Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Hearne, Thomas (1678-1735)

HEARNE, THOMAS (1678–1735), historical antiquary, the son of George Hearne, parish clerk from 1670 of White Waltham in Berkshire, and Edith, his wife, daughter of Thomas Wise of Shottesbrooke in the same county, was born at Littlefield Green, in the parish of White Waltham, in July 1678. His father gave him what instruction was in his own power, but his poor circumstances compelled him to send the boy to day labour. He had, however, given such proofs of ability and skill in reading and writing, that Francis Cherry [q. v.] of Shottesbrooke undertook to provide for his education, and sent him to the school of Bray. His progress here was such that, by the advice of Dodwell, who then lived at Shottesbrooke, Cherry took him into his own house, and treated him as a son. From Cherry and Dodwell Hearne acquired his nonjuring principles. In 1695 Hearne was sent by Cherry to Oxford, where he was entered of Edmund Hall, under White Kennett, vice-principal of the hall and rector of Shottesbrooke. He began residence there at Easter 1696, and took the degrees of B.A. in 1699, and M.A. in 1703. While he was still an undergraduate his studious habits and literary tastes became known in the university, and he was employed by Mill (then at work on the Appendix to his Greek Testament), Grabe, and others in various ways. Soon after taking his degree he was given the opportunity of going to Maryland as a missionary (Letters from the Bodleian, i. 117); but this he refused, after making it the subject of special prayer for guidance (ib.) and taking the advice of his friends. Much of his time was now spent in the Bodleian Library, and there his tastes and powers of mind attracted the notice of the librarian, John Hudson [q. v.], through whose influence he was made assistant-keeper or janitor. Here he spent many years, working at the catalogue of books, and completing that of the coins, and thus obtaining the knowledge and interest which he preserved through life for this branch of antiquities, and amassing the minute knowledge he ultimately possessed of books of all kinds, and especially of all relating to the history of England. He was afterwards offered chaplaincies at Corpus Christi and All Souls' colleges; but as the librarian decided that these were not tenable with a post in the library, he declined them, and in 1712 became second keeper of the Bodleian Library. The following year he was offered the librarianship of the Royal Society, but he would not leave Oxford. In 1715 he was elected archi-typographus and esquire bedell in civil law, two offices which had been always combined, but which, by a high-handed proceeding of the vice-chancellor (Dr. Gardiner) and others, acting, according to Hearne, against the statute, were now to be separated. Hearne declared that he would not hold the one without the other. He was at the same time resolved to remain in the library, but the librarian wished to get rid of him, and induced the visitors to decide, as soon as Hearne assumed the office of bedell, that the offices of under-librarian and of bedell were inconsistent. Hearne at once resigned the bedellship, though, according to his own account, his resignation was not formally complete, when W. Mussendine was elected bedell in his place. Hearne continued to execute the office of librarian as long as he could obtain access to the library; but on 23 Jan. 1716, the last day fixed by the new act for taking the oaths to the Hanoverian dynasty, he was actually prevented from entering the library, and was soon after formally deprived of his office on the ground of ‘neglect of duty.’

He remained from that time to the end of his life living quietly in Edmund Hall, carrying on his literary and historical works. In later life he might have had several honourable posts in the university—the Camden professorship of history in 1720 and again in 1727, that of keeper of the archives in 1726, and the head-librarianship of the Bodleian Library in 1719 and in 1729; but all these, according to his own account, he refused rather than take the oaths to what he regarded as a usurping dynasty, preferring, in his own words, ‘a good conscience before all manner of preferment and worldly honour.’ On Wanley's death he was offered in vain the post of librarian to the Earl of Oxford. He died on 10 June 1735, in consequence of a fever following a severe cold, and was buried in the east side of the churchyard of St. Peter's-in-the-East at Oxford on the 14th, with the words ‘who studied and preserved antiquities’ inscribed after his name on the tomb, by his own wish, an inscription that has been more than once renewed. His library was sold by T. Osborne on 16 Feb. 1736 and following days (see printed catalogue).

As a young man he chiefly devoted himself to classical literature, and published editions of Pliny's ‘Letters and Panegyrick,’ Eutropius, Justin, and Livy, and made large collections for an edition of Cicero, which were utilised in the Oxford edition of 1783 (10 vols. 4to). But as he grew older his attention was chiefly confined to English history and antiquities, and after publishing the ‘Itinerary’ and ‘Collectanea’ of John Leland he began his well-known series of editions of the English chroniclers; they were all published by subscription, very few copies of each being printed. Their importance to historical students can scarcely be exaggerated, many of them being the only editions that existed till the recent publication of the Rolls Series of historical works, and some being still the only editions in print. Hearne accomplished all this with little help from others, with only the income he derived from his subscribers, and with the chief authorities of the university looking askance at him. It is satisfactory to know that he lived to see what he had published for 2l. 2s. sold for 12l. 12s., and that at his death over 1,000l. was found in his possession. He does not show any grasp of history, and for the most part he contented himself with seeing his manuscripts carefully through the press; but his accuracy is generally to be depended on, though his explanations of words are not always satisfactory. His prefaces do not give the information which would be expected of the contents of the volumes or even of the history and condition of the manuscripts from which he printed. His appendices contain all kinds of extraneous matter, having in most cases no connection with the author they follow. He was certainly wanting in power to distinguish the relative value of what fell in his way; it seemed to him enough that a document was old to induce him to publish it. Just before his death he had issued proposals for an edition of the chronicle known by the name of John Bevere (really a copy of the ‘Flores Historiarum’) [see John of London], from the Harl. MS. 641, and a few subscribers' names had been received.

