The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

XIII. Scholars and Antiquaries

§ 19. Thomas Hearne

Thomas Hearne, too, was a diarist; but his services to literature and learning were of a different nature from those of Wood. From his earliest youth he showed a genius for scholarship, and, shortly after taking his degree at Oxford, was appointed assistant keeper in the Bodleian library, where his energies were devoted to completing the catalogues of the printed books, the manuscripts, and the coins. One of his first essays in publication was, very fitly, commemorative of the founder of the library: Reliquiae Bodleianae, or Some genuine remains of Sir Thomas Bodley (1703). Next, as the outcome of his early interest in classical studies, appeared an edition of Pliny’s Epistolae et Panegyricus, which was followed by other classical texts. Ductor Historicus, or A short system of Universal History and an introduction to the study of it, which he brought out in 1704–5, indicated the direction which his activities would soon take. From the original manuscripts in the Bodleian, he published, for the first time, John Leland’s Itinerary (1710–12) and Collectanea (1715)—an undertaking which has indissolubly linked his name with that of the father of English antiquities.

In 1716, Hearne entered upon his important service to historical study, the production of that admirable collection of early English chronicle histories which, beginning with Historia Regum Angliae of John Rous (or Ross), came from the press in an almost uninterrupted series, down to the Henry II and Richard I of Benedict, abbot of Peterborough, which bears date 1735, the year of Hearne’s death. Hardly less interesting than the chronicles themselves is the extraordinary gathering of tractates appended as supplements to the several volumes. Drawn from a variety of sources, they deal with many curious and interesting matters, often in no way related to the main subject of the volume. Among them are a number of manuscript pieces from the collection formed by Thomas Smith, the learned librarian of the Cottonian library, who had bequeathed his books and manuscripts to Hearne. The speed with which these volumes came out hardly admitted of their bearing the character of critical editions; and, possibly, the wealth of material which lay ready to his hand and called for publication operated against deliberate and scholarly work, such as might have claimed for him the title of historian, in place of the more modest epitaph of his own choosing—“who studied and preserved antiquities.”