We don’t often have visiting archives, but last week brought an exception. The letter below has kindly been loaned to Balliol for the rest of 2013, during which the college celebrates its 750th anniversary.
A nearly-complete transcript:
My dear Vice Chancellor,
I will gladly preach
in the afternoon of Sunday
June 18th as you kindly propose
I hope that I may be able
to say something useful to
Yours very sincerely
If anyone can untangle Jowett’s dreadful spidery hand and finish the last word of the 4th line, I’d be glad to hear about it! It should of course be a word meaning something like either suggest or offer, but it’s neither of those, nor I think proffer. Update: two blog readers responded immediately with the suggestion of ‘propose’. Thank you! I agree.
Aside from the words, this letter, though not of any great historical substance alone, might bring up many questions and possible connections:
- What year was this letter written?
- Who was the Vice-Chancellor?
- Why is the Vice-Chancellor issuing invitations to preach? As it’s the V-C inviting, which pulpit is Jowett going to preach from?
- Is there any other correspondence about this sermon? What was it about? Does its text survive? Did other people comment on it later?
How might we go about trying to answer some of these questions? what clues can we find to connect this letter to others? Archival research and archival description are all about making meaningful connections.
The verso is annotated in pencil, probably by a later collector, ‘Dr Jowett – President of Balliol Coll.’ This is (probably) incorrect on two counts: Jowett did not have a DPhil from Oxford and only acquired a doctorate in 1884, an honorary Doctor of Laws (LLD) from Edinburgh; so unless this is quite a late letter, the title ‘Dr’ is not correct; and although Balliol’s head of house went by various titles in the first centuries of the college’s history, certainly well before Jowett’s time the title had settled as Master, not President.
If I were beginning research to integrate this letter into Balliol’s collections, here are a few of the first places I’d look for clues:
the catalogue of Jowett’s papers held at Balliol
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry (see if your local library has an online subscription – many do)
Wikipedia’s list of V-Cs of Oxford (yes indeed, used judiciously, Wikipedia can be a great research tool!)
- Wikipedia entry for BJ
- National Register of Archives Personal name search