Traherne’s Manuscripts

 Crossing the Red Sea, East Window of Lincoln College Chapel, Oxford
Detail of ‘The Ceremonial Law’, Folger MS V.a.70, p. 15


The ten extant manuscripts of Traherne’s writings came to light in an extraordinary series of discoveries, spanning the hundred years from 1896/7 to 1997. They had been widely dispersed, and while some were found in institutional libraries, others narrowly escaped destruction, most notably ‘Commentaries of Heaven’, rescued in about 1967 from a burning rubbish tip. The fortuitousness of these discoveries makes it entirely possible that yet more manuscript works may be found; if so, they will be included in the Oxford Traherne edition.


The manuscripts are primarily autograph, and are all closely associated with Traherne. Together they constitute a unique resource for the study both of an individual seventeenth-century author and his working practices, and of contemporary manuscript culture in general. They demonstrate that a number of other people collaborated with Traherne in their compilation, copying his work, making extracts from other authors under his direction, and occasionally adding short passages of their own. Traherne also showed his work to others for comment, and one of the most interesting features of the manuscripts is the detailed and sometimes critical annotation of his associates.


The edition will fully utilize this evidence, interpreting the cultural milieu in which the manuscripts were produced, precisely identifying the hands which contribute to them, and analysing the process of their composition and compilation.


  • Left image: Abraham van Linge, East Window of Lincoln College Chapel, 1629–31, detail of crossing the Red Sea: reproduced by kind permission of the Rector and Fellows of Lincoln College, Oxford
  • Right image: MS V.a.70, p. 15 (‘The Ceremonial Law’): used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence