- notes, frequently asked questions and useful links from the archivist and curator of manuscripts at Balliol College, Oxford. Opinions expressed are strictly the author's own!

Author Archive

conservation – manuscripts survey summary

Balliol College Archives & Manuscripts and the Oxford Conservation Consortium recently completed a condition survey of all of Balliol’s medieval and early modern manuscript books, as well as a number of later items catalogued in the same series. (See RAB Mynors, Catalogue of the Manuscripts of Balliol College Oxford, OUP 1963.)

The survey of 497 items, ranging from single sheets and home made booklets of a few bifolia to palm leaves strung between wooden boards and huge bound volumes on parchment, took 39 sessions averaging 3 hours each (ca 120 hours total, more than 4 items per hour) over 29 weeks, from mid-January to the end of July 2014. The staff hours required were twice that, as each session required two people: a conservator handling the manuscripts and a Balliol staff member entering data into an Access database on the OCC laptop. This was a much more efficient use of the college’s OCC subscription time than having the conservator enter the data as well as assess the manuscripts. It also provided a once-in-a-career opportunity for Balliol Library staff, particularly the Archivist, who is responsible for the manuscripts, to become familiar with every manuscript in the collection, in some detail. Most of the data was entered by the Archivist, but all members of Library staff participated during the course of the survey, as did five members of OCC staff. The process was speeded up considerably by having the 10-15 items scheduled for each day’s session ready in advance and waiting on a trolley in the reading room when the conservator arrived.

The survey

Each item received an average of 15 minutes of assessment, but in practice it varied from 10-25 mins depending on the complexity and condition of the item. The survey template included sections for descriptions of each item and assessment of its current physical condition as well as recommended repair/conservation treatment: survey information (date seen and name of assessing conservator); physical dimensions; current boxing or other container; text block materials, binding type, cover and board materials; attachments and supports, sewing, endbands, fastenings, text block edges, binding decoration, labels or titles; condition of text block and its media; condition of binding (cover, boards, joints, sewing, endbands, labels); whether the volume had been rebound or rebacked; its overall condition or usability; any treatment required or recommended, including new or replacement preservation boxing/packaging; and any other notes.

Equipment required

  • good lighting and seating, a large stable table
  • large document trolley
  • measuring tape
  • conservator’s tools e.g. large tweezers, selection of dentistry tools!
  • magnifying glass
  • cold (LED) desk lamp
  • foam wedge book supports of various sizes
  • bone folders
  • lead weight/snakes
  • laptop for entering data

The database

The template for the survey database was adapted for the Balliol survey into Access format from OCC’s existing Word document, which had been used for several previous similar surveys at other colleges. We also kept a paper copy of the form handy during survey sessions for easy reference to descriptors. It was pre-loaded with all the MSS numbers, short titles for identification and centuries of production. At the end of each session the updated database was copied to a memory stick and to the archivist’s networked drive.

Having the survey information in a database format, not only electronically searchable but also  sortable, makes possible many of the future uses of the data listed below.

Database suggestions

We found that while the template provided an excellent structure for focused investigations and vocabulary for nearly everything we needed to describe, it would have been useful to add a notes field rather than tick-boxes only for description of the writing materials. Most texts fell into the usual categories of iron-gall ink, black-brown ink, pigments etc, but we also found various types of ‘pencil’ in some of the medieval books, and modern inks, pencil and typescript in some of the modern mss. In some cases we noted these in the Notes field at the end, but more information would have been captured with another field in the writing materials section. The same applied to the Bindings description section, especially for some of the unusual amateur bindings and coverings. We began noting the number of binding supports partway through and found it a useful addition.

Data entry was done directly into the Table view of the Access database; this helped to keep investigations very focussed, as the Table view layout made it difficult for the data enterer to skip around between sections, but an Access user interface would give access to more fields at once and should be considered for future use. Some users might prefer to convert the database to Excel, and we have found it useful to extract and convert parts of it to Word for reports and printing.

Aside from the professional and custodial benefits to staff and the college, we all enjoyed this survey immensely! It was an exciting time of (re)discoveries in the collection and much learning for all involved.

Benefits and uses

1) The most obvious function of the survey is to inform conservation treatment priorities for the future, but it is far from the only one. For each manuscript, its current condition and recommended treatment will be balanced with its contents/research interest and likelihood of exhibition or teaching use. We have good data going back more than 10 years on the ‘research popularity’ of the manuscripts.

2) In addition to conservation treatments needed, the survey has identified basic important preservation improvements e.g. numerous mss are not yet boxed, or need wrappers inside their otherwise good acid-free envelopes

3) The survey acts as a shelf check of the manuscripts.

4) Although the manuscripts were catalogued by Mynors, some of the descriptions date from as early as the 1930s and many reflect Mynors’ own research interests, heavily biased toward the texts of western medieval books. The survey has helped to identify underdescribed manuscripts needing improved catalogue entries to serve the wider interests of students of codicology and the history of the book. Areas particularly needing improvement are descriptions of historic bindings, details of illumination and book decoration, early modern manuscripts and non-western manuscripts.

5) Electronic records make it easy to flag the manuscripts’ physical condition to potential users on our website, so it is clear in advance which need (extra) special care in handling and which (few) will not be produced to researchers in their present condition. This will inform staff handling and manuscript-specific instructions on handling to readers. Better handling will improve long term preservation by decreasing the likelihood of further damage.

