An event that has been nearly a decade in the making was celebrated yesterday in proper scholarly fashion with a sympesium at Folger Library and a major lecture at the Washington Cathedral.
But, under the restraint, there was the excitement of historical detection, a contribution to man's cultural heritage, and just survival of a project saved by scraping together funds over lean years when a university press failed and money came hard from foundations and colleges.
All the scholarly to-do was over Richard Hooker (and one of the symposium participants even risked a witticism about "Mr. Richard (W)Hoo").
The occasion was the publication of the first two volumes of The Folger Library Edition of the Works of Richard Hooker in collaboration with the Harvard University Press. Everyone at the symposium apparently knew that Hooker was one of the most important authors of the English Renaissance, a consummate prose writer and author, whose 16th-century treatise, "Of-The Laws of Ecclessiastical Polity," is often considered the most influential single theological work in the English language and one with great significance in political theory.
The publication of the first two volumes of Hooker's works - based on fresh transcripts of the earliest and most authoritative documents - brought Hugh R. Trevor-Roper, the eminent Oxford University historian, here for a major lecture at the Washington Cathedral.
An urbane man, Trevor Roper, whose books include the popular success "The Last Days of Hitler" among studies of the rise of Christian Europe and the Reformation and social change, admitted that he had a problem in preparing his lecture on "Richard Hooker and the Church of England."
"I had to decide how many of the listeners were famaliar with Hooker - not to insult the learned or bewilder the unlearned," he said with some sympathy for the reporter's plight.
At the symposium yesterday W. Speed Hill, general editor of the projected eight-volume series, held up the first two blue-and-gold-jacketed books.
" . . . Finally, two volumes you can lift and heft," he said almost unbelievingly.
The seed of conception of the project, which Hill hopes to complete by 1980, actually dates back more than a decade. Hill, then a young scholar with a fresh Ph. D. from Harvard and a dissertation on Hooker, went from Cleveland to Toronto for a conference on editing 16th century texts. He heard Richard Sylvester, professor of English at Yale, speak about his work with Thomas More.
"I said to myself: 'That's what I want to do with Hooker,'" Hill recalled yesterday.
The opportunity came later when O. B. Hardison, now Folger Library director and then an English professor at the University of North Carolina, suggested that Hill resurrect the Hooker project moribund at Chapel Hill.
Until 1970, Hill had support from the Press of Case Western University. But the financially shaky university press failed. Later Folger and the Harvard University Press stepped in. Two grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities totaling $105,461 have helped during the last two years.
At the afternoon symposium Sylvester, who said that, as any editor, he never threw away a paper, read from a note from Hill that one editor could not attend a session in the late 1960s because he has to "keep Cornell from exploding."
The students riots of the late 1960s have passed and the Hooker project has survived, Sylvester noted with an historian's perspective.