The Four Books By Alice Thornton

Digital Edition

Over the course of the next two years (July 2022-August 2024), this project will produce an interactive and fully searchable digital edition of Alice Thornton’s autobiographical ‘Books’ which will be freely accessible here.

The text of all four manuscript volumes will be available to read in both fully modernised and semi-diplomatic versions, either separately or side-by-side. As we are using the widely recognised Text Encoding Initiative (TEI) markup schema, the edition will be fully searchable (for example, users will be able to trace people and events across all four volumes).

Although we are not digitising the manuscripts, we will provide some sample images from each of the volumes to offer a sense of how the original materials looked

Background

When Alice Thornton died in 1707, she bequeathed ‘three Books of my own Meditations and Transactions of my life, and all the residue of my Papers and Books written with my own hand’ to her daughter, Alice Thornton Comber. In addition to those three Books, there exists another, smaller volume known as a Book of Remembrances.

In the introduction to his nineteenth-century edition, Charles C. Jackson refers to all four volumes; after this, however, the location of the manuscripts was unclear for many years.

In 1982 and 1994, two volumes re-emerged and were sold to a private buyer, Paula Peyraud. These volumes were resold in 2009 and are now held at the British Library (BL).

In 2018 and 2019, Cordelia Beattie located the other two manuscripts: one was still in the hands of the Comber family and the other had been in the possession of Durham Cathedral Library (DCL) since 1969 but had been misidentified in the catalogue. Today, both volumes form part of the Comber Collection at DCL.

These are the four books that we are in the process of preparing for our digital edition.

It has become common to refer to Thornton’s volumes as the Book of Remembrances (DCL, GB-0033-CCOM 38), Book 1 (BL, Add. MS 88897/1), Book 2 (DCL, GB-0033-CCOM 7), and Book 3 (BL, Add. MS 88897/2). However, material evidence suggests that the relationship between Thornton’s Books is not straightforwardly sequential. A key issue this project seeks to address is why and how these volumes are interconnected.

Our editorial and markup practice aims to make this possible. We prefer the following fuller titles, which use descriptions derived from her writings:

  • Book of Remembrances
  • Book 1: The First Book of My Life
  • Book 2: The First Book of My Widowed Condition
  • Book 3: The Second Book of My Widowed Condition

However, for ease of reference, we will also use abbreviated titles:

  • Book Rem
  • Book 1
  • Book 2
  • Book 3