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Archive Spotlight: Allan Ramsay and the National Library of Scotland

A slightly different ‘Archive Spotlight’ post today, as we go back to the early eighteenth century to celebrate the work of the poet Allan Ramsay, ‘the founding father of Romanticism’, who was born on this day in 1684. Craig Lamont is a Research Associate on the projects ‘The Collected Works of Allan Ramsay’ and ‘Editing Robert Burns for the 21st Century’ at the University of Glasgow. Here he tells us about his work on Ramsay at the National Library of Scotland, illustrated with images from the archives.


Archive Spotlight: Allan Ramsay and the National Library of Scotland by Craig Lamont 

Allan Ramsay (1684-1758) the poet has been somewhat overshadowed by his son of the same name (1713-1784), who was Principal Painter in Ordinary for George III. When Ramsay senior is in the spotlight instead we tend to celebrate his pastoral play above all else. The Gentle Shepherd (first published 1725, first performed 1729) was the first pastoral piece to be set within a recognisable locale rather than an anonymous idyll. For Ramsay the best choice was the region of the Pentland Hills, beyond the boundaries of Edinburgh where he lived, with a particular focus on Penicuik. In nearby Carlops you can find the Allan Ramsay Hotel (est. 1792), which now boasts a plaque from Historical Environment Scotland:




Founding Father of Romanticism

& Modern Scottish Poetry

Author of the Pastoral Drama

‘The Gentle Shepherd’

Set Near This Place[1]


In January of this year I began working as a Research Associate on the AHRC-funded project ‘The Collected Works of Allan Ramsay’ (PI: Murray Pittock), which will produce a multi-volume edition of Ramsay for Edinburgh University Press. A Ramsay edition was last produced by the Scottish Text Society in six volumes spanning thirty years (1944-1974). These volumes are quite scarce and a full set is difficult to come by. You are more likely to read Ramsay’s poems online or in paperback anthologies such as Before Burns: Eighteenth-Century Scottish Poetry (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2002). The Ramsay Project here at the University of Glasgow hopes to elevate Ramsay to the fore of Scottish literary discourse and, of course, Romanticism. As Murray Pittock demonstrated in Scottish and Irish Romanticism (2008), it was commonplace to regard Ramsay as a Romantic writer or the initiator of major areas of Romantic practice in pre-war (and sometimes 1950s and 60s) criticism, before the later concepts of pre-Romanticism and Romanticism as an aesthetic became dominant.[2]

To grasp Ramsay’s influence fully we are going back to the very beginning, and so my first task was to collate as much information about Ramsay’s manuscripts as possible. Without doubt, the majority of the material is suitably located in the National Library of Scotland (NLS), a stones-throw away from the ancient Edinburgh Old Town where Ramsay lived and worked. There are also manuscripts in Ramsay’s holograph in Edinburgh University Library, the National Records of Scotland, Worcester College (Oxford), the British Library, The Huntington Library (San Marino, CA), and Houghton Library (Harvard, MA). Important though these archives are, the NLS has the largest spread of songs, poems, prose fragments, letters, and the crowning jewel that is the fair copy MS of The Gentle Shepherd.[3]


MS 15972, f. 7r. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.


Title-page of the first edition (F.7.f.22), one of only nine extant copies. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.


The rest of the Ramsay material at the NLS is scattered across more than forty bound or loose-leaf shelf marks, comprising a comprehensive insight into Ramsay’s life, style and development.[4] But let’s go back to the plaque. Ramsay’s place in Romanticism is noted but so too is his foundational role in ‘Modern Scottish Poetry’. What exactly does this mean? And how does the archive help us understand this?

To answer that we should look at printed material. The NLS has an impressive collection of Ramsay’s printed works.[5] Before his first authorised book of Poems in 1721 around fifty-six Ramsay works were published – mostly in Edinburgh, some in London – in a variety of formats. Often unauthorised, these printed works are indicative of a poet on the rise. The claim is made for Ramsay’s founding of Modern Scottish Poetry for a variety of reasons. Among the first ten printed works by Ramsay are Christ’s Kirk on the Green and Elegies on Maggy Johnston [&c.] (both 1718).[6] The first stanza of the ‘Elegy on Maggy Johnston, who died Anno 1711’ is one of the poet’s most recognisable:


Auld Reeky mourn in Sable Hue,

Let Fouth of Tears dreep like May Dew,

To braw Tippony bid Adieu,    A

Which we with Greed

Bended as fast as she cou’d brew,

But ah! she’s dead.[7]


The first thing we notice here is the use of Scots. In this case Edinburgh (ie. ‘Auld Reeky’) is being asked to mourn or honour the death of a talented ale-brewer by dropping (dreeping) rain, or tears ‘like May dew.’ Not only is the poem full of Scots words, the structure of it becomes the quintessential Scots style. The ‘Standard Habbie’ was first used by Robert Sempill, the younger, c. 1640, in his elegy ‘The Life and Death of the Piper of Kilbarchan; or, the Epitaph of Habbie Simpson.’ The phrase ‘Standart Habbie’ was coined by Ramsay in his poetical epistles with William Hamilton of Gilbertfield (c.1665-1751). It would become more famously known as the ‘Burns Stanza’, as the National Poet took it up during his own poetical career.

As a printer and collector Ramsay was well aware that he was taking a steady step in the direction of a new Scottish tradition. And so in 1724 he published The Ever Green, Being a Collection of Scots Poems, Wrote by the Ingenious before 1600.


NLS Cam.1.g.45. Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.


But why focus on the Ingenious before 1600? One answer is that Ramsay is harking back to the time before Scotland lost its royal independence along with its court in 1603 (the Union of the Crowns). The chief Scottish poets in the seventeenth century, such as Robert Aytoun (1570-1638) and William Drummond of Hawthornden (1585-1649) primarily wrote in Latin and English. In other words, the desire to revive the Scots language meant looking further back in time. The first item in Volume I of The Ever Green is ‘Chrysts-Kirk of the Grene,’ which Ramsay had previously printed and added stanzas to in 1718. Whereas Ramsay had modernised the text in 1718, he has reverted it here to Middle Scots:


   Ramsay, 1718                                                  Ramsay, 1724                      

Was nere in Scotland heard or seen,                Was nevir in Scotland hard nor sene

Sic dancing and deray;                                   Sic Dancing and Deray,

Nowther at Falkland on the Green,                 Nowthir at Falkland on the Grene,

Nor Peebles at the Play,                                 Nor Pebills at the Play,


Ramsay uses The Ever Green to enshrine the poetry of an older, more prestigious literary age while simultaneously promoting his own, contrasting Modern Scots as the mainstay on the market. All of this to say that the National Library of Scotland, home to the largest collection of Ramsay material, is also home to one of the nation’s most significant manuscripts which Ramsay used to produce The Ever Green.

The Bannatyne Manuscript (NLS Advocates MS 1. 1. 6) is a collection of poems and songs allegedly copied from original sources by the Edinburgh merchant George Bannatyne (1545-1607/8) during the plague epidemic in the city (‘writtin in tyme of pest’). Without it, many treasures of Scottish literature would be lost forever.


NLS Advocates MS 1. 1. 6. (The phrase: ‘written in tyme of pest’ highlighted). Reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland.


Not only this, Ramsay’s influence on the trajectory of Scots might have been further impinged without this evidence of a rich and diverse literary heritage.[8]

As the project unfolds I will continue to consult the masses of Ramsay material held in the NLS.[9] Knowing Ramsay (as I now do) it will probably lead me deeper into the archive and further back in time. As such, Ramsay’s role in the development of Romanticism ought to be more celebrated and I am grateful to have shared the beginnings of this journey with BARS colleagues to achieve that very end.



[1] Words provided by Prof. Murray Pittock, General Editor of the upcoming Ramsay Edition, in 2016.

[2] Murray Pittock, ‘Allan Ramsay and the Decolonization of Genre’, Scottish and Irish Romanticism (Oxford: OUP, 2008), 32-58.

[3] A draft MS copy is extant elsewhere in the city, in the University Library (Laing.II.212*).

[4] The NLS holds the Edinburgh Burgess Ticket given to Ramsay (Acc. 3948).

[5] Many of these are located in Burns Martin’s Bibliography of Allan Ramsay (Glasgow: Glasgow Bibliographical Society, 1931).

[6] While Burns Martin’s Bibliography is the most comprehensive work to date, Martin often relied on the work of Andrew Gibson for these earlier editions. Gibson’s New Light on Allan Ramsay (Edinburgh: William Brown, 1927) remains an essential text for Ramsay scholars: part biographical and part bibliographical.

[7] Allan Ramsay, Poems (Edinburgh: Thomas Ruddiman, 1721), 16.

[8] There is good coverage of Ramsay’s ‘Transcripts of Earlier Scottish Materials’ in the Index of English Literary Manuscripts: 1700-1800 (Addison-Sir Richard Steele), vol. 3 (1986), 252-261.

[9] Also check the project Twitter and Facebook page, where we feature a monthly blog. Twitter: @edin_enlighten. Facebook: @RamsayWorks.

Archive Spotlight: correspondence between James Northcote and Peter Pindar in Durham’s Special Collections

A new Archive Spotlight post on the blog today by Val Derbyshire (University of Sheffield). Val has kindly contributed details of her research to this series before, in another Spotlight post entitled ‘Archive Spotlight on the Derbyshire Record Office: A Marriage of the Romantic and the Scientific’. Val has also been awarded a 2018 BARS Stephen Copley Award, and we look forward to hearing more about her work at the Royal Art Academy and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London later this year.

