Monthly Archives: May 2013

Resource: The Somers’ Tracts

Continuing with the sifting of the voluminous and chaotic sources available on the web, having previously codified Luttrell,  I now present the  Somers’ Tracts. This is a collection of texts and pamphlets from the library of Baron John Somers, first published in the mid eighteenth century, then re-ordered and revised in the early nineteenth century, by no less than Walter Scott. I’ve linked to the latter series, as it is ordered chronologically, the page images easy on the eye, and every volume can be found online on the ‘open web’, rather than stuck behind a paywall. The difficulty with it is that there is no consolidated index, just those in each individual volume, nor a machine-readable text version. This reduces serendipity, but does not prevent it.

The Somers’ tracts focus on high politics and serious matters; there is little that is light-hearted. Scott compares them to the other great collection of the time thus:

[T]he tracts upon all controversies, civil and religious, are so numerous and well selected, that, if the Harleian Miscellany afford most amusement to the antiquary, it may be safely said, that Somers’ Tracts promise most information to the historian.

Market differentiation perhaps. But it is worth noting that I first came across the earliest use of Alsatia in print via the mid-1700s collection of these tracts, and that text – H.C.s The Character of an Honest Lawyer – is not included in Scott’s version. Scott, of course, was the author of The Misfortunes of Nigel, partly set in  Whitefriars, albeit a good 60 years before it became a sanctuary, and so introduced Alsatia to a nineteenth century audience. Scott refers to his literary pursuits in his introduction to the first volume:

The editor has only further to hope, that the circumstance of his name having been prefixed to works of a lighter and more popular nature, will not be objected to him as a personal disqualification for his present task. The Muse (to use the established language) found him engaged in the pursuit of historical and traditional antiquities, and the excursions which he has made in her company, have been of a nature which increases his attachment to his original study.

This makes the absence all the more suprising.

The Somers Tracts, in 13 volumes, edited by Walter Scott.

Volume 1, 1809: From King John to Elizabeth I.

Volume 2, 1809: James I, Ecclesiastical and Historical tracts.

Volume 3, 1810: James I, Miscellaneous tracts.

Volume 4, 1810: Charles I, Ecclesiastical, Historical and relating to the earl of Strafford.

Volume 5, 1811: Charles I, Historical and Military tracts.

Volume 6, 1811: Commonwealth, Ecclesiastical and Civil tracts.

Volume 7, 1812: Commonwealth, Military and Miscellaneous tracts; Charles II, Ecclesiastical and Historical tracts.

Volume 8, 1812: Charles II, Civil and Miscellaneous tracts.

Volume 9, 1813: James II; William III, Ecclesiastical tracts.

Volume 10, 1813: William III, Historical tracts.

Volume 11, 1814: William III, Historical, Military and Miscellaneous tracts.

Volume 12, 1814: William III, Miscellaneous tracts; Queen Anne, Ecclesiastical and Civil tracts.

Volume 13, 1815: Queen Anne, Civil and Military tracts; George I.