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John Thelwall Letters

Identifier: MSE/MD 3811

Scope and Contents

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.


  • Creation: 1796-1799, 1803, 1805, 1821


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

No restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Biographical / Historical

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.


.5 Cubic feet


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).


Materials are arranged chronologically, one item per folder.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The John Thelwall Letters were purchased by the Hesburgh Libraries in 2013 from Jarndyce Antiquarian Booksellers, London, U.K.

Related Materials

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).

Physical Description

9 Folders; 9 items.

John Thelwall Letters
Julie Tanaka and Ken Kinslow
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Notre Dame Rare Books & Special Collections Repository

102 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame IN 46556