The Abinger Papers
The papers are arranged generationally, and comprise first: William Godwin's diaries, correspondence and papers; Mary Wollstonecraft's correspondence and papers; Everina Wollstonecraft & Eliza Bishop correspondence and papers; Mary Jane Godwin correspondence and papers; third-party correspondence and papers from the Godwin period. Second: Mary Shelley correspondence and papers; Percy Bysshe Shelley correspondence and papers; Jane Williams Hogg correspondence; third-party diaries and correspondence from the Shelley period. Third: Jane Shelley correspondence; Sir Percy Florence Shelley correspondence; Sir Percy Florence and Jane Shelley papers; third-party correspondence and papers from the Shelley/Abinger period. Fourth: secondary materials (original wrappers, labels, lists, boxes).
- Creation: 1780-1937
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Access
The manuscript of Frankenstein, the Shelley and Mary journals, and holograph letters of Allegra Byron; George Gordon, Lord Byron; Washington Irving; John Keats; Thomas Malthus; Percy Bysshe Shelley; Robert Louis Stevenson, Mary Wollstonecraft and William Wordsworth are restricted.
Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MS. Abinger c. 14, fols. 1-2].
Full range of shelfmarks:
MS. Abinger b. 1-6; c. 1-31, 31*, 32-92; d. 1-38; e. 1-69
Collection ID (for staff)
CMD ID 13797-CMD ID 8035
Correspondence and papers of the Godwin and Shelley families, chiefly William Godwin (1756-1836), philosopher and author; with the correspondence and papers of his family, including his wife, the novelist and essayist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97); daughter, the author Mary Shelley (1797-1851); her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822); and Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley's son Sir Percy Florence Shelley (1819-89), and his wife, Jane, Lady Shelley (d. 1899)
Biographical / Historical
The Abinger collection comprises the correspondence and papers of three generations of the Godwin & Shelley families. This includes the majority of the surviving correspondence and papers of the philosopher and author William Godwin and his first wife, the feminist author Mary Wollstonecraft, and second wife, the translator and bookshop owner Mary Jane Clairmont, as well as the correspondence of Everina Wollstonecraft and Eliza Bishop, Mary Wollstonecraft's sisters. The remainder of the collection includes those letters and papers of Godwin and Wollstonecraft's daughter, Mary Shelley, and her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, not given to the Bodleian Library in the nineteenth- and early twentieth centuries (see MS. Shelley and MS. Shelley adds.). Finally, the collection contains the (mainly Shelley-memoir related) correspondence and papers of Percy and Mary Shelley's son Sir Percy Florence Shelley, and his wife Jane Shelley.
As reflected in the current arrangement of the collection, each generation of the family was involved in the copying, description and organisation of these papers, mainly in order to write or expedite family memoirs and biographies. William Godwin arranged the correspondence of his wife Mary Wollstonecraft in order to write 'Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman' (1798). Mary Shelley collected William Godwin's correspondence (which involved recalling Godwin's outgoing correspondence from his friends) in order to write the, unfinished, 'Life of William Godwin' (c. 1836-40). Mary Shelley also edited her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley's works. Jane, Lady Shelley edited two Shelley-related works, 'Shelley Memorials' (1859) and 'Shelley and Mary' (1882). Sir Percy and Jane Shelley also commissioned or loaned material to the authors of several other Shelley-related works, including Thomas Jefferson Hogg for 'Life of Shelley' (1858) and Edward Dowden for 'Life of Percy Bysshe Shelley' (1886).
Please see the custodial history for more information about the history of the collection. For further information about the Godwin & Shelley family, please see the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Most material in each series is arranged chronologically.
Names of authors and recipients of letters have frequently been listed in accordance with published editions of the correspondence, as well as evidence from handwriting, addresses and Godwin's journal. The authors and recipient are therefore listed less conservatively (in the form of square brackets, question marks and the provision of alternate identifications) than the names of people listed in the contents descriptions.
Most names have been listed as written, an exception has been made in five cases. For your convenience, please use the following versions of these individuals' names when searching:
- Fanny Godwin for Fanny Imlay, Godwin
- Mary Shelley for Mary Godwin, Shelley
- Mary Wollstonecraft for Mary Wollstonecraft, Imlay, Godwin
- Margaret Mason for Lady Margaret King, Moore, Mountcashell, Mason, Tighe
- Jane Williams for Jane Johnson, Williams, Hogg
Other Finding Aids
Note: The 'Dep.' shelfmarks have been superceded by the shelfmark 'MS. Abinger'. Please see the Conspectus of shelfmarks from 'Dep' to 'MS. Abinger'..
The Abinger papers are the residue of the collection of Shelley family papers from Boscombe Manor (near Bournemouth, Dorset), the home of Sir Percy Florence Shelley, 3rd Baronet of Castle Goring (1819-1889), and his wife Jane, Lady Shelley (1820-1899). Sir Percy had inherited the family archive from his mother, Mary Shelley (1797-1851). She was the central figure in its initial formation, for alongside her own papers she had accumulated those of her husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), her parents William Godwin (1756-1836) and Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797), and her aunt Everina Wollstonecraft (1765-1843). She also added further papers from other members of the Shelley and Godwin circles, including returned letters, through her editorial and biographical researches on her husband and father.
