Richard james poems

Richard James (1592-1638), Poems, etc. (1880). Kessinger, 2009. Courtesy EBookEE.

Rev. Richard James (1592 - December 1638) was an English poet, scholar, and librarian.

Life Edit

Youth and educationEdit

James was born at Newport in the Isle of Wight in 1592, the 3rd son of Andrew James of that town, by his wife Dorothy, daughter of Philip Poore of Durrington, Wiltshire. Thomas James, Bodley's 1st librarian, was his uncle.[1]

Richard was educated at Newport grammar school, and matriculated as a commoner at Exeter College, Oxford, on 6 May 1608. On 23 September of the same year he moved to Corpus Christi College, of which he had been elected a scholar, there earning a B.A. on 12 October 1611 and an M.A. on 24 January 1614-15 (Reg. Univ. Oxon. II. ii. 300, iii. 305, Oxford Hist. Soc.) On 30 September 1615 he was elected a probationary fellow of his college, and on 7 July 1624 he graduated B.D.[1]


After taking holy orders James set out on a long series of travels, which, commencing in Wales and Scotland, extended to Shetland and Greenland, and eventually to Russia. To the last-named country, where he spent some time, he went in 1618 as chaplain to Sir Dudley Digges, but unfortunately his own record of his journey is lost, and we know little, except that a rumour was spread that he was dead, and that in November and December 1618 he was at Breslau.[1]

James had returned to Oxford possibly by 1620, certainly before 28 January 1623, when Thomas James wrote to Archbishop Ussher that his nephew was engaged on a life of Thomas Becket. In the latter part of 1624 Richard James was employed with Selden in the examination of the earl of Arundel's marbles, and when Selden published his Marmora Arundeliana in 1628 he acknowledged in his preface the assistance which he had received from James, "multijugae doctrinae studiique indefatigabilis vir."[1]

Previously to this James had been introduced to Sir Robert Bruce Cotton; he soon became Cotton's librarian, and the lists of contents prefixed to many manuscripts in the Cottonian collection are in James's handwriting.[1]

Sir Simonds D'Ewes says that "James, being a needy sharking companion, and very expensive … let out or lent most precious manuscripts for money to any that would be his customers." James seems to be cleared from the dishonourable part of the accusation by the continued friendship between him and members of his patron's family. There is, however, no doubt that in July 1629 he lent to Oliver St. John the manuscript tract on the bridling of parliaments which was written in 1612 by Sir Robert Dudley, titular duke of Northumberland. The tract was secretly circulated by St. John among the parliamentary leaders; the wrath of the king and his ministers was roused, and James, with Cotton and others, was imprisoned by order of the privy council in the autumn of 1629. James petitioned for his release (Cal. State Papers, 1629-1631, p. 110), and was probably set free, with the other defendants, on the birth of the Prince of Wales, 29 May 1630 (Rushworth, Collections, i. 52-3).[1]

On 22 October 1629 James was presented to the sinecure living of Little Mongeham, Kent, the only church preferment which he ever held; for, although on the title-page of The Muses Dirge[1] he describes himself as "preacher of God's word at Stoke Newington," he never held any cure of souls there.[2]

After Sir Robert Cotton's death in 1631 James remained in the service of his son, Sir Thomas, at whose house in Westminster he died early in December 1638 of a quartan fever. He was buried in St. Margaret's Church on 8 December; the register describes him as "Mr. Richard James, that most famous antiquary."[2]

James was unmarried. Some of his early poems are addressed to a lady, whom he styles Albina, afterwards the wife of Mr. Philip Wodehouse.[2]

James enjoyed a great reputation as a scholar. Wood says 'he was noted by all those that knew him to be a very good Grecian, poet, an excellent critic, antiquary, divine, and admirably well skilled in the Saxon and Gothic languages.' D'Ewes, in his spiteful notice, calls him "a short, red-bearded, high-coloured fellow … an atheistical, profane scholar, but otherwise witty and moderately learned." He had a wide circle of scholarly friends, including, besides those already referred to, Sir Kenelm Digby, Sir John Eliot (with whom he corresponded during his imprisonment, and whom he helped in preparing his treatises De Jure Majestatis and Monarchy of Man), Sir Henry Spelman (to whom he dedicated his sermon on Lent), Ben Jonson (to whom he addressed a poem on his Staple of Niews first presented), Sebastian Benefield, Thomas Jackson (1579-1640), Brian Twine, and Thomas Greaves.[2]

