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HIGH in the list of benefactors of the British Museum stands the modest name of George Thomason, Bookseller, of the Rose and Crown in St. Paul's Church Yard. Many English booksellers have acquired distinction or even fame in literature or bibliography, but few, if any, have accomplished so remarkable an achievement as Thomason.

A contemporary who could grasp the full significance of the Meeting of the Long Parliament, and could form the determination to preserve for the use of future generations the mass of fleeting literature which poured every day from the press, was assuredly possessed in a rare degree of historical prescience and imagination; nor could any but a man of resolute determination and strength of character have persevered in so arduous a task through twenty eventful, crowded years.

It is clear from the whole tenour of his notes and manuscripts that Thomason was a cultivated, scholarly man and a shrewd observer. It is clear also that he enjoyed the friendship of many distinguished men; John Milton, William Prynne, Henry Parker, and many others, presented him with copies of their works. He was represented at the time of the Love Conspiracy, 1650-51, as having a considerable influence with the Presbyterian Ministers of London, including such well-known personages as Edmund Calamy and William Jenkin, and in his will he was able to speak of John Rushworth and Thomas Barlow as his honoured friends. Yet little is now known of his life or personality; and in the matter of his biography, beyond a few extracts from the Stationers' Registers and the Calendars of State Papers, I fear I have little to offer but uncertainties and conjectures.

George Thomason was the son of George Thomason, of Sudlow, a hamlet in the Hundred of Bucklow, Cheshire. His father is described in the Registers of Stationers' Hall as a Husbandman,' probably a farmer. By an Act of the Common Council in 1556 no person was permitted to take up his freedom as a member of a Company or Guild until he had attained the age of twenty-four. As George Thomason the younger became a member of the Stationers' Company in 1626, it follows that he must have been born in or before 1602. In September 1617 he was bound apprentice for nine years to Henry Fetherstone, Bookseller at the Sign of the Rose in St. Paul's Churchyard, the publisher of Purchase his Pilgrimes and some other notable books.

On the 5th June, 1626, Thomason took up his freedom as a member of the Stationers' Company, his name appearing in the Register as

'George Thompson.' It is hardly necessary to say that variations in the spelling of proper names during the seventeenth century are rather the rule than the exception. That George Thompson or Tompson is the same person as George Thomason is clearly proved by later entries in the Stationers' Registers. Thus on the 1st November, 1627, his late master, Henry Fetherstone, assigns to him under the name of George Tompson a share in the property of a work entiled The History of the Normans and Kinges of England, by William Martin, which share Master Thomason' transfers to Richard Whitaker on the 21st May, 1638.


Thomason's principal business was bookselling rather than publishing. For some years, from 1636 to 1642 or 1643, he was in partnership with Octavian Pullen, who was admitted to membership of the Stationers' Company December 14th, 1629. Their shop, which bore the sign of the 'Rose,' was situated in St. Paul's Churchyard, on the north side of the cathedral, between the north door and the Church of St. Faith's. When the partnership was dissolved, Thomason moved to the Rose and Crown,' in another part of the Churchyard, while Pullen remained at the original 'Rose' until it was destroyed in the great fire of 1666.

Between the years 1636 and 1639 the partners published six books, four of which were of slight importance, while the remaining two were sumptuous folios, relating to the visits of Mary de' Medici to the Netherlands and England. The books are entitled Histoire de l'Entrée de la Reyne Mère dans les Provinces Unies and Histoire de l'Entrée de la Reyne Mère dans la Grande Brétaigne, both by Jean Puget de la Serre, Historiographer of France, both illustrated with fine engravings by Hollar and others, and both bearing the imprint, "A Londre, par Jean Raworth pour George Thomason et Octavian Pullen, à la Rose, au Cemetière de Saint Paul, 1639."

