John Locke (trans.), [Discourses], manuscript c.1690

In July 2021, Jay Moschella of the Boston Public Library (BPL) posted on Twitter about a seventeenth-century manuscript in their collection: see here for the original post, and here for the manuscript’s BPL catalogue record. Signed “Anne Thistlethwayte” and dated 1690, the manuscript is a copy of three treatises translated by John Locke from Pierre Nicole’s Essais de morale (1671). Locke made the translations during a stay in France in the 1670s and presented a copy to the Countess of Shaftesbury in about 1679; that presentation copy is now in the Pierpont Morgan Library.[1] Locke’s translations were first published in 1712, under the title Discourses on the being of a God, and the immortality of the soul; of the weakness of man; and concerning the way of preserving peace with men.[2]  In addition to the three translated treatises by Locke, the manuscript copy in the BPL concludes with a five-page list of Anne Thistlethwayte’s books grouped by format (folios and then “quartos,” but this second group includes smaller formats as well) followed by a single-page inventory of Thistlethwayte’s possessions, including some additional “uninventory’d” books not included in the preceding list.

At the time of the original post, the BPL had no other information about the Anne Thistlethwayte who had signed the manuscript copy of Locke and included in the manuscript the record of her substantial library. With permission from the BPL, I edited the booklist for inclusion in the Private Libraries in Renaissance England database (the edition is drafted, but at the time of this posting is not yet available on PLRE’s public site). In the course of editing the booklist, I noticed a reference in the concluding inventory of possessions to “Winterslow,” which identified her as Anne Thistlethwayte (1669-1741) of West Winterslow, Wiltshire. Identifying the owner of this manuscript transformed an interesting record of female provenance into a much richer story. First, Anne’s father, Alexander Thistlethwayte (1636-1714), was a Member of Parliament and political ally of the Earl of Shaftesbury, John Locke’s patron: see here for Alexander Thistlethwayte’s biographical listing in the History of Parliament site. Anne Thistlethwayte’s copy of the Locke manuscript consequently appears to derive from her father’s social-political network: additional evidence survives indicating that the Countess of Shaftesbury allowed copies of the manuscript to circulate within her circle.[3]

Anne was 21 in 1690, when the manuscript was copied. Her booklist, however, was compiled later: about 1712, based on identifiable publication dates represented in the list. The personal inventory is dated May 1714, soon after Anne’s father died (History of Parliament says he died in 1716, but the will reproduced on is dated 1712 and underwent probate on February 9, 1714). Around this time of personal transition, Anne Thistlethwayte became a member of another high-profile circle: she is traditionally identified as the “Mrs T[histlethwayte]” who was a friend and correspondent of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762). The discovery of Anne Thistlethwayte’s library confirms the strong plausibility of the identification. Five letters survive from Montagu to Thistlethwayte, plus one summary.[4] Between August 1716 and September 1718, Montagu writes her friend from Ratisbon, Adrianople, Constantinople, Lyons, and Paris, her chatty, detailed, confiding accounts following the long arc of Montagu’s Turkish embassy voyage. Montagu assumes that her friend is curious to hear what camels really look like, and how the design and construction of houses differs from what she has “read in most of our Accounts of Turkey” (Letters, 1:341). Montagu appears to refer specifically to dismissive passages in Sir Paul Rycaut’s Present State of the Ottoman Empire, first published in 1667: Anne Thistlethwayte indeed owned a copy of this book.

The booklist recorded in this manuscript represents a snapshot of Anne Thistlethwayte’s library up to the age of about 40, a collection created in the second half of the Restoration up to the death of Queen Anne. The library encapsulates the interests—philosophical, literary, historical, theological—we might expect of a young woman interested in John Locke who would subsequently join the circle of the witty, daring, curious, educated Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. The collection is a substantial one: the list comprises 145 records, but one record lists five bound-together volumes of plays, which could represent dozens of titles. Most of Anne’s books are in English but she did own a half dozen books in French, and the presence of history and poetry suggests her French was more than aspirational. More than a third of the library can be categorized as literature (including classics in translation: Horace, Juvenal, Ovid), with most of the remainder comprising theology, history, philosophy, courtesy, and ethics (including Seneca, Cicero, Epictetus, and Plutarch) and practical books in related fields (geography, education, law, arithmetic, medicine).

