Thomas Hearne (antiquarian)

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Thomas Hearne

Thomas Hearne or Hearn (July 1678 – 10 June 1735), English antiquary and diarist, was born at Littlefield Green in the parish of White Waltham, Berkshire.


Having received his early education from his father, George Hearn, the parish clerk, he showed such taste for study that a wealthy neighbour, Francis Cherry of Shottesbrooke (c. 1665–1713), a celebrated nonjuror, interested himself in the boy, and sent him to the school at Bray "on purpose to learn the Latin tongue." Soon Cherry took him into his own house, and his education was continued at Bray until Easter 1696, when he matriculated at St Edmund Hall, Oxford.

At the university he attracted the attention of Dr John Mill (1645–1707), the principal of St Edmund Hall, who employed him to compare manuscripts and in other ways. Having taken the degree of B.A. in 1699 he was made assistant keeper of the Bodleian Library, where he worked on the catalogue of books, and in 1712 he was appointed second keeper. In 1715 Hearne was elected Architypographus and Esquire Bedell in civil law in the university, but objection having been made to his holding this office together with that of second librarian, he resigned it in the same year.

A nonjuror himself, he refused to take the oaths of allegiance to King George I, and early in 1716 he was deprived of his librarianship. However, he continued to reside in Oxford, and occupied himself in editing the English chroniclers. Hearn refused several important academic positions, including the librarianship of the Bodleian and the Camden professorship of ancient history, rather than take the oaths. He died on 10 June 1735.

The readers of Hearne's works were devoted to them because of the depth of scholarship. Hearne, for instance, corresponded frequently with Dr. Henry Levett, an early English physician and medical doctor at Charterhouse, London. In November 1715, indicating the devotion of Hearne's readers, he reminded Dr. Levett that "you formerly desired to be a subscriber for every Thing I published. I have accordingly put you down for one copy of Acts of the Ap. in Capitals."[1]


Hearne's most important work was done as editor of many of the English chroniclers, and until the appearance of the Rolls Series his editions were in many cases the only ones extant. Very carefully prepared, they were, and indeed are still, of the greatest value to historical students. Perhaps the most important of a long list are:

He also edited

  • John Leland's Itinerary (1710–1712) and the same author's Collectanea (1715)
  • W. Camden's Annales rerum Anglicarum et Hibernicarum regnante Elizabetha (1717)
  • Sir John Spelman's Life of Alfred (1709)
  • William Roper's Life of Sir Thomas More (1716).

He brought out editions of

Among his other compilations may be mentioned:

  • Ductor historicus, a Short System of Universal History (1698, 1704, 1705, 1714, 1724)
  • A Collection of Curious Discourses by Eminent Antiquaries (1720)
  • Reliquiae Bodleianae (1703).

Hearn left his manuscripts to William Bedford, who sold them to Dr Richard Rawlinson, who in his turn bequeathed them to the Bodleian. Two volumes of extracts from his voluminous diary were published by Philip Bliss (Oxford, 1857), and afterwards an enlarged edition in three volumes appeared (London, 1869). A large part of his diary entitled Remarks and Collections, 1705–1714, edited by C. E. Doble and D. W. Rannie, has been published by the Oxford Historical Society (1885–1898). Bibliotheca Hearniana, excerpts from the catalogue of Hearn's library, has been edited by Beriah Botfield (1848).

Hearne's work in publishing these old manuscripts was not appreciated by all: Alexander Pope dismisses them as unappealing and "monkish" in An Epistle to Burlington and satirises Hearne as the pedant Wormius in The Dunciad, dropping into mock-Old English to do so. This in turn led Hearne in his diary to insult Pope's lack of scholarship.[3]


  • Impartial Memorials of the Life and Writings of Thomas Hearn by several hands (1736)
  • William Dunn Macray, Annals of the Bodleian Library (1890).
  • Hearne's autobiography in W. Huddesford's Lives of Leland, Hearne and Wood (Oxford, 1772)
  • Frederic Ouvry's Letters addressed to Thomas Hearn, privately printed (London, 1874)


  1. Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearne, Thomas Hearne, David Watson Rannie, Charles Edward Doble, Herbert Edward Salter, Printed for the Oxford Historical Society at the Clarendon Press, 1901
  2. Ramsay, Nigel. "Sprott, Thomas". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/26183.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. The Alexander Pope Encyclopedia by Pat Rogers, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004 pp.154–5
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. Missing or empty |title= (help)CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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