These books were originally made for Project Gutenberg. The text is from the 1904 Gairdner edition. Since Gairdner died in 1912—and the various original authors somewhat earlier—the books should be out of copyright just about everywhere in the world.
The main difference between the version you see here and the version you get from Project Gutenberg is that here the volumes are fully interlinked. That includes the General Index—all 19,000-odd references of it—and the introductory material in Volume I.
Update: The online versions have been slightly modified to make them more readable on different screens, and to keep a better visual match with other books on this site. The downloadable versions (both HTML and PDF) have not been changed.
If you want to download more than one volume and work offline, read the section on linking below.
The stylesheet (essential) and images are shared by all volumes. If you downloaded before the complete set (Volumes I–VI) was available, you will need to update these files. Simply throw out the old version and replace it with the new one.
Depending on your computer, these files may unzip themselves or may need to be opened manually. They will start out in whatever location your browser normally uses for downloads, unless you have told it to put them somewhere else. You do not need to know what a stylesheet is or what it does. Just make sure to download it together with the text.
These are big files, close to 2MB each, so you can’t read them online. They’re intended mainly for computers that are fussy about displaying long HTML files with complicated formatting, or for portable devices that won’t let you save HTML files locally. They are standard Mac-produced PDFs, meaning that you can search for text, but there are no active links. Depending on how your device handles downloads, you may need to unzip them after they’ve landed on your hard drive.
Most volumes of the Letters include references to letters in earlier volumes. (Forward references are rare except in Volume I, which was published last.) Volume VIb is a general index to all volumes. When you read the texts online, links will work automatically. But if you are working with the complete set, you may prefer to download the books to your own computer.
To keep the links working as intended, do not use your browser’s “Save” function. It may have a different name, such as “HTML complete” or “All files”. Whatever it’s called, it won’t work. Your browser is simply too smart for its own good; it will change the links, and you need them unchanged.
Instead, download the zip files for the volumes you want, along with the stylesheet (essential) and images. Collect everything in one directory (folder). You can call the directory anything you like and put it anywhere that’s convenient. But don’t rename any of the downloads, and do keep all the images inside their directory. The HTML files—one for each volume—will have .html at the end; the stylesheet ends in .css, and the images are variously .gif, .png or .jpg.
First the good news: If you don’t trust Fenn and don’t trust Gairdner and definitely don’t trust me, the British Library has started putting the real things online. No longer will you have to take anyone’s word for it that the writer said “leſs” rather than “lefs”; look at the picture and decide for yourself.
The e-texts are intended to look as much as possible like the printed books. This includes typographic decisions like using “z” for yogh (ȝ). All brackets are in the original, as are parenthetical question marks and (sic) notations. The copy number (first page of each volume) is hand-written.
The year of each letter was printed in a sidenote at the top of the page; this has been merged with the sidenote at the beginning of the letter. Footnotes have their original numbering, with added page number to make them usable with the full Index. They are grouped at the end of each Letter or Abstract.
Typographical errors are marked with , and are listed again at the end of their Letter, after any footnotes. The notation “corrected by editor” refers to the Errata printed at the end of Volume VI. The word “invisible” means that there is an appropriately sized blank space, but the letter or punctuation mark itself is missing.
In the primary text, errors were corrected if they are clearly editorial, such as missing italics, or mechanical, such as u-for-n misprints. Italic “d” misprinted as “a” was a recurring problem, especially in Volume IV. Larger errors such as apparent misspellings or doubled words were corrected when Fenn has a different reading and Gairdner has no notation indicating that the apparent error is in the original MS.
Some specifics: The spelling “Jhon” is not an error. Gresham and Tresham are different names. Conversely, the inconsistent spelling of the name “Lipyate” or “Lipgate” in footnotes is unchanged. In Volume IV, the spelling “apostyle” for “apostille” is used consistently.
If you are comfortable typing directly into your browser’s address bar, you can go straight to any page or letter. Simply add #pageN, #letterN or #noteN_N to the end of the file name, where “N” is the number of the page, letter or note. Footnotes are numbered by page; if there’s only one (“see page 274, note”), it is still no. 1.
The second part of Volume VI includes a bit over 19,000 links to the other six files. Only the internal cross-references have been hand-checked. All I can say for sure about the others is that the referenced page, letter or footnote exists in the relevant volume. If you find an error, let me know so I can fix it.
These texts are in the public domain. You are welcome to download the complete set and park them in any location that is convenient for your students.