But what he issued to the world was only a part of Hearne's literary work. He was in constant correspondence with very many of the antiquaries and literary men of his day, and their replies fill the greater part of ‘Rawl. Lett.’ vols. i–xxxvii., preserved in the Bodleian Library. Beginning from 1705 to within a few days of his death, he also kept an elaborate diary, giving lengthy extracts from the books he read or which came under his notice, remarks on his friends and enemies, upon public matters, university gossip and history, and indeed anything that interested him at the moment. This is contained in 145 volumes, left by him, with his other manuscripts and his collection of medals, to his friend W. Bedford, who sold them to Dr. Rawlinson, by whom they were bequeathed to the Bodleian Library. Some extracts from them were printed in 1817 by Dr. Bliss, but not published till 1857, in two octavo vols.; a second edition was issued with considerable additions in three vols. in London, 1869. But the whole diary, or at least all that is valuable in it, is being published under the auspices of the Oxford Historical Society, edited by Mr. C. E. Doble and others; eight vols., containing the ‘Collections’ from 1705 to 1725, have appeared (1885–1907). The diary gives Hearne's sentiments on things and persons in a very outspoken way; he has no tenderness for the Hanoverians or his personal opponents, and only commends the honest men, i.e. nonjurors and adherents of the exiled royal family. Thus he speaks of Bishop Trelawny (Doble, i. 315) as ‘an illiterate, mean, silly, trifling, and impertinent fellow;’ ‘Dr. Kennett and some others of the trimming, diabolical principles’ (ii. 336); Mr. Trapp (poetry professor), ‘a most silly, rash, hott-headed fellow’ (iii. 56); Whalley, ‘a vain, proud, empty fellow’ (iii. 121); Charlett, ‘of a strange, unaccountable vanity’ (iii. 132); while Lancaster, provost of Queen's, he calls ‘old smooth boots,’ ‘the northern bear’ (iii. 28, 119, 121, 290, 349), ‘the worst vice-chancellor that ever was in Oxon.,’ who ‘raised to himself a pillar of infamy’ (iii. 60). Nor does he spare the wives of those he looked upon as enemies. Tanner's wife (ii. 9) is ‘remarkable for drinking of brandy;’ Kennett's wife ‘wears the breeches, and manages him as his haughty, insolent temper deserves’ (ib.) No doubt Hearne felt deeply the injustice with which he had been treated, and he was evidently at one time continually in fear of proceedings being taken against him. Thus he is afraid to write to his father openly, and conceals his name even in his diary (iii. 284, 361, 486). Had his diaries been examined, he would scarcely have been left undisturbed. And it must be allowed that he sometimes went out of his way to attack those in power, as may be seen in his remarks relating to the heads of colleges in his preface to Camden's ‘Elizabeth,’ i. xlvi (see them in Letters from the Bodleian, ii. 45).

