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David Hume and the National Library of Scotland: Copley Report

See below for a report from Rebecca Davies (NTNU, Trondheim, Norway). Rebecca was awarded a BARS Stephen Copley Research Award, and she explains her subsequent research activity here.

Rebecca Davies – Stephen Copley Award Report

I used the award to visit to the National Library of Scotland’s special collections to begin what will eventually be an extensive examination of the letters of David Hume, as part of a broader consideration of his epistemology. This research will be incorporated into my current project on the treatment of ‘genius’ and precocity – or ingenia proecocia – in educational writing of the long eighteenth century. I am interested in how Hume – in his unguarded moments where he is not consciously the philosopher – represents human ‘powers and faculties’, and the nature of knowledge, relative to both childhood education and knowledge acquisition into adulthood. The work carried out in the NLS informs a chapter exploring the treatment of genius, learning and cognition in Enlightenment epistemology, to reassess and relocate Romantic conceptions of creative genius. As Paul Bruno has observed, Hume does not explicitly comment upon genius in the sense of originality and untutored talent in his published works. Consequently, my key focus for this research was whether he engages with the subject, even obliquely, in his private writings, through discussions of reading, education and knowledge acquisition. I was also interested in his conception of education more broadly.

Although, unsurprisingly, the archives did not reveal any letters on the topic that have not been already published by Grieg, it was nevertheless useful to view the contents in an unmediated form, to trace themes of study, intellect, and Hume’s perception of the physical effects of thought and education without an overt chronological and biographical focus. The letters provided some diverse and interesting commentaries regarding Hume’s own education and attitude to knowledge and learning. Although well known, some key examples of this focus on knowledge and learning appear in the famous ‘Letter to an Anonymous Physician’ – where he notes the necessity of forgetting the reasoning of the ancients in order to come to a better understanding of the ‘truth’ – and his discussion of Rousseau’s unlearned ‘genius’, before their infamous feud. The most useful letters for my purpose were more esoteric, such as those addressed to his friend Baron Mure, written in the 1760s, reporting on the suspect pedagogy of the teacher Graffigni at the school Mure’s young sons were attending. Hume is singularly unimpressed by Graffigni’s ‘novel’ methods of teaching Latin, which he claims will not advance the understanding of the young people. In comparison, his letters to and from his nephew’s tutor, Mr Blacklock, demonstrate a harmonious agreement regarding the ideal methods for knowledge acquisition. These letters will form the basis of an examination of the practical application of epistemological theory in pedagogy, specifically relative to notions of ability and understanding in the pupils.

The generosity of the award enabled me to look at MS23151-23153 over the course of five days, and establish the usefulness of investigating this resource further.

Copley Report: James Beattie by R. J. W. Mills

Please see below for Robin Mills’ report on their 2017 research funded by a BARS Stephen Copley Award.

Stephen Copley Award 2017 Recipient Report – R. J. W. Mills

I am very grateful to have been a recipient of one of the British Association for Romantic Studies’ Stephen Copley Awards for 2017. The funds given to me paid for two research trips to archives in Scotland: one to the University of Aberdeen in April 2017 and one to Edinburgh University in June 2017. During both I conducted research on the extensive manuscript collections relating to the poet and philosopher James Beattie (1735–1803) as part of my ongoing research project to write the first modern scholarly biography of Beattie. The research undertaken has enabled me to flesh out further Beattie’s literary and philosophical activities during the 1760s and early 1770s. As a result, I am hoping to soon make the case that some of the philosophical and poetical writings that emerged out of 1760s Aberdeen was of a very different quality to the ‘philosophy of the human mind’ usually associated with the Aberdeen Enlightenment.

Exploration of the Beattie correspondence in Aberdeen has allowed me to deepen my understanding of the life and work of one of Beattie’s closest friends and philosophical allies, the Aberdeen and then Edinburgh physician and moralist John Gregory (1724–1773). Known to scholars as the author of the wildly popular A Father’s Legacy (1774) and to historians of science as one of the first medical ethicists, Gregory was also the author of another best-selling work, A Comparative View of the State and Faculties of Man (1765), which combined Aberdeen’s famous common sense philosophy with the language of sensibility. My research in Aberdeen has developed the burgeoning picture I have of Gregory as an energetic and pessimistic social commentator who was worried about the effects of luxury and modern sceptical philosophy on the morals of eighteenth-century Britain. Despite Gregory’s status as one of the most important and prominent moralists of his age, there has been little archival work done on his correspondence. What has emerged from my activities in Aberdeen is a picture of Gregory, newly installed in Edinburgh, deeply angered by the ambivalence and complacency with which the Edinburgh literati indulged David Hume. Moreover, Gregory was critical of the failings of abstract rational theology to appeal to the multitude and warned that the development of Methodism was the inevitable consequence of an establishment theology that did not appeal to the heart and senses of the laity.