Opening pages of the booklist
Pages 3-4 of the booklist
Final page of the booklist with inventory facing (with additional books)

What most stands out is Anne’s interest in the creative and intellectual work of her female contemporaries: she owned books by Mary Astell (Serious Proposal and Six Familiar Essays), Aphra Behn (Histories and Novels and Love-Letters), Katherine Philips (one of the folio Poems), Mary Chudleigh (Poems), Anne Wharton (“The Temple of Death” is probably the 1695 anthology Temple of Death that includes the first publication of Wharton’s poems), Delarivier Manley (Secret Memoirs), Judith Drake (Essay in Defence of the Female Sex, also occasionally attributed to Astell), Madame de La Fayette (Princess of Cleves) and Mary Pix (The Inhumane Cardinal). Thistlethwayte also explored female creativity in the devotional as well as the literary realm, owning a copy of Jeanne Marie Bouvier de La Motte Guyon’s Short and Easie Method of Prayer, a radically Quietist guide for which Guyon had been imprisoned by Catholic authorities. Early modern booklists seldom contain the books that literary scholars hope to find, but Anne Thistlethwayte had almost eerily prescient tastes: a reading list based on her collection would form the basis today for an excellent seminar on women writers of the period.

Katherine Philips, Thomas Sprat, “Five volumes of plays”
Lady Chudleigh, John Milton
Mary Astell, Aphra Behn (one of two entries), “French poems”

Unpacking her library further we encounter George Herbert, John Oldham, Thomas Carew, and John Cleveland; Richard Blackmore’s egregious epic Prince Arthur and Milton’s History of Britain (but not his Paradise Lost); Poems on Affairs of State, The Tatler, both parts of Marvell’s Rehearsal Transprosed; and sixteen works of prose fiction. This last cluster reminds us of the later seventeenth century surge in the popularity of novels, many translated from the French. Three novels in Anne’s library do not survive but exist now only in bookseller advertisements: The Illustrious Parisian Maid; The Inchanted Lover; and Memoirs of the Adventures of a French Lady. These entries reveal the role of booklists in confirming the existence of now lost books.

Anne Thistlethwayte also owned an additional title by John Locke (Two Treatises of Government) and the Earl of Shaftesbury’s Characteristicks as well as Descartes’ Passions of the Soul, Montaigne’s Essays, Fontenelle’s Plurality of Worlds, Malebranche’s Treatise Concerning the Search after Truth, Sprat’s History of the Royal-Society, current surveys of world history and world religions, and a variety of works by other writers still read and studied today, such as Richard Allestree, Robert Boyle, Gilbert Burnet, Hugo Grotius, Joseph Hall, James Howell,  the Marquis of Halifax, Jeremy Taylor. Browsing this entire booklist, we see in Anne Thistlethwayte a reader who is educated, curious, open; interested in the world, in history, in new ideas; a lover of literature; devout but not prudish, committed to the established church but on the side of toleration against absolutism (hence Marvell); a monarchist (possibly explaining the absence of Paradise Lost) in favor of the Protestant succession (hence Oldham’s satires against the Jesuits). In short, her reading aligns her with John Locke, whose work she encountered as a young woman of 21: Locke and her father’s ally the Earl of Shaftesbury supported constitutional monarchy, Protestant succession, civil liberty, and toleration in religion. To these, Anne adds her interest in the work of her female contemporaries; in current fiction and drama; and a Restoration passion for the wit, satire, and contemporary commentary that would enable her to hold her own in correspondence with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. This list in itself, a snapshot of her bookshelves situated in place, time, class, and cultural environment, tells a rich story. An edited version of the full list is forthcoming on the Private Libraries in Renaissance England (PLRE) website.

Source: Boston Public Library MS q Eng.551. Images reproduced with permission.

[1] For a description of this manuscript and a parallel-text edition of Locke’s translation based on this presentation copy, see Jean S. Yolton, John Locke as Translator: Three of the Essais of Pierre Nicole in French and English (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2000). A new edition of the Discourses is under preparation for the Clarendon Edition of the Works of John Locke.

[2] Only one copy of this edition is known, now in the Bodleian Library: for a description, see M.R. Ayers, “Locke’s Translations from Nicole’s Essais: The Real First Edition,” The Locke Newsletter 11 (1980), 101-03. I owe this reference to Locke specialist Craig Walmsley, who kindly read a draft of this post and who confirmed the political links between Alexander Thistlethwayte and the Earl of Shaftesbury, the association of Anne Thistlethwayte and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and evidence for the manuscript circulation of Locke’s “Discourses.”

[3] See Ayers, “Locke’s Translations,” 102, and the October 1689 letter from Jane Stringer to Locke, in Correspondence of John Locke, ed. E. S. De Beer, 8 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1978), 3:705-07 (letter 1192). I owe the reference to Locke’s Correspondence to Mark Goldie (via Craig Walmsley).

[4] See Robert Halsband, ed., Complete Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 3 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1965-67), 1:256. For a list of the letters to Thistlethwayte, see Letters, xxvi. The identification was made by W. Moy Thomas in his 1861 edition of the letters. Halsband notes the possibility that “Mrs Thistlethwayte” could be Anne’s sister Catherine (d.1746) or sister-in-law, Mary Pelham Thistlethwayte (c.1660-1720). But the identification with Anne seems generally accepted in scholarship on Montagu. Another sister Halsband mentions, Mary (b.1663), is not named in the father’s 1714 will and was likely deceased by the time Montagu was writing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.