Hearne was born at Littlefield Green in Berkshire, in 1678, the son of a parish clerk. He received an early education thanks to a wealthy neighbour. Later he was educated at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, where he studied classical history, philology, and geography, graduating in 1699. He came to the attention of the principal, Dr John Mill, for whom he did transcription work. In 1701, he was taken on as an assistant by John Hudson, the newly appointed librarian of the Bodleian Library, and set to work on a planned edition of Thomas Hyde’s Bodleian catalogue of printed books. (Hudson, however, gave up this project, and when the catalogue was finally published in 1738 by a successor to Hudson, Hearne’s work was uncredited.)
Soon after joining the library, Hearne published his first book, Reliquiae Bodleianae (1703), a collection of correspondence between the library’s founder, Sir Thomas Bodley, and his first librarian, Thomas James. Hearne also published, with Hudson’s help, editions of Latin classics; undertook bibliographical research for many visiting scholars, such as Jeremy Collier and Bishop Francis Atterbury; and contributed to various important historical chronicles and literary works. By 1712, he had risen to second librarian; but, thereafter, he failed to advance further in the university because he proclaimed himself nonjuror, i.e. he refused to take oaths of allegiance to King George I (a requirement of higher offices). Indeed, his written reflections on nonjurism and nonjurors became increasingly problematic for the university, and caused mounting tension with Hudson. Eventually, in 1716, having failed to take a legally-required oath, he was dismissed from his position in the Bodleian; the door locks were even changed to bar him entry.
Subsequently, Hearne was denied use of the university imprint, and measures were put in place to forbid him printing from Bodleian manuscripts. He was also persecuted for a short while by the university authorities. Nevertheless, he managed to pursue a living for himself as a private publisher, using historical manuscripts from other libraries, such as the Ashmolean, and Trinity College in Cambridge. Also, he had a considerable following among collectors and scholars who assisted in bringing many of his works to publication.
Hearne fell ill in 1735 and died, unmarried, in his lodgings at St Edmund Hall on 10 June. His library was sold soon after, and (ironically) his diaries, correspondence, and manuscript collection ended up at the Bodleian Library. The fullest biography of Hearne online can be found at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (though log-in is required); otherwise Wikipedia, Berkshire History have briefer bios.
According to the ODNB, Hearne’s reputation today rests especially on his diaries, a series of 145 octavo diary volumes, written between 1705 and 1735, which he entitled ‘Remarks and collections’. The ODNB says: ’[These] are filled with detailed information about books and manuscripts, contemporary scholarship, and intellectual history. They also contain lively if politically prejudiced portraits of the lives of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century scholars and antiquaries and autobiographical pieces. Though less accessible today (as workbooks, the diaries are also filled with scholarly and bibliographical detail) than the more urbane diaries of Evelyn and Pepys, Hearne’s volumes are still rewarding when read entire.’
Hearne’s ‘Remarks and collections’ was first edited by Philip Bliss and published, in 1857, as Reliquiæ Hearnianæ: The Remains of Thomas Hearne being extracts from his MS. Diaries (two volumes). This was republished in 1869 in three volumes. Then C. E. Doble and others edited the diaries for the Oxford Historical Society’s edition in 11 volumes (1885-1921). The original Bliss edition can be read online at Googlebooks or Internet Archive, and the Doble editions can also be found at Internet Archive. Images from Hearne’s manuscript diaries can be viewed at the Bodleian Library’s Luna image website. Here, though, are several extracts taken from the 1857 edition.
14 September 1705
‘I was told last night that in the great fire at London was burnt a MS. Bible curiously illuminated, like the historical part of the Bible in Bodley’s archives, and that ’twas valued at 1500 libs.’
‘Last night I was with Mr. Wotton (who writ the Essay on Ancient and Modern Learning) at the tavern, together with Mr. Thwaites, and Mr. Willis. Mr. Wotton is a person of general learning, a great talker and braggadocio, but of little judgement in any one particular science. He told me, he had begun sometime since to translate Graeve’s Rom. Demarius, but had not finished, and could not tell whether he should ever perfect it.