If you’d like to contribute to this series, please find more information about how to get in touch with your ideas here.

Enjoy Val’s exploration into a heated exchange of letters that may have inspired Northcote’s Diligence and Dissipation.


‘[A] simple act of fornication’[1]: Diligence and Dissipation, James Northcote and Peter Pindar by Val Derbyshire, School of English, University of Sheffield


Just recently, I was fortunate enough to have been awarded a Stephen Copley Research Award from BARS in order to research the letters and other personal writings of portraitist James Northcote (1746-1831).  My interest in Northcote was sparked by the discovery of his personal friendship with the subject of my doctoral thesis, Charlotte Smith (1749-1806).  Over the past few months I have been visiting archival holdings to look at the personal correspondence of Northcote.


James Northcote, Self-portrait, c.1784, oil on canvas


Northcote has traditionally been viewed as a marginal figure within the art world of British Romanticism, but research has revealed that he was in fact central to the circles of a number of key Romantic figures.  Exploration in the archives has shown that not only did he have an intimate friendship with William Godwin, even leaving Godwin £100 in his will, but that he also corresponded with Elizabeth Inchbald, in addition to taking tea with Smith, along with Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Godwin.[2]  He was one of the last people to see artist John Opie  alive, and Opie’s wife, novelist Amelia Opie, took comfort from Northcote’s visit to her dying husband’s bedside, detailing Northcote’s kindness and sensitivity.[3]  Further, the connection between his own visual artistry and the literary world was clearly very important to Northcote.  Within his Letter Book held by the Bodleian Libraries he keeps a detailed list of every work of fiction which makes reference to or details his work.  These include,


Northcote’s pictures perused in the following: Rosalind de Tracy, a novel by Elizabeth Sophia Tomlins. The Triumphs of Constancy, A Novel in a series of letters Mammon in London, or the Spy of the day.  John Thelwall also wrote about him in The Champion May 27 1821.[4]


Within The Papers of James Northcote, R.A. presented to Sir William Knighton upon his death, there was also the inclusion of many extracts from the publications of the day which praised his work.[5]  Northcote was an artist to whom the range of his influence concerned him greatly.

One archive which holds a fascinating series of letters to Northcote can be found within the Special Collections of Durham University Library.  Here, there is held a series of letters from John Wolcot (1738-1819 – aka the satirical poet, Peter Pindar), which covers the period 1774-75.


John Opie, John Wolcot, c. 1780, oil on canvas


During this time, Wolcot appealed for his friend Northcote’s help because ‘[a] Damn’d Bitch as common as the air liv’d with me and got herself with Bastard’.[6]   ‘[I]n order to remove the Scandal, [Wolcot] sent her to London with money sufficient ’til [he] was inclin’d to send her more.’[7]  Within this series of letters, Wolcot is utterly heartless in his description of his seduction of the girl, who has clearly been his servant, and occupies the precise position of both the ‘Modest’ and the ‘Wanton’ serving girl in Northcote’s series of plates, Diligence and Dissipation: Or, The Progress of a Modest Girl and a Wanton, Exemplified in Ten Different Stages of Their Lives, Being an Attempt to Exhibit the Natural Consequences which attend on Good and on Bad Conduct, published in 1796, just a couple of years after Northcote received Wolcot’s correspondence.


After James Northcote, The Modest Girl Rejects the Illicit Advances of her Master, Plate VI from James Northcote, Diligence and Dissipation: Or, The Progress of a Modest Girl and a Wanton, Exemplified in Ten Different Stages of Their Lives, Being an Attempt to Exhibit the Natural Consequences which attend on Good and on Bad Conduct (London: H. L. Galahin, 1796), engraved by Thomas Gaugin and Thomas Hellyer, 1796, etching on paper


Wolcot is equally callous in his subsequent abandonment of the woman when she becomes pregnant with his child, and denial that the baby boy belongs to him.  The nine letters outline Wolcot’s various pleas to Northcote to give the woman money on his behalf, and persuade her to give the child up ‘to be taken care of as a Common Brat’  in any place which can be found for him.[8]  ‘Could I have expected,’ Wolcot protests, ‘so much Disagreeableness would have followed a simple act of fornication.’[9]

Northcote’s replies are not available in the archive, but from the tone of Wolcot’s letters, it becomes clear that Northcote expostulates with him upon his conduct, to which Wolcot replies ‘she is with all that seeming simplicity a Hypocrite […] Indeed, Northcote, your honesty deludes you.  I know her to be a B—-.’[10]  It is unclear whether this incident affected their friendship, although one of the letters reprimands Northcote for his failure to send Wolcot a head portrait of himself.  Indeed this portrait does not seem to exist, the head portrait of Wolcot being completed by Northcote’s friend and fellow Royal Academician, John Opie.  Despite Wolcot’s protestations that Northcote should feel free to use Wolcot’s services for similar purposes because ‘[b]elieve me I’ll take as much care of your Bastards if you shall think proper to send them into Cornwall,’ it seems unlikely Northcote would ever do so, and that Wolcot’s licentiousness placed their relationship under strain.[11]  It could be that the resulting plates from Diligence and Dissipation were inspired by this unfortunate episode.  Northcote’s artworks caution the beautiful girls in his text against the men they might encounter and their flawed nature.

During May this year, I will be using the funds from the Stephen Copley Research Award to dig further into the archives and reading letters from Northcote held at the Royal Art Academy and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.



[1] John Wolcot, ‘Letter to James Northcote dated 24th March 1775 in ‘Nine Letters to James Northcote’, Durham Special Collections, holding number ABL 596.  (All of the digitised versions of these letters can be accessed via this link).

[2]James Northcote, The Papers of James Northcote, R.A., Collected and Presented by G. G. Williamson, (London: British Museum Additional MS 42524).  Letters from Elizabeth Inchbald are included in The Letter Book of James Northcote (Oxford: Bodleian Libraries, MS Eng Misc e 143), and include charming details such as Northcote arriving uninvited at Inchbald’s home in order to take Inchbald to ‘Mrs Wedells rout’ (Letter dated 28th May 1801).  Unfortunately, as Northcote was not expected, Inchbald had already put her nightgown on for the night, but was then crippled by guilt at refusing to see Northcote, if only to ‘load [him] with reproaches.’

[3] Amelia Opie, Lecture on Painting Delivered at the Royal Academy of Arts: with a Letter on the Proposal for a Public Memorial of The Naval Glory of Great Britain by the Late John Opie Esq., to which are Prefixed a Memoir by Mrs. Opie and Other Accounts of  Mr. Opie’s Talents and Character (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees and Orme, 1809), p. 49.

[4] Northcote, The Letter Book of James Northcote.

[5] James Northcote, The Papers of James Northcote, R.A., The Sir William Knighton Collection (London: British Museum Additional MS 47790-47792).

[6] John Wolcot, ‘Letter to James Northcote dated 1774’ in John Wolcot, ‘Nine Letters to James Northcote’, Durham Special Collections, holding number ABL 590-598 (1774-1775), holding number ABL 590.

[7] John Wolcot, ‘Letter to James Northcote dated 1774’ in ‘Nine Letters to James Northcote’, Durham Special Collections, holding number ABL 590.

[8] John Wolcot, ‘Letter to James Northcote dated 10th January 1775’ in ‘Nine Letters to James Northcote’, Durham Special Collections, holding number ABL 592.

[9] John Wolcot, ‘Letter to James Northcote dated 24th March 1775 in ‘Nine Letters to James Northcote’, Durham Special Collections, holding number ABL 596.

[10] John Wolcot, ‘Letter to James Northcote dated 6th April 1775’ in ‘Nine Letters to James Northcote’, Durham Special Collections, holding number ABL 597.

[11]John Wolcot, ‘Letter to James Northcote dated 23rd March 1774’ in ‘Nine Letters to James Northcote’, Durham Special Collections, holding number ABL 591.

Archive Spotlight: The Royal Irish Academy and Global Connections in Martha Wilmot’s Russian Journals

Today we welcome Dr Pamela Buck to the BARS blog. Pamela is an Associate Professor of English at Sacred Heart University. Her research focuses on British women writers and material culture during the French Revolution and Napoleonic period.  She is currently working on a book project concerning the souvenir as an object of political and cultural exchange in Romantic women’s travel writing. Here she tells us about her research at the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin.


Global Connections in Martha Wilmot’s Russian Journals


In July 2016, I traveled to Dublin, Ireland to examine the works of Martha Wilmot (1775-1873) in the Wilmot-Dashkova Collection at the library of the Royal Irish Academy.[1]  Wilmot was an Anglo-Irish writer from a well-connected, wealthy family in County Cork.  In 1803, she traveled to Russia after receiving an invitation from Princess Ekaterina Dashkova, who met Wilmot’s father while on a tour of Ireland in 1779-1780.  One of the foremost women of the Russian Enlightenment, Princess Dashkova was instrumental in the coup that had brought Catherine the Great to power.  During Wilmot’s five years in Russia, an intense friendship formed between the two women, and Dashkova often referred to herself as Wilmot’s “Russian mother.”  Wilmot spent her time observing society at the royal courts in St. Petersburg and Moscow as well as at the Princess’ country estate.  She also kept detailed journals and letters of her stay that provide a fascinating look at Russian customs and political life.