James was a man of strong protestant opinions, which coloured his political views. In a curious note prefixed by him to a manuscript of Giraldus Cambrensis de Instructione Principum (Cott. MS. Julius B. xiii.) he speaks of the treacherous pretence of religion under which the Norman princes intended "omnes Brytanniarum insulas reducere sub monarchiam Gallicanam, quod mysterium hodie operator in pragmaticis Hyspanorum."[2]


James published under his own name the following:

  1. 'Anti-Possevinus, sive Concio [on 2 Tim. iv. 13] habita ad clerum in Academia Oxoniensi,' Oxford, 1625, 4to.
  2. 'The Muses Dirge, consecrated to the Remembrance of … James, King of Great Brittaine, &c.,' London, 1625, 4to, pp. 16. The last four pages contain 'Anagrammata Anglica-Latina, or certaine Anagrams applied unto the Death of our late Soueraigne.'
  3. 'A Sermon concerning the Eucharist [on Matt. xxvi. 26-8]. Delivered on Easter-Day in Oxford,' London, 1629, 4to.
  4. 'A Sermon delivered in Oxford concerning the Observation of Lent Fast,' London, 1630, 4to.
  5. 'A Sermon [on 1 Cor. ix. 16] delivered in Oxford concerning the Apostles' Preaching and ours,' London, 1630, 4to, with an epistle to Sir R. Cotton.
  6. 'A Sermon [on 1 Cor. ii. 25] concerning the Times of receiving the ' Sacrament, and of Mutual! Forgivenesse. Delivered in C. C. C. at the election of a President,' London, 1632.
  7. 'An Apologeticall Essay for the Righteousnesse of Miserable Vnhappy People: deliuered in a Sermon [on Psalm xxxvii. 25] at St. Marie's in Oxford,' London, 1632, 4to, with a poetical preface addressed to Selden.
  8. 'Concio [on Matt. xvi. 18] habita ad clerum Oxoniensem de Ecclesia,' Oxford, 1633, 4to, with a dedication to Sir Kenelm Digby.
  9. 'Epistola T. Mori ad Academiam Oxon. … cui adjecta sunt quondam poemata,' 1633, 4to. The poems at the end of this volume, which is also dedicated to Digby, consist of 2 to Sir R. Cotton and 1 to Thomas Allen of Gloucester Hall.
  10. 'Minucius Felix his Dialogue called Octavius; containing a Defence of Christian Religion. Translated by Richard James,' London, 1636, 24mo, dedicated to Lady Cotton, widow of Sir Robert. In the same volume there are 3 poems 'A Good Friday Thought,' 'A Christmasse Caroll,' and ' A Hymne on Christ's Ascension.'[2]

James was also the author of some lines on Felton; Sir James Balfour says, under date 27 November 1628: "At this time one Mr. James, an attender on Sir Robert Cotton, a grate louer of his country and a hatter of all suche as he supposed enimies to the same, was called in question for wretting some lynes wich he named a Statue to the memory of that worthy patriot S. Johne Feltone" (Hist. Works, ed. 1825, ii. 174-5). The lines are reprinted by Dr. Grosart, and in Fairholt's Poems and Songs relating to George Villiers,' 69-70 (Percy Soc. 1850). James has also been credited, on very slight grounds, with the lines "On Worthy Master Shakespeare and his Poems," which were prefixed to the 2nd folio edition of 1632, with the initials J.M.S., i.e. JaMeS (Hunter, New Illustrations of Shakespeare, p. 310). They are assigned with greater probability to Jasper Mayne.[2] 

James left a number of manuscripts, which at his death passed into the possession of Thomas Greaves, with whose library they were acquired in 1676 for the Bodleian, where they now are. These manuscripts, 43 in number, are all in James's handwriting, and consist for the most part of collections and extracts from medieval chronicles unfavourable to the Roman church. Original works of more interest are:

  1. MS. James 1. 'Decanonizatio T. Becket,' with an index by Thomas Greaves. A work of vast learning, to which reference has already been made.[2]
  2. MS. James 9. 'Antiquitates Insulae Vectae,' pp 17, 4to. An unfinished work in Latin, which only brings the history of the island down to the reign of Henry II.
  3. MS. James 13. 'Epistolae R. Jamesii ad amicos cum variis orationibus et carminibus ejusdem,' pp. 300, 4to.
  4. MS. James 16. 'An Epitome of a book entitled, The first tome of the Agreement of the two Monarchies Catholique, that of the Roman Church, and the other of the Spanish Empire, and a defence of the precedency of the Catholique kings of Spain above all princes of the world. By Father John de la Puent, Madrid, 1612.'
  5. MS. James 33. 'Epistola Ric. Jamesii ad amicum quendam de genuflexione sive adoratione ad nudam prolationem nominis Jesu.'
  6. MS. James 34. 'Legend and Defence of that noble knight and martyr Sir John Oldcastle set forth by Richard James.' An annotated copy of Hoccleve's poem.
  7. MS. James 35. 'Translations and English Verses by R. James.'
  8. MS. James 36. 'Reasons concerning the unlawfulness of Attempts on the Lives of Great Personages.'
  9. MSS. James 37, 38. Two sermons from which some extracts are printed by Corser in his preface, pp. lxxxviii-xciii.
  10. MS. James 40. 'Iter Lancastrense.'
  11. MS. James 41. 'Dictionarius Anglo-Saxonicus.'
  12. MS. James 42. 'Dictionarius Saxonico-Latinus.'
  13. MS. James 43. A bundle containing, with other notes, 'A Description of Poland, Shetland, Orkney, the Highlands of Scotland, Wales, Greenland, and Guinee' (4 sheets), 'An Account of James's Travels into Russia' (5 sheets, which never reached the Bodleian Library and are now lost), 'A Russian Vocabulary' and 'A Russian MS.'[3]

In MS. Cotton. Julius C. iii. there are 5 letters of James's which are printed by Corser (pp. l-lii) and by Dr. Grosart, and in Harl. MS. 7002 6 more which are printed by Dr. Grosart (pp. xxxiii-viii); in Tanner MS. Ixxv. f. 54 there is a letter from James to a Mr. Jackson asking him to present to Sir R. Cotton a manuscript of Abelard belonging to Balliol College.[3]

James's Iter Lancastrense is a poem descriptive of a tour in Lancashire in 1636, when he stayed with Robert Heywood. It was edited for the Chetham Society in 1845 by Thomas Corser, with notes and a copious introduction, in which many of James's minor poems are reprinted, together with extracts from some of his prose works.[3]

In 1880 Dr. A.B. Grosart published The Poems of Richard James (only 100 copies printed), with a preface, in which he adds a little to Corser's account. This volume contains the Iter Lancastrense, "The Muses Dirge," the edition of Hoccleve's Oldcastle, the minor English and Latin poems collected from James's published works and MSS. James 13 and 35, and the Reasons concerning the unlawfulness of Attempts on the Lives of Great Personages.[3]



  • The Muses Dirge. London: A[ugustine] M[athewes] & I[ohn] N[orton], for Iohn Browne, 1625.
  • Iter Lancastrense: A poem, written AD 1636. Manchester, UK: Chetham Society, 1845; New York & London: Johnson Reprint, 1968
    • (edited by Thomas Corser). Bishops Stortford, UK: Chadwyck-Healey, 1974.


  • A Sermon Concerning the Eucharist. London: R. Allot, 1629.
  • A Sermon Delivered in Oxford: Concerning the apostles' preaching and ours. London: W. Stansby ,for N. Bvtter, 1630.
  • A Sermon Concerning the Times of Receiving the Sacrament. London: I[ohn] B[eale], for Nathaniel Bvtter, 1632.

Collected editionsEdit

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[4]

See alsoEdit


  • John Aikin, The Lives of John Selden, Esq., and Archbishop Usher; with notices of the principal English men of letters with whom they were connected, 1812, 374-375.
  • PD-icon.svg Kingsford, Charles Lethbridge (1892) "James, Richard" in Lee, Sidney Dictionary of National Biography 29 London: Smith, Elder, pp. 228-230  Wiksource, Web,


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Kingsford, 218.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Kingsford, 219.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Kingsford, 220.
  4. Search results = au:Richard James, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Aug. 2, 2020.

External linksEdit


PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the Dictionary of National Biography (edited by Leslie Stephen). London: Smith, Elder, 1885-1900. Original article is at: James, Richard

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