6) Similarly, exhibition/loan requests can receive quick and detailed responses about the suitability of specific mss for display and particular considerations needed. Where necessary, treatments can be prioritised or alternative candidates found. Staff will be able to balance the physical exposure of manuscripts across the collection rather than repeatedly displaying the same few well-known and regularly requested ‘treasures’. Increasing the breadth of manuscripts displayed will lead to institutional appreciation of the collection as a whole rather than a set of highlights with an anonymous hinterland of unknown quality.

7) Staff can easily find FAQ statistics e.g. largest, smallest, oldest, unusual characteristics, shared features, authors, texts, dates; these will be useful for reports, teaching, outreach, displays and online features.

8) Improved staff/institutional knowledge of the whole collection has already led to use of some of the less-frequently consulted (and formerly less valued) manuscripts for teaching and school outreach purposes.

A few survey numbers

  • MSS surveyed: 497
  • people involved: 9
  • staff hours: ca. 240 (ca. 120 each Balliol and OCC)
  • no. & % of mss in good condition: 211
  • no. & % of mss in fair condition: 196 + 22 in ‘fair-to-good’ condition, indicating that some minor repairs would make the manuscript significantly safer to produce.
  • no. & % of mss in poor condition: 38 + 24 in ‘fair-to-poor’ condition, usually meaning that one of the boards is detached but the MS is in otherwise fair condition
  • no. & % of mss in unusable condition: 6
  • largest MS: two answers: largest volume MS 228, dimensions 480x350x125 mm, vol 0.021 m3; and largest boards MS 174, dimensions 480x370x090 mm, vol 0.0159 m3 .
  • smallest MS: MS 378, a book of prayers in Ethiopic, written on parchment with wooden boards and a nice example of Coptic binding. It measures 081x062x035 mm.
  • oldest MS: MS 306, part of which is a 10th century copy of a text by Boethius

Have a look at our conservation survey series of posts for more details of our discoveries! Still more to come…

#WW1 – Hardit Singh Malik (Balliol 1912)

The BBC has a fascinating series of stories on their WW1 At Home site – here is an index of all the Oxford related ones. The one that interests me particularly is that of HS Malik, the first Indian pilot in the Royal Flying Corps.

I can recommend his autobiography, A Little Work, A Little Play, published by his daughter in (?)2010, as an excellent read of a fascinating life lived in decidedly interesting times on several continents. Here is a review.

There is not a great deal of information about HS Malik’s time at Balliol (1912-1915) in the College Archives, but what there is illustrates his long-standing enjoyment of college cricket, his WW1 flying career and his abiding friendship with FF Urquhart.


The series of photos is bookended by groups of ‘Past v Present’ cricketers from the college’s albums once kept in the cricket pavilion and documenting all college sport except rowing (which had its own set of albums) – HS Malik appears first in 1913 as a ‘Present’ and finally in 1931 as a ‘Past.’

In his first year at Balliol he is wearing his Eastbourne College cricket blazer; by the next year, he has a Balliol blazer. The informal, light-hearted snap at the Pavilion is from about the same time as the last, Trinity Term 1914, just weeks before war was declared.

The first of Sligger’s wartime photos, from May-June 1916, is the only one of Francis Urquhart and HS Malik together – at this time they will have been discussing ways for Malik to fulfil his desire to join either the French or the British air force. The next also predates HS Malik’s groundbreaking acceptance as an officer in the RFC – at this point, summer 1917, through FF Urquhart’s connections, Malik is working as an officer ambulance driver for the Croix Rouge Français. (Urquhart volunteered at the American Hospital in Neuilly -sur-Seine during University vacations.) The caption of the next two photos, also from Francis Urquhart’s own albums, marks a milestone for HS Malik and for the Service he entered – he has become a pilot in the newly-formed RAF (merger of RFC with Royal Naval Air Service in April 1918).

Though he took his History degree in 1915, HS Malik returns to college cricket as a ‘Present’ for the 1920-21 year, while undertaking mandatory studies preceding posting to the Indian Civil Service.

The last photo is once again a ‘Cricket Past and Present’ group – HS Malik and his family are back in England as he takes up the post of Deputy Trade Commissioner in the Office of the High Commission for three years from 1930. This posting to England came in time for Malik to see his friend and tutor again before Urquhart’s death in 1934.

exhibition archive – Adam Smith

This article originally appeared on the Balliol Archives & Manuscripts website. It documented an exhibition mounted in the College Chapel by Dr John Jones with assistance from Anna Sander. The catalogue which follows was written by Dr Jones.

An Exhibition arranged for a Conference of the
International Adam Smith Society
11-13 January 2009

The Exhibition was held in the College Chapel, by kind permission of the Chaplain.


Adam Smith was nominated to a Snell Exhibition by the University of Glasgow and admitted to Balliol in 1740. He held his Exhibition until 1749, and was probably in actual residence in Balliol for practically all of the period July 1740-August 1746. His Snell Exhibition was augmented by a Warner Exhibition in 1742. Most of what has been written about Smith’s six years at Oxford is speculation and padding. In his earliest surviving letter, written to his cousin William Smith a month after arrival, he remarked “…. it will be to his own fault if anyone should endanger his health at Oxford by excessive study, our only business here being to go to prayers twice a day, and to lecture twice a week.”

It was a depressed period in the history of the College. Student numbers had fallen to the lowest since the Reformation, and some of the dons were idle, absent, or preoccupied with intrigue and litigation. But two of them, Charles Godwyn and Joseph Sanford, were lifelong scholar-bibliophiles, and the Master Theophilus Leigh paid lip service at least to academic discipline. Smith’s attitude was probably coloured by the fact that the Scots were not warmly welcomed. But he made lasting friends here, and had the time and opportunity to read widely.

