THIS HISTORY is the fruit of attention that I have given the subject more and more intensively during forty years. The first incentive to it was received when, to fill a gap in a student’s required schedule, I offered an elementary one-hour course, the study for which at once discovered a lamentable want of works dealing with the subject save in the most superficial way. The only work in English attempting to cover the entire field (J. H. Allen, Historical Sketch of the Unitarian Movement, 1894) was in fact only a ‘sketch,’ hastily done and with little use of primary sources. For the Continental section only two works were at all satisfactory, and they were dated far back in the previous century (F. Trechsel, Die protestantischen Antitrinitarier, 1839—44; and Otto Fock, Der Socinianismus, 1847). For England there was nothing at all, and for America only one work (G. W. Cooke, American Unitarianism, 1902) besides a series of popular lectures by different persons, wholly done at second hand (Unitarianism: Its Origin and History, 1895).
The reasons for this surprising neglect were two: first, the failure clearly to recognize that here were not four separate though similar movements, arising in Poland, Transylvania, England, and America, but rather four connected phases of one single movement nearly as old as Protestantism, whose significance can not be clearly grasped until they are considered together; and secondly, the widely scattered location of the primary authorities and the forbidding barriers of the languages in which many of them are written. For, in addition to extensive sources in Latin and in the more familiar languages of western Europe, a rich store of quite indispensable material is buried in Polish and Hungarian, two difficult languages practically unknown to English-speaking scholars; and these works, moreover, are for the most part to be found only in remote libraries which have seldom been explored by western scholars. The whole subject, in fact, cannot be adequately investigated without a working knowledge of some thirteen different languages (witness the footnotes). Nor, strangely enough, had any library in either Europe or America ever attempted to collect more than a casual fraction of the works necessary for a proper study of the subject.
With a distant goal thus glimpsed I long ago began compiling a comprehensive bibliography of the subject and, on the basis of this bibliography, collecting as opportunity offered all obtainable items bearing on any phase of it, including photostats of a considerable number of the rarest and most important items. The result, now in the library of the Starr King School for the Ministry at Berkeley, may confidently be regarded as by far the most comprehensive collection of Unitariana in the world, comprising practically all works on the subject now obtainable in any language.
As my studies progressed year by year, I sharpened the language tools required in them, while sabbatical leaves enabled me to explore half a hundred libraries in Europe and America in order to discover where to find important authorities, widely scattered and in many cases exceedingly rare, and incidentally also to gain a vivid sense of the background of the history by visiting in person nearly every spot having any intimate connection with it. Finally, generous grants from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Hibbert Trust made it possible for me to spend three years in working over this material in the quiet interval between the World Wars, with full access to libraries which have since been either destroyed or hopelessly scattered. The copious notes thus taken (together with the bibliography) are now deposited in the library of the Starr King School for the Ministry, where they constitute what may perhaps be the only surviving remnant of many works now irrevocably lost to scholarship.
Since the beginning of the present century many researches in various details of this subject have been made, especially by Polish scholars, which are practically unknown to the English-speaking world. Of these I have taken full advantage. To the present work my Our Unitarian Heritage (1925) was in a sense a preliminary study, though designed for young people and greatly restricted in scope. Any discrepancies from it discovered here should of course be taken as corrections called for by more recent studies. The composition of this history from such a mass of materials has proved unexpectedly difficult and time-consuming, and has more than once been interrupted by illness; but I have steadfastly refused to be hurried into doing slipshod work.
The gathering of materials for such a book as this makes one indebted to countless persons who have shown him courtesy, done him kindness, or given him active help. To most of these I can make only this general acknowledgment; but I would especially mention my debt to Professor George R. Noyes of the University of California, who in teaching me Polish gave me the key to rich sources on Socinianism hitherto unexplored and has for a generation been unfailingly helpful; to Professors Waclaw Sobieski (now deceased), Stanislaw Kot, and Roman Dyboski of the University at Kráków for their unstinted helpfulness and their valued friendship; to Dr. W. H. Drummond of Oxford, Dr. Henry Wilder Foote of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Professor Roland H. Bainton of Yale University for repeated acts of kindness; to the administration of the Jagellonian and Czartoryski libraries at Krakow, the Unitarian College at Kolozsvár, the Preussische Staatsbibliothek in Berlin, the University libraries at Leiden and Jena, the British Museum and the Dr. Williams’s Library in London; to the Principals of Manchester College, Oxford, and the Unitarian College at Manchester, and the librarians of Harvard University and the University of California, all of whom have been unfailingly helpful. The Trustees of the Guggenheim Foundation, New York, and of the Hibbert Trust, London, by their opportune grant of fellowships enabled me to complete my researches at a time when the whole work must otherwise have fallen to the ground, and have left me forever grateful to them. The Trustees of the Starr King School for the Ministry (succeeding the institution in whose service most of this work was done) have made this history to a special degree their own by a most generous subvention toward the expense of publication, in which numerous others have also assisted. But besides and above all others my wife deserves acknowledgment for the unwavering and solicitous interest and the constant encouragement and helpfulness with which she has through long years followed every phase and step of my work, though it has, alas, robbed us both of many hours of happy companionship.
Particular pains have been taken with the bibliographical references, which have been designed not only to cite authorities used but also to indicate literature in which the subject can be pursued in further detail. An index to the full titles of works cited in abbreviated form, and a table giving the pronunciation of names likely to be otherwise trouble some, may be found at the end of the text.
E. M. W.
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