Thomason's next essay in publishing was unfortunate. In 1645, David Buchanan, an ardent Presbyterian, wrote a book eulogising the action of the Scotch throughout the Civil War and violently attacking the English Parliament and their army. This book was published anonymously under the title of Truth its Manifest, with the imprint London, 1645. Its contents were sufficiently alarming to create considerable stir, and the Parliamentary Committee of both Kingdoms were ordered to discover the printer and publisher. On the 31st Jan., 1646, evidence was given before the Committee by Joseph Hunscott, a bookseller, that "Mr. Buchanan entered the copy of Truths Manifest in Robert Bostock's name, and after printing it at his own charge, and there being some difference between him and Mr. Bostock about the price, he sold the whole impression to George Thomerson."

Ultimately the book was voted false and scandalous by both Houses of Parliament and ordered to be burnt by the Hangman. In 1646,

A Treatise touching the Peace of the Church, by Philip Freher, was "printed for George Thomason and are to be sold at his shop at the 6 Rose and Crown.'"

Thomason published no more books until the year 1659, when he issued the only work of real importance which came from his shop, the first part of John Rushworth's Historical Collections, bearing the imprint, "Printed by Tho. Newcomb for George Thomason, at the sign of the Rose and Crown in St. Paul's Churchyard, 1659." It is perhaps worthy of note that the later volumes published between 1680 and 1701 were also issued from the 'Rose and Crown,' then occupied by Thomason's successors, Richard Criswell and Thomas Cockerill.

Meanwhile Thomason and Pullen seem to have established a thriving trade as booksellers. Dr. Macray, in his Annals of the Bodleian, notes that "the booksellers from whom in most years about this time (1640 and the following years) purchases were made were George Thomason and Octavian Pullen, and that in 1650 (by which time Pullen's partnership had come to an end) "A great fraught of books to the value of £69 108., for which £1 was paid for carriage, was bought of George Thomason."

On the 3rd November, 1640, the Long Parliament met; and Thomason, who had already accumulated a few books issued during the course of the year, systematically began his collection, acquiring, either by purchase or occasionally by presentation, every book, pamphlet and newspaper issued in London and as many as he could obtain from the provinces or abroad. He continued without interruption to prosecute his enterprise until the coronation of Charles II., 23 April, 1661, adding a few pamphlets up to the end of December of that year, when his collection closes.

Misled no doubt by the terms of the Advertisement issued after his death, all those who have written of Thomason have described him as "the Royalist bookseller."

This, I think, is a complete mistake. For instance, in this catalogue, under the date 5th Dec. 1642, will be found a MS. copy of an order of the Committee for the advance of money for the Parliament's army, naming Thomason and two others as the authorised collectors of subscriptions within their parish. Again, under date 5th June, 1646, will be found a petition to the Lord Mayor and Common Council in support of a strongly-worded Presbyterian Petition presented by the Municipality of London on the 26th of the preceding month, with a note by Thomason reading, "Composed and finished from the 5th I having a hand in it both in composing it and promoting it." I think that these two documents, when taken in conjunction with Thomason's share in the Love Conspiracy and with the influence which he was then said to possess over the Presbyterian Ministers of London, are proofs sufficient that he belonged to the

Presbyterian party, of which the great majority of his fellow-citizens were members.

As a Presbyterian he was of course in entire sympathy with the Parliament and its Army during the Civil War, 1642-1646. But when in 1647 and 1648 the power began to pass from the Parliament and the Presbyterians into the iron hands of the leaders of the New-Model Army, he, with the mass of the citizens of London, changed his attitude and became an ardent advocate of the "personal treaty" with the King. Space will not permit me to offer here any general remarks on the historical value or bearing of this collection, a subject far too wide and important to be treated of in a mere preface, but the mention of the "personal treaty" gives me the opportunity to point out the evidence which the tracts of the years 1647 and 1648 afford as to how confident was the expectation entertained by the Presbyterian citizens of London of the success of the negotiations with the King both before and during the discussions at Newport. If space permitted, it would be easy to give many instances; it is however sufficient merely to read through the titles of the tracts issued during these two years to verify this fact, on which hardly sufficient stress has been laid by any historian of the period. It is unnecessary to say that these hopes and expectations were abruptly cut short by Pride's Purge, 6th December, 1648, one of the many instances in history in which the sword has proved mightier than the


