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Guide to the John Thelwall Letters

MSE/MD 3811

 

Collection Summary

Title: John Thelwall letters
Dates: 1796-1821 (bulk 1796-1805)
Collection No.: MSE/MD 3811
Creator: Thelwall, John, 1764-1834
Extent: 9 folders; 9 items
Language: Collection material in English
Repository: University of Notre Dame. Hesburgh Libraries, Department of Special Collections. 102 Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, IN 46556
Abstract: The bulk of this collection is a group of eight manuscript letters from John Thelwall, British poet and reformer (1764-1834), to Thomas Hardy, one of the main proponents for parliamentary reform (1752-1832).

Selected Search Terms

Thelwall, John, 1764-1834
Thelwall, John, 1764-1834--Political and social views
Great Britain--Intellectual life
Romanticism--Great Britain

Administrative Information

Restrictions: There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Preferred Citation: John Thelwall Letters, Department of Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame.

Acquisition and Processing Note: The John Thelwall Letters were purchased by the Hesburgh Libraries in 2013 from Jarndyce Antiquarian Booksellers, London, U.K. Arranged and described 2013, by Julie Tanaka. Finding aid 2013, by Julie Tanaka and Kenneth Kinslow.

Biographical Note

John Thelwall was born on 27 July 1764 in London, England. After pursuing a variety of trades and occupations, he settled upon literary pursuits. In the 1780s his work appeared in various journals and then in 1787 he published in two volumes Poems on Various Subjects (London). By speaking at public debating societies, Thelwall began his career as a political lecturer. Inspired by the events of the French revolution, he became more involved in politics and became acquainted with such veteran reformers as John Horne Tooke. He soon became involved with the London Corresponding Society, a working-class reform movement founded in January 1792 by the Scottish shoemaker, Thomas Hardy (1752-1832). Thelwall became the most prominent and articulate member of the group, and when the Pitt government attempted to suppress the growing movement, he was arrested along with Hardy and Tooke. Acquitted in December of 1793, Thelwall returned to his literary pursuits, publishing a compendium of prose and verse entitledThe Peripatetic (London: 1793). He also continued lecturing and writing such political pamphlets as: The Natural and Constitutional Rights of Britons (1795). During this time John Thelwall made the acquaintance of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the renowned Romantic poet, who also lectured on political subjects. In the summer of 1797 Thelwall took a walking tour through the west country of England and spent ten days at Nether Stowey with Coleridge as well as with William and Dorothy Wordsworth. While continuing to write and publish poetry, Thelwall also became interested in speech therapy and elocution and established an institute in Lincoln's Inn Fields. With the end of the Napoleonic wars (1815), the call for parliamentary reform revived, and Thelwall answered the call. He purchased and edited the journal, The Champion, in which he published articles advocating reform and universal suffrage. Thelwall died on 17 February 1834.

Scope and Content Note

The bulk of this collection is comprised of eight letters from John Thelwall to Thomas Hardy written between 1796 and 1805. They are numbered at the top (2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 11, 12, 13), suggesting that the letters are part of a group of at least thirteen. In 1950 the English poet, critic, and literary editor, Edgell Rickword (1898-1982), purchased the letters from the Bookseller Rogers of Newcastle and later published seven of them in Literature and Society: Essays and Opinions (II), 1931-1978 (Manchester: Carcanet New Press, 1978). Rickword also published an article on these letters entitled: "Thelwall to Hardy" in The Times Literary Supplement, 17 June 1953.

In addition to the eight letters from Thelwall to Hardy, this collection also includes a short note from Thomas Hardy to a "Mr. Gardner"; the note is dated 2 April 1821.

Arrangement Note

The collection consists of one series; materials are arranged chronologically, one item per folder.

Related Material

With regard to the group of thirteen numbered letters from Thelwall to Hardy, letter 1, dated 24 July 1796, is held by the British Library. Letter 6, dated 16 January 1798, is held in the Dunedin Public Library, New Zealand and was published by Corfield and Evans in the article "Thelwall in Wales," Historical Research 59 (November 1986), pp. 231-239. One further letter, dated 28 February 1801, is described in Francis Edwards' Catalogue 971 (1973).

