The Correspondence of John Worthington

Primary Contributors:

Cultures of Knowledge

Title-page of The Diary and Correspondence of Dr. John Worthington, ed. James Crossley and Richard Christie, vol. 1 (1847). (Source of image: Internet Archive)

John Worthington (1618–1671)

The Church of England clergyman, editor, and translator John Worthington is known in early modern circles for his correspondence and friendship with the German-born intelligencer Samuel Hartlib. Born in 1618, Worthington was the son of a draper. His education at Manchester Grammar School and Emmanuel College, Cambridge (where he studied successively under Benjamin Whichcote and Richard Clarke), enabled him to progress from lecturer and fellow at Emmanuel to become master of Jesus College, Cambridge, a position he held for a decade from 1650. For one year (1657–8) he served as vice-chancellor of the university, an office he described as ‘burdensome’.1 It was at Cambridge that Worthington forged lasting associations and friendships with key members of the circle known today as the Cambridge Platonists, in particular with Benjamin Whichcote, Ralph Cudworth, Henry More, and John Smith.

In 1657, Worthington married Mary Whichcote (1640–1667), the niece of his former tutor; the couple had five children together. Worthington held a number of church positions, including at Horton, Buckinghamshire (1653–4); Fen Ditton, Cambridgeshire (from November 1654); Barking and Needham, Suffolk, and Moulton All Saints, Norfolk (from 1663). Following Charles II’s restoration, Worthington seems to have stepped aside willingly as master of Jesus to permit the reinstatement of Richard Sterne, Archbishop Laud’s former chaplain who had been ejected as master in 1644; his apparent expectation of being reinstated himself following Sterne’s appointment as bishop of Carlisle was not realized, however, and in consequence Worthington withdrew to Fen Ditton in November 1660, where he devoted himself to his parishioners and to ‘books, and the service of ingenuous scholars wherein I am capable’.2 

Worthington was well suited to work as a translator and editor; he published a revised translation of Thomas à Kempis’s De imitatione Christi, edited the Select Discourses (1660) of ‘Cambridge Platonist’ John Smith, and, most significantly, the complete works of Joseph Mede (1664/5, second edition 1672). For this latter edition, Worthington made increasing numbers of ‘tedious and lonesome’ research journeys from East Anglia to London, where he lodged at Gresham College.3 His appointment in May 1665 to the living at St Benet Fink in London afforded better access to libraries and scholars, but came at a time of crisis: Worthington elected to remain in situ to minister to his parishioners as the plague ran its course across the capital that year, and calamity struck again in September 1666 with the total destruction of the buildings in his parish in the great fire. Worthington’s own house and many of his possessions were lost.

Within days of this tragedy, Worthington prepared to move with his family to Holmes Chapel, Cheshire, at the invitation of William Brereton. In the course of just a few months, Worthington arranged the papers of his late friend, Samuel Hartlib. Brereton had purchased these papers, possibly from Hartlib’s son, Sam (c. 1631–after 1690), following the intelligencer’s death in March 1662. Worthington removed from the archive his own letters to Hartlib, as well as those of Seth Ward — perhaps with publication in mind — and began to abstract the texts of others. Brereton, who suffered a series of financial misfortunes, ultimately resold Hartlib’s papers, but the bundles into which Worthington sorted them were still in place upon their rediscovery in 1933. Worthington moved on from Cheshire to Ingoldsby, Lincolnshire, accepting in December 1666 a living Henry More had procured for him, before settling back finally near London in 1669 at the parish church of Hackney, Middlesex, with the promise from Archbishop Gilbert Sheldon that he would be restored to St Benet Fink following the rebuilding of the church by Christopher Wren. Worthington died on 26 November 1671, four years before completion of this church.


Partners and Additional Contributors

Metadata for the surviving letters between John Worthington and Samuel Hartlib were entered initially into EMLO by the first Cultures of Knowledge Hartlib Postdoctoral Fellow Dr Leigh Penman, under the supervision of Professor Howard Hotson and Professor Mark Greengrass, and in association with the Humanities Research Institute of the University of Sheffield. The online versions of the letters from the original Hartlib Papers, to which these records in EMLO are linked, were mounted by Michael Pidd and Jamie McLaughlin from HRIDigital at the University of Sheffield. These letter records were worked on further by the second Cultures of Knowledge Hartlib Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr Robin Buning, under the supervision of Professor Howard Hotson.

In Autumn 2017, EMLO Digital Fellow Dr Robin Usher collated additional epistolary metadata from the Crossley and Christie edition of Worthington’s Diary and Correspondence (for full bibliographic details, please see below). These letter records were checked and updated by Digital Fellow Lucy Hennings and EMLO’s Editorial Assistant Charlotte Marique.


Key Bibliographic Source(s)

M. Greengrass, M. Leslie, and M. Hannon, The Hartlib Papers (Sheffield, HRI Online Publications, 2013; available here).

John Worthington, The Diary and Correspondence of Dr. John Worthington, ed. James Crossley and Richard Christie, 2 vols in 3 (Manchester, 1847–86).


Worthington’s correspondence that is either printed or listed in his Diary and Correspondence (for bibliographic details, please see above) includes letters exchanged with members of the Cambridge Platonists, in particular with Benjamin Whichcote (fellow of Emmanuel College and, from 1668, vicar of St Lawrence Jewry, London); Ralph Cudworth (also of Emmanuel and subsequently, from 1654, master of Christ’s College); and Henry More (from 1641 fellow of Christ’s College).4  As John T. Young explains in his Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry, Worthington was not a philosopher and would not have described himself thus; ‘his correspondence with More and Cudworth does not engage in any detail with their ideas. His contribution to the Cambridge Platonist movement lay rather in his editorial labours on Smith and Mede, and his consistent support for and encouragement of his friends’ work’.5 Fifty-three of Worthington’s letters from Samuel Hartlib may be consulted at present in EMLO’s Hartlib catologue, alongside thirty-nine letters Hartlib wrote to Worthington. The letters cover a wide range of topics, from theological discussion to Cambridge news, and chart the course of the friendship between these two men in the last decade of Hartlib’s life.


Further resources


R. C. Christie, A bibliography of the works written and edited by Dr John Worthington, Chetham Society, new ser., 13 (Manchester, 1888).

A. Gray and F. Brittain, A history of Jesus College, Cambridge (London, 1960, rev. 2nd edn), pp. 85–9.

J. Ward, The lives of the professors of Gresham College (1740), p. 271.

John Worthington, The Diary and Correspondence of Dr. John Worthington, ed. James Crossley and Richard Christie, 2 vols in 3, Chetham Society, 13, 36, and 114 (Manchester, 1847–86).

John T. Young, ‘John Worthington (bap. 1618, d. 1671)’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2004; online edn, Oct 2005, accessed 16 Nov 2017).


Launch records of letters from, to, or mentioning Worthington

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


See John Worthington, The Diary and Correspondence of Dr. John Worthington, ed. James Crossley and Richard Christie, 2 vols in 3 (Manchester, 1847–86), vol. 1, p. 118.

See Ibid., vol. 2, part 1, p. 117.

See Ibid., vol. 2, part 1, p. 134.

See C. A. Patrides, ed., The Cambridge Platonists (1968); and Mark Goldie, ‘Cambridge Platonists (act. 1630s–1680s)’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, accessed 16 Nov 2017).

See John T. Young, ‘John Worthington (bap. 1618, d. 1671)’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: OUP, 2004; online edn, Oct 2005, accessed 16 Nov 2017).