The Tract Collection is a major resource for the study in depth of British political, religious and intellectual history. It comprises upwards of 10,000 tracts, some 8,000 of which were printed between 1640 and 1730. The years 1710 to 1714 are represented by 1600 tracts, a situation probably not paralleled in any other library. Further, some 150 tracts are not recorded in Wing's Short Title Catalogue for the period 1640-1700, indicating the rarity of some of the material.
The collections of the Bowdler family account for 550 volumes of the total tract collection of 810 volumes. Thomas Bowdler II (c.1661-1738), whose MS catalogue is one of the treasures of the Roderic Bowen Library and Archives, was the major figure in assembling the collection. He worked alongside Pepys in the Admiralty, and, as both were non-jurors, later became a close friend of the notable Saxonist George Hickes (1642-1715). Pepys, Hickes, and an uncle (Thomas Bowdler I, active 1638-1700) probably orientated him towards collecting contemporary pamphlet literature. The nature of his collecting is similar to that of Narcissus Luttrell (1657-1732); both men followed the tradition pioneered by George Thomason (d.1666). Thomas Bowdler III, his son (c.1708-1785) added some 350 tracts before the transfer of the collection to Lampeter by Dr Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825).
Quite apart from their content value, the Bowdler Tracts (as distinct from later additions by Thomas Burgess, Thomas Phillips and others) are important bibliographically in being in non-cropped original state and through Thomas Bowdler II’s annotations, adding names and dates to anonymous publications.
Religious tracts comprise nonjuring literature (notably a near definitive collection of the Hickes corpus); church controversies in depth - Bangorian, Socinian, Arianism, the Popish Plot, etc.; and sermons, with their important political, social and satirical overtones.
Literary tracts are, for the most part, poetry - notably of the early eighteenth century and including such categories as Anglo-Latin poetry. Of the major figures, Swift, Pope, Dryden, and notably Defoe, are well represented. We hold Defoe's Review, arguably his major work, including the unique Continuation Volume No. 81, not recorded elsewhere. Additionally there are obscure plays, character essays, critical tracts (for example on the publication of the Spectator), and four volumes of mid-seventeenth century newspapers. Also worthy of note is the first edition of a masque by Ben Jonson.
Philosophy, Science and Medicine
While not a major area of interest, these areas are represented by important tracts by Berkeley, Hickes, Bentley, Boyle, Ditton, Holland, Partridge, Desguliers and Mead.
The Tract collection contains 45 manuscript items. A litst of these items is available by clicking on the following link: