Primitive history, explained and annotated

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Filed under Library News:  Mills Archives & Research Collections
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The eighteenth century abounds in many curious books of extraordinary scholarship. One such work entitled Primitive History from Creation to Cadmus (1789) was written by William Williams, formerly of St. John’s College, Cambridge. In a most learned fashion, Williams sets about to explain the origins of the world and the earliest civilizations and mythologies from a Christian perspective. In the first chapter of Primitive History, for example, Williams discusses the solar system, the timing of comets, and the earth’s habitation, all in terms of the six days of creation. Williams’s book sold by subscription in large paper for a guinea and in small paper for half of guinea. Less than 20 copies are known to be extant. McMaster’s copy, donated by Rabbi Bernard Baskin, belonged to Williams himself, densely annotated by the author in the first 200 pages of the text. Among Williams’s many revisions is a new preface dedicated to the members of his university and college. The Gentleman’s Magazine records Williams’s death on 16 November 1813. He is described as "a highly benevolent and determined supporter of the oppressed, the afflicted, and the fatherless." His other works include a translation of the New Testament and The Christian Code; or, a Regular Digest of Christ’s Dispensation (1808). Primitive History is Williams’s magnum opus. According to Dan Crawford, a member of the famous Caxton Club of Chicago, the book is a forgotten masterpiece.