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

§ 20. John Tanner

Wood made extensive preparations for a third volume of Athenae, which, in order to avoid interference from censors or friends, he purposed to have had printed in Holland. But this scheme he did not live to carry out, and, on his death-bed, he, “with great ceremony,” gave the two manuscript volumes of this continuation to Thomas Tanner, afterwards bishop of St. Asaph, “for his sole use, without any restrictions.” In so doing, it is probable that Wood had in view the publication of this volume by his legatee; but, whether through being occupied with schemes of his own, or because he did not care to take the risk of publishing so compromising a work, Tanner took no steps in the matter.

In the same year, 1695, Tanner, then a young man in his twenty-second year, brought out the first of his two notable compilations. Notitia Monastica, founded mainly on the Monasticon of Dodsworth and Dugdale, gives in brief form the foundation, order, dedication, and valuation of the various religious houses in England and Wales, with references to manuscript and printed sources for fuller information. This useful manual, the idea of which was doubtless suggested by the author’s own needs, did not allow any scope for original work; but a long preface afforded an opening for noticing the scanty existing literature of the subject, and adding some account of the several orders, with a sketch of the progress of monasticism in England. Tanner’s insistence on the value of monastic records in the study of local history and genealogy, and his defence of monks and their learning against the wholesale blackening to which they had been subjected since the dissolution of monasteries, indicates the advance made in the general attitude towards this subject since the days when Camden and Weever had felt it necessary to apologise for making mention of monasteries. At the time of his death, the bishop had nearly completed the transcript of a revised and enlarged edition, and this was brought out by his brother, John Tanner, in 1744.

Tanner’s other important work, Bibliotheca Britannico-Hibernica, after being in hand for forty years, at length appeared in 1748, under the editorship of David Wilkins, of Concilia fame. This book, in which an attempt is made to give an account of all the writers of the three kingdoms down to the beginning of the seventeenth century, long remained the best authority in its own province, and its usefulness is not yet exhausted.