The New College Library has a marvellous series of manuscript sermon notebooks dating as far back as the 1640s (ref. MS SER). It is quite common within manuscript holdings to have collections made of document type (maps, photographs, postcards etc) although that approach to archives is largely defunct now with the emphasis being on record creators and context. The provenance of the sermon notebooks varies widely and, perhaps unsurprisingly, there are sermon notebooks scattered throughout the New College archives. Some notebooks are the work of the preacher, some are copies of those who were there listening and some are copies of sermons or lectures written down by someone else.
One such notebook comes from the records of Robert Wodrow (1679-1734) (ref. MS WOD 3). Wodrow was part of a famous family of ministers, was for a time librarian at the University of Glasgow, and is an ancestor of the former President of America, Thomas Woodrow Wilson. In 1721-22, Wodrow published an important work entitled The History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland from the Restoration to the Revolution. Dealing with the persecution of the Covenanters after the Restoration, he coined the phrase “The Killing Time”, a phrase which persists to this day.
As you can see from the above image, taken from one of Robert Wodrow’s notebooks (ref. MS WOD 3.1), he has a neat hand and, as he did for many of his sermons, he has noted the date and place of preaching. However, the part which stood out was the short, personal note: ‘This night I was licensed’. Ministers of the Church of Scotland are given a license to preach before they can be ordained so that this must have been quite an occasion for him and of importance enough to record it in a small corner of his notebook. Working with archives, it is easy to become blasé about how old the material is or how famous or significant the person who created the document was, but moments like his make documents personal again. Not only do they remind you how special and valuable the archives are but that the famous and important of long ago were human too. Had it been today, might this have constituted Wodrow’s Facebook status?
Kirsty M Stewart, New College Collections Curator
Lastly let us live by faith, in a constant
need & dependence on C[hrist] and walk up out of the
wilderness leaning on our beloved. nou unto
him that is of pouer to stablish us to god only
wise be glory through, Jesus Christ for ever.
befor the Presbitry in
the Laigh Church
Jan. 6. 1703.
The Laigh Church was a name for the Tron Kirk, Glasgow.
Laigh or laich is Scots for low.