ABSTRACT

Clarendon’s essays were first printed in 1727 in A Collection of Several Tracts of the Right Honourable Edward, Earl of Clarendon, Author of The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England. Published from His Lordship’s Original Manuscripts, where they were accompanied by two lengthy dialogues (‘A Dialogue between A. an old Courtier, B. an old Lawyer, C. an old Soldier, D. an old Country Gentleman, and E. an old Alderman, of the want of Respect due to Age’ and ‘A Dialogue between the same Persons and a Bishop, concerning Education’) as well as his monumental Contemplations and Reflexions upon the Psalmes of David: Applying those Devotions to the Troubles of this Time. 1 As the title makes clear, the volume was trading on Clarendon’s glittering if controversial reputation as an historian following the publication of The History of the Rebellion between 1702 and 1704. A further attraction for the prospective buyer was the authenticity of the texts. A note from ‘THE EDITOR to the READER’ amplifies the claim made on the title page by assuring purchasers that all the tracts were printed from manuscripts ‘written in his own Hand’. Moreover, ‘the Papers from which ’tis printed’ had been preserved and ‘may be seen by any one who has Doubts or Curiosity at the Publishers, in his Lordship’s own Hand-Writing’ (sig. [A2r]). (The Collection was ‘Printed for T. WOODWARD, at the Half-Moon over against St. Dunstan’s Church in Fleetstreet, and J. PEELE, at Locke’s Head in Pater-noster-Row’, but what became of these autographs after being available for inspection at the booksellers’ premises is unknown.) The essays next appeared in 1747 as a part of A Compleat Collection of Tracts by that Eminent Statesman the Right Honourable Edward, Earl of Clarendon and again in 1751 in The Miscellaneous Works of the Right Honourable Edward, Earl of Clarendon. However, this does not mean that the original publishing venture had been a success; far from it. Woodward and Peele found themselves encumbered with a large stock of unsold sheets that was kept in store for twenty years before being reissued with new title pages by different booksellers in 1747 and 1751. The essays were, then, something of a hard sell, and one of the 101aims of this essay is to give a sense of why this may have been so as well as to suggest why they nevertheless have a claim on our attention.