Ralph Cudworth 1617-1688

From Book Owners Online

Ralph CUDWORTH 1617-1688

Biographical Note

Born at Aller, Somerset, son of Ralph Cudworth, Rector of Aller, Somerset there. BA Emmanuel College, Cambridge 1635, MA and Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge 1639, BD 1646, DD 1651. Appointed Regius Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge 1645, and also Master of Clare College, Cambridge, following the ejection of Thomas Paske (although he was not admitted at Clare until 1650). Rector of North Cadbury, Somerset 1650. Master of Christ's College, Cambridge, 1654, where he remained for the rest of his life. During the Interregnum he was appointed a visitor to the universities, and was involved in drafting the statutes for Cromwell’s College in Durham. Vicar of Ashwell, Hertfordshire 1662; Prebendary of Gloucester 1678.

Cudworth published various sermons and theological treatises throughout his life; his major work is The true intellectual system of the universe (1678), an exhaustive philosophical attempt to disprove the arguments of atheists. A number of unpublished works survive in BL Add MSS 4978-4987.


Cudworth directed in his will that all his books should be given to his son John (1656-1726), except for such English books as his wife and daughter might select. He also left £50 to Christ’s College, to buy communion plate or books. Shortly after his death, however, on 2 February 1691, his library was sold by auction in London by Edward Millington. The sale catalogue states that it excludes the rabbinical part of Cudworth’s library, “generously given away by his will”, although this does not accord with the will itself. The catalogue lists 1960 lots, plus 39 volumes of tracts, divided between Latin theology (554), Latin miscellaneous including history and geography (662), Latin mathematics, medicine and philosophy (391), English divinity and history (281), and books in European languages, including French, Italian and Spanish (72). Examples: Emmanuel College, Cambridge 305.3.52.

Characteristic Markings

Emmanuel 305.3.52 has Cudworth’s inscription and date of acquisition in a clear italic hand on the flyleaf.