My work on Gregory will inform my exploration of his discussion of religion and scepticism in Comparative View in an upcoming monograph on the Scottish Enlightenment, but it also helps develop our understanding of James Beattie. The correspondence of the pair suggests that, while the Common Sense philosophy of Aberdeen is usually associated with the rigorous philosophy of Thomas Reid’s An Inquiry into the Human Mind (1764), there was developing within Aberdeen circles a strong belief that modern threats to religion and morals could only be overturned by an appeal to the heart. This has lead me on to other leads – the poetry of Thomas Blacklock, for example – suggesting that the language of heart-felt authenticity amongst many Scottish authors appeared as a direct consequence of Hume’s unnerving sceptical philosophy. This is helpful for me, in terms of my biography, to understand the philosophical and cultural networks in which Beattie was working. I also aim to publish something on this aspect of the Scottish Enlightenment, which has thus far been ignored.

My research on the Beattie papers has also result in an article, for submission to a Romanticism studies journal, about Beattie’s reading of the Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. I have found much evidence in both his papers (in Aberdeen) and correspondence (Aberdeen and Edinburgh) suggesting Beattie was an avid reader of Rousseau, and who both sympathetically identified with Rousseau and his psychological problems and utilised Rousseau’s writings when authoring his own. In particular, Beattie is closely reading Rousseau, and especially the Profession of Faith by the Savoyard Vicar in Emile, while he is composing both his Essay on Truth (1770) and his influential proto-Romantic poem The Minstrel (1771–1774).

Stephen Copley Research Awards 2017

Please see the notice below from Daniel Cook re. the winners of the Stephen Copley Research Awards 2017.


The BARS Executive Committee has established these bursaries in order to support postgraduate and early-career research within the UK. They are intended to help fund expenses incurred through travel to libraries and archives necessary to the student’s research. As anticipated, this year we received a large number of applications, many of which were of a very high quality indeed. Please do join us in congratulating the very worthy winners. Romanticism is alive and kicking, we’re pleased to say!

  • Alexander Abichou (Durham University)
  • Hadi Baghaei-Abchooyeh (Swansea University)
  • Marianne Brooker (Birkbeck College, London)
  • Rebecca Davies (The Norwegian University of Science and Technology)
  • Lucy Johnson (University of Chester)
  • Robin Mills (University College London)
  • Lauren Joy Nixon (Sheffield University)
  • Brianna E Robertson-Kirkland (University of Glasgow)
  • Paul Stephens (Lincoln College, Oxford)

Once they have completed their research trips each winner will write a brief report on their projects. These will be published on the website and circulated through our social media. For more information about the bursaries, including reports from past winners, please visit our website:


Daniel Cook
Bursaries Officer, BARS
University of Dundee

3 March 2017

Stephen Copley Award Report: Amy Boyington, The Gloucester Archives

The following report from Amy Boyington (University of Cambridge) describes her recent studies at the Gloucester Archives. This research trip was funded by a BARS Stephen Copley Award.

The Stephen Copley Award enabled me to consult a range of eighteenth-century manuscripts located at the Gloucester Archives. The purpose of this research trip was to consult the papers of Elizabeth, Dowager Duchess of Beaufort (1713-99), to investigate whether she commissioned any significant architectural works during her widowhood (1756-1799). Significantly, when her brother Norborne Berkeley died in 1770, Elizabeth inherited Stoke Park (Bristol) which she adopted as her dower House. The manuscripts that I consulted at Gloucester related predominantly to her tenure of Stoke Park (1770-99) and luckily proved to be extremely fruitful.