What he read, where he read it, and who, if anybody, advised him is not documented. But he knew and may have been influenced by George Drake (ca.1711-1752). Drake was an active Fellow and Lecturer in Smith’s time of whom very little is known, but Smith’s friend John Douglas recorded that his “Tutor was Mr George Drake, whom I shall always have an affectionate Remembrance of as I profited much by his superintending my Studies”. Douglas was, like Smith, from Fifeshire; he resided as a Warner Exhibitioner 1738-1744, then saw active service abroad as a military chaplain before returning to Balliol as Snell Exhibitioner1745-1748. Later a member of Samuel Johnson’s circle and FRS, he was Bishop of Salisbury 1791-1807.

The Snell (1699) and Warner (1668) Exhibitions were often known together as the Scotch Exhibitions. They had been established to finance young Scots at Oxford, where they would be ordained and return to bolster the episcopal church in Scotland. In fact few Exhibitioners ever did as expected. There was tension between the Glasgow and Balliol authorities over the administration of the Snell Trust from the outset until the mid-nineteenth century. The Trust survives, and Glasgow graduates still follow in Adam Smith’s footsteps to Balliol.

It is ironic that one of our greatest alumni was here at a relatively undistinguished time, and probably owed little more to Balliol than the opportunity to read as he liked. But nor does the College owe its reputation in economics and social reform to him. Five of our many statesmen have served as Chancellor of the Exchequer (Stafford Northcote, Asquith, Macmillan, Healey and Jenkins); three members have won the Nobel Prize in Economics (Myrdal, Solow and Hicks); many members have distinguished themselves in economics as academics or journalists; the present Master Andrew Graham is an economist, and two of his pupils are rising stars in national politics (James Purnell and Yvette Cooper). Lord Beveridge, architect of the Welfare State, was a student at Balliol; and Arnold Toynbee was a Lecturer. Similarly in Moral Philosophy: four distinguished contributors to the field have been Master in the last 150 years (Benjamin Jowett, Edward Caird, Lord Lindsay and Sir Anthony Kenny) – Caird and Lindsay indeed had previously held Adam Smith’s Chair of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow; and both TH Green and RM Hare were Fellows of Balliol.

Items on display

1.a) Admissions and Degrees Book 1686-1833, open at Adam Smith’s admission entry, 4 July 1740

1.b) Smith’s entry among graduation records, 5 May 1744: Com. Smith admissus est Jurista.

This entry is of particular interest as it seems to have been missed by his many biographers, who have been puzzled by his status at Oxford 1744-1746 and some of whom have conjectured that he took the BA, which he could have done. He never took any degree at Oxford, but men of his standing in Balliol were given the courtesy title of a BA, Dominus, and placed in the social hierarchy as if they had graduated BA. The term Jurista indicates that he was a student of civil law.

There is a corresponding entry in the University Archives ref. SP 70, 18 January 1743/4, for which thanks are due to Simon Bailey, Keeper of the Archives: Adam Smith e Collegio Ball’ Commensalis admissus fuit in facultate Juris Civilis, Licentia sub Chirographo Praefecti Collegii sui prius significata. He paid the same College fee in 1744 as those graduating BA, and from this time he appears in all College lists as “Ds Smith” without distinction from those who were BA. This may be an indicator of what he was studying; or it may have been a device to evade being drawn along the path towards ordination; or he may have quibbled at the Oath of Allegiance required on graduating BA. On the College’s side it was no doubt a matter of not allowing any potential fee-payer to escape.

2.a) Latin Register 1682-1781, open at Adam Smith’s Snell Exhibition nomination by the Glasgow authorities, 11 March 1740.

This document is pasted into a large ledger and had to be photographed at an awkward angle. You will need to refer to both images for the entire text.

2.b) Smith’s admission by the Snell Trustees, 4 July 1740.

‘July the 4th 1740
‘We, whose names are hereunto subscribed, do give our Consents, that Adam Smith born in the kingdom of Scotland, & chosen into one of Mr Snell’s Exhibitions in Balliol College by virtue of a Decree made in the High Court of Chancery in 1693, be admitted accordingly into the said Exhibition.
‘T. Leigh V[ice] Ch[ancello]r & Master of Balliol
‘W. Smith Prov[os]t of Queen’s Coll[ege]
‘Will[iam] Holmes Presid[en]t of St John’s.’

2.c) Smith’s Warner Exhibition presentation by the Warner Trustees 2 November 1742.

‘Whereas by the last Will & Testament of the Right Reverend Father in God Dr John Warner late Lord Bishop of Rochester , the Nomination & Election of Four Scotch Scholars to be maintained by His Charity in Balliol College in Oxford, is vested in the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of Rochester for the Time being. These are therefore to certify that We John the present Archbishop of Canterbury and Joseph Lord Bishop of Rochester do hereby nominate & elect the Bearer hereof Mr Adam Smith being (as We are certainly informed) born at Kirkcaldy in Scotland aged Nineteen Years and now a Member of Your College to be by You forthwith admitted into the place lately enjoyed by James Monteath & now vacant , and to enjoy the pension belonging to the Same , as fully and amply as by the aforesaid Will and Act of Parliament confirming the same he ought to do. In Witness whereof We have hereunto set our Hands and Seals this 2nd day of Nove[ember] in the Year of Our Lord 1742.
‘Jo[hn Potter] Cant[uar, Canterbury]
‘Jos[eph Wilcocks] Roffen [ Rochester]
‘To the Reverend Dr Theophilus Leigh
‘Master of Balliol College in Oxford.’

2.d) Smith’s Snell Exhibition resignation, written from Edinburgh on 4 February 1749, although he went out of residence in 1746.

‘ Edenburgh feb:4:1748/9 I Adam Smith one of the Exhibitioners on Mr Snells foundation in Baliol College in Oxford do hereby resign into the hands of the Revd Dr Leigh Master of the said college all right & title which I have to an Exhibition on the said foun- dation as witness my hand
‘Adam Smith. ‘

3. Caution Money Book 1640-1750, open at the entry in Adam Smith’s hand, acknowledging the return of his friend John Douglas’s deposit [“caution money”], 28 May 1744.

4. John Douglas, photograph of the College portrait, Robert Muller, ca.1797.

5. Adam Smith, bust, Baron Carlo Marochetti, 1852.

6. Adam Smith, miniature portrait plaque, James Tassie, 1787.

7. Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of The Wealth of Nations two volumes, 2nd edition (1778).

Arnold Toynbee’s copy. Volume I is open at the title page, and volume II shows the Toynbee commemorative bookplate. The College has no copy of the 1st edition of The Wealth of Nations (1776), and unfortunately no early edition at all of The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759).

8. Arnold Toynbee, portrait plaque, Sir Joseph Boehm, ca.1883.

9. William Beveridge, bust, Benno Elkan, 1943.


On Adam Smith at Oxford, with the caveat that little is actually documented:

  • WR Scott, Adam Smith as Student and Professor, 1937
  • EC Mosser and IS Ross (Eds.), The Correspondence of Adam Smith, 1977
  • IS Ross, The Life of Adam Smith, 1995.

On his status see A Clark, Notes and Queries 10 S XII Nov 13 1909, 384.

On the Snell Exhibitions:

  • WI Addison, The Snell Exhibitions from the University of Glasgow to Balliol College, Oxford, 1901
  • L Stones, The Life and Career of John Snell (c. 1629-1679), Stair Soc. Miscellany II, 1984
  • J Jones, John Snell’s Exhibitions 1699-1999, 1999 [ISBN 0 9512569 4 7].

For background to 18th century Balliol: J Jones, Balliol College: a history, 2nd edn revised, 2005.

On the busts etc: J Jones, The Portraits of Balliol College, a Catalogue, 1990. [ISBN 0 9512569 2 0].

exhibition archive – Chalet Centenary

This article was originally posted on the Balliol Archives & Manuscripts website. It documents an exhibition mounted at University College and Balliol College for former Chaletites in September and November 2009 by Univ Chalet Trustees Dr Keith Dorrington and Dr Stephen Golding, with assistance from Anna Sander. The catalogue was written by Dr Golding.

An Exhibition Celebrating 100 years
of the new Chalet des Mélèzes

University College, 12-13 September and Balliol College, 14-15 November 2009

There is no prescribed order to the exhibition; we hope you will enjoy browsing between past and present.

Facsimile photographs

The black and white photos are taken from the 1890s to pre-WW2 era. About half are taken from the Chalet Books, the originals of which are on display; the other half come from Francis Urquhart’s contemporaneous series of personal photo albums.

Administrative documents

On display are some of the few surviving written records of Chalet history apart from the diaries: title deeds conveying the old Chalet and the Honeymoon Chalet, receipts for work and materials during the building of the new Chalet, and the fateful letter written by Humphrey Paul (New College 1903) the morning after the fire in September 1906.

Printed books

The Chalet has a good collection of antiquarian mountaineering books. Several volumes on display (de Saussure, Whymper) have been brought back to Oxford for repairs and conservation, and will be returned to the Chalet for future generations. Also represented are biographies of FF Urquhart and Chaletites both well-known and obscure.

Relief map

Univ reading parties follow Sligger’s tradition of serious walking – early parties went to Buet, les Contamines, Varens, Nant Borant, Lac Blanc, Lac Vert, Lac de Joux, Servoz, Tete Rousse, Notre-Dame-de-la-Gorge and many other places familiar from the early diaries, often staying in mountain refuges overnight along the way.


These Roman Catholic Mass vestments (prob. ca. 1920) would have been worn by the Abbé Klein and other visiting priests to celebrate Mass in the chapel. The stole from the red/white set is just visible in this photo. They were brought back to Oxford in 2006 due to concerns about their preservation. The set is comprised of reversible fiddleback chasubles, maniples, stoles, veils and burses in the colours of the whole liturgical year. The portable altar stone is still in the Chalet. Thanks to the Rev Dr HD Dupree and Fr Stephen Platt for loans of girdle and alb.


University College is working to build up its own Chalet collection; please contact the Trustees or the Archivist regarding any possible deposits of material. Archivist: Dr Robin Darwall-Smith (Mon-Tues)

New College holds the papers of Sir Christopher Cox, which include a large amount of information about the Chalet and the Chalet Trust; they are currently closed for cataloguing. Archivist: Mrs Jennifer Thorp (Mon-Tues)

Balliol College holds the personal and political papers of David Urquhart, some early administrative Chalet documents and Francis Urquhart’s photo albums. For historical reasons, the Chalet Books are deposited at Balliol; they are open to Chaletites from any college. Archivist: Anna Sander (Mon-Fri)

Further Reading

Bailey, C. Francis Fortescue Urquhart: a memoir. London: Macmillan, 1936.

