This year we begin a series of posts looking at new acquisitions. Almost all the books in the Wren Library were presented to the College, and the tradition of giving books to the College continues to this day. As well as donations of books, the College has been presented with various financial gifts by alumni in recent years to support the acquisition of rare books to complement the existing collections, and the Library now adds around 20-30 books to the shelves of the Wren every year through the generosity of these donors.
Thomas Hebbes was an undergraduate at Trinity from 1752, he became a scholar and graduated with a BA in 1756 followed by an MA in 1759. He served as a chaplain at Trinity from 1758 to 1760 before going on to be Vicar of Hernhill, Kent until his death in 1766.
This small diary is printed for 1753, down the left page there is a column for appointments with the day and date printed with space for memoranda in a second column; on the facing page there is space and printed columns for the week’s accounts. Hebbes wrote this diary in 1755-56 amending the date at the top, he may have brought the out-of-date diary cheaply. He begins in February 1755 clearly marking the year in the top left corner, and ends in January 1756 when he leaves Cambridge in a coach for Kensington on 3rd February.
Though the College has extensive records of college business and members, the personal diary of a student is a rare gem. Hebbes’s life as an undergraduate and young man of some means is realised in wonderful detail through the careful record of his spending. Hebbes’s life extends beyond Trinity College, he records trips to Royston, Saffron Walden, London, Chesterton and Stirbich [Stourbridge] fair. Though Hebbes would have taken most of his meals in College he chose to spend extra on breakfast and had a subscription at Dockrell’s Coffee House. He demonstrates his taste for among other things fruit, which he buys in the form of lemons, plumbs [plums], peaches, grapes, cucumber, cherries and currants. He also enjoys oysters and coffee, chocolate, liquorice and tea. Other expenses including paying a boy to light his candle, paying a barber to comb a wig and having his watch repaired. Each give some insight into the way he lived, but also illustrate a little of his character. There are many references to gambling, Hebbes frequently won and lost at cards and bowls, but he was also generous, there are equally as many references to giving to the poor. In December he sends a Christmas box to his mother.
Insight into Hebbes’s academic life comes from his written appointments. As well as birthdays he also records ‘declaims in Chapel’ and presents an epistle to the Master of Trinity and records meetings with scholars from other colleges. On Wednesday 14th January he simply writes ‘Huddled’ which refers to a Cambridge University term which is when men who are academically undistinguished are examined orally for their degree in a group. A reference to paying the moderator’s man for huddling appears in his expenses. The buying and selling of books and a hood and gown are also listed. On 19th and 20th January 1756 he records ‘Examined in Ye Theatre by four moderators’.
Thomas Hebbes died in 1766, but his diary remained in his family. Among his penned lists of expenses and notes is a poem in a different, juvenile hand. Ellen Hebbes writes in pencil nearly 80 years after Thomas wrote his diary: ‘To the memory of Ellen Hebbes who departed this life 1853 aged 13 years’.
But Ellen had not died as she appears in later census records. She writes on the previous page:
Ellen Hebbes is my name, England is my nation, Salthill is my living place and Christ is my salvation. When I am dead and in my grave and all my bones are rotten, take up this book and think of me before I am quite forgotten.
As well as practising her writing in pencil, elsewhere in the diary she also lists the names of her siblings in ink. Copying Thomas Hebbes’s style she writes her own name and date in under his memorandum.
And so Ellen Hebbes is not forgotten she and her siblings are remembered with Thomas Hebbes in the Wren Library.
Printed diaries evolved from the printed almanac, typically they contained religious festivals, details of tides and lunar cycles gradually allowing space for owners to keep notes. The almanac was popular and widespread by 1600. The ephemeral nature of these books makes them quite rare. Thomas Hebbes’s diary opens with a table listing ‘Any Number of Portugal Pieces‘ and closes with a instructions for successful shopping, ‘Directions for Marketing’– giving detailed advice on how to choose beef, mutton, pork, fish and cheese. This is followed by a Bill of Fare, for every month of the year. Dishes are listed as first course and second course. January begins with ‘Soups of Pease, Gravy, Herbs, Fish, Vermicelli etc’. The final pages are missing so we cannot know what we could expect to enjoy after August!
The acquisition of this book for the College Library contributes a rare glimpse into the life of a Trinity student in the 18th century.