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Royal Literary Fund, Longman, and other literary archives (18th-20th C.)

Microfilmed documents from the archives of the Royal Literary Fund (held at the British Library), which was set up in 1790 to help struggling authors. The substantial collections run to 145 microfilm reels, and covers the period from 1790-1918. (The Fund was founded by the Welshman Rev. David Williams, a theologian and political polemicist. He studied at the non-conformist Carmarthen Academy, whose Library collection is held by Special Collections and Archives. The later period of the Fund was marked by controversies with Charles Dickens, the novelist. The bulk of the material consists of case files for the 3060 applicants who first applied for aid between 1790-1918. These include such exalted figures as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, François-René de Chateaubriand, James Hogg, John Clare, Joseph Conrad, Bram Stoker, E. Nesbit and James Joyce, as well as hundreds of less famous writers. The files include thousands of letters from applicants and their supporters as well as application forms (giving details of birth, family, address, occupation, income and published works), receipts, printed advertisements, press-cuttings, medical certificates and other documents chronicling literary lives, successes and disappointments. Together they comprise a rich and diverse account of over a century of authors struggling to earn their living by the pen.

The major publishing house of Longman was established in 1794, and its archive (held at Reading University) extends to 67 microfilm reels, covering the period up to 1914. It thus gives a major opportunity to explore the printing and publishing history of that period, plus material on a wealth of well known authors, all of which was during a major period of growth and development. Despite the loss of most of the Longman correspondence in a fire in 1940, very extensive records survived providing a detailed chronicle of the firm’s publishing activities. These include commission ledgers, royalty ledgers, letter books, notes on books, Chapter Coffee House and Annual Register minutes, miscellaneous legal documents and material on a wealth of well known authors. One of the most valuable aspects of these records is the continuity of the runs over so many years: the ledgers, for example, contain a detailed record of the thousand of titles published since the late 18th century. Also of interest are the accounts of booksellers in the provinces and London. These give a rare insight in the varying tastes of the reading public in different parts of Britain throughout the 19th century. The collection thus gives a major opportunity to explore the printing and publishing history of the period.

Both collections come with a detailed printed indexes, which list major authors, book titles, and topics covered.

Further Literary archives are held for a range of well known writers, including Sir Walter Scott’s manuscripts on 52 microfilm reels covering hundreds of literary manuscript and his personal correspondence together with wide-ranging personal and business correspondence, illuminating all sides of his varied career and shedding much light on contemporary literary figures (microfilmed from the National Library of Scotland), plus the Scott Interleaved Waverley Novels on 319 microfiche (NLS Mss 23001-41).

The archives of women writers such as Maria Edgeworth and Felicia Hemans are available on microfilm.

The war poet Edward Thomas' archive is held in Special Collections and Archives, as well as Benjamin Morse's correspondence with the Rilke family and others.

Date range: 1790-1918, 20th century.

Significance: Significant in Wales and the United Kingdom

Size: Over 300 reels for the total of  the microfilm collections, plus thousands of manuscript letters in the Thomas archive, and more in the Morse archive.

Language:  English

Keywords:  Literature, publishing, printing, archives, history, women authors, Royal Literary Fund, Longmans, Sir Walter Scott.