Bishop, MC. Memoir of Mrs Urquhart. London: Kegan Paul, 1897.

Hewett, SH. A scholar’s letters from the front. Ed. & Intro F. F. Urquhart. Oxford 1918.

Klein, Abbé Félix. Diary of a French Army Chaplain. Translated from La Guerre vue d’une Ambulance by M. Capes. 1915.

Robinson, G. David Urquhart: some chapters in the life of a Victorian knight-errant of Justice and Liberty. Intro. FF Urquhart. Oxford: Blackwell, 1920.

Urquhart, D. The Pillars of Hercules, or a narrative of travels in Spain and Morocco in 1848. 2 vols. London: Richard Bentley, 1850.

Urquhart, D. The Spirit of the East, illustrated in a journal of travels through Roumeli during an eventful period. 2 vols. London: Henry Colburn, 1838.

Urquhart, FF. The Eastern Question. 1914.

Urquhart, FF. David Urquhart, the law of nations & the Vatican council. Oxford, 1918. (First published in The Dublin Review.)

Urquhart, FF. A plea for international law. Oxford, 1915. (First published in The Dublin Review.)

exhibition archive – Robert Browning

This article, written by the Fellow Librarian, Dr Seamus Perry, was originally posted on the Balliol Archives & Manuscripts website. It documents an exhibition at St Cross Church in September-October 2012.

Browning at Balliol
A Bicentenary Exhibition
29 September – 6 October 2012










Balliol College is honoured to care for one of the most distinguished collections of Browning material. Robert Browning (1812 – 1889) is one of the greatest poets of the nineteenth century, whose masterpieces include Men and Women and The Ring and the Book. A friend and admirer of Jowett, he was elected the first Honorary Fellow of Balliol in 1867.

The College’s Browning collection was begun before his death: the distinguished portrait by his son, Pen, was presented to the College in 1886. The manuscripts of most of his later writings were bequeathed to the College by wish of the poet: there are six stout volumes, handsomely bound in brown Morocco and bearing the poet’s coat of arms. (A seventh volume, containing Asolando, was retained by Pen and sold after his death to the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.)

Several important items were subsequently presented by the family, including the Old Yellow Book and a portrait of Guido Franceschini once owned by the poet, which were given by Pen, and the ring and Browning’s academic gown, given by Pen’s widow Fannie.

The collection grew through donations of correspondence, photographs, and various relics by Mrs. Katharine Bronson, Lady Berwick, Miss Mabel Purefoy FitzGerald, Sir William and Lady Ashley, Rev. A.J. Whyte, and a number of other generous benefactors. An important collection of books was given by Miss F.C. Carey in 1921. The bibliographer T.J. Wise gave the Library a collection of letters by and about Browning in 1926; and Wise’s widow gifted to Balliol the distinguished white marble bust, based on a plaster original by Pen, in 1937. (Wise, not always trustworthy, claimed that his bust was the version owned by the poet.)

Jowett’s personal library, which was bequeathed to the College, contains numerous presentation copies inscribed by the poet.

This exhibition was curated by Michael Meredith, Seamus Perry, and Stephen Hebron.



1. Photograph of Robert Browning Snr.

Robert Browning’s father was a clerk in the Bank of England, whose interests lay in antiquarian scholar­ship. He was also a gifted artist and caricaturist. This photograph was taken when he was living in Paris c.1860. The manuscript opposite is of a poem written by his son for a friend.

2. Sketch of a polar bear by Robert Browning Snr.

This sketch, with its simple verse, was drawn for his grandson Pen Browning. [Eton College Library]

3. Nathaniel Lee, Caesar Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI, London, 1736. Robert Browning’s copy.

There is a note in Browning’s hand ‘This was the first play I ever read.’ Browning’s interest in the stilted eighteenth-century English drama proved a handicap when he started writing plays of his own.

4. Francis Quarles, Emblemes, London, [1710?]. Robert Browning’s copy.

Given to Browning when he was a child by his mother, who has inscribed his name on the front end-paper. The book is well-thumbed and was obviously read with the help of his father, who has written a few explanatory notes for the young boy. Quarles would become a favourite 17th century poet of Browning’s and he had six copies of his works in his library.

5. Daniello Bartoli, De’ Simboli trasportati al morale, Londra, [n.d.], Robert Browning’s copy.

This book, edited by his Italian teacher Angelo Cerutti, was taken by Browning to Italy on his first visit there in 1838. He wrote ‘How they brought the Good News’ and ‘Home Thoughts from Abroad’ in pencil inside the front cover, but later erased them. During the long sea voyage Browning practised his Italian grammar and conversation on the later pages.


6. Engraving of Robert Browning, c.1836.

Elizabeth Barrett had a copy of this engraving by James Charles Armytage pinned on the wall of her room in Wimpole Street. It comes from R.H. Horne’s New Spirit of the Age. [Eton College Library]

7. Robert Browning, Strafford: An Historical Tragedy, Longman, Rees, 1837, 2 copies.

Browning’s first play was produced at Covent Garden in May 1837 and ran for only five performances. The cast-list shows William Charles Macready playing Strafford and Helen Faucit as Lady Carlisle. Both were excellent. The play was too wordy and some of the minor characters poor, so it proved only a moderate success. [1 copy Eton College Library]

8. Helena Faucit Martin, On Rosalind, [Edinburgh], 1884, proof.

Helen Faucit not only acted in Strafford, but also in Browning’s A Blot in the ’Scutcheon. She gave up her glittering stage career when she married Sir Theodore Martin. Towards the end of their lives she and Browning renewed their friendship, and he visited the Martins in their Welsh home several times. Lady Martin sent Browning this copy of what was to become a chapter in her On Some of Shakespeare’s Female Characters (1887). With a carte de visite of Helen Faucit, ?1850s [Eton College Library].