Portrait of Martha Wilmot (The Russian Journals of Martha and Catherine Wilmot. Edited by Edith Londonderry and H. M. Hyde. London: Macmillan, 1934)


Today, about half of Wilmot’s letters and journals exist in print.[2]  In previous research on her published work, I note that she collects a multitude of objects on her journey, including Dashkova’s memoirs, which she published in 1840, a fan belonging to Catherine the Great, snuffboxes, diamonds, imperial portraits, and court costumes.[3]  I argue that she circulates these objects to strengthen Britain’s understanding of Russia and encourage a possible alliance against Napoleon, whose growing empire threatened to subsume Europe.  The goal of my archival project was to learn how Wilmot’s unpublished writing might further document the circulation of material objects between Britain and Russia and show her participation in the emerging global networks of her time.

With the generous help of Assistant Librarian Sophie Evans, I examined three collections of Wilmot’s papers: the six notebooks that comprise the journal of her stay (12 L 17-22), her letters to Ireland (12 L 24), and letters written with her sister Catherine, who visited from 1805-1807 (12 L 29). The manuscripts, which are often silk or clothbound, tied with ribbons, and illustrated with sketches and translations of Russian poems and songs, indicate that she considered them lasting keepsakes and that she hoped they would give her readers a more vivid sense of this relatively unknown culture.  Interestingly, manuscript 12 L 24 consists largely of copies of her work made by her mother, suggesting that it was widely circulated and popular amongst family and friends.  The parts most frequently copied, and likely considered the most engaging or important, were her discussions of the Princess’ lavish gifts, the threat posed by Napoleon’s empire, and Russia’s relations with the East.


Silk envelope (By permission of the Royal Irish Academy © RIA)


Examining Wilmot’s manuscripts indeed enabled me to understand more fully how the exchange of gifts between her and Dashkova helped facilitate an alliance. For example, in an entry dated December 2, 1803, Wilmot relates how “Today the P gave me a little medal of the statue of Peter the Great” and told her the story of his reign.[4]  An entry of April 4, 1804 recounts the gift of “a snuffbox which belonged to the Princess Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, Princess Daschkaw’s godmother.”[5]  Connected to prominent Russian leaders, the objects enhance Wilmot’s understanding of the country and its imperial power.  An entry from December 28, 1804 indicates that the Princess desires a mutual alliance when she gives Wilmot a shawl she received from Alexander I in exchange for her English one.[6]  As Katrina O’Loughlin points out, these sentimental items are emblematic of women’s sociability, allowing them to exhibit their feelings for one another.[7]  The journals thus show how the material objects that strengthen Wilmot and Dashkova’s personal friendship reinforce the political ties between their countries as well.

My research on Wilmot’s work also revealed unexpected connections between Britain, Russia, and the East. Russia attempted to bolster its national image by identifying with Western nations such as Britain, but also through its domination of the East.  This too occurred through material culture.  In a July 23, 1803 entry, Wilmot recounts viewing “specimens of the curiosities of different countrys” like India, Turkey, and China at the Princess’ Academy in St. Petersburg.[8]  Confiscated and placed in a museum, these objects indicate the political and cultural power Russia exerted over Eastern countries.  Dashkova also shares such objects with Wilmot, who notes in a January 3, 1806 entry, “The Princess has been rummaging today, and has rooted out a million things, from every quarter of the globe, but particularly from China.  She has given us pagodas, a musical instrument, purse, boxes, etc.”[9]  Giving Chinese objects to Wilmot may be another way in which Dashkova hopes to convince Britain that Russia would prove to be a powerful political ally.  However, the goods may also suggest that Russia could help Britain partake in prosperous trade with the East.  British attempts to establish a trading port in China had been unsuccessful, and they eagerly sought ways to fulfill the consumer demand at home for Eastern luxuries.  Regardless, the collection and exchange of these objects reveal both Russia and Britain’s desires to strengthen their empires and redefine themselves as global nations.


Traveling case (By permission of the Royal Irish Academy © RIA)


Although virtually unknown in literary studies today, Martha Wilmot’s work makes a significant contribution to our understanding of women writers and their involvement abroad during the Romantic period. The Wilmot-Dashkova Collection also contains Catherine Wilmot’s own journal and letters of her stay in Russia, which provide a more critical view of Russian cultural and political practices, and letters from her 1801-1803 journey to France and Italy, which offer an inside look at Napoleon’s empire.  While Martha Wilmot chose not to publish her journals, her portable writing case, also preserved in the archive, suggests that she considered herself a legitimate travel writer. The collection would appeal to scholars interested in the intersection of gender, politics, and material culture in the Napoleonic period. With its rare insights into relations between East and West, it would also appeal to those with an interest in global Romanticism.


– by Pamela Buck


[1] I thank Sacred Heart University for supporting this project through a University Research and Creativity Grant.

[2] Martha Wilmot, The Russian Journals of Martha and Catherine Wilmot, eds. Edith Londonderry and H. M. Hyde (London: Macmillan, 1934).

[3] Pamela Buck, “From Russia with Love: Souvenirs and Political Alliance in Martha Wilmot’s The Russian Journals,” in Eighteenth-Century Thing Theory in a Global Context: From Consumerism to Celebrity Culture, eds. Ileana Baird and Christina Ionescu (Basingstoke: Ashgate Publishing, 2013), 133-48.

[4] Martha Wilmot, “Journal of stay in Russia” (12 L 17), 151.

[5] Ibid., (12 L 18), 103.

[6] Ibid., 292.

[7] Katrina O’Loughlin, “‘Your Russian Mother’: Friendship and Global Relations in the Dashkova Archive” (presentation, North American Society for the Study of Romanticism Conference, Tokyo, Japan, June 13-15, 2014).

[8] Martha Wilmot, “Journal of stay in Russia” (12 L 17), 68.

[9] Wilmot, “Journal” (12 L 20), 8.

Archive Spotlight on The Derbyshire Record Office: A Marriage of the Romantic and the Scientific

Thank you to Val Derbyshire (University of Sheffield) for this intriguing and charming account of her experience carrying out research at the Derbyshire Record Office – and the letters she spent time reading there. You can also read Val’s BARS blog report from the Thelwall Conference here.

‘Unrestrained Epistolary Intercourse’: A Marriage of the Romantic and the Scientific


Val Derbyshire, PhD Researcher, School of English, University of Sheffield

Mary Ann Flaxman, Detail of portrait of Eleanor Anne Porden, undated.

Mary Ann Flaxman, Detail of portrait of Eleanor Anne Porden, undated.

I first stumbled across the works of Eleanor Anne Porden (1795-1825), Romantic poet and first wife of Arctic explorer, John Franklin (1786-1847) quite by chance whilst working a night shift on an out of hours helpline at Derbyshire County Council.   I quite often used these night shifts – which were invariably quiet – to study for the MA I was completing at the time.  During one shift, I was  researching an assignment on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), and reading Jen Hill’s excellent study from 2008, White Horizon: The Arctic in the Nineteenth-Century British Imagination (New York: University of New York Press, 2008), when I came across Hill’s analysis of Porden’s The Arctic Expeditions: A Poem (1818).  Hill’s research had accessed the personal correspondence between Porden and her fiancé, Franklin, which were held just down the road from where I was sitting, at the Derbyshire Record Office.  Like all good explorers, I decided to follow in Hill’s footsteps and read this correspondence for myself.

It took me a couple of years, however, to get around to it.  Indeed, I was in the middle of my PhD and undertaking a work placement at the University of Derby before I finally viewed the letters for myself.  My brief at the University of Derby was to design a new MLit course for students concerning the long Eighteenth Century.

The focus was to design a course which would permit students to study texts with a ‘distinctly Derby’ theme.  With this in view, I visited the Record Office to transcribe the love letters between Porden and Franklin.  These letters would then feature as part of the students’ course reading.

Derbyshire Record Office, New Street, Matlock – home to a large collection of personal correspondence between Eleanor Anne Porden and John Franklin.

Derbyshire Record Office, New Street, Matlock – home to a large collection of personal correspondence between Eleanor Anne Porden and John Franklin.

The holding is situated at the top of a very steep hill in Matlock, Derbyshire (a town which was visited by both Mary Shelley and her fictional progeny, Victor Frankenstein, although one suspects Shelley probably visited the more picturesque Matlock Bath, dubbed ‘Little Switzerland’ by the locals).

Matlock Bath, dubbed ‘Little Switzerland’ by locals – the more picturesque side of Matlock town and home to a park and pleasure ground which has been in use since the 1780s.

Matlock Bath, dubbed ‘Little Switzerland’ by locals – the more picturesque side of Matlock town and home to a park and pleasure ground which has been in use since the 1780s.

The archive contains an immense number of letters from Porden to literary friends as well as the romantic correspondence between herself and Franklin.  Franklin’s letters alone in this holding number in the hundreds.  With this in view, I focused my research upon the period from 1815 to 1823, which covered Porden’s first meeting with Franklin, her publication of Coeur de Lion (1822), her somewhat surprised receipt of Franklin’s marriage proposal upon his return from his first expedition to the Arctic, the death of her much beloved father, her marriage to Franklin, concluding at the point of her demise in 1825 from tuberculosis which was accelerated by the birth of her daughter (Eleanor Isabella, born 1824).

The letters are immensely rich and rewarding to read.  They contain extracts of original poetry, tinges of regret at the creative projects she left unfinished (which she refers to as ‘a ghost’ which ‘haunt[s]’ her with ‘so many delightful phantoms of other years’[1]), and charts her relationship with her fiancé.  This in itself is a journey worthy of exploration.  Porden travels from a starting point of grief at having just lost her father, surprise at Franklin’s unexpected proposal of marriage, through a peculiar epistolary courtship, which warms as time progresses, but ultimately becomes as cold as the Arctic itself at Franklin’s suggestion that she should relinquish her literary career after their marriage.  Indeed, some of the letters seem to express extreme doubt upon Porden’s behalf that they should proceed with the marriage at all.

The ‘love letters’, if you can term them this, commence upon Franklin’s return from his first fraught voyage to the Arctic.    During this initial exploratory trip, 11 of Franklin’s 20 men died, primarily from starvation, although it is speculated that one may have been murdered, and hints of cannibalism sullied the reputation of the voyage.  Upon Franklin’s return, his first action is to write to Porden from the Hudson’s Bay Ship, Prince of Wales, Atlantic Ocean, ‘at the distance of 600 miles from the Orkney Isles’[2].  Here, in an opening romantic gesture, he informs Porden that he has named some of the Arctic archipelago after her: ‘I can only now say that I have named some islands in the Arctic Sea ‘Porden’ as a tribute of my regard for your family.’[3]

Porden’s response, however, is perhaps not the one Franklin anticipated.  On mourning stationery, with a thick black border, Porden informs that her ‘poor father was laid in his grave just one month ago’, although she thanks him for ‘fixing our names upon the globe [and] shall feel proud to see them figure in the map which will be prefixed to your work.  Proud, less perhaps for my own sake than that of those who are no more.’[4]

Once safely back on terra firma, Franklin wastes little time in proposing marriage, in a meeting in London which Porden describes as ‘exquisitely […] painful’, although she does concede ‘that there is no one else in all my acquaintance, who, if I am any judge of my own feelings, could have spoken to me on the subject you have done, without meeting an instant and positive denial’.[5]  It’s hardly the language of love, and, indeed, once Porden has accepted his proposal, the epistolary courtship proceeds in a strangely formal manner.

However, by the end of December 1822, Porden seems to have embraced her new future and begins to send more informal letters to her fiancé.  Sending him ‘a fine saucy message’, she begs that he will write frequently to her, in order that they may ‘arrive at a more intimate knowledge of each other’s feelings and sentiments from unrestrained epistolary intercourse’.[6]  It becomes, however, a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’, as aspects of Franklin’s character emerge, which, it becomes clear, Porden would really rather not know.  The most pressing of these is his rather patriarchal view that she should relinquish her literary career upon their marriage.

In a very formal and lengthy epistle dated 23rd March 1823, Porden remonstrates with Franklin upon his belief that she should cease writing, informing him that she was ‘asking no favour’ and ‘claiming no concession’ with the continuance of her literary career.  ‘My tastes and habits had been fully known to you from the first moment of our acquaintance’ and I could not have supposed that any man, to whom they were in the slightest degree disagreeable, would ever have thought of addressing me’.[7]  ‘[I]t was the pleasure of Heaven’, she tells him, ‘to bestow those talents on me, and it was my father’s pride to cultivate them to the utmost of his power.  I should therefore be guilty of a double dereliction of duty in abandoning their exercise.’[8]  At the close of this letter, Porden offers Franklin a way out of their engagement:

If on the contrary you find that your imagination has sketched a false portrait of me, that your feelings are changed, or, no matter what the causes, that you have taken a rash and inconsiderate step, do not hesitate to tell me.[9]

Although the tone of subsequent letters fluctuates, it almost seems as if Porden is seeking an exit herself from this moment onwards.  During the ensuing months prior to their marriage, Porden’s letters are suffused with doubt, and the resulting letters question disparities in their religious beliefs, and her sociable nature and many friendships as opposed to his more solitary leanings.

The wedding, however, duly took place in August 1823.   In a final romantic gesture, Porden wore a wedding dress, which had flowers discovered in the Arctic by Franklin and his team, and detailed in the descriptions of his voyages, embroidered upon the hem.  Unfortunately, the gesture was somewhat wasted on Franklin who ‘did not discover the compliment paid […] until it was pointed out to me’.[10]  The incorporation of the flowers, ‘Eutoca, […] Richardsonil and Hoodil’ into the wedding ceremony demonstrates perhaps more than anything how this was a marriage between the Romantic and the Scientific natures of the participants.[11] Porden’s letters are personal, charming and ever seeking a point of connection with her fiancé.  Franklin’s are much less easy to read and are slightly clinical in tone, although there can be no doubt of the ‘sincere esteem’ he entertains for her.[12]   Here, it can be seen how the participants struggle to locate neutral territory and balance the conflicting demands of romance with scientific and literary endeavour.

The archive is voluminous, with the Derbyshire Record Office holding much of Porden’s writings, both personal and professional, as well as Franklin’s huge correspondence.  If researchers have an interest in this, there can be no better place to start an exploration of both the romantic and the scientific than in a small archive at the top of a Matlock hill.

Plate delineating species of Arctic Flowers, some of which would feature upon the hem of Porden’s wedding gown. From John Franklin, Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea in the Years 1819, 20, 21 and 22 (London: John Murray, 1823).

Plate delineating species of Arctic Flowers, some of which would feature upon the hem of Porden’s wedding gown. From John Franklin, Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea in the Years 1819, 20, 21 and 22 (London: John Murray, 1823).


[1] Eleanor Anne Porden, Letter to Mr.Elliott dated 12th July 1822, held in the Derbyshire Record Office holding number D3311/8-13.

[2] John Franklin, Letter to Eleanor Anne Porden dated 19th October 1822, Derbyshire Record Office holding number D3311/8/3/1-40.

[3] Eleanor Anne Porden, Letter to John Franklin dated 22nd October 1822, Derbyshire Record Office holding number D3311/8/3/1-40.

[4] Eleanor Anne Porden, Letter to John Franklin dated 22nd October 1822, Derbyshire Record Office holding number D3311/8/3/1-40.

[5] Eleanor Anne Porden, Letter to John Franklin dated 5th December 1822, Derbyshire Record Office holding number D3311/8/3/1-40

[6] Eleanor Anne Porden, Letter to John Franklin dated 22nd December 1822, Derbyshire Record Office holding number D311/8/3/1-40.

[7] Eleanor Anne Porden, Letter to John Franklin dated 29th March 1823, Derbyshire Record Office holding number D3311/8/3/1-40.

[8] Eleanor Anne Porden, Letter to John Franklin dated 29th March 1823, Derbyshire Record Office holding number D3311/8/3/1-40.

[9] Eleanor Anne Porden, Letter to John Franklin dated 29th March 1823, Derbyshire Record Office holding number D3311/8/3/1-40.

[10] John Franklin, Letter to John Richardson dated 7th July 1823, Derbyshire Record Office, holding number D3311/12.

[11] John Franklin, Letter to John Richardson dated 7th July 1823, Derbyshire Record Office, holding number D3311/12.

[12] John Franklin, Letter to Eleanor Anne Porden dated 10th July 1823, Derbyshire Record Office, holding number D3311/8/3/1-40.

Archive Spotlight: Anna Seward and the Lichfield Record Office

Another ‘Archive Spotlight’ post for this week! Thank you to Francesca Blanch Serrat – PhD student from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona –  for this essay. Francesca’s research focuses on self-representation, maturity, and Romanticism in Anna Seward’s poetry. She tells us here about her trip to Lichfield, the location of Seward’s family home.

Do you want to write for us on studying Romanticism materials at an archive? We are now opening this series to contributors.  We’d love to hear from academics and postgraduates who would like to write a short blog on their experience of using an archive in the UK or elsewhere. You could use the space to discuss one or two things of interest you found there, perhaps things that are intriguing, but can’t fit into your thesis or other work. Suggestions welcome!

Please contact Anna Mercer for more information. 


Archive Spotlight: Anna Seward and the Lichfield Record Office

Although today she is not quite as well known, Anna Seward (1742-1809) was celebrated in her lifetime as one of the prominent lyrical voices of Great Britain. Strongly imbued by the cult of sensibility and classical poetic models, her style attests to the cultural and literary transition between the Enlightenment and Romanticism. Due to the success of her patriotic elegies on national heroes, Monody on Major André (1781) and Elegy on Captain Cook (1780), she was considered by her contemporaries as a “British muse, spokeswoman for national anguish, pride, and resolve” (Kairoff 2012, 71), which contrasts with, and questions, our current notion of her career as provincial writer. Seward was at the centre of a network of scientific, social, political and literary relations, as her correspondence (12 manuscript volumes, out of which only 6 were posthumously published) demonstrates. She enjoyed a privileged position as confidante and mentor to the outstanding minds of her generation, such as Erasmus Darwin, Esther Thrale Piozzi, Hannah More, Robert Southey, Helen Maria Williams or Sir Walter Scott, to name a few. My thesis pays particular attention to the representation of maturity in Romanticism and investigates in what ways does Seward, from her old age, represent herself as a woman, writer, and ultimately, author.



Anna Seward by George Romney. 1782. Detail.


After the death of her father, Anna Seward lived independently in her family home, the Bishop’s Palace, in Lichfield. She inherited her father’s shares in several business exploits which allowed her not to worry about her keeping. Thanks to that, she never envisioned writing as a way to earn money, but rather as an artistic and intellectual pursuit, and elevated form of art. Lucky her. As a young girl, Seward moved with her parents and younger sister from Eyam to Lichfield when their father was appointed canon-residentiary at the cathedral. There, the Sewards became immediately involved in the city’s intellectual and cultural life, and encouraged their daughters to actively participate in it. They would host meetings with personalities such as Erasmus Darwin -who praised her poetry and encouraged her to continue writing-, James Boswell or Samuel Johnson, as well as the Lunar Society of Birmingham.

