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Archive of John Morley, 1st Viscount Morley of Blackburn


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The archive comprises: Diaries, 1882-96; General correspondence, c.1865-1921; Correspondence and papers as Chief Secretary of State for Ireland, 1880-95; Correspondence and papers as Secretary of State for India, 1905-10; Literary papers, 1872-1922; Printed papers, 1869-1921; Family and personal papers, 1829-1923.


  • Creation: 1829-1923


12.0 Linear metres (110 physical shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English

Conditions Governing Use

Requests to publish or quote from the papers must be addressed in writing to the Bodleian Library.

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MS. Eng. d. 3437, fols. 1-2].

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Eng. b. 2113-2115, c. 7066-7090, d. 3437-3462, d. 3559-3603, d. 3614, e. 3428-3437

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 11385


Papers of John Morley, 1st Viscount Morley of Blackburn (1838-1923), statesman and man of letters.

Biographical / Historical

John Morley was born at Blackburn on 24 December, 1838 the second child of Jonathan Morley, surgeon, and Priscillia Mary Donkin. Educated at Cheltenham College, in 1856 he secured an open scholarship to Lincoln College, Oxford. During a time of great intellectual and literary renewal at Oxford, the studious Morley played a largely inconspicuous role in College life. He became increasingly disenchanted with erstwhile plans for a religious vocation and a subsequent row with his father saw him discard Greats in his final year and leave Oxford in 1860 with a second class degree in Mods.

Moving to London, Morley spent the next four years forging a career as a freelance journalist, which culminated in a job at the Saturday Review. Despite holding little sympathy with its jingoistic conservatism his articles and reviews brought him a wide range of admirers, including John Stuart Mill, with whom he formed a close friendship. In 1867 Morley was appointed editor of the embryonic liberal journal the Fortnightly Review, a position he was to hold for fifteen years. Throughout this period his fervid writing style and unwavering agnostic individualism began to take shape. As his friend and biographer F.W. Hirst later wrote, under his charge the Fortnightly became the 'recognised organ of political radicalism'. Morley attracted contributions from a diverse group of notable thinkers, such as Arnold, Huxley, Mill and Herbert Spencer. Simultaneously he wrote several books: the most notable of these being his studies of Voltaire (1871), Rousseau (1873) and Diderot and the Encyclopaedists (1878).

In May 1870 he married Rose, daughter of Thomas Ayling. Having no interest in politics, she provided Morley with refuge from the demands of public life. They settled happily at Pitfield Down near Puttenham, but in 1873 the poor health of his wife led them briefly to Tunbridge Wells. In 1904 they moved to Flowermead, Wimbledon Park where they remained up to his death. They had no children.

His ambition however moved increasingly towards parliament. In 1867 and 1880 he stood unsuccessfully as the Liberal candidate for Blackburn and Westminster respectively. Nevertheless his political stock rose when he assumed the editorship of the Pall Mall Gazette and the following year with the publication of the Life of Cobden (1881). In 1883 he was returned with the radical leader and newspaper proprietor Joseph Cowen jnr. as second MP for Newcastle upon Tyne. Although not a natural orator, Morley's talents and the consistency of his moral convictions saw him rise quickly through the Liberal ranks. In 1886 he entered the Cabinet as Chief Secretary of State for Ireland, working beside Gladstone to formulate the first Irish Home Rule Bill. He returned to the post with Gladstone's fourth administration in 1892, but once again Home Rule failed to pass through the House of Lords. The ensuing fissure in the Liberal vote led to the loss of his seat in 1895, but Morley re-entered the Commons less than a year later as Member for the Montrose Burghs. In 1903 he completed the Life of Gladstone, the biography of his great political mentor and friend, and the most successful of his literary works.

Returning to government in 1905, Morley became Secretary of State for India. With the Viceroy, Lord Minto, he introduced reforms aimed at giving the Indian people a greater role in the administration of the country. In 1908 he moved to the Lords, as Viscount Morley. He played an active role in the Parliament Bill of 1911 limiting the veto of the Second House. His reforms completed, he resigned from the India Office in 1910, but Asquith immediately appointed him Lord President of the Council. This post was to be his last. The Agadir crisis in 1911 and renewed fears over Belgium neutrality, made Morley increasingly apprehensive that the ententes signed with France and Russia would endanger peace in Europe, by leading Britain into joint military intervention against Germany and Austria. As differences in the Cabinet widened, the issue came to a head in late July 1914. Despite leading an early majority against Asquith and Grey in favour of non-intervention (unless Britain was attacked), the dissenting group gradually dwindled to just two: leaving Morley and John Burns to resign from the Government hours before war was declared against Germany on 4 August.

In retirement Morley turned his energies to writing his memoirs - Recollections (1917), and to his duties as Chancellor of Manchester University: a post he had held since 1908. His last appearance in the Lords came in December 1921, when he spoke with contentment on the recognition of an independent Irish Free State. He died on 23 September 1923, aged eighty-five.


The collection is arranged in eight series, each being arranged chronologically.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were acquired with the papers of F.W. Hirst in 2000.

Catalogue of the archive of John Morley, 1st Viscount Morley of Blackburn
Finding aid prepared by Samuel Hyde
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom