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Shackleton Collection

3,300 items.

Robert Shackleton (1919–86), fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford, Bodley’s Librarian from 1966 to 1979, then Marshal Foch Professor of French Literature in the University of Oxford and fellow of All Souls, was a lifelong book collector and paradigm of the scholar-librarian.

He spent thirty-five years assembling a remarkable collection that reflects his deep devotion to the Age of Enlightenment.

He confessed to ‘buying from catalogues, buying from bookshelves, especially when travelling in France or in Italy, but even in New York; in Oxford itself, where I have more than once bought editions rejected from college libraries. I habitually spent more than I could afford, and did not reject duplicates which often proved not to be so.’

The collection was sold on very favourable terms to the JRUL and transferred to Manchester on Shackleton’s death in 1986. The collection’s strength is in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century French studies, especially literature, philosophy and civilization, with some 3,000 works published before 1850.

Three-quarters of the works are in French, the remainder in Italian and English, with a few in Spanish. There are some sixteenth-century Italian books, and one incunable (Herolt’s edition of Alessandro Cortese’s Oratio habita in aede D. Petri in Epiphania, printed in Rome in 1483). Unsurprisingly, the major figures of the French Enlightenment such as Fontenelle, Voltaire, Helvétius, Diderot and d’Holbach are well represented.

The collection also reflects Shackleton’s interest in the influence of English thinkers on the Enlightenment, with translations into French of Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and Pope’s Essay on Man, while there are also translations from the Italian of the works of Machiavelli, Sarpi and Leti.

There is a significant number of counterfeit editions and works published under false imprints (though sometimes with official permission tacite), often because of their controversial nature; there is particularly good coverage of the long-running Jansenist controversy, for example.

Others strengths of the collection include encyclopaedias, dictionaries and reference works, and travel literature.

Finally, it should be noted that there are twenty-two manuscripts, as yet uncatalogued.

Finding aids

  • Recorded in .
  • William Hale, ‘Robert Shackleton and the Shackleton Collection’, Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 83, no. 1 (2001), pp. 169–82.
  • Giles Barber, ‘Robert Shackleton 1919–1986’, Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. 73 (1987), pp. 657–84.


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