In the last years of her life, Mary Shelley developed a close relationship with her daughter-in-law. Accordingly, it was Lady Shelley who took the lead after 1851 in caring for and augmenting the family papers. She established within Boscombe Manor a shrine-like 'Sanctum' to house and display papers, portraits and relics, accessible only to the family and their chosen visitors. Biographical projects encouraged the collection of further papers and relics, still from personal contacts but also increasingly through the saleroom. Lady Shelley herself drew extensively on the augmented family archive for her Shelley Memorials (1859) and the privately-printed Shelley and Mary (4 vols., 1882).Over the years, Sir Percy and Lady Shelley also encouraged biographies and editions by friends such as Thomas Jefferson Hogg (until the inevitable quarrel), Richard Garnett, Charles Kegan Paul, Edward Dowden and Florence Marshall, whilst keeping other would-be editors and biographers such as Henry Buxton Forman and William Michael Rossetti at arm's length. Papers and correspondence for some of these negotiations duly entered the archive.
After Sir Percy's death in 1889, Lady Shelley spent her last decade in finding homes for parts of the Boscombe collection, concentrating especially on the literary papers of Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley. At Oxford, following the centenary of Shelley's birth, she endowed the Shelley Memorial at University College (1893) and gave selected notebooks, letters and relics to the Bodleian Library (1893 and 1894). She bequeathed most of Shelley's other working notebooks, with further relics and papers, to her husband's cousin and the heir to his baronetcy, John Courtown Edward Shelley, who later changed his name to Sir John Shelley-Rolls (1871-1951). Sir John gave the notebooks to the Bodleian Library in 1946, and bequeathed the rest to the Library, subject to his wife's life-interest (received 1961). All these earlier, non-Abinger donations from the Boscombe collection are preserved at the Bodleian as 'MSS. Shelley' and [printed] 'Shelley', and (amongst accessions from other sources) as 'MSS. Shelley adds.' and [printed] 'Shelley adds.'
The Abinger collection thus comprises all those items which were not specifically allocated by Lady Shelley, either during her lifetime or in her will: the remainder of the family archive, including the great mass of William Godwin papers and the scantier remnants of Mary Wollstonecraft's; the Shelleys' incoming correspondence; and three major treasures, Godwin's 32-volume journal, the 5-volume journal of Mary (with Percy) Shelley, and the surviving fragments of the draft and fair-copy manuscripts of Frankenstein. Lady Shelley bequeathed her houses with their residual contents to her two eldest grandsons (by adoption), Shelley Scarlett and Robert Scarlett. These were the children of her niece, Bessie Florence Scarlett (née Gibson), whom she and Sir Percy had adopted. Bessie had married Leopold Scarlett, in whose family lay the barony of Abinger. Leopold died in 1888 before he could inherit the title, but Shelley Scarlett and Robert Scarlett became respectively the 5th and 6th Barons Abinger, both childless. Their deaths in 1917 and 1927 provided some leakage onto the market -- notably printed books from the Shelley family library -- but the papers were passed down en masse to their brother Hugh, the 7th Baron Abinger.
When Hugh's son James became the 8th Baron Abinger on his father's death in 1943, he took a serious and well-informed interest in the family papers. He arranged or rearranged some papers into folders, made typescript lists of the folders' contents and combined them into a typescript catalogue. In 1948 and 1952 he allowed all or nearly all the papers to be microfilmed at his house at Clees Hall, Bures, Suffolk, for Duke University Library. This project was initiated in 1948 by Professor Newman I. White of Duke University and completed in 1952 by Marion Kingston. The Bodleian owns a copy of her typescript list (MS. Shelley adds. d. 11 = R.6.112), and a positive copy of the entire film in 16 reels (MSS. Film 58-68, 72-76). A list based on the film was also published by Lewis Patton, 'The Shelley-Godwin collection of Lord Abinger', Library News 27 (April 1953), pp. 11-17 (an annotated copy is available at R.6.112a). In 1954, Lord Abinger took the whole collection temporarily to New York, to enable a short-term display of selected items at the New York Public Library; the papers were then again microfilmed for the Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, but in a different order.
In the early 1970s, Lord Abinger gave permission for an edition of the Shelleys' joint journal to be prepared for publication by Oxford University Press, and deposited the original journals at the Bodleian for the editors' use (published as The Journals of Mary Shelley 1814-1844, ed. Paula R. Feldman & Diana Scott-Kilvert, 2 vols., Oxford 1987). This led to Lord Abinger's further decision to deposit almost the entire collection on long-term loan at the Bodleian. However, this was not accomplished as a single deposit, but in a series of nine batches over some 20 years, 1974-1993. The arrangement of the loose papers in their folders, as they arrived batch by batch, corresponded only partially with the arrangements of the two microfilm projects of the 1950s. The folders and notebooks were allocated 'Dep.' numbers as they arrived, but were not sorted or fully catalogued. Not quite all the collection was deposited at the Bodleian, since some papers and relics remained with Lord Abinger (along with printed books) and others had been lent by him to other institutions such as the former Shelley Museum at Boscombe.
