The Correspondence of John Selden (355 letters)

Primary Contributors:

Gerald J. Toomer

John Selden, by Michael Burghers. 1640s–1690s, engraving (© National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG D16807).

John Selden (1584–1654)

John Selden was a jurist, historian, hebraist, and polymath. A major antiquary and historian of English law, whose work was unrivalled before Maitland in the nineteenth century, he was a central figure in the transmission of Oriental learning to the West, and was acknowledged in his lifetime as one of the greatest Christian authorities on Jewish law and history. He encouraged the study of Arabic, and produced the first English edition of an Arabic text. He was also an internationally recognised theorist of international law (in his Mare Clausum) and natural law (De Iure Naturali et Gentium). His works were caught up in many of the most controversial religious and political issues of the day, provoking praise and polemic in Britain and Europe.

Partners and Additional Contributors

Metadata for the 355 Selden letters in EMLO was taken from transcriptions prepared and generously donated to EMLO by Professor Gerald J. Toomer. The calendaring work was conducted by Dr Kim McLean-Fiander in Phase I of the Cultures of Knowledge project, and Cultures of Knowledge would like to thank Digital Fellow Luca Guariento for his help to prepare the PDF transcription descriptors.


Selden’s network extended to northern Europe and eastwards to Aleppo and, able to turn his hand from English and Latin to Hebrew and Ancient Greek, his letters span the decades from 1615 to 1654, the year of his death.


Almost three-quarters of Selden’s surviving letters are in the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford, by whom they were purchased, along with other manuscripts from his collection, from James Fairhurst in 1942 and 1947. Others have found their way to a myriad of UK and European repositories, including the British Library, The National Archives at Kew, Inner Temple Library, Lincoln’s Inn Library, the Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit, Leiden, Bibliothèque Inguimbertine, the Bibliothèque Méjanes, and into a number of printed editions, including Joannis Seldeni … Opera omnia, tam edita quam inedita, ed. David Wilkins, II.2 1699–1701 (London, 1726).

Scope of Catalogue

The transcriptions created by Professor Toomer are provided as a PDF download from each letter within the catalogue. These transcriptions, cited below in Further Resources, may be downloaded here also as a PDF.

Further resources


Primary Texts

Joannis Seldeni … Opera omnia, tam edita quam inedita, II.2 1699–1701, ed. David Wilkins (London, 1726).

‘The Correspondence of John Selden (1584–1654)’, transcriptions by G. J. Toomer, in Early Modern Letters Online, Cultures of Knowledge,

Secondary Works

G. J. Toomer, John Selden: A Life in Scholarship (Oxford, OUP, 2009; Oxford-Warburg Studies).

Launch Catalogue

Please see our citation guidelines for instructions on how to cite this catalogue.