At Gloucester I consulted accounts, correspondence, bills and disbursements which all supported my hypothesis that Elizabeth was an avid architectural patroness during her widowhood. I discovered evidence that proved that she redecorated her dower house at least three times during her tenure of Stoke, demonstrating that she was conscious of the latest aesthetic trends. She also commissioned a series of architectural improvements to the house ranging from the remodelling of the Dining Room, to the insertion of new water closets, to the refurnishing of the bedchambers and dressing rooms.

Further bills related to her architectural commissions within the gardens and parkland. These included the construction of new entrance lodges which were completed in 1777 and advocated the increasingly popular Gothic style. Such a bold choice in style indicated that Elizabeth was interested in the latest architectural and intellectual movements of the times. Additionally, she also commissioned new greenhouses, ‘cucumber frames’ and estate cottages, as well as spending vast sums on repairing various garden follies, illustrating that her interest in architecture was both functional as well as aesthetic.

My research also uncovered details relating to Elizabeth’s properties in London. Surviving leases, plans, correspondence and bills concerning town houses in Grosvenor Square and Berkeley Square provide a valuable insight into the types of houses that elite widows occupied in the latter eighteenth century. The relationship between Elizabeth’s London house and Stoke Park was a pivotal one and enabled her to enjoy the best of the town and country life. These discoveries will enrich my argument that elite women were regularly involved in architectural patronage.

Surprisingly, until this point, Elizabeth has received little academic investigation. BARS has enabled me to rectify this oversight by providing me with the means to conduct new primary research into the life of this remarkable woman. Elizabeth’s vast fortune, land ownership and status placed her in a privileged position that allowed her to pursue her architectural and aesthetic ambitions. In an age where women were generally subordinate to their male relatives Elizabeth provides a fantastic example of female agency and independence.

To conclude, I wish to heartily thank the British Association for Romantic Studies for enabling me to undertake this research, which would not have been possible otherwise. The conducted research will be used directly in my thesis, bolstering my argument significantly.

Amy is a third year PhD student at the University of Cambridge investigating the extent to which elite women commissioned building schemes in eighteenth-century Britain. She is the co-chair of the Young Georgians, an off-shoot of The Georgian Group, a conservation organisation that aims to protect and save vulnerable 18th century buildings in the UK. She is currently in the process of establishing an East Anglian Country House Partnership, which aims to create a knowledge exchange partnership between Cambridge researchers and the surrounding country houses of East Anglia.

Copley Report: Genevieve Theodora McNutt

Genevieve Theodora McNutt was awarded Stephen Copley Research Award by BARS earlier this year.  Below, she gives an account of the research trip to the British Library that this funding enabled her to complete.

The Stephen Copley Research Award allowed me to travel to London to visit the British Library.  My research addresses the work of the antiquary Joseph Ritson, and I hoped to develop a better understanding of the research that Ritson undertook in the British Museum, particularly in the early years between his move to London in 1775 and his first major publications in 1782.  This period is sparsely covered in Bertrand Bronson’s excellent biography, as Bronson acknowledges.  There are very few surviving letters from this period, and little evidence of Ritson’s activities.  And yet, from his published work, it is clear that he carried out an astonishing project of research into early English literature during this period.  During my trip, I was able to consult material held in the British Library which provided invaluable evidence of Ritson’s research.

The Register of Manuscripts Sent to the Reading Room of the British Museum goes a long way towards filling the gaps in Ritson’s biography.  The Register makes clear that Ritson’s research was even more extensive than I had realized, and I now face the daunting task of cross-referencing the shelf marks recorded in the Register with the catalogues of the different collections.  However some results were immediately apparent.  The collections of the British Museum allowed Ritson’s research to take a literary turn, and many of his contributions to the study of early English literature would have been simply impossible without access to the those collections.  Although Ritson’s work on medieval romance was among the last works published during his lifetime, he had identified and made a close study of many of his manuscript sources decades earlier.  Although my focus, given my limited time, was on Ritson, turning the pages of the Register provided a fascinating window into the scholarship of the romantic period.