The following is a list of his works, chiefly taken from his own manuscript copy, as given in Huddesford's ‘Life,’ i. 37–116, not including indexes to other works which he made, or separate letters on antiquities contained in his various volumes: 1. ‘Reliquiæ Bodleianæ,’ 1703. 2. ‘Plinii Epistolæ et Panegyricus,’ 1703. 3. ‘Eutropius, Messala Corvinus, Julius Obsequens,’ 1703. 4. ‘Ductor Historicus,’ 1704 (reprinted 1705, 1714, 1724). 5. ‘Justin,’ 1705. 6. ‘Livy,’ 1708. 7. Spelman's ‘Life of Alfred,’ 1709. 8. Leland's ‘Itinerary,’ 1710–12 (reprinted 1744–5, and again 1768–1770). 9. Dodwell's ‘De parma equestri Woodwardiana dissertatio,’ 1713. Some expressions in this offended the heads of houses in Oxford, and it was suppressed. See Hearne's ‘Catalogus Operum,’ p. 52. To this is added Thomas Neale's ‘Dialogue on the Buildings of the University of Oxford, with Views of the Colleges and the Schools.’ 10. Leland's ‘Collectanea,’ 1715 (reprinted 1774). 11. ‘Acta Apostolorum Græco-Latine, e codice Laudiano,’ 1715. 12. ‘Joannis Rossi Historia regum Angliæ,’ 1716. 13. ‘Titi Livii Foro-Juliensis Historia Henrici Quinti,’ 1716. 14. ‘Aluredi Beverlacensis Annales,’ 1716. 15. ‘W. Roperi Vita D. Thomæ Mori,’ 1716. 16. Camden's ‘Annales rerum Anglicarum et Hibernicarum regnante Elizabetha,’ 1717. 17. ‘W. Neubrigensis Historia,’ 1719. 18. ‘Thomæ Sprotti Chronica,’ 1719. This contains, besides other tracts, the ‘Fragment of an old English Chronicle of the affairs of K. Edward IV.’ 19. ‘A Collection of curious Discourses written by eminent Antiquaries,’ 1720 (reprinted, with additions, 1774). 20. ‘Textus Roffensis,’ 1720. 21. ‘Roberti de Avesbury Historia de mirabilibus gestis Edwardi III,’ 1720. 22. ‘Joannis de Fordun Scotichronicon,’ 1722. 23. [Eyston's] ‘History and Antiquities of Glastonbury,’ 1722. 24. ‘Hemingi Cartularium Ecclesiæ Wigorniensis,’ 1723. 25. ‘Robert of Gloucester's Chronicle,’ 1724 (reprinted 1810). 26. ‘Peter Langtoft's Chronicle,’ 1725 (reprinted 1810). 27. ‘Joannis Glastoniensis Chronica,’ 1726. 28. ‘Adami de Domerham Historia de rebus gestis Glastoniensibus,’ 1727. 29. ‘Thomæ de Elmham Vita et gesta Henrici V,’ 1727. 30. ‘Liber Niger Scaccarii,’ 1728 (reprinted 1774). 31. ‘Historia Ricardi II a monacho de Evesham.’ 32. ‘Johannis de Trokelowe Annales Edwardi II, Henrici de Blaneforde Chronica, Monachi cujusdem Malmesburiensis Vita Edwardi II.’ 33. ‘Thomæ Caii Vindiciæ Antiquitatis Acad. Oxon.,’ 1730. 34. ‘Walteri Hemingford [Hemingburgh] Historia de rebus gestis Edwardi I, II, III,’ 1731. This also contains the ‘Anonymi Historia Edwardi III’ from the Harleian MS. 1729, really a compilation from Murimuth and Higden, and some extracts from Gascoigne's ‘Theological Dictionary.’ 35. ‘Thomas Otterbourne’ and ‘Johannes Wethamstede,’ 1732. 36. ‘Chronicon sive Annales Prioratus de Dunstaple,’ 1733. 37. ‘Benedictus abbas de vita et gestis Hen. II et Ric. I,’ 1735. All these volumes contain appendices full of matter of historical and antiquarian interest, quite independent of their chief contents. A complete list is given in the ‘Catalogus Operum’ in Huddesford's ‘Life.’

In 1731 was published, much to Hearne's disgust, ‘A Vindication of those who take the Oath of Allegiance.’ This was a youthful essay by Hearne, found among Mr. Cherry's papers, and published with the object of making Hearne ridiculous, as at one time entertaining different principles from those for which he had contended so strongly all his life (cf. Life, pp. 29–32).

In spite of his retiring character and simple habits of life, and of the extraordinary diligence and pains of which the above list is ample proof, he has not escaped the sneers of authors who ought to have known better. Thus Gibbon (Posthumous Works, ii. 711) has attacked him, and Pope's foolish lines on him in the ‘Dunciad,’ iii. 185 (where he styles him Wormius), are well known (cf. Tanner, Bibliotheca Britannico-Hibernica, pref. pp. xliii–xlvii).

There is a full-length portrait of Hearne, engraved by Burghers, in the Bodleian Library. Two others, engraved by Vertue after Tillemans, are prefixed to the ‘Vindication of the Oath of Allegiance,’ Bliss's ‘Extracts from the Diaries,’ the ‘Ectypa Varia,’ 1737, and are occasionally inserted in copies of Hearne's historical works. A complete account of the portraits is given by Bliss (Appendix I. pp. 886–8). A caricature of him will be found in Warton's ‘Companion to the Oxford Guide.’

[Impartial Memorials of the Life and Writings of Thomas Hearne, M.A., by several hands, Lond. 1736, with Bliss's manuscript notes in the Brit. Mus. copy of this work; Lives of Leland, Hearne, and Wood, edited by Warton and Huddesford, Oxford, 1772 (this gives his autobiography); Letters of Eminent Persons from the Bodleian, London, 1813; Extracts from the Diaries of Thomas Hearne, edited by Bliss, Oxford, 1857, London, 1869; Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearne, vols. i–iii., Oxford, 1885–9, edited by C. E. Doble for the Oxford Historical Society; Dibdin's Bibliomania, pp. 327–36, ed. 1842, and Library Companion, pp. 224–41; Hardy's Appendix to his Cat. of Materials for the Hist. of Great Britain and Ireland, i. 807–10; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. pp. 1021–9; Macray's Annals of the Bodleian Library, 2nd ed., 1890; Catalogues of the Tanner and Rawlinson MSS.; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes and Illustrations; Rawlinson MS. J. fol. 17, and 4to 2, 145 sqq.; Ballard's manuscript letters; Thoresby's Diary and Correspondence; Hist. MSS. Comm. App. to 3rd Rep. p. 260; Oxoniana, vol. iii.; Letters of Eminent Literary Men (Camden Soc.), pp. 355 sqq.; Ouvry's Letters addressed to Thomas Hearne, M.A., privately printed, London, 1874.]

H. R. L.