9. Robert Browning, Bells and Pomegranates, No. iii – Dramatic Lyrics, Edward Moxon, 1842, 2 copies.

These cheap pamphlets, printed in double columns, established Browning’s reputation as a promising poet. One copy is open at his famous dramatic monologue ‘My Last Duchess’, which was originally paired with another poem and titled ‘Italy’. [1 copy Eton College Library]


10. Gold Ring, Italian, c.1850.

This ring was given to Robert Browning by Isa Blagden in 1858. On its bezel are the words ‘Vis Mea’ (‘My Strength’). It was given to Balliol by Fannie Barrett Browning, the poet’s daughter-in-law, who believed it to have been made by Castellani in Rome and that it was the one mentioned by Browning in the opening lines of The Ring and the Book. Modern scholarship refutes this. The ring in the poem is now believed to be imaginary, based on one Browning saw in the Castellani workshops.

11. ‘The Old Yellow Book’.

This is the vellum-backed book Browning bought at the flea market in Piazza San Lorenzo, Florence, containing maunuscript and printed documents relating to the trial of Count Guido Franceschini for the murder of his young wife in 1698. Browning used it as the main source of The Ring and the Book, his ‘Roman Murder Story.’

12. Robert Browning, The Ring and the Book, Smith, Elder, 1868 – 9, 4 vols.

A presentation copy from Browning to Benjamin Jowett. The Ring and the Book was published, one volume a month, between November 1868 and February 1869. The facts of the case are presented ten different ways during the course of the poem, with the Pope giving a judgment thought to be akin to Browning’s own.

13. Anonymous watercolour of Guido Franceschini on his way to execution, 1698.

This sketch was sent to Browning by a stranger who found it among a bundle of drawings he bought at a sale in England. It shows Count Guido wearing the clothes in which he helped to commit the murder of his wife and her parents. Browning portrays Guido as a heartless villain. In real life he was a dull, hard-working man, mocked in Arezzo as a cuckold. He also appears younger in this portrait than Browning makes him in the poem.

14. Silver scudo of Pope Innocent XII, 1696

This portrait is of the Pope who refused Guido clemency and a pardon, depicted by Browning as just and honorable. In fact his decision was based on political considerations and was legally wrong.


15. Robert Browning, Balaustion’s Adventure, manuscript, 1871.

This is a corrected fair copy prepared for the printer by Browning, and the only manuscript of this poem, a transcript of Euripides’ Alcestis, to survive. Browning’s custom was to destroy all his working papers, so no drafts exist. Markings by the compositor appear on many pages.

16. Robert Browning, Parleyings with People of Importance in their Day, manuscript, 1887.

The heavy correction in this passage from ‘Parleying with Gerard De Lairesse’ demonstrates the care Browning took with his writing, right up to the time he gave the manuscript to the printer. Additions, deletions, major and minor alterations appear even on this fair copy manuscript.

17. Gustave Natorp, medallion of Robert Browning, 1888.

Gustave Natorp was a Frenchman, friend of Auguste Rodin whose work he was instrumental in introduc­ing to England. He became a friend of Browning in the 1880s, and the poet agreed to sit (on numerous occasions) for this medallion. It exits in two sizes, the larger being exhibited at the Royal Academy, where it was praised for its verisimilitude. The smaller version was intended as a replica. This one was given to Balliol by the former librarian, Vincent Quinn.


18. Hope End, near Ledbury, Herefordshire, pencil drawing.

Hope End was Elizabeth’s childhood home. Built in 1809 in oriental style for Edward Moulton-Barrett, it was in the centre of a large estate. Elizabeth, her two sisters and eight brothers led an idyllic existence, which she partly describes in Aurora Leigh. Later her father suffered financial losses, sold the house and moved to 50, Wimpole Street, London.

19. Sarianna Browning’s photograph album, c.1858 – 80.

The album is open at a photograph of Elizabeth with her son Robert Barrett (Pen) Browning aged twelve with ringlets. Opposite is her sister Arabella who remained unmarried, earning her father’s approval and devoting her life to charitable works.

20. Plautus, Titus Maccius, Comoediae, Amsterdam, 1619, Tacitus, Caius Cornelius, Opera, Amsterdam, 1623.

These two small Roman texts, bound identically in red, belonged to Elizabeth. After her marriage she and Robert joined their collections of books together, and Elizabeth has written their joint names on the title-page of each one. Thereafter they formed part of the library at Casa Guidi .

21. [Elizabeth Barrett Barrett], Prometheus Bound, Valpy, 1833, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, The Greek Christian Poets and The English Poets, Chapman and Hall, 1863, presentation copy to Benjamin Jowett from Robert Browning.

Elizabeth Barrett loved Greek and was tutored at home by H.S.Boyd. Her translation of Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound was her earliest mature work. About the same time she wrote two essays, on the Greek Christian poets and the English poets, which remained unpublished until Robert Browning issued them posthumously, two years after Elizabeth’s death.

22. Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, Poems, Moxon, 1844, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Poems before Congress, Chapman and Hall, 1860.

Two of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s most famous books. In one of the 1844 poems she praised Robert Browning, which brought him to Wimpole Street and the start of their romance. Poems before Congress contains political poems supporting the Italian struggle against the Austrians during the Risorgimento. It made her famous in Italy and several of the poems were translated immediately into Italian.

23. Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, Two Poems, Chapman and Hall, 1854.

This is the only joint publication by Robert and Elizabeth. It was produced for a Bazaar organised by Arabella Moulton-Barrett for the Ragged Schools of London. [Eton College Library]


24. Robert Browning, autograph letter signed to Dr Robert Scott, 21 October, 1867.

Accepting an Honorary Fellowship (the first in Balliol’s history), Browning replies to the Master, Robert Scott, ‘I must know more intimately than you can how little worthy I am of such an honour, ‒ you hardly can set the value of that honour, you who give, as I who take it.’

25. Pen Browning, autograph letter signed to his father, [9 June 1870].

Browning wanted his son Pen to spend his university career at Balliol. Unfortunately the young man failed to satisfy the college’s requirements, so went to Christ Church instead. In this letter, at the end of his first year, Pen discusses his progress in his examinations. In spite of his optimism he failed, left Oxford and became an artist. [Eton College Library]

26. John Farmer, Balliol Songs, [Oxford], 1888, presentation copy from Farmer to Browning.

John Farmer, admirer and friend of Richard Wagner, was in charge of Balliol music from 1885 to 1900. He set some of Browning’s verses from the Epilogue to Ferishtah’s Fancies to music as the first Balliol Song, ‘Heroes’. [Eton College Library]

27. Photograph of a plan of Robert Browning’s rooms in Balliol.

When Browning was made an Honorary Fellow of the college, he was given a set of rooms for his own use. He made this drawing when about to furnish them. Pen’s early departure from the university and his infrequent visits meant that Browning gave them up after a few years. [Bodleian Libraries, Oxford]

28. Henry Taunt, Photograph of the Vice-Chancellor’s procession, Balliol, 30 June, 1886.

In 1886 Benjamin Jowett completed his four-year term as Vice-Chancellor. Browning went to Oxford for the Commemoration ceremonies, which included luncheon in Balliol Hall. On this occasion Browning would have seen his portrait painted by Pen, which had been hung in the Hall three months before. [Oxfordshire County Council, Oxfordshire History Centre]


29. Benjamin Jowett’s guest book.

The friendship between Browning and Jowett meant that Browning was sometimes invited to stay in the Master’s Lodgings. Usually this was for official university or college activities. On such occasions Jowett would suggest that Browning extended his stay, on one occasion for a week. Browning’s signature appears frequently in the Master’s guest book.

30. Browning’s possessions.

Among relics of the poet in the Balliol library are a handkerchief, cravat, collar, gloves, sugar-tongs and candle-holder. They demonstrate the veneration Browning was accorded towards the end of his life, when Furnivall’s Browning Society was in full swing.

31. Browning’s leather wallet.

This was used by Browning on his last visit to Italy in 1889. It still contains the receipts from the Venice post-office for the corrected proofs of Asolando, which Browning had sent by registered mail to London.

32. Photograph of Browning’s bedroom in Asolo, 1889.

During September and October 1889 Browning was the guest of the American Katharine Bronson in Asolo. Mrs Bronson arranged rooms for him in the main street with Nina Tabacchi. This photograph was almost certainly taken after his departure, when Signora Tabacchi made a good trade in selling memen­toes such as ‘Browning’s pen’ to gullible tourists.

33. Browning’s D.C.L. gown.

Browning was given his honorary doctorate at the 1882 Encaenia. He also wore the gown, slightly incongruously, at a dinner given by Lord Salisbury for the Shah of Persia. He was painted wearing it, holding the Old Yellow Book, by his son Pen, a portrait now at Balliol. Pen’s bust of his father dates from 1886 and shows the influence of Rodin, under whom Pen had been studying in Paris.


exhibition archive – RL Nettleship

This article was originally on the Balliol Archives & Manuscripts website.

Richard Lewis Nettleship (1846-1892), philosopher


NettleshipRL-18-08Richard Lewis Nettleship was born 17 December 1846, the 5th son of Henry John Nettleship, solicitor, of Kettering. He was educated at Uppingham School [which has a Nettleship Society] and came up to Balliol on a scholarship in 1865 to read Litterae Humaniores (Greats). His second-class degree belies his undergraduate achievements; he was awarded the Hertford Scholarship in 1866, Ireland Scholarship 1867, Gaisford Verse Prize 1868, Craven Scholarship 1870 and the Arnold Prize 1873. He rowed for the College in NettleshipRL-26-056Torpids and Eights. He was made a Fellow of Balliol upon graduating in 1869 and Classical Tutor in 1871. The following year he held the post of Junior Dean, and he was also a Classical Examiner in the University. He published on Platonic philosophy and edited the Collected Works of TH Green, a Balliol colleague. He died of exposure on 25 August 1892 while attempting an ascent of Mont Blanc. The Nettleship Scholarship in music, which is still awarded annually, was founded at Balliol by his friends in his memory.

NettleshipRL-18-10NettleshipRL-26-010In the archives (MBP 32) is a typewritten account of Nettleship’s death on Mont Blanc by GR Benson, 1st Baron Charnwood, one of Nettleship’s students, later a colleague as a Lecturer at Balliol and co-editor of Nettleship’s Philosophical Lectures and Remains. online here

Notes, chiefly from the narrative of his guides, relating to the death of RL Nettleship, published in the Westminster Gazette, 10 July 1982..


