1. 18 January‘The First Evangelical Tract Society’Professor Isabel Rivers (Queen Mary, University of London)
The study of how popular religious publishing operated in Britain in the eighteenth century has been neglected. Recent work on such publishing in the nineteenth century ignores the important eighteenth-century tract distribution societies that were the predecessors of the much larger nineteenth-century ones. This paper provides a detailed account of the work of a society that is now little known, despite the wealth of surviving evidence: the Society for Promoting Religious Knowledge among the Poor, founded in 1750, which should properly be considered the first of the evangelical tract societies. It was founded by dissenters, but included many Anglicans among its members; its object was to promote experimental religion by distributing Bibles and cheap tracts to the poor. Its surviving records provide unusually detailed evidence of the choice, numbers, distribution, and reception of these books. Analysis of this particular society throws light more generally on non-commercial popular publishing, the reading experiences of the poor, and the development of evangelical religion in the eighteenth century.
2. 15 February‘The Pulpit Theology of the Westminster Assembly (1643-52)’Dr Chad Van Dixhoorn (Wolfson College, Cambridge)
Chad Van Dixhoorn is editor, together with associate editor Professor David Wright of the University of Edinburgh, of The Minutes and Papers of the Westminster Assembly, 1643–1652, to be published by Oxford University Press. The manuscript of the Minutes, one of the major holdings of Dr Williams’s Library, constitutes the most important unpublished religious text of seventeenth-century Britain. The manuscript itself, transcribed by Dr Van Dixhoorn for his Cambridge PhD thesis, is unusually difficult to read. Historians have hitherto relied on a handwritten transcription and a published edition of under a third of the minutes, both produced in the nineteenth century and full of errors. The new edition will publish in full for the first time the records of the Westminster Assembly, a Parliamentary commission appointed to reform the English church at the time of the Civil War. Its minutes and papers, over half a million words in length, record intense, learned debate on theology, politics, and church reform, but also extemporary comment on social issues. Comprising 30 members of Parliament and over 120 English and Scottish theologians, the Assembly regulated the church for a decade.
3. 15 March‘John Chapman and the Westminster Review’Professor Rosemary Ashton (University College, London)
Rosemary Ashton recently completed 142 Strand (published by Chatto and Windus in January 2007), a book on the circle of Victorian writers (George Eliot, Dickens, R. W. Emerson, G. H. Lewes, Herbert Spencer, Harriet Martineau et al.) who gathered round the radical publisher John Chapman at his home, 142 Strand, in the 1840s and 1850s.
4. 3 May‘A Darker Shade of Pepys: The Roger Morrice Entring Book Project’Dr Mark Goldie (Churchill College, Cambridge)
Roger Morrice’s Entring Book, one of the treasures of Dr Williams’s Library, is the largest and most important hitherto unpublished diary of the later Stuart period – a million words, covering the period 1677 to 1691. Though primarily a register of high politics and of religious conflict, it is rich in material for many aspects of the cultural and social history of the period, from stage plays, to coffee houses, to the urban growth of London. The Entring Book has now been published by six editors from six universities in six volumes (Boydell and Brewer, 2007).
5. 14 June‘Henry Crabb Robinson and the Culture of Dissent, 1790-1805’Professor Tim Whelan (Georgia Southern University)
The extensive archive of Henry Crabb Robinson (1775-1867), containing his diary (which he kept from 1811 to 1867), his reminiscences (which cover the years 1775 to 1843), his correspondence, travel journals and other papers, is one of the most important unpublished collections in Dr Williams’s Library. In his paper Tim Whelan begins by reviewing nearly all previous editors and commentators on Robinson, pointing out what has essentially been a kind of literary ‘canonization’, in which his importance has been his friendships with numerous literary figures, especially the Wordsworth circle, and his recording of meetings with them, comments on their works, and anecdotes about them. What is missing from this great body of work, however, is a detailed record of his involvement with numerous dissenting figures and his life-long interest in and attachment to dissenting culture. Whelan then discusses his relationship with the Baptist minister Robert Hall, easily the dominant connection to dissenting culture that appears in the first two volumes of the correspondence. Crabb Robinson developed connections with dissenting culture in the 1790s from which he never departed, and his interest in those individuals would continue throughout his life. The literary narrative of his interests has been well edited and commented upon; the dissenting narrative has largely been neglected by modern readers and scholars. Only by recovering that dissenting narrative from the letters, diaries, reminscences, and notebooks can a true account of Crabb Robinson’s life and of his importance to English religious history be written.
6. 12 July‘Richard Baxter’s Pastoral Correspondence with Women (and Men)’Dr Alison Searle (Leverhulme Visiting Fellow, Queen Mary, University of London, and Dr Williams’s Centre for Dissenting Studies)
This paper outlines the nature of Richard Baxter’s pastoral epistolary discourse. In order to demonstrate the elements of this discourse more specifically, two exchanges receive focused consideration; these both occurred during the 1650s, when Baxter’s pastoral ministry in Kidderminster was at its height. The first is Baxter’s correspondence with Katherine Gell, a prominent Puritan gentlewoman based in Derbyshire; the second, his letters to Barbara Lamb and her husband, Thomas, a Baptist pastor and merchant, living in London. This comparison enables an exploration of the ways in which gender inflects Baxter’s pastoral counsel, especially in relation to melancholy.