorton Worcestorshire’; for the most part on alternate pages and some parts of the volume are left blank. It is evidently from the numerous corrections and additions throughout not a copy but the author’s orginal MS, notwithstanding what might appear to the contrary by the title page: ‘Pestis eram vivens, moriens tua mors ero Papa’. This MS, though evidently intended for posthumous publication, does not appear to have been known to the author’s biographers.
- Volume XBlack: In rough calf, without title, heading, or date; irregularly paged, and foliated by the author; the latter half is blank and blank pages are left here and there. Richard Baxter’s Adversaria Theologica, volume I. Thomas: Three volumes (vols 10-12) partly used in collecting notes and extracts from various writing, with considerable portions in shorthand.
- Volume XIBlack: A thicker and shorter volume, bound in smooth calf, without title. Irregularly paged and fliated by the author, but now foliated throughout in pencil. The tops of f 7, f 11, f 12, f 14, f 17, f 18 have been cut off, evidently by Baxter himself to adapt the first part of the book to his existing purpose. Richard Baxter’s Adversaria Theologica. Volume II.Thomas: Three volumes (vols 10-12) partly used in collecting notes and extracts from various writing, with considerable portions in shorthand.
- Volume XIIBlack: A neat volume in old brown calf, containing 172 leaves, partly paged, and mostly blank. Thomas: Volumes 10-12 are partly used in collecting notes and extracts from various writing, with considerable portions in shorthand.
- Volume XIIIBlack: In old brown sheep skin. Written by two different hands; to p. 256, and paged to 261 by the first hand; from p. 257 to the hand by another, and throughout corrected by the author. There are 6 vacant leaves at the beginning, and 54 at the end.
- Volume XIVBlack: In rough calf, with clasps: stamped RB on both covers. The lining, and fly leaves at both hands, are portion of the printed Apocrypha in octavo; on those at the beginning.
- Volume XVBlack: A collection of small MSS and fragments, heretofore unarranged and unbound; now put together and intitled – Miscellanea Baxteriana minora.
- Volume XVIBlack: Three original manuscripts together with Baxter’s editorial matter, prefixed and subjoined. They constituted ‘No. 68’ in the series of Baxter’s Treatises: and some portions were bound up in the third volume of them: but the remaining portion being since found among loose leaves just as they came from Baxter’s printer, the whole is now collected and bound together.The whole of these MSS is printed in Baxter’s very rare publication entitled The Judgment of the late Lord Chief Justice Sir Matthew Hale, of the nature of true religion… (London, 1684), quarto; and their history may be seen in the preface; where Baxter says: ‘And lest any accuse me of forgery, I hope to preserve the Manuscripts, and doubt not that Lady Hale or Mr Stevens hath a copy of them’. He says that only the two verses Compositum jus fasque etc. were by Sir Matthew’s own hand; but the transcript appear to have been corrected by him. Two leaves follow, which seem to be parts of the original wrapper, with marks of sealing wax; containing:A shorthand note by Baxter or Morrice, with the date 21 Sept. 1682 (f 44v).Baxter’s endorsement ‘Judge Hale’s papers’ (f 45v).These MSS are thus mentioned by Baxter in the Rel. speaking of Hale and of his writings: ‘Two or three small tractates, written for me, I have published, expressing the simple and excellent nature of true religion, and the corruption and great evils that follow men’s additaments, called wrongfully by the name of religion, and contended far above it and against it; and showing how most parties are guilty of this sin.’ (Rel. iii. 181)The Latin Compositum jus fasque is the beginning of a quotation from the Satires of Persius. See also Treatises ix, 299. For Edward Stephens (d 1706), the son-in-law of Sir Matthew Hale, see ODNB and Corr 994, 1041, 1127 and 1179.See also Treatises iii, 68 and xvi, 341.
