Henry Ainsworth (1569–1622), was teacher and leader of the English sep arat ist congregation at ‘the Ancient Church’ in Amsterdam. Educated at Caius College, Cambridge, he improved his Hebrew through contact with Dutch Jews. He was at the centre of a network of scholarly and controversial printing by English exiles in the Netherlands, relying particularly on the services of Giles Thorp, an elder in his congregation. Ainsworth was the author of a commentary on the Pentateuch (originally published between 1616 and 1619) which was widely respected for the skill of its oriental scholarship and for the tenacity with which it adhered to the literal meaning of the text.
Although some writers criticized Ainsworth for being too ready to follow the conclusions of Jewish authors and rabbinic scholarship, most were grateful for the information which he synthesized. Thus, Hartlib argued that ‘Commentarii should bee written as Ainsworth explaining only the words phrases et sense’, and he bemoaned the fact that Ainsworth had died before he ‘had done all summaries upon the whole Bibel as hee hade done upon the 5.bookes of Moses’ (Hartlib Papers, 29/3/13B [Ephemerides, 1635] and 29/2/3A [Ephemerides, 1634]). Interest in and regard for Ainsworth’s work did not abate, despite the provision of new commentaries on the Bible during the 1640s and 1650s (see catalogue nos. 71 and 72 ). Ainsworth’s Annotations were recommended as a foundation for the marginal notes which were intended to accompany the revision of the Authorized Version, planned by the Council of State in 1652, and entrusted to the care of a committee including Ralph Cudworth, a Cambridge divine and advocate of Hartlib’s schemes for the reformation of learning. This committee expressed particular interest in Ainsworth’s unpublished manuscripts.
Although the planned revision of the English Bible eventually came to nothing, the search for further material by Ainsworth continued. Thus, during the last couple of years of his life, Hartlib tried to organize Dury to locate Ainsworth’s nachlass in the Netherlands. He was prompted in this endeavour by his friend, John Worthington (see catalogue nos. 1 and 3), who had been associated with the revision of the English Bible, and who praised Ainsworth’s ‘most exact observation of the proper idioms of the holy text’, and considered that, of any surviving manuscripts, ones ‘upon the Prophets, or the New Testament, they are most desirable’ (Diary and Correspondence, vol.1, pp.264and353). However, Dury’s efforts were ultimately unsuccessful, since Ainsworth’s son did not consider that his father’s reputation would be enhanced by the publication of his remaining manuscripts.