James Forbes 1628/9-1712

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James FORBES 1628/9-1712

Biographical Note

Born in Scotland; MA King's College, Aberdeen 1648. Moved to England ca.1653, where he became preacher at Gloucester Cathedral the following year, and subsequently pastor to a congregational church there. He was ejected in 1660 but continued to preach in and around Gloucester, where he remained for the rest of his life apart from short periods in London. He was licensed to preach as a Congregationalist in Gloucester in 1672, but was regularly arrested and imprisoned from the Restoration onwards for his dissenting activities. A meeting-house was built for him in Gloucester in 1699.


Forbes accumulated a library of ca.1,300 volumes, plus ca.300 pamphlets, which he sold to his church in 1710 for a nominal sum, to be held in trust as a continuing library for the benefit of nonconformist ministers in Gloucestershire. Books were to be lent one at a time to protestant dissenting ministers in Gloucestershire, provided they were returned within a month. The books were kept together, with only a little dispersal and few additions, and remained as a working library until put into storage at the end of the 19th century. They were deposited in Gloucester City Library in 1954 and in 1966 were sold to the University of Toronto, where they are held as a collection in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library.

The library includes a high proportion of theological material, including Biblical, patristic and exegetical texts, and strong holdings of 17th-century nonconformist writers (e.g. Baxter, Goodwin, Owen, Preston. There are numerous classical writings but much less by way of contemporary literature or science. The library was built up through a mixture of new and second-hand acquisition; the bindings, in both cases, are almost entirely very plain and simple, with a high proportion of sheepskin and very little by way of gilt decoration (the books are today in relatively poor condition, having suffered extensive damage from damp). The pamphlets are noteworthy as a sizeable batch of stitched but unbound tracts; many have been put in later paper wrappers but their original format remains (cf the larger, similar collection in the Plume Library at Maldon). Examples: at the Fisher Library, where they are held together in a numbered sequence; Chatsworth 110F.

Characteristic Markings

Forbes typically inscribed his books with his initials and the motto “Suprema optima Fugit hora Spe expecto”. Rarely, he inscribed his name "Jacobus Forbesius" instead of initials. His books are not generally annotated but some of his exegetical notes on the Bible, and copies of sermons, are preserved as part of a small manuscript collection associated with the library. A quarto 1637 Bible (Fisher Library, Forbes 142-3) is interleaved and has extensive notes by Forbes on Genesis and on parts of the New Testament.