Literature, drama and music

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Manuscript collections

Collections of English literary papers date especially from the 18th century to the present, and overlap with material relating to the world of art and to other aspects of culture and society, particularly in the Victorian era.

The Bellot Papers contain a small quantity of material relating to Samuel Butler. The Thrale-Piozzi Manuscripts, covering the literary circle of Mrs Thrale and Dr Samuel Johnson, and the Bagshawe Muniments, containing correspondence between Sir James Caldwell and many leading figures of his day, including Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and Samuel Johnson, are succeeded chronologically by 19th-century correspondence and papers featuring Walter Savage Landor, Charlotte Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, John Ruskin and the Pre-Raphaelites.

The Tabley Muniments contain papers of the poet John Byrne Leicester Warren (1835-1895), 3rd Baron de Tabley.

In the 20th century the novelists L.P. Hartley and Howard Spring and the children's writers Alison Uttley and Elfrida Vipont figure prominently among literary holdings which contain an increasing emphasis on modern drama.

The Library houses the papers of several playwrights, theatrical directors and designers, impresarios and critics such as Basil Dean, Annie Horniman, Hugh Hunt, Stephen Joseph, A.N. Monkhouse, C.E. Montague, and Peter Slade. The Pit Prop Theatre Company archive illustrates the work of a radical, regional theatre which addressed social concerns such as unemployment, poverty and racism.

Two collections are particularly relevant to film and media studies. The Basil Dean Archive contains material relating to Dean's directorship of Associated Talking Pictures (which later became the Ealing Studios) during the 1930s, while the recently-acquired archive of the stage and screen actor Robert Donat (1905-1958), best known for his leading roles in Goodbye, Mr Chips and The 39 Steps, is of major importance for the history of film and cinema.

A significant development of recent years has been the acquisition of contemporary literary material, most notably the growing Carcanet Press Archive (in which scores of prominent poets and authors feature), and the records of Norman Nicholson, Adam Johnson, Michael Schmidt, C.B. Cox and the Critical Quarterly, and the concrete poet dom sylvester houédard. Although British literature predominates, France (Victor Hugo and Amable Tastu), Germany (Peter Huchel), Ireland (Katharine Tynan) and the USA (Walt Whitman and Wallace Stevens) are also represented.

Links to the collections mentioned above are available in the resources page.

Printed resources

The Library's printed sources for students of literature are outstanding, while drama and music are also well served. The acquisition of the Spencer Collection by Mrs Rylands in 1892 ensured that her library would hold an incomparable collection of Classical Literature, including the first printed editions of some 50 Greek and Latin authors, and of the masterpieces of medieval and Renaissance Italian literature. There are substantial holdings of the most important editions of Dante Alighieri, Boccaccio, Petrarch, Machiavelli, Ariosto, Torquato Tasso and Guarini, and of Minor Sixteenth-Century Italian Writers. The Christie and Bullock collections are also rich in Italian literature.

There are important collections of works by, and relating to, all major English authors, from the introduction of printing to England by Caxton through to contemporary literature, with rare first editions and important ancillary material. The Edmund Spenser Collection contains a first edition of the Faerie Queene, and first or early editions of numerous other poetical works. The Shakespeare Collection embraces all four Folios, the first (1609) edition of the Sonnets, and a full range of later editions. The John Milton Collection includes no less than six variant issues of the first edition of Paradise Lost, while the John Bunyan Collection contains the rare first issue of the first edition of part one of Pilgrim's Progress. Many other landmarks of 17th-century literature are to be found in the Seventeenth-Century Literary Publications Collection.

The Eighteenth-Century Literary Publications Collection contains over 25,000 titles in 60,000 volumes, including many of the polemical writings of Swift and Defoe. Outstanding is the Samuel Johnson Collection, which features a copy of the fourth edition of his Dictionary, which was at one time owned by Sir Joshua Reynolds and contains over 250 corrections in Johnson's own hand.

All major 19th-century authors are represented, together with most of the minor and more obscure figures. However, particularly significant collections exist for certain literary figures, and special emphasis can be placed on the poets William Blake, Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Edward Fitzgerald, Arthur Hugh Clough, Alfred Lord Tennyson and Francis Thompson; the essayists Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, Thomas Carlyle, James Henry Leigh Hunt and Matthew Arnold; and the novelists Sir Walter Scott, Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens, William Makepeace Thackeray and George Eliot. Three 19th-century writers with Manchester connections who are well represented in the Library are Elizabeth Gaskell, George Gissing and Mrs Linnaeus Banks (the E.L. Burney Collection).

The Nineteenth-Century Fiction Collection contains copies of Dickens's serialized novels in their original part wrappers, as well as numerous three-decker editions in attractive publishers' bindings. The Library also has its share of the bibliographical curiosities produced by the forger Thomas J. Wise. One author who came in for the Wise treatment was John Ruskin, of whom the Library has some 340 19th-century editions, the large majority of which happily are genuine.

Popular, working-class literature is represented by the Sharpe Collection of early 19th-century Chapbooks printed in Scotland and Newcastle. The E.L. Burney Collection, already referred to, embraces items of general and popular fiction and juvenilia.

The Children's Literature Collections contain some 1,500 items from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many illustrated of course. Children's literature of this period is also covered by the Bellot Printed Collection and the Satterthwaite Collection, the former emphasizing boys' adventure stories, while the latter is biased towards girls' literature. The Jack Cox Collection contains a virtually complete run of the Boy's Own Paper.

British literature of the 20th century is well represented in all its genres:

  • the L.P. Hartley Book Collection of novels and short stories;
  • the Harold Blundell (George Bellairs) Collection of popular detective stories;
  • the Norman Nicholson Book Collection, in which almost all 20th-century poetry of note is represented, as well as the Cumbrian poet's own writings;
  • the book collection amassed by the Benedictine monk and concrete poet, dom sylvester houédard;
  • and the ever-growing collection of poetry, prose and critical studies published by the Manchester-based Carcanet Press.

The Allardyce Nicoll and G.L. Brook Drama Collections each contain over 1,000 19th-century play texts and related works by major authors and minor farceurs, many of which are scarce. The latter collection also contains material from the 20th century.

It should also be noted that the Deansgate building holds an invaluable printed book collection of Restoration plays, many of which are in early 18th-century illustrated editions. Authors such as William Congreve, George Farquhar, Sir George Etherege and William Wycherley figure prominently.

American literature is represented by the Walt Whitman Book Collection, and the Upton Sinclair Collection amassed by Edward Allatt. French writers include the novelist and dramatist Alexandre Dumas père (1802-1870) (the Douglas Munro Dumas Collection); Victor Hugo; Joséphin Aimé Péladan (the Kieth G. Millward Collection); and Marcel Proust (the Marie Riefstahl Nordlinger Collection). The Library also holds the book collection of Eugène Vinaver, Professor of French Language and Literature at Manchester University. German literature is represented by the book collection of the 20th-century poet Peter Huchel. Professor Catherine Davies has recently presented a small but diverse collection of works by twentieth-century Cuban women writers; this contains both pre- and post-Revolutionary literature.

In recent years the Library has considerably enhanced its Music Collections. In addition to medieval musical manuscripts there are several scores of 18th and 19th-century British music; papers within the Methodist Archives of three musicians in the Wesley family; within the Arthur D. Walker Music Collection, rare scores and collected editions of the works of Handel and Bach, and research notes on Handel and Mahler; and among the papers of Michael Kennedy, important material relating to Ralph Vaughan Williams, including correspondence with his widow, Ursula.

Links to the printed collections mentioned above are available in the resources page.