On my first year of PhD research I went on a trip to Seward’s beloved Lichfield. After reading about it in her letters and poems, I had to know what all the fuss was about. Lichfield is indeed a beautiful town, ripe with history, and evidently very proud of its past.


View of the cathedral from The Swan.

View of the cathedral from The Swan.


My first appointment was with Clare Townsend, the manager of the Cathedral Library, who showed me the chapter house -the only one with two storeys in the UK!-, where the library has been housed since 1758. Its treasures include a hand-copied manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales from the 15th century and a map of Tudor England by Christopher Saxton (one of the three surviving original copies). I was very lucky to be able to visit it before its closure for restoration work. Ms Townsend had prepared a working space for me on the left side of the building, which incidentally faced Seward’s home, now a school. The feeling of touching the first edition of her collected letters a mere street away from where she would sit and write is indescribable.


The Bishop’s Palace, behind the cathedral. Seward’s home.

The Bishop’s Palace, behind the cathedral. Seward’s home.


After the cathedral, I visited the Lichfield Record Office, where Henrietta Martinez, Kevin Briggs and Anita Caithness, the archive assistants, were incredibly kind and helpful. The Lichfield Record Office is part of the Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent’s Archive Service, which amounts to 6500 collections. It connects the databases of Staffordshire Record Office, the Lichfield Record Office, the Stoke on Trent City Archives, the William Salt Library and the Staffordshire County Museum under one single online catalogue, Gateway to the Past. Gateway to the Past contains an 80% of the Archive and Heritage Service’s holdings. [See here, and here]

In the Lichfield Record Office, I mostly came across letters and poems, but also legal documents and an unpublished portrait. In total I saw 33 documents. The first document I was given was LD127/7/15, which turned out to be a drawing, in pencil and ink, of Seward as a young woman. Although I knew of several versions of her most well known portraits and engravings, by Tilly Kettle and George Romney, I had never read about this one. The portrait is medium sized, smaller than an A5, and features Seward indoors, sitting down on an armchair, not looking directly at the person drawing her. The portrait presents signs of having been kept in a frame. It is not dated, but judging from Seward’s facial features, I would suggest it is from the late 1750s. Regrettably, its author is unknown.

The next bundle of material contained two legal documents dating from 1763 (D15/12/60) and 1781 (LD88/7/7). Both documents, which when spread open occupied half the table, were sealed with royal wax stamps and handwritten in an elaborate, formal manner. They had evidently suffered from humidity. The first one was listed as “Settlement on wife and daughters by Canon Thomas Seward of The Close, Lichfield.” Signed by Thomas and Elizabeth, Anna Seward’s parents, it establishes the amount of money the Seward women would be left with in case of Thomas’s death. It also contains information on some of Thomas Seward’s shares, which his oldest daughter Anna would be in charge of during his illness, and eventually inherit. The other document, listed as “Lea Grange or Stychbrook Grange” contains the details of a lease and the parties involved. It is significant because it is signed by both Thomas and Anna, who is described as a “spinster” and “only child”. By 1781, Elizabeth and Sarah Seward had died. Both documents serve as a testament of Thomas Seward’s preoccupation with providing for his family, as well as the involvement the women of the family had in the financial movements carried out in the house.

If the settlement and the lease shed light on Seward as actively involved in her family’s finances, the following provides an insight into her relationship with the intellectual circle of Lichfield, which might had an influence in her development as a poet. D127/7/14 is a manuscript verse of a poem by Dr Erasmus Darwin “On a target at Drakelaw”, transcribed by Seward. The handwriting differs slightly from her own letters; it looks like she might have been to Darwin’s dictation. Scholarship has paid attention to the relationship between the two writers. We know Darwin encouraged Seward to continue writing, although there is also evidence that he did not behave as well as one might wish towards her, publishing under his name verses authored by Seward. Although some scholars have argued that in the Lichfield circle poetry was a collaboration and it is hard to discern authorship in a publication, Seward expressed, vehemently and repeatedly, her anger at Darwin’s plagiarism, both in her letters and in her biography of the scientist, Memoirs of the Life of Dr Darwin. Be as it may, what is clear is that Seward was actively involved in the intellectual and creative life of the city from an early age, both as an assistant to her mentors and as a poet in her own right; she was admired and celebrated by her contemporaries.

Although at this stage of my research I do not yet know how any of this information will fit within my thesis, these findings have allowed me to gain insight into Seward’s private life, which in turn sheds light on my understanding of Seward as a person and as an author. The work of the Lichfield record office in cataloguing and preserving these documents is invaluable, and I am certain it will prove equally helpful for the academics that decide to study Seward’s life and work after me.

– Francesca Blanch Serrat (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)


Further Reading

Claudia T. Kairoff. Anna Seward and the End of the Eighteenth Century. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 2012.

Archive Spotlight: Mapping the Life of Johanna Dalrymple at the British Library

The Archive Spotlight series continues today with a post from Marissa Bolin, PhD candidate at the University of York. She tells us about her research visit to the British Library and what she uncovered there.


“Sacreed Promises and Engagements:” Mapping the Life of Johanna Dalrymple


My fascination with the 1811 Dalrymple v. Dalrymple trial arose from the examination of the legal context of Wilkie Collins’ 1870 novel Man and Wife. Collins recognizes the importance of the Dalrymple trial as background for the case between Anne Silvester and Geoffrey Delamayn when Sir Patrick claims that it is the “one case” where a Scottish marriage was “confirmed and settled by the English Courts.”[i] He links Anne Silvester and Geoffrey Delamayn’s marriage to the Dalrymple verdict when he clarifies that “[a]n English Court of Justice (sitting in judgment on the case I have just mentioned to Mr Moy) has pronounced that law to be good—and the decision has since been confirmed by the supreme authority of the House of Lords.”[ii] Reports by John Dodson and John Haggard as well as later references to the case in the 1868 The Report of the Royal Commission on the Laws of Marriage mark Dalrymple v. Dalrymple as the commencement for the debate for reformed ceremonial laws. The publicity that followed the case similarly served to educate the English population of the lack of formality of Scottish irregular marriages and sparked the debate to end the ways in which women fall victim to these inconsistencies.


marissa1BL 1131.g.1.


Scotland’s marriage laws had few restrictions and caused a great deal of legal confusion. According to the 1868 Commission’s account of the requirements of marriage legality in Scotland, “[n]o form or ceremony, civil or religious, no notice before or publication after, no consummation or cohabitation, no writing, no witnesses even are essential to the constitution”[iii] of irregular marriages. Commissioners were astounded that so few requirements were needed to define “the most important contract which two private parties can enter into.”[iv] The obscurity of Scottish marriage laws led the Commission and recent historians such as Leah Leneman and Lawrence Stone to ask “what defined a marriage in Scotland?”[v] Scottish marriages could be separated into two categories—regular marriages and irregular marriages. It was Scotland’s protection of irregular marriages that caused great confusion.

The Report defines irregular marriages as then separated into two sections, per verba de praesenti and per verba de futuro, subsequente copula. Promises per verba de praesenti were a type of mock ceremony in which a couple would pronounce themselves married from that point forwards “without any ecclesiastical ceremony, parental consent, or physical consummation, provided the consent was notified in words of the present tense.”[vi] Such marriages could be proven through letters signed “wife” or “husband” or the testimony of a credible witness who had witnessed these terms verbally declared. On the other hand, per verba de futuro marriages are characterized by the presence of “a promise of future marriage without any present interchange of consent to be husband and wife, followed at a subsequent time by carnal intercourse.”[vii] Both variations of informal marriage led to a great deal of legal confusion.

It was this legal ambiguity, and the many women who were negatively affected by such obscure requirements for marriage, that led the Commission to focus on Scottish laws. The Dalrymple case provides one of the most well-known cases of Scottish irregular marriages at that time, and is referenced by the Report to support the Commission’s position that “writings, secretly exchanged between a gentleman and lady in Scotland, without the knowledge of any other person, were held by the English Court Matrimonial to have constituted a valid marriage.”[viii] Twenty letters written by Johanna Dalrymple were used as evidence. John refused to provide any letters that he received from Johanna, claiming that they were missing or have been destroyed. Johanna had luckily kept all the correspondences during their relationship, clearly aware of the uncertainties of Scottish marriages. Dodson asserts the significance of the letters presented by Johanna’s lawyers on the verdict, by stating that “[i]t is much more natural that they should be left in the possession of the lady, she being the party whose safety is the more special object of protection.”[ix] Married women were unable to represent themselves within marriage trials and yet it was their respectability and virtue that was on the line. Therefore, women’s possession of written evidence was of the utmost importance.

The Dalrymple case provides an extensive examination of the influence that women’s writings play in marriage laws of the period. The letters presented during the trial dated back to 1804, when John Dalrymple became acquainted with Johanna Gordon during his time as a Dragoon Guard in Edinburgh. John frequently visited her at her family home and in May began writing passionate letters declaring his love and hopes for their future together.[x] They had been acquainted for approximately one to two months prior to the start of their correspondences but few letters were of importance to the case due to the fact that verbal passionate discussions were most likely taking place. Thus, the letters presented during the trial were written after an irregular marriage had occurred, as revealed in letter No. 1, and secured proof of their marriage. The first letter recorded in the Dalrymple v Dalrymple case, entitled “A sacreed promise,”[xi] consists of both John and Johanna’s written agreements to marriage.



BL 1131.g.1.