On the 21st May, 1647, Thomason issued a printed catalogue entitled, Catalogus Librorum diversis Italiae locis emptorum Anno Domini 1647, a Georgio Thomasono Bibliopola Londinensi apud quem in Caemiterio D. Pauli ad insigne Rosae Coronatae prostant venales. Londini typis Johannis Legatt, 1647. The catalogue is preceded by a Latin preface, which if written by Thomason himself shows him to have been a very creditable Latin scholar. The preface is to this effect:

"Courteous Reader. The following is a catalogue of books brought over from Italy, of the greatest use, if I am not mistaken, to all who are interested in theology, medicine, philology or belles lettres. I have spared no expense in my attempt to satisfy your needs and to gratify your curiosity. You will find here more Rabbinical and Oriental books and manuscripts than have ever before been collected together, and in addition to these the principal educational and medical writers and the chief authorities on mathematics, history and languages. There are two points to which I would call your attention at the outset. First, no books from Italy have reached this country for the last nine years, nor are any of this class likely to come here in the future. Secondly, I thought it best to have the catalogue printed without regard to subjects, that you may, in your own interests as well as in mine, read through the entire list."

The works in this Catalogue consist of printed books published during the sixteenth and the earlier years of the seventeenth centuries,

with a few manuscripts in Oriental Languages. There are in all 1970 books and manuscripts; 1302 of which are in Latin; 294 in Italian; 36 in Spanish; 6 in Scandinavian Languages; 300 in Hebrew and 32, including manuscripts, in Arabic, Coptic, Persian, Syriac and Turkish.

In March 1647 it was

"Ordered by the Lords and Commons in Parliament assembled, that the sum of £500 be charged upon and forthwith paid out of the receipts at Goldsmiths' Hall (where the Committee for Compounding' sat) unto Mr. George Thomason, Stationer, for buying of the said Thomason a Library or Collection of Books in the Eastern Languages of very great value, late bought out of Italy and having been the Library of a learned Rabbi there, according to the printed catalogue thereof; and that the said Library or Collection of Books be bestowed upon the Publick Library in the University of Cambridge. And the acquittance or acquittances of the said George Thomason shall be a sufficient discharge to the Treasurers at Goldsmiths' Hall for payment of the said £500 accordingly, and it is especially recommended to the Committee at Goldsmiths' Hall to take care that present due payment may be made of this sum accordingly, that the Kingdom may not be deprived of so great a Treasure nor Learning want so great Encouragement. And Sir Anthony Irby is particularly appointed to take care of this Business.

“Ordered, That Sir Anthony Irby do from this House take notice to Mr. Thomason of his good Service in his Purchase and bringing over from Italy the Parcel of Books in the Eastern Languages; and to give him the Thanks of this House for his good Affections therein to the Encouragement of Learning in this Kingdom.

"Ordered, That Mr. Selden and Mr. Lightfoote do take care that the University of Cambridge may have the said Books and that they may be preserved for them according to the Printed Catalogue."

(Journals of the House of Commons, Vol. V. 572.)

The books were accordingly sent to Cambridge. The late Henry Bradshaw describes them as a "collection of Hebrew Books which had formerly belonged to an Italian Rabbi, Isaac Praji. The books were brought down and soon made available for use. This was the foundation of our Hebrew Library" (Bradshaw, Collected Papers, 1889, p. 195).

Five hundred pounds was a handsome sum of money for some three hundred Hebrew books, but the period was one of financial embarrassment and confusion, and Thomason found it no easy matter to obtain the money promised to him.

On the 31st March, 1648, the Committee for Compounding ordered the sum to be paid from the two and four months' assessments for the Scots Army before Newark.

On the 25th Sept. Colonel Humphrey Matthews of Castle Menech, Glamorgan, was admitted to compound for delinquency, and £500 of his fine was ordered to be paid to Thomason.

On the 13th Oct. a fresh order was given to him, which seems to have been as futile as the two preceding. Finally on the 16 Nov. he was granted interest at the rate of eight per cent. on the still unpaid capital.

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