I was also able to examine Ritson’s Catalogue of Romances, his unpublished attempt to document and organize every printed romance, very broadly defined to include most fictional narrative works, in French, Italian and Spanish before 1600, and in English before 1660 (to my shame I only had the time and knowledge to deal with the volume of English romances).  The Catalogue is a sprawling and eclectic work, with multiple layers of revision over the years, and it provides fascinating evidence of Ritson’s research and the ways in which it changed and developed.  Although the bulk of the work is bibliographic, probably modelled on Joseph Ames’s Typographical Antiquities, there are many instances of Ritson’s literary judgements, sometimes arising from the task of categorization and organization.  Particularly interesting are the notes in Francis Douce’s hand, in a distinctive red ink.  Although it was previously unclear whether these had been made before or after Ritson’s death, I have identified several places in which Douce’s notes led to revisions in Ritson’s hand, providing clear evidence of collaboration.

I would like to thank BARS for making this trip possible.  The information I gathered is extremely valuable for my research.  It was a wonderful experience, if somewhat disorientating, to conduct research on how research was conducted more than two hundred years ago, to request, through an online catalogue, manuscripts that were themselves the record of manuscripts requested, and to sit in the crowded Reading Rooms of the British Library and try to understand a man who spent so many hours in the rooms of Montagu House.

Genevieve Theodora McNutt, University of Edinburgh

Copley Report: Colleen English

Colleen English was one of a number of BARS members who were awarded Stephen Copley Research Awards earlier this year.  Below, she gives an account of the research that the award assisted her with completing.

The Stephen Copley Research Award partially funded my research trip to London in mid-June 2016 to consult manuscript and print materials in the British Library and the Wellcome Library. The Award enabled me to consult material crucial both to my monograph project, “Writing the Dead: Epitaphs, Elegies and Communities of Sentiment in Romantic Ireland” and to an article I am preparing for publication on John Keats’s poetry and the scientific process of embalming corpses.

My monograph project, based on my PhD thesis, examines how the preoccupation with grief and loss in Irish poetry of the Romantic and early Victorian periods is informed by shifting historical contexts as well as by intellectual history, especially British empiricist philosophy. In moving away from the strict taxonomies of elegy toward a modal understanding of the poetics of mourning, this project focuses on the ways in which Irish poets, namely Mary Tighe, Thomas Moore, and James Clarence Mangan understood grief as a type of sympathy that enabled cross-cultural exchange between Ireland and England.

Since the project is focused on the cultural and political importance of mourning, the debates in the House of Lords in the 1820s surrounding the burial of dissenters and Roman Catholics in Protestant churchyards in Ireland is especially relevant. The Irish Burial Act is discussed in some detail in the correspondences of Lord Wellesley, who was the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland 1821-1827 and 1833-1834, and whose letters (many of which are unpublished) are held in the British Library’s collection. The opportunity to consult these materials, which include a copy of the amended Burial Act with Lord Wellesley’s remarks in the margins, greatly enhanced my understanding of the contested space of the churchyard in Ireland during this period.

I also consulted E.R. Moran’s papers concerning Thomas Moore. Included in the material was a book of newspaper cuttings about Moore’s poetry with Moran’s annotations in the margins. The book is organized by poem, so that the entry for Moore’s “Oh! Breathe Not His Name” also includes other poems written either in response to the poem or its subject, Robert Emmet’s final speech, making it possible to clearly see the reception of Moore’s poetry both in Ireland and England.

One of the highlights of my visit to the British Library was the opportunity to view one of the fifty privately printed copies of Mary Tighe’s epic poem Psyche (1805). The book also contains manuscript copies (written in an unknown hand) of two of Tighe’s poems in addition to a letter from Tighe to Mrs. Fox.

In the Wellcome Library I consulted books and manuscripts relating to the embalming process as it was practiced in the early nineteenth century, as well as texts pertaining to John Keats’s medical training. The anatomists John and William Hunter and their nephew, Matthew Baillie are important figures in my study as they made great advancements in the practice of embalming in the latter part of the eighteenth century. The opportunity to consult their letters gave me a fuller sense of their accomplishments and collaborations. The lecture notes of an anonymous student of John Hunter’s served to expand my understanding of the way that Hunter conceived of the communication between different nerves and organs in the human body as a kind of physiological sympathy.

Thanks to the generous support of BARS I was able to benefit from the rich array of manuscripts in the British Library and Wellcome Library collections, deepening my understanding of the affective properties of these texts and of the historical context in which they were produced, resulting in significant revisions to my monograph project and great advances made towards the completion of my essay on Keats. I would like to extend my sincere thanks to BARS for awarding me the Stephen Copley award, without which this research would not have been possible.

Dr. Colleen English, University College Dublin