It is clear that at this point John and Johanna had consented to a marital union by the terms of Scottish irregular marriage per verba de praesenti. Because of John’s family and the fear of “being disinherited,”[xii] the marriage had to be an irregular one and kept in secrecy, not even known to Johanna’s family. John assured Johanna that she was his wife and, thus, obtained all the rights as his wife. These rights included his responsibility to pay for any purchases she wished to make, for he frequently assured her that, “I insist on your ordering every thing you want, and drawing on me for whatever money you stand in need of as it is but your right, and in accepting of it you will prove your acknowledgment of it.”[xiii] He also saw it to be her responsibility to perform all duties as his wife, such as sexual intercourse. The plaintiff stressed the importance of the consummation of marriage, as it remained a legal stipulation of marriage at the time. Although John would later deny that sexual intercourse occurred, the court agreed that his letters proved otherwise. The prosecution argues that his letters were “expressive of the most ardent and eager affection on his part, which can leave no room for the slightest doubt that he was at that time most devotedly attached to her person, and desirous of the pleasures connected with the enjoyment of it.”[xiv] At the end of July 1804, John was forced to leave Edinburgh and return to London because of his father’s suspicions of her relationship with Johanna.



BL 1131.g.1.


Both John and his “Dearest Wife”[xv] continued to write to one another during this absence and after he was stationed in Malta in 1805. With less frequent letters, the death of John’s father in 1807, and his final return to England in 1808, the relationship between the couple became ultimately altered. Using John’s lawyer, Samuel Hawkins, as a transmitter of letters during this three year period, Johanna warns Hawkins that:

were he to think of forming any of the connexions that have been talked of [in gossip], or any connexion whatever, I will immediately come forward with my claims, which must put himself and the unfortunate woman in a most disagreeable situation […] I am convinced he will force me to strong measure ere long.[xvi]

On the 2nd of June 1808, she was forced to call her bluff after John marries a woman by the name of Laura Manners and, within a few days of the marriage, Johanna’s legal battle begins.

Johanna was able to convince the jury that a marriage had occurred and that John was legally responsible as her husband. As a result, John’s second marriage was annulled. Although Johanna and John Dalrymple were from thenceforth married, they agreed to live separately. Due to the fact that the Matrimonial and Divorce Act would not come into action for another 46 years, a legal divorce or separation was not possible.

Unfortunately, little is known of Johanna Dalrymple’s fate after the 1811 trial. My archival research at the British Library enabled me view the widespread distribution of trial reports on the Dalrymple court proceedings. It wasn’t until further research led me to the National Archives in Kew that I discovered an 1827 Inquisition of Lunacy of Johanna and the declaration of her insanity. It is unclear if Johanna self-admitted herself after years of legal and marital sufferings or if this inquisition was called for by John as a reasoning for divorce.

While I’ve had to pause further research into what happened to Johanna Dalrymple after her triumph in the 1811 trial and this 1827 Inquisition due to other research focuses, I fully plan to dedicate future research into uncovering the misfortunes of this legally symbolic woman of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.


Marissa Bolin is a doctoral candidate and tutor in the Department of English & Related Literature at the University of York. Her dissertation entitled “Women, the Law, and the Novel, 1838-1885: Representations of Bigamy, Property Law, Ceremonial Law, Divorce and Separation in the Victorian Novel” examines the use of women’s physical writing, such as letters, marriage certificates, and diaries within Victorian novels as a way of providing women’s testimonial and circumstantial evidence in the debate for marriage law reform.


[i] Wilkie Collins, Man and Wife ed. Norman Page (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995), 523.

[ii] Collins, Man and Wife, 523.

[iii] The Report of the Royal Commission on the Laws of Marriage (London: HMSO, 1868), 16.

[iv] Ibid.,16.

[v] Leah Leneman, Promises, Promises: Marriage Litigation in Scotland 1698-1830 (Edinburgh: Nation Museums of Scotland Enterprises Ltd., 2003), xi.

[vi] John H. Baker, An Introduction to English Legal History, 4th ed. (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2007), 179.

[vii] The Report of the Royal Commission on the Laws of Marriage, 17.

[viii] Ibid.,18.

[ix] John Dodson, A Report of the Judgment, Delivered in the Consistorial Court of London, on the 16th of July 1811, By the Right Honorable Sir William Scott, Chancellor of the Diocese, in the Cause of Dalrymple the Wife, Against Dalrymple the Husband (London: J. Butterworth, 1811), 66.

[x] Ibid., 1.

[xi] Ibid., 243.

[xii] Ibid., 253.

[xiii] Ibid., 245.

[xiv] Ibid., 69.

[xv] Ibid., 245.

[xvi] Ibid., 264-265.

Archive Spotlight, ‘Finding a wife for the Reverend William Ettrick’

The Archive Spotlight series continues with a post by Elizabeth Spencer (PhD Candidate, History, University of York), on her findings after a research visit to Dorset History Centre in Dorchester. The papers of the Reverend William Ettrick (1757-1847), although not appropriate material for Elizabeth’s thesis, did however tell a rather intriguing tale, which she recounts here.


Would you like to contribute to this series? For more information, please contact Anna Mercer.


“The Lady was to be young and of good Family also”: Finding a wife for the Reverend William Ettrick

By Elizabeth Spencer

Recent research into the Ettrick family of High Barnes in Sunderland led me, somewhat surprisingly, all the way to the Dorset History Centre in Dorchester in order to look at the papers of the Reverend William Ettrick (1757-1847).[1] I have been researching the marriage of his parents William (1726-1808) and Catherine Ettrick (1726-1794), and so hoped that I might find some traces of them in their son’s papers. The Reverend William Ettrick had an extremely difficult relationship with his father, and so had left Sunderland ‘without a penny in [his] pocket’ as soon as he had turned 21 in order to take up a fellowship at University College Oxford; in 1787 he was offered two small livings in Dorset, where he lived until his father’s death in 1808, upon which he inherited the family estate at High Barnes. Unfortunately, his papers offered little in the way of material for my current doctoral research into women’s clothing in eighteenth-century England, but they do provide a fascinating account of one member of a family notorious for their eccentric behaviour.[2]


Dorset History Centre

Dorset History Centre


The papers held by the Dorset History Centre were apparently found sealed in a glass bottle which had been passed down in the Ettrick family; it was finally opened in 1903, and was found to contain documents relating largely to the Reverend William Ettrick’s complicated marital affairs. As well as a personal account written by him in 1810 in an attempt to justify the legitimacy of his marriage, the papers contain correspondence between William and legal professionals, colleagues, and family members, as well as affidavits sworn by various witnesses to his first marriage. They allow us to piece together the somewhat bizarre story of his search for a wife, and his eventual marriage to Elizabeth Bishop (?-1837) in 1800.

Despite their acrimonious relationship, the Reverend Ettrick’s father apparently began making overtures of peace towards his son in 1794 in an attempt to secure the family name; they were the only two surviving male heirs, and in his old age the father was becoming increasingly concerned that he would never see his then 37-year-old son married. According to a later account written by the Reverend Ettrick, his father had offered him £10,000 and the possession of the High Barnes estate – as well as £5000 more on his death – if he would marry a ‘Lady of Fortune’ worth £10,000. His terms also stipulated that the lady was also ‘to be young and of good Family.’ These conditions did not prove agreeable to the Reverend Ettrick, however, who wrote to his University College colleague Dr Wetherell that he had ‘instantly rejected them’ in his own mind as ‘Such a prospect was not only an ideal impossibility to a man of my Constitution & years, and retired life & Habits, but the very thots: of it were Death to me.’ Significantly, the Reverend Ettrick also cited his parents’ own unhappy marriage – they had separated in 1765 – as evidence of the miseries caused by a match based on money alone.

Nevertheless, the Reverend Ettrick challenged his father that if he could find a lady ‘according to his wishes, and equally willing to venture the perilous experiment,’ he would agree to ‘sacrifice all my Expectations of domestic Happiness’ and marry her. Such a lady, however, was not to be found, and five years went by without a match being made. It is here that things become more complicated, and it is more than likely that the Reverend’s own account of these events written in 1810 glosses over or changes details in order to present his actions in a more favourable (and less bizarre) light. According to the Reverend, by 1799 he had decided to set his father’s scheme aside altogether and to marry a woman ‘agreeable to me, & of such Expectations (being of humble rank) and Habits of Life, as were in unison with my own.’ The woman he set his sights upon was Elizabeth Bishop, who was likely already his servant or housekeeper at this point. Rather than simply marrying her, however, the Reverend Ettrick apparently decided to set in motion an ‘experiment’ which would ‘work upon the feelings of my Father & put his Temper fully to the proof.’ He therefore published the banns of his own marriage in his own parish church in December 1799, and let it be widely believed that a marriage ceremony had taken place between him and the said Elizabeth; no such thing had happened, but the Reverend’s intentions were to gauge his father’s reaction to his rumoured nuptials. He had apparently determined to disregard any reconciliation with his father if his reaction proved to be a negative one, and was prepared to forfeit the fortune promised to him in order to marry a woman who satisfied his own needs. His father did not disappoint, and the Reverend’s brother-in-law soon wrote to tell him that the ‘Old Gentleman is much displeased with you’ as he had been told that he had ‘married a Woman that was a Bedd maker at Oxford & that she had befor two Bastards.’

If the Reverend Ettrick was pleased that his father had predictably proved himself to be intractable, he apparently had not foreseen that rumours of his marriage would have negative consequences for his fellowship at University College Oxford. Upon hearing of his apparent nuptials, the college bursar wrote to him to warn that an investigation loomed if he did not provide them with a reasonable explanation; his fellowship was no longer tenable if he was a married man, and he had failed to inform them of any change in his circumstances. ‘You may suppose that the College would not be disposed to give credit to a vague rumour,’ the bursar wrote, but ‘it is only since they have learnt that the report is very generally prevalent in your neighbourhood…that they have been induced to give it attention.’ The Reverend replied explaining the circumstances of the rumour and asking for a year of grace as, although he was not yet married, he intended to be in the near future.