Mr. Wotton told me, Mr. Baker of St. John’s col. Cambridge had writ the history and antiquities of that college; and that he is every ways qualified (being a very industrious and judicious man) to write that hist. and antiq. of that university. He told me also, that he really believed Cambridge to me much later than Oxon.’
27 November 1713
‘Mr. Tompion of London, one of the most eminent persons for making clocks and watches, that have been produced in the last age, dyed last week. Indeed he was the most famous, and the most skillfull person at this art in the whole world, and first of all brought watches to any thing of perfection. He was originally a blacksmith, but a gentleman imploying him to mend his clock, he did it extraordinary well, and told the gentleman that he believed he could make such another himself. Accordingly he did so, and this was his first beginning, he living then in Buckinghamshire. He afterwards got a great name, lived in London, was acquainted with the famous Dr. Hooke, grew rich, and lived to a great age. He had a strange working head, and was well seen in mathematicks.’
22 April 1715
‘This morning was a total ecclipse of the sun. It began after eight o’clock. But the sky being not clear, the observations that were designed were in a very great measure hindered. There were many papers printed, before it happened, about it. This inserted [described in a footnote], is done by D. Halley. It was very dark when it happened. The birds flocked to the trees as they do at night. Many people used candles in their houses as in the night.’
19 February 1716
‘This has been such a severe winter, that the like hath not been known since the year 1683/4. In some respects it exceeded that. For tho’ the frost did not last so long as it did at that time, yet there was a much greater and deeper snow. Indeed it was the biggest snow that ever I knew: as it was also the severest frost that ever I have been sensible of. It began on Monday Dec. 5th, and continued till Friday, Feb 10th following, which is almost ten weeks, before there was an entire thaw. Indeed it began to thaw two or three times, but then the frost soon began again with more violence, and there was withall a very sharp and cold and high wind for some days. When it first began to thaw, and afterwards to freeze again, it made the ways extreme slippery and dangerous, and divers accidents happened.’
23 August 1716
‘Sir Christopher Wren says the ways of making mortar with hair came into fashion in queen Elizabeth’s time. Sir Christ. says there were no masons in London when he was a young man. Sir Christ. is about 85 years of age.’
13 December 1716
‘I had this day a hint given me as if the present vice-chancellor and some others (to be sure some of our heads of houses) have a mind to force open my chamber, and to sieze upon my papers.’
18 April 1719
‘A present has been made me of a book called The Antiquities of Barkshire, by Elias Ashmole, esq. London, printed for E. Curll, in Fleet-street, 1719. 8vo in three volumes. It was given me by my good friend Thomas Rawlinson, esq. As soon as I opened it, and looked into it, I was amazed at the abominable impudence, ignorance, and carelessness of the publisher, and I can hardly ascribe all this to any one else than to that villain Curll. Mr. Ashmole is made to have written abundance of things since his death. All is ascribed to him, and yet a very great part of what is mentioned happened since he died. For, as many of the persons died after him, so the inscriptions mentioned in this book were made and fixed since his death also. Besides, what is taken from Mr. Ashmole is most fraudulently done. The epitaphs are falsely printed, and his words and sense most horribly perverted. What Mr. Ashmole did was done very carefully, as appears from the original in the museum, where also are his exact draughts of the most considerable monuments, of which there is no notice in this strange rhapsody. I call it a rhapsody, because there is no method nor judgement observed in it, nor one dram of true learning. Some things are taken from my edition of Leland, but falsely printed, and I cannot but complain of the injury done me.’
6 June 1719
‘Last Sunday died Edmund Dunch, of Little Wittenham, in Berks, esq. parliament for Wallingford, being about 40 years of age. He was a very great gamester, and had a little before lost about 30 libs. in one night gaming. He had otherwise good qualities. By gaming most of the estate is gone. He was drawn into gaming purely to please his lady. King James I. said to one of the Dunches (for ’tis an old family) when his majesty asked his name, and he answered Dunch, “Ay, (saith the king), Dunch by name, and Dunce by nature.” ’