- Volume XVIIIBlack: Baxter’s manuscripts quarto unbound and found among loose papers, partly consisting of sheets sown together, and partly loose; and now completed by the incorporation of 27 leaves, formerly bound in the first volume of ‘Treatises’ as no. 18.f 2r: ‘A Treatise against the Dominicane doctrine of Divine Predetermination, feigned by them to be necessary to all actions naturall & free, even those that God forbiddeth, as they are determined to their forbidden objects, in all their modes & circumstances; & this by the naturall necessity of the dependance of the second Cause on the first, moving it by Physicall efficient immediate identifike predetermining Premotion In two PartsI An old Disputation written twenty yeares agoe & now published as a necessary Antidote against the Poyson of Mr Hobbes & some late Contenders writings that furiously call the Church to Armes against Truth & Peace for their dangerous undigested notions. II Animadversions on a booke called The Court of the Gentiles: Part 4: Predetermination. By Richard Baxter, A resolved defender of necessary Truth, Love & Peace to his power’
- Volume XIXBlack: A small volume, consisting of severall sheets folded in octavo; very closely written, and irregularly paged by Baxter. They were formerly bound among the Treatises, partly as ‘number 76’ and partly as ‘number 83’ in volume 4.
- Volume XXBlack: A small volume, consisting of four sheets folded in ocatovo and very closely written by Baxter; formerly bound as number 75 among the Treatises, vol. iv.
- Volume XXIBlack: Several mss formerly bound up (in part) with the folio papers, and (in part) found loose; now placed together, and forming a small volume. They are neatly and uniformely written by the same hand as Lord Lauderdale’s Letters to Baxter; and one here numbered as marked in the series of Treatises.
- Volume XXIIBlack: Several quires of very large paper, intermingled with sheets or leaves of different series, now collected out of the unbound fragments. Reliquiae Baxterianae: or fragments of the Autobiography of Richard Baxter, as originally written by him, and including passages omitted in Sylvester’s publication under that title.
In the second half of the 17th century, although a nonconformist, Baxter remained concerned with national affairs, and especially but by no means only religious affairs. The Baxter holdings at DWL are of great significance. Although now removed from their 19th century bindings and expertly conserved their contents demand careful and sensitive handling from both library staff and readers. This catalogue is an attempt to render the Baxter Treatises more accessible to readers.
In the preparation of the detailed Calendar which forms the basis of this catalogue, Dr Argent was assisted by Micol Barengo "who has saved me from innumerable errors. Where she and I have on occasion stumbled over the correct readings of Baxter’s handwriting, or that of others who appear in the treatises, we have been rescued by Dr Elizabeth Danbury. Jane Giscombe has been fully involved in advising us on the handling of the treatises throughout and she retains responsibility for their conservation. David Wykes has entrusted me with this commission and on occasion has contributed a reading of a difficult name. David Powell checked the Latin throughout and also supplied details of the Physiologus tales. Peter Young has assisted with the index. For all these aids and encouragements I am grateful. My main hope is that readers will benefit from our work."
- AGM – The Works of Richard Baxter. An Annotated List(1932) compiled by A G Matthews (listed without annotations in Corr vol I, xxi-xxiv)
- Black – W H Black’s ms catalogue of the Baxter Treatises, prepared 1856-63
- Corr – N H Keeble and G F Nuttall (eds) Calendar of the Correspondence of Richard Baxter (Oxford 1991) 2 vols
- CR – A G Matthews Calamy Revised (Oxford 1934)
- DAB- Dictionary of American Biography
- DWB – Dictionary of Welsh Biography
- DWL – Dr Williams’s Library, London
- Entring Book Glossary – The Entring Book of Roger Morrice 1677-1691 Volume VI ed M Goldie (Woodbridge 2007) M Goldie ‘Glossary’
- JEH – Journal of Ecclesiastical History
- McElligott – The Entring Book of Roger Morrice 1677-1691 Volume VI ed M Goldie (Woodbridge 2007) J McElligott ‘Biographical Dictionary’
- ODNB – Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
- ODCC – Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
- Rel – R Baxter Reliquiæ Baxterianæ: or, Mr. Richard Baxter’s narrative of the most memorable passages of his life and times (ed M Sylvester) one volume in three parts (1696)
- Thomas – R Thomas The Baxter Treatises - a catalogue of the Richard Baxter papers (other than the letters) in Dr Williams’s Library - Dr Williams’s Library Occasional Paper no 8 (1959)
- VCH – Victoria County History