Though he had been forced to deny his marriage to the college, according to the Reverend’s own account he was reluctant to allow these rumours to be contradicted in Dorset as he was ‘not willing to give any needless visitation to my father’; however, it is likely that he and Elizabeth were already living together as man and wife. Indeed, when the pair eventually did marry in April 1800 Elizabeth was already pregnant. Perhaps predictably given the Reverend’s previous record, the marriage ceremony was not a straightforward event; taking place very early in the morning with only two witnesses – Elizabeth’s mother and aunt – the ceremony was performed by the Reverend himself, in a bizarre move which would prove problematic for him later down the line.

Having heard doubts expressed to him over the validity of his marriage to Elizabeth on the grounds that he himself had performed the ceremony, the Reverend was eventually persuaded by his patron to be married again by another clergyman in 1806. Elizabeth had given birth to four children in this time – one of them a son and heir to the Reverend’s estate – and it was this more than anything that seems to have convinced him of the need to ensure the legitimacy of his marriage. Nevertheless, he continued to assert the validity of their first marriage, claiming that the second ceremony was only a ‘Measure of Precaution.’ Indeed, rather than simply including a clause in his will which would allow an illegitimate first son to inherit, the Reverend determined to prove that his 1800 marriage had been legally valid all along. This was complicated even further by the discovery in 1808 – the year of his father’s death – that the wrong date had been entered in the parish register for the banns of this first marriage; though the banns had been heard in December 1799 – and the Reverend and Elizabeth had been married in 1800 – he had incorrectly recorded the banns as being published in December 1800.

It is perhaps ironic that, despite wanting to avoid the unhappy fate suffered by parents who had been married for financial gain, the Reverend Ettrick himself became embroiled in an ongoing legal battle over the validity of his 1800 marriage. It also shows a streak of stubbornness as he continued to fight to assert its legitimacy, in spite of mounting evidence to the contrary. He and Elizabeth would go on to have ten children together, six of whom were born after their second marriage ceremony in 1806. Unfortunately, their first son – whose legitimacy the Reverend fought so hard to prove – died before his father, and so the uncertain status of his 1800 marriage would ultimately prove immaterial in matters of inheritance. The Reverend William Ettrick himself died aged 90 in 1847, and his second son Anthony would go on to inherit the estate at High Barnes.

[1] Dorset History Centre: ‘Correspondence and other documents of Rev. William Ettrick 1787-1810’ D.1854/1, and ‘Correspondence and account of William Ettrick’s life by Mrs Sherwood, 1980’ D.1854.

[2] Jeremiah William Summers, The History and Antiquities of Sunderland (Sunderland: Joseph Tate, 1858), pp. 186-196. ; William Brockie, Sunderland Notables: Natives, Residents, and Visitors (Sunderland: Hills and Company, 1894), pp. 46-52.


Elizabeth Spencer is a third-year doctoral candidate and postgraduate tutor in the Department of History at the University of York. Her research looks at women’s clothing in eighteenth-century England, and is funded by the White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities.

Archive Spotlight, ‘A Book and a Bard: Romantic Poetry and the Commonplace Book of Thomas Gray’

This year on the BARS blog we are reviving the ‘Archive Spotlight’ series. We present new and exciting posts from BARS members and blog readers on their studies at various archives. Please get in touch if you want to contribute – the posts can be an account of the archive itself, or some things you’ve studied there that relate to the Romantic Period. Katherine Fender (University of Oxford) starts us off with a post on her time at Pembroke College Library, University of Cambridge. 


A Book and a Bard: Romantic Poetry and the Commonplace Book of Thomas Gray



John Martin, “The Bard”, (c. 1817) (c) Laing Art Gallery


The manuscript to which my doctoral research is most deeply indebted is one over which I had pored even before the first word of my thesis had been written. Similarly, the text itself predates what we generally consider to be the “Romantic period” in literature – though my thesis was firmly rooted in all things Romantic: in the poetry and aesthetic theory of the period. Why then, you may ask, is this pre-Romantic text of any significance to a Romanticism blog?

The answer is that my thesis simply could never, and would never, have come about at all without my having had the opportunity to read and to research Thomas Gray’s Commonplace Book. The Commonplace “Book” is, more accurately, to be described as several books: three volumes, composed from 1736 onward, which offer notes, essays and drafts on a number of different topics, including but not limited to Gray’s poetic interests and early poetry drafts.

I first encountered Gray’s Commonplace Book during my MPhil. at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge, in 2012. At the time, I was starting to think about not only the significance of Welsh landscape and what I termed the “Welsh Sublime” in English Romantic poetry (the topic of my MPhil. dissertation), but also the significance of a particular Welsh figure: that of the ancient Welsh bard, who was thrust to the forefront of the eighteenth-century literary stage by Gray’s “The Bard: A Pindaric Ode”.

Gray’s ode was composed between 1754 and 1757, and was published in 1757: the same year that Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful appeared in print. I was especially keen to consider the intersection between the language and images of the bardic and those of the sublime in this period.

The more I thought about, read about, and researched the figure of Gray’s ancient Welsh bard, the more I came to realise that, though enigmatic – and presented as the last of the Welsh poets in Gray’s text – the bard was certainly not elusive in eighteenth-century and Romantic literature. Indeed, as the eighteenth century progressed, the figure of the ancient Welsh bard became evermore popular in not only the literature, but also in the art and music of the period. But why?

So it was that I set out to trace the wanderings of Gray’s Welsh bard through Romantic verse. I knew, though, that in order to do so, I would firstly need to return to my original resource: Gray’s Commonplace Book. It has been described as the “single most important repository of Gray’s autograph verse and prose”[1], and – especially where Gray’s engagement with the bardic tradition is concerned – this is with good reason.

All three volumes of Gray’s Commonplace Book make reference to bards in offering both historical and poetic accounts of them. They were, as such, invaluable resources – especially in the context of “four nations” Romanticism research. In the first volume of Gray’s Commonplace Book, he introduces the reader to bards in the context of druidism. Within the category of druidism, Gray discerns three main sub-groups – druids themselves, defined as “religious men” and a “holy Race”, as well as bards and vates:


Strabo…mentions two other Orders of Men in great reverence (beside the Druids) the Bardic, & the Vates. the first were their Poets who sung the deeds of their Heroes to the Lyre, mention’d likewise by Deodorus, Marcellinus, Festus Pompeius, Posidonius ap: Athenoeum, Lucan &c.: the others, whom Marcellinus calls Eubages, studied & taught Metaphysicks, Natural Philosophy, & the Sublime Sciences. Caesar seems to have included them all under the name of Druids.[2]


The bards, the poets, are heralded as specifically Welsh in the second volume of Gray’s Commonplace Book, which also contains a seventeen-page section called “Cambri” wherein Welsh verse forms are explored in great detail. As Mack outlines,


Gray’s interest in the origins of rhyme in English poetry…had led him deeper and deeper into the study of Welsh poetry and language. Throughout the early and mid-1750s, he became increasingly convinced that the measures of English poetry ‘not improbably might have been borrowed from the Britons, as I am apt to believe, the rise of Rhyme itself was’.[3]


Rhyme and metre emerge as key concerns in Gray’s “Cambri” pages, which is unsurprising given the intrinsic link between (cultural) memory and verse that define the bardic tradition, and that Gray so reveres. Despite Gray’s obvious fascination with Welsh prosody, though, its role in his verse has not received the attention that it deserves hitherto. Although a study by critic Edward D. Snyder afforded attention to Gray’s use of Welsh sound patterning, his research dates from the 1920s; there has been little critical work conducted on the subject since.


Not only did my studies of Gray’s Commonplace Book expose a relatively neglected area of Gray scholarship, but they also made me think more carefully about what Romantic poets considered the role of a poet to be more generally. Why might they, as poets themselves, revere Gray’s rendition of a bard’s role? How does Gray’s bardic language and imagery inflect their own verse and writings?

Many Romantic poets including Blake, Wordsworth and Hemans adopted the figure of Gray’s bard as a symbol: as a poetic precursor; as prophet; as a figure to be imitated, emulated and even ventriloquised if possible. Gray highlights the power and transcendence of the bardic voice, positioning the ancient bard as not only a solitary individual worthy of pathos – the last of his kind – but, also, as a stoic hero, as a figure to be revered: he who gives voice to communities, past, present and future. I contend that the ancient bard as depicted by Gray is, as such, an appealing prototype for politically-engaged and affectively-driven Romantic poets.

There is not enough room here to do justice to Gray’s Commonplace Book: beautifully-written, meticulously ordered, wonderfully preserved. On a personal as well as an academic level, I am hugely indebted to the Commonplace Book. Without it, my doctoral thesis would not exist.


Many thanks to Mrs Pat Aske at the Pembroke College Library, University of Cambridge, for granting me access to Gray’s Commonplace Book, and for her generosity in sharing her time, knowledge and expertise with me over the past few years.


Katherine Fender (DPhil.)
Stipendiary Lecturer in English
St Peter’s College,
University of Oxford

[1] Margaret M. Smith, Index of English Literary Manuscripts, Volume III, 1700-1800, Part 2, (London: Mansell, 1989), p. 73.

[2] Thomas Gray, Thomas Gray’s Commonplace Book, Vol. I, p. 310. Accessed at Pembroke College Library, University of Cambridge, on 14/08/15.