Lord Abinger's son James succeeded him as the 9th Baron in 2002. He decided to put the papers on the market, but gave first refusal to the Bodleian Library, which thereupon launched a national and international campaign to raise the purchase-money. This mission was accomplished in 2004, when the Abinger collection was bought outright by the Bodleian Library with generous donations from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Carl and Lily Pforzheimer Foundation, and many other institutional and individual donors. Cataloguing of the papers was completed in 2010 with the aid of a grant from the John R. Murray Charitable Trust, and the papers were redistributed from their former 'Dep.' numbers into new 'MS. Abinger' shelfmarks.
The provenance of any single item in the Abinger collection may often be inferred, but never taken for granted. Although Sir John Shelley-Rolls continued to add purchases to his share of the Boscombe collection well into the 20th century, there is no evidence that the successive Lords Abinger added to theirs: accordingly, it may be assumed that every item now in the Abinger papers was already present in the Boscombe collection by the time of Lady Shelley's death in 1899, apart from secondary papers concerning the later arrangement and administration of the collection. Most of the papers will have been inherited by Sir Percy and Lady Shelley from Mary Shelley in 1851: so the default provenance of most Godwin items, especially the file copies of his outgoing letters, is from his own personal archive, as inherited by Mary Shelley in 1836. However, each piece of paper must be examined on its own terms. An original letter from William Godwin, as posted, might have been returned to Mary Shelley by its recipient after 1836. Similarly, original letters from Mary Shelley might well have been returned later to Sir Percy and Lady Shelley, who certainly bought further letters of Percy Bysshe Shelley. The large batch of Gisborne notebooks in the Abinger papers was bought by them at auction in 1878 from the Gisbornes' servant, Elizabeth Rumble (though original letters from P. B. Shelley to the Gisbornes had already been obtained from her by Mary Shelley in the late 1830s). Sir Percy and Lady Shelley bought the manuscripts of Frankenstein before 1887 through Richard Garnett from a Mr. A. H. Bradford, who had in turn obtained them from 'a picture-cleaner named Godwin [sic]'. A skirmish in the courts in 1897 over ownership of some Shelley letters to T. J. Hogg, from the estate of Hogg's daughter, Prudentia Lonsdale, allowed Lady Shelley the opportunity for one last purchase.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The Abinger collection was deposited in the Bodleian Library by James Scarlett, 8th Lord Abinger (unless otherwise stated).
Batch I deposited 17 June 1974. Shelfmarked as: Dep. b. 210/1-9, Dep. b. 211-12, Dep. b. 214-15, Dep. c. 477-8, Dep. d. 311/1-5, Dep. d. 374/1-3
Batch II deposited 22 April 1975. Shelfmarked Dep. c. 507-22, Dep. d. 390-3, Dep. e. 196-229
Batch III deposited 30 July 1975. Shelfmarked Dep. c. 523-30, Dep. d. 398-414, Dep. e. 230-243, Dep. f. 32-41
Batch IV, deposited 22 January 1976. Shelfmarked Dep. c. 531, Dep. c. 531/1-9, Dep. c. 533-8, Dep. d. 474-5
Batch IVa (loaned to the Bodleian Library by Lord Abinger 5 Dec 1968, and transferred to long-term deposit 10 Aug 1977). Shelfmarked Dep. e. 246
Batch V, deposited 22 Feb. 1979. Two letters to Everina Wollstonecraft, 7 Nov.  and 14 March 1788 (second leaf lost); one to Mrs. Eliza Bishop, 5 Nov. [no year]. Letter (signed 'Mary Imlay') to Everina Wollstonecraft, 20 Sept. .returned to Dep. b. 210 (Batch I). Other deposits shelfmarked Dep. b. 226/1-16, Dep. b. 227/1-8, Dep. b. 228/1-9, Dep. b. 229/1-11, Dep. c. 601-3, Dep. c. 604/1-3, Dep. c. 605, Dep. c. 606/1-5, Dep. c. 607/1-8, Dep. c. 608/1-3, Dep. c. 609-12, Dep. d. 562-7, Dep. e. 203, Dep. e. 273-4, Dep. f. 65-9
Batch VI, deposited by Mr William St. Clair, 5 June 1982. Shelfmarked Dep. c. 663/1-6
Batch VII, deposited through Dr. Betty T. Bennett, 13 August 1984. Shelfmarked Dep. c. 674
Batch VIII, deposited through Mr John Buxton, 22 February 1989. Shelfmarked Dep. c. 766/1-6, Dep. c. 767/1-7, Dep. c. 768, Dep. c. 769/1-5
Batch IX, deposited through Dr Betty T. Bennett, 16 Aug 1993. Shelfmarked Dep. c. 810/1-3, Dep. c. 811/1-4, Dep. c. 812/1-6, Dep. c. 813/1-5, Dep. c