USSHER, James. An Answer to a Challenge made by a Jesuite in Ireland. Wherein the Judgement of Antiquity in the points questioned is truly delivered, and the Noveltie of the now Romish Doctrine plainely discovered. By James Ussher, Bishop of Meath. London: Printed for the Society of Stationers, 1625. Small quarto. pp. , 527, , 7 (Catalogue of the Authors). Contemporary full sprinkled calf, spine professionally rebacked. Some early marginalia and signature of Richard Barton on final leaf. Also with signature of Jonas Blaymires on titlepage. Slight wear, wanting part of the letterpiece. A nice copy. Scarce.
James Ussher was born in the parish of St. Nicholas, in the city of Dublin, on the 4th of January, 1580-1, fifth among ten children of Arland Ussher, Clerk of Chancery, and his wife Margaret Stanihurst. He was the second student admitted to Trinity College, when its doors opened in 1593. He had a great interest in religion and his loyalties were divided between the Reformed and Catholic Faiths. His uncle Stanyhurst tried to attract him towards Catholicism which he had adopted, but Ussher’s leanings were towards Anglicanism which he followed. His contacts with recusant scholars were extensive and reciprocal. They included his uncle Richard Stanihurst, whose Brevis praemunitio pro futura concertatione cum Jacobo Usserio (Douay, 1615) was directed against his nephew. He also exchanged information with Bishop David Rothe of Ossory, author of the Analecta sacra nova . . . in Hibernia, the Jesuit William Malone, and the Franciscans Thomas Strange, Mícheál Ó Cléirigh, and Luke Wadding. In this way the vigorously catholic Louvain school made use of Ussher’s private library, and in return he had indirect access to manuscript sources in the Vatican library. Through Conall Mageoghegan of Westmeath he was able to consult vital sources such as the Book of Lecan and of Book of Ballymote.
This world, in which the participants dealt with each other in terms of mutual respect, was a hidden one. It functioned through codenames and intermediaries and occasionally broke down under the strains created by politics and polemical print. So while Ussher’s dealings with learned Catholics extended over the three decades from the 1610s onwards, his first two publications as Bishop of Meath were detailed ripostes to Roman claims of superior antiquity After their victory at Kinsale in 1601, the English Army generously gave the enormous sum of £1,800.00 for the purchase of a library for Trinity College. Ussher had the delightful task of going to London to purchase the books. In 1612 he took the degree of Doctor of Divinity and in the following year published his first work Gravissimae Quaestiones de Christianorum which he dedicated to James I. In 1621 he was appointed Bishop of Meath, he was a regular visitor to London and favourite of the King, who before his death appointed him to the Archbishopric of Armagh. His residence at that time was in a house at Drogheda (where he kept his books including, the great masterpiece of Celtic illuminative art The Book of Kells) or Termonfeckin in County Louth. He was strongly opposed to Bishop Bedell’s efforts in revivng the Irish language and to granting Catholics any toleration. He died at Ryegate in Surrey in 1656. He was a prolific writer both in Latin and the English language. His biographer Dr. Elrington states “The works which he had published sufficiently attest the stupendous extent of his information, and the skill with which he could make use of the treasures he possessed”. His name became celebrated throughout Europe, and his services to the cause of literature, more especially in the departments of history and chronology, have been acknowledged by all modern writers.