Container List

  • Series 1: Letters 
    • Folder 1 (MSE/MD 3811-1) Letter. John Thelwall, Yarmouth, to Thomas Hardy, n.p., 1796 August 24. ALS, 2 pages on 1 sheet.
      In this second letter of the aforementioned thirteen numbered letters written to Hardy, Thelwall describes how his lecture at Yarmouth was disrupted by sailors who believed he was precaching seditious doctrines. Letter includes a "remark" written later and in a different hand, adding detail to the incident in Yarmouth.
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      • Folder 2 (MSE/MD 3811-2) Letter. John Thelwall, Lynn, to Thomas Hardy, London, 1796 September 9. ALS, 1 page on 1 folded sheet with integral address leaf.
        In this third of the numbered letters to Hardy, Thelwall states that he is "lecturing here [Lynn], with considerable likelihood of success."
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        • Folder 3 (MSE/MD 3811-3) Letter. John Thelwall, Derby, to Thomas Hardy, n.p., 1797 May 19. ALS, 2 pages on 1 sheet.
          In this fourth of the numbered letters, Thelwall states that he has "lectured triumphantly at Stockton." Letter includes a "remark" in a different hand, underscoring Thelwall's words: "Politics I have not time to enter into."
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          • Folder 4 (MSE/MD 3811-4) Letter. John Thelwall, Derby, to Thomas Hardy, London, 1797 October 25. ALS, 3 pages on 1 folded sheet with integral address leaf.
            In this fifth of the numbered letters, Thelwall informs Hardy that "I have taken a little Farm in South Wales." Letter includes a "remark" in a different hand, referencing letter No. 6 and providing brief biographical details.
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            • Folder 5 (MSE/MD 3811-5) Letter. John Thelwall, Llyswen, to Thomas Hardy, London, 1799 September 20. ALS, 1 page on 1 sheet with integral address leaf.
              In this seventh of the numbered letters, Thelwall complains of the weather that has hampered his farming venture. Letter includes a lengthy reference in a different hand, explaining the cicrumstances surrounding the farm. The information is drawn from from the The Life of John Thelwall written by his wife, Cecil Thelwall, (London: J. Macrone, 1837).
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              • Folder 6 (MSE/MD 3811-6) Letter. John Thelwall, Manchester, to Thomas Hardy, London, 1803 March 19. ALS, 3 pages on 1 folded sheet with integral address leaf; lower third of address leaf cut away, without apparent loss of text.
                In this eleventh of the numbered letters, Thelwall describes his return to lecturing and his interest in elocutionary science. "My friends in London will rejoice in the success of my lectures. They will rejoice to hear that it is the unanimous opinion of literary and scientific men in every neighbourhood I visit that the present success is but a faint fortaste of what the undertaking promises."
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                • Folder 7 (MSE/MD 3811-7) Letter. John Thelwall, Rochdale, to Thomas Hardy, London, 1803 June 10. ALS, 2 pages on 1 folded sheet with integral address leaf.
                  In this twelfth of the numbered letters, Thelwall describes his financial situation and underscores his enthusiasm for elocution and oratory.
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                  • Folder 8 (MSE/MD 3811-8) Letter. John Thelwall, Liverpool, to Thomas Hardy, London, 1805 December 12. ALS, 4 pages on folded 4to sheet with integral address leaf.
                    In this thirteenth of the numbered letters, Thelwall reveals his determination to return to London; he also describes his attitude toward Napoleonic France and to the "tyrant Buonaparte." The fourth page of this letter includes biographical matter written in another hand and derived from an article in The New Monthly Magazine (April, 1834) on the occasion of Thelwall's death.
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                    • Folder 9 (MSE/MD 3811-9) Letter. Thomas Hardy, n.p., to "Mr. Gardner," n.p., 1821 April 2. ALS, 1 page on 1 sheet.
                      In this short note to the unidentified "Mr. Gardner," Thomas Hardy indicates he will not be able to join a meeting of the "friends of parliamentary reform."
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