[3] Robert L. Mack, Thomas Gray: A Life, (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000), p. 470.


Archive Spotlight: New William Godwin Discovery

Dr Evert Jan van Leeuwen, of Leiden University, has written the following report for us on a new discovery he’s made in the Abinger Collection at the Bodleian.  We’re very happy to publish short notes like this relating to discoveries that might be of interest to the Romantic Studies community – if you’d be interested in contributing a piece on archival findings, please get in touch.

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Unknown Manuscript Note Identified in the William Godwin Papers of the Abinger Collection, at the Bodleian Library

In consulting the online catalogue of the Abinger Collection at the Bodleian Library, on Thursday 15 October 2015, I was able to identify the source of a piece of manuscript in William Godwin’s papers catalogued as “unknown.”  It concerns the following item, the pages of which can be viewed online here and here:

• Shelfmark: MS. Abinger c. 39
• Former shelfmark: Dep. b. 229/4(a)
• Fol(s).: 90r (and 90v)
• Document type: copy, in the hand of William Godwin, and Mary Jane Godwin
• Contents: ?Extract from an unknown work, beginning ‘The head is a house built for reason…’

The “unknown work” is The Guls Horne-Booke (1609) by Thomas Dekker, which Godwin read on the 5th and 6th of February 1813, according to William Godwin’s Diary.

Dr. B.C. Barker-Benfield, of the Department for Special Collections & Western Manuscripts at the Bodleian Library, explains that “the leaf is transcribed in the hand of an amanuensis, probably Mary Jane Godwin, but with corrections certainly in William Godwin’s hand.”  It contains the extended “head is a house” metaphor from Chapter 3 of Dekker’s text (pp.14-15 of the 1609 text, available as a digital file via EEBO).  It is transcribed almost verbatim, with only minor differences in punctuation and a small phrase missing on fol. 90v that appears between “Frenchman” and “nor” in the 1609 text: “that pluckes up all by [y] rootes” (15).  Dr. Barker-Benfield points out that “the watermark of this leaf is the lower half of Britannia, a very common pattern, with no visible date.”

Dekker’s pamphlet is a burlesque of the conduct literature circulating in early seventeenth-century fashionable society.  One wonders what drew the aging philosopher to The Guls Horne-Booke.  Godwin’s young admirer Edward Bulwer Lytton would become famous for his satirical portraits of high-society beaux and belles; Godwin, by contrast, holds the reputation for being a serious (even gloomy) psychological and political novelist of purpose.

In 1817, Godwin published Mandeville, a Tale of the Seventeenth-Century in England.  Reading Dekker may have been part of his research towards writing this work of fiction.  What I am currently researching is to what extent Dekker’s extended “head is a house” metaphor functions as a governing literary motif in Mandeville.  The narrator-protagonist Charles Mandeville reflects at the outset that “it is…necessary that I should here describe the most remarkable features of [my uncle’s] residence” because “they insensibly incorporated themselves as it were with the substance of my mind; and my character, such as it was afterwards displayed, owed much of its peculiarity to the impressions I here received” (23).  Audley Mandeville’s coastal residence is a full-blown Gothic mansion “in a woful [sic] state of dilapidation” (24).  In the course of the novel, Charles Mandeville’s mind becomes as isolated and ruinous as his uncle’s home.  Godwin was clearly struck by Dekker’s extended “head is a house” metaphor and his appropriation of this figure of speech suggests that he was developing a Gothic motif that the American poet, critic and short-story writer Edgar Allan Poe (who read Mandeville) would perfect in “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839).  In this tale, the house and the mind of its proprietor are indeed one; they fall down together.

I will present a working paper on this thesis at the January 2016 British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies conference and plan to publish a finished essay in the course of the year.  I would like to thank Dr. Barker-Benfield for encouraging me to publish a note on the identification of Godwin’s transcription of Dekker’s text.  The online catalogue entry will shortly be corrected in the light of the identification.

Dr Evert Jan van Leeuwen
Leiden University, the Netherlands

Archives Spotlight: Papers of Anna Eliza Bray (1790-1883)

We’re very happy to be able to publish a piece by Holly Wright of the West Sussex Record Office exploring their recently-catalogued archive of materials relating to Anna Eliza Bray, which promises to be a really great resource for Romanticists.

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Papers of Anna Eliza Bray (1790-1883)

The papers of 19th Century author Anna Eliza Bray have recently been catalogued at West Sussex Record Office and are now available for researchers to access. The catalogue can be viewed via our Search Online facility at

BRAY 3-2 stitched together c

Frontispiece of Anna Eliza Bray’s book The White Hoods (Bray 3/2).

Anna Eliza Bray (formerly Stothard, neé Kempe) was born on 25th December 1790 in Newington, Surrey and died on 21st January 1883 in London. She was originally destined for a career in the theatre; however, this endeavour was cut short as she fell ill days before a much anticipated performance at Bath’s Theatre Royal in May 1815, and subsequently lost the opportunity to appear on the stage again. The archive contains letters from this period between her mother, her brother Alfred John Kempe (the antiquarian) and theatre directors from Bath and Cheltenham.

In February 1818, she married Charles Alfred Stothard (eldest son of the Royal Academy artist Thomas Stothard) and her first book was published in 1820 entitled Letters written during a tour through Normandy, Britanny and other parts of France in 1818. This publication would establish her as a writer and advance her into the literary circles of her day, acquainting her with such notable figures as Sir Walter Scott, Amelia Opie, Letitia Elizabeth Landon, John Murray and the most influential character in her career, the Poet Laureate Robert Southey. Her husband died shortly afterwards in a tragic accident on 28th May 1821, when he fell from a ladder in Bere Ferrers Church in Devon while drawing the stained glass window. In 1822, she married Reverend Edward Atkyns Bray and moved to Tavistock Vicarage in Devon; shortly thereafter her next book Memoirs of Charles Alfred Stothard was published in 1823. The West Country became a significant influence on her writing and it was during her life in Tavistock when most of her literary output was accomplished, including her most well-known work A Description of the part of Devonshire bordering on the Tamar and the Tavy, published by John Murray in 1836. This was a 3-volume descriptive account of the history, customs and folklore of West Devon, the idea for which was first suggested to Mrs Bray by Southey in 1831 and later published as a series of letters she had written to him on the subject. It proved very popular and was reprinted in 1879 in a two-volume edition. Other works included a well-received 10-volume set of historical novels, another travel book entitled Mountains and Lakes of Switzerland, biographies of Thomas Stothard and the composer George Frederick Handel and a children’s book entitled A Peep at the Pixies. After her husband’s death in 1857, she moved back to London and continued to write well into the 1870s, editing and publishing her late husband’s sermons and writing further books on French history and Devon folklore.

BRAY 1-1-7

Letter to Anna Eliza Bray from Letitia Elizabeth Landon (Bray 1/1/7).

This archive will, no doubt, be of great interest to Romantic scholars as it contains over 100 letters from Caroline Southey, the second wife of Robert Southey, with whom Mrs Bray was first acquainted in 1840. This correspondence continued over a period of 14 years, which is even more remarkable when considering the fact that they never ended up meeting one another. Not only did Caroline Southey write frequently of her husband and his children, but some of the earlier letters also refer to other Romantic-era figures including William Wordsworth and members of the Coleridge family.

Letter to Anna Eliza Bray from Caroline Southey written after Robert Southey’s death (Bray 1/3/26).

Letter to Anna Eliza Bray from Caroline Southey written after Robert Southey’s death (Bray 1/3/26).

There is also ‘Mrs Southey’s Narrative’, a biographical piece written by Caroline Southey in 1840 regarding her courtship and marriage to Robert Southey, copied by Mrs Bray’s niece from the original manuscript. Other correspondence includes letters from the poet Letitia Elizabeth Landon, Charles Cuthbert Southey and Edith May Warter (nee Southey), son and daughter respectively of Robert Southey and his first wife Edith Fricker. The most unusual and unique items in the collection are undoubtedly three locks of hair belonging to Robert and Caroline Southey, given to Mrs Bray in 1854.

The archive also contains a wealth of correspondence, travel journals, a scrapbook of drawings and watercolours, printed books and numerous draft manuscripts including the 3 volume manuscript of her autobiography, published posthumously in 1884. This work includes an account of the visit made by Robert Southey and his son Charles to Tavistock Vicarage in December 1836 as well as transcriptions of his letters to Mrs Bray. There is also a handwritten poetry book dating from the early 1820s which belonged to Mary Maria Colling, a maidservant and amateur poet from Tavistock. Mrs Bray bestowed her patronage upon Mary and privately published a selection of her poetry in 1831 entitled Fables and Other Pieces in Verse. This publication also included letters written by Mrs Bray to Robert Southey who assisted in gathering together many notable subscribers for the book, including John Murray and William Wordsworth.


Two of Anna Eliza Bray’s travel journals of Cornwall and North Devon (Bray 2/3 and Bray 2/11).

I will be presenting a talk on the Bray archive at West Sussex Record Office in Chichester entitled ‘A Peep at the Pixies’: exploring the life and literary archive of Anna Eliza Bray (1790-1883) on Tuesday 24th November 2015 at 7pm. Tickets cost £7.50 including refreshments, and a selection of documents from the archive will be out on display. If you would like to book a place, please contact our reception on 01243 753602.

For any enquiries regarding the collection, catalogue or the November talk please contact West Sussex Record Office on

Holly Wright
Searchroom Assistant, West Sussex Record Office

All images are reproduced with the permission of West Sussex Record Office.