Cambridge University Library, MS Add 8469, also known as the Ellesmere manuscript, is a composite volume in small quarto. It contains 390 leaves (780 pp.) of miscellaneous manuscript tracts and papers in various hands bound together in seventeenth-century calf with the Bridgewater crest blind stamped on the sides; the manuscript’s calf binding is ‘a typical product of the years before 1640’ (Sir Geoffrey Keynes, ‘John Donne’s Sermons’, TLS, 28 May 1954, p. 351). Watermark analysis confirms a terminus a quo of c. 1600 for the paper stocks of all transcriptions in the manuscript.
The manuscript had been for three centuries in the possession of the Egerton family, Earls of Bridgewater, and was bought in 1951 (at the sale of the remaining portion of the Bridgewater Library) by Sir Geoffrey Keynes. That the first Earl of Bridgewater should have wished to possess copies of a number of Donne’s sermons is not surprising since he knew Donne well. Donne had been his father’s secretary for nearly four years in the late 1590s, and preached a sermon at the churching of Frances Egerton, countess of Bridgewater in the early 1620s (PS V.9&10). Donne also preached the wedding sermon at the marriage of lady Mary Egerton, Bridgewater’s daughter, to Richard, son of lord Herbert of Cherbury, in November 1627 (PS VIII.3). Moreover, Donne presented to the earl copies of two of his printed sermons, now in the Huntington Library. The Ellesmere manuscript does not, however, contain manuscript copies of the churching or marriage sermons preached to the Bridgewater family. Perhaps separate presentation copies once existed but are now lost. The manuscript was acquired by Cambridge University Library in 1982, after Keynes’s death, and catalogued as MS. Add. 8469.
The MS list of contents, probably compiled when the manuscript was bound, records 26 items, including eight Donne sermons. Two items, however, are numbered 21, so there are, in fact, 27 items in total. In addition to the Donne sermons, the volume includes other sermons, and eight other items of topical, educational, and personal interest. Only the eight sermons by Donne in the manuscript have been reproduced here.