More information

NettleshipRL-26-011Bradley, A.C. and G. R. Benson, eds. Philosophical lectures and remains of Richard Lewis Nettleship. 2 vols. London: Macmillan, 1897.

RL Nettleship’s entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is available online throughout the Oxford network and by subscription.

Another account of the fatal climb was published in the Westminster Gazette, 10 July 1893. A copy is in the archives (MBP 32.6)

NettleshipRL-26-014Balliol Library, Jowett Papers:

I/F12/23: To Mrs. I[lbert]. n.a., Aug 1892, [1 leaf], extracts only. On the death of Nettleship.

I/H67 f54-54v, notes on conversation with RL Nettleship 1886

I/H81 f37-9 [Notes for sermon (?) on the death of] R.L. N[ettleship] 1892/3

III/M126 Letter to Robert Morier. Balliol, 6 Oct 1892, Balliol, ALS [1 leaf]. Reflections on the deaths of Tennyson and Nettleship.

III/N268 n.a., [1 Dec 1869], ALS [1 leaf]. Nettleship, who reminds BJ a little of Clough, has been elected Fellow of Balliol.

NettleshipRL-26-017IV/B5/12 BJ to A.C. Tait. Oxford, 18 Oct 1870 [2 leaves]. BJ is petitioning the Visitor to end restrictions on electing only those in orders to Fellowships. There are not enough good tutors at present, with the honourable exceptions of Green and Nettleship. The resolutions were convincingly carried by the Fellows. Hopes that Tait approves of this. [Tait Papers, vol. 88, fols. 165-7]

A useful bibliography, compiled by Dr Colin Tyler of the Centre for Democratic Governance, University of Hull, is available online here.

exhibition archive – AL Smith

This article was originally presented as a Document of the Week in 3rd week of Trinity Term 2006.

Arthur Lionel Smith (1850-1924), Balliol 1869-74,
Fellow of Balliol 1882, Master 1916-1924, historian


SCR cartoon, Balliol College.

 Biographical notes


PHOT 26.31 AL Smith rowing at Stroke, Eights 1873.

  • 1856 Following the death of his father, Arthur Lionel Smith was placed at Christ’s Hospital by his mother, who then moved to Italy with her other children. Fortunately, life in yellow stockings suited him very well.
  • 1869 came up to Balliol on an exhibition.
  • 1st in Classical Mods (1871) and Lit Hum (1873), 2nd in Mod Hist (1874).
  • Rowed for Balliol (Head of River 1873), later coach
  • 1874-6 Fellow of Trinity, then student at Lincoln’s Inn
  • 1879 married Mary Florence Baird, left Trinity, began teaching history at Balliol. He was among Oxford’s first married Fellows after the 1880-1 Commission changed the regulations, and with his family (9 children) was the first inhabitant of the King’s Mound.
  • 1882 Fellow of Balliol: pioneer of modern history teaching in the college, tutor to e.g. Lewis Namier, Maurice Powicke, Keith Feiling, GN Clark
  • exhib07_clip_image002

    PHOT 26.34 detail of the Balliol Eight, 1874. AL Smith rowed at Bow at weighed 10 st. 1 lb.

    Examiner in Modern History at Oxford and external examiner to many other universities

  • 1906 one of first two Jowett Fellows
  • 1907 Dean of Balliol
  • 1916 Master of Balliol

detail from PHOT 58.3, ca 1921

Oxford for All

  • Coached and boarded students with poor school records for Oxford entrance
  • Encouraged overseas student admissions to Balliol
  • Instrumental in establishing the School of Modern History at Oxford
  • Served on Oxford’s WEA committee, taught at Balliol’s WEA summer schools
  • Promoted women’s education at Oxford & tutored at LMH

Balliol Library’s AL Smith Papers include

  • many of his lecture notes and drafts of publications
  • rare examples of his own and his students’ undergraduate work
  • college administrative records of his Mastership
  • a very large number of personal and administrative letters to a wide variety of correspondents

AL Smith: committed and inspiring tutor, enthusiastic promoter of college sport, constructive college and university politician, man of heroic whiskers. A Good Thing.


Portrait of AL Smith by Francis Dodd, RA.

Find out more:

Balliol Archives sources

  • Boat Club records
  • Photographs – see online photo index
  • Portraits – see online portraits catalogue
  • Admin records, passim
  • MISC 261. Master’s Letter, Christmas Day 1918.

Balliol manuscript collections

AL Smith Papers – correspondence and papers 1902-1924.

Jowett Papers – correspondence with Benjamin Jowett, under whose Mastership Smith was an undergraduate and young Fellow.

Printed sources

Elliot, I, ed. The Balliol College Register 1833-1933 Oxford: OUP, 1934.

Jennings, B. Knowledge Is Power: A Short History of the WEA 1903-1978. Hull: Hull University, 1979.

Jones, JH. Balliol College: A History. 2nd ed rev. OUP, 2005.

Lindsay, A. D . In Memoriam: Arthur Lionel Smith.’ The nature of religious truth: sermons preached in Balliol College Chapel. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1927.

Patterson, R. L. ‘Smith, Arthur Lionel (1850–1924)’, ODNB. OUP, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/36129]

Smith, MF. Arthur Lionel Smith, Master of Balliol (1916-1924): a biography and some reminiscences by his wife. London : John Murray, 1928.


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