The general collections of the Fisher Library contain many works of theological and religious interest, among them those by scholastics such as Peter Lombard, Saint Albert Magnus, Saint Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus. Seventeenth century controversies include those relating to the Nonconformists, the Quakers, and the Muggletonians. For the eighteenth century there are works by and about Joanna Southcott. Significant editions of the Bible include the first volume of Anton Koberger's edition of the Vulgate (Nuremberg, 1487), once owned by the library of Nostell Priory, Yorkshire; the Great Bible (1539); the Geneva Bible (1560); the Bishops' Bible (1568); the King James Bible (1611).

Knox College Collection

The Knox College Collection - numbering some 5000 rare books - was deposited at the Fisher Library in 1995. It originally constituted the core of the Knox College theological library, which was established in 1844. The college itself was founded in the same year to serve the educational needs of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. To that end, in 1858 it received a charter from the government of Canada West to grant degrees. In 1925, when the entire Knox faculty and the majority of the student body joined the newly formed United Church of Canada, the present building that stands on King's College Circle in the heart of the University of Toronto was awarded to The Presbyterian Church in Canada. Since 1969, Knox has been a fully accredited member of the Toronto School of Theology and of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada, with the ability to grant Masters and Doctoral degrees conjointly with the University of Toronto. 

The long tradition of theological study at Knox has resulted in a collection of exceptional scope, especially noted for its strength in the biblical, pastoral and historical fields, as well as an extensive collection of works particularly focused on reformed theology. Some of the highlights of the collection include Albertus Magnus' Summa (1507), Erasmus' Novum Testamentum (1519), Luther's Piae ac doctae in psalmos operationes (1521), Calvin's Institutio Christianae religionis (1559), the Book of Mormon (1840), numerous editions of the Book of Common Prayer, as well as Bibles in English (1540-1800), French (1687-1701), German (1548-1761), Greek (1545-1907), Hebrew (1608), Latin (1498-1743), and polyglot (1645-1655). In addition, there are many sermons, classical texts, historical treatises (with special reference to Scotland and Upper Canada), and publications of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.

 The collection is fully accessible through the original card catalogue in the Fisher reference area, although an online version is currently in process. It is advisable for interested users to consult both.

The Forbes Collection

 The acquisition of the library of the Rev. James Forbes (1629?-1712), Nonconformist Minister in Gloucester between 1654 and 1712, represents one of the largest single accession of early printed books in the history of the University of Toronto. A Scot by birth, Forbes took his M.A. at Aberdeen before proceeding to Oxford from which place he was called in 1654 to be lecturer and weekly preacher in Gloucester Cathedral. At the Restoration of the Stuarts in 1660, he was turned out of his position. His refusal to conform led to his imprisonment, but upon release from jail the second time he left for London where he survived both the plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of the following year. Returning to Gloucester in 1672, he continued to suffer harassment, fines, as well as threats of excommunication and death.

Three years following his death, the church to which he had bequeathed his library was divided by theological differences, and half the membership seceded. By agreement, those who abjured the congregation took with them everything that was portable, including the communion plate and Forbes' books. The library traveled with the dissenters to various places in Gloucester, eventually settling at Southgate Chapel where it remained until the only incendiary bomb to strike the city during the Second World War made short work of the library building. In 1954, the collection was housed at the Gloucester Public Library, where it remained until the congregation's trustees decided in 1966 to sell it to the University of Toronto to pay for needed repairs to their church.

The library consists of about thirteen hundred printed books, three hundred pamphlets, and a small quantity of manuscript material. It contains no books of great distinction, and few of special rarity. The strength of the collection lies in its integrity: only about a half a dozen books published after Forbes' death have found their way into it, and hence it is a "period" library undiluted by later accretions. Its great value is the representative evidence it afford of the interests of a man who as nonconformist, scholar and divine, remained for over sixty years sensitive to the complicated movements of late seventeenth century religious and political controversy.

 The bulk of the collection is theology of one sort or another: bible commentaries and paraphrases, liturgical, historical, critical and pastoral works and, above all, controversy: tracts on the Anabaptists, on Quakers and Papists; on Socinianism, Pelagianism, Arminianism and Calvinism; on justification, the sacraments, original sin and the Trinity; on Sabbatarianism, infant baptism (an especially large and interesting group) and episcopacy. It is everything that a dissenting library should be. The catalogue is too numerous to detail, but mention must be made of the impressive collection of over sixty works and editions of Richard Baxter (1615-1691) and of such eminent Puritan divines as John Preston (1587-1628), John Owen (1616-1683), Isaac Chauncy (1632-1712), John Edwards (1637-1716), and many others. There is also a good representation of the works of more than two dozen continental scholars and reformers. In addition, the works of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church should not be overlooked: St Gregory the Great (Cura pastoralis, 1629), St Jerome (Epistolae, 1602), St Bonaventure (Soliloquies, 1655), the native Grossteste (De cessatione legalium, 1658), Aquinas' (Catena aurea, 1566, and commentary on St Paul's epistles, 1591), and the great late mediaeval bible-commentary of Nicholas de Lyra (NT, 1492, imperfect - the oldest book in the collection; OT, 1507, incomplete).

Of material relating to Forbes himself there is no great quantity; he published little, and only his Pastoral instruction: being some remains of the Reverend James Forbes (1713) is here found. There is more manuscript material: many seventeenth century sermons, notes and extracts; a journal for the years 1694/5 (much damaged) with notes of sermons preached, presumably in the Gloucester church, and the names of preachers; a few letters to Forbes (but none from him); and a statement of account from an apothecary listing more than a dozen prescriptions in five months - which may go some way to explaining the presence of a number of medical books in the library (including two pharmacopeias) and a manuscript book of medical recipes.

There is little secular literature, with the exception of Bunyan, Milton, Marvell, and Defoe. Classical authors fare better, and there are editions of Horace and Juvenal (1544, imperfect), Aristophanes (1600), Seneca (1614), Homer (1641) and Virgil (1661). Of an interesting group of more than a dozen school-books, six - Walker's Phraseologia Anglo-Latina (1672), Gouldman's Copius dictionary (1674), Kirkwood's Grammatica facilis (1674), Lye's New spelling book (1677), Lily's Short introduction of grammar (1679) and Culman's Sententiae pueriles (1681) - fall within the later years of Forbes' life when he was forced to teach to support himself and his family.

There is a number of other items of special interest. T. Brightman's Apocalypsis apocalypseos (Frankfurt 1609) occurs in a copy apparently marked up for the printer: the corrections listed in the errata leaf are all inserted in the text, and these is a mass of detailed correction and emendation consonant with editing for the press (although there is no evidence that the volume ever went through the printer's hands). A copy of Philippe de Mornay's Mysterie of iniquitie (1612) noted as "missing" in the late nineteenth century catalogue of the library was returned by post from Canada on 27 February 1910: it is an anti-papal treatise of the most exemplary bigotry. Among the manuscripts is part of a book-list in the form of a basic bibliography for theological students, with editions specified and prices cited in most cases. There are also some fragments of mediaeval manuscripts found in the bindings of printed books.

The Forbes collection is very different from other libraries founded in the period. Such charitable benefactions as that of Barnabas Oley, fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, prebendary of Worcester, who in 1685 required his executor to give sixteen volumes to each of ten poor vicarages in the diocese of Carlisle, or the parochial libraries founded by the S.P.C.K between 1710 and 1729, are attempts to ameliorate the intellectual poverty of the lives of so many of the clergy, and to safeguard their doctrinal literacy. But they are semi-official libraries made up of books it was thought proper and improving that a country parson of the established church should read. It is not surprising that Forbes possessed only six books that are also to be found in the standard S.P.C.K. libraries of about seventy volumes.

A more useful comparison can be made with those parochial libraries, often donated by individuals, still to be found scattered about England. Of those still extant only five are both as large and as old as Forbes. Three of these have grown to their present size by augmentation over a long period; and while the library of Reigate, Surrey, begun by Andrew Cranston, the vicar in 1701, and largely completed in the following decade, has not suffered augmentation, it was built up by numerous donations from different people and is therefore largely conglomerate. All lack the distinctive period and personal character of Forbes. Only the library of Maldon, Essex, a collection of 5000 volumes bequeathed by Thomas Plume in 1704, can stand beside Forbes as a memorial to a man and his age. But as a monument to a life dedicated to faith, a dedication expressed in the motto "Suprema optima, fugit hora, ora labora, spe expecto" which appears with his initials in nearly every book in the collection, the Forbes library stands alone.