Thomas Baker 1656-1740
Thomas BAKER 1656-1740
Born at Crook Hall, Lanchester, son of George Baker. BA St John's College, Cambridge 1678, fellow 1680, MA 1681, BD 1688. Rector of Long Newton, co. Durham 1687; on refusing to take the oaths to William III he was ejected, and spent the rest of his life at St John's, where he was able to retain his fellowship until 1717, when he was formally deprived of that too for refusing to take the Oath of Abjuration against the Stuart dynasty. His stand was one of principle, that having taken oaths in the past, they could not be broken. As his scholarship and attachment to the College was so widely respected, he was not expelled from his rooms and continued to live in St John's for the rest of his life.
Unable to pursue the clerical career which would have been expected during the 1680s, Baker devoted his life to scholarship, for which he became acknowledged and respected during his lifetime and ever since. His primary interests were always focused around religious issues but from the early 18th century onwards he became increasingly absorbed by historical and antiquarian research. He acquired books all his life, and became one of the leading scholarly book owners of his generation; at the time of his death, he is likely to have owned at least 5000 books and ca.100 manuscripts, but he gave many books away during his lifetime. He accumulated extensive collections relating to the history of Cambridge and St John's; his history of the College was published posthumously in 1869. He spent much time researching in Cambridge libraries, whose contents he knew well, and was active in exploring the library of John Moore after it came to Cambridge in 1715. He was friendly with Edward Harley, who allowed him to borrow material, and was acquainted with many of the scholars and antiquaries of his time.
Baker left all such books of his as were "wanting" in the library to St John's, and ca.1500 volumes were selected, which remain there today. A large portion of what remained was then auctioned in Cambridge, 9.11.1741, though it has been noted that this sale (1425 lots) included some material that had not belonged to Baker. His collection of tracts and pamphlets survived more or less entire until 1829, when it was bought by the bookseller Thomas Thorpe, who sold them off through his catalogues between then and 1842. Tracing the full extent of Baker's library, and its subsequent fate, is therefore difficult; Frans Korsten, who studied it in depth, published a catalogue in 1990 listing 4290 books which can be identified as having belonged to Baker, while acknowledging that this is an incomplete picture. He bequeathed ca.75 manuscripts to St John's (many of which had previously belonged to Thomas Wagstaffe), while the rest of his manuscripts went partly to Edward Harley (and thence to the British Library).
Baker bought books extensively via auction and other book sales, and through book trade contacts. His financial circumstances meant that his budget was limited, and he is noted as often having purchased imperfect copies of books.
Baker's books are usually recognisable from the inscription which he systematically added to his books, "Tho. Baker socius ejectus" (Thomas Baker, ejected fellow). He was also an extensive annotator of his books, on endleaves and throughout the text; after his death, there was a proposal to edit and publish his adversaria, but this did not come to fruition.
- Alston, R. C., Inventory of sale catalogues ... 1676-1800, St Philip, 2020.
- A catalogue of a curious and valuable collection of books, Cambridge, 1741, ESTC t29942.
- Korsten, Frans. "Baker, Thomas (1656–1740), nonjuring Church of England clergyman and antiquary." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
- Korsten, Frans, A catalogue of the library of Thomas Baker, Cambridge, 1990.
- Korsten, Frans, Thomas Baker, in Baker, W. and Womack, K. (eds), Pre-nineteenth century book collectors and bibliographers, Detroit, 1999, 3-11.
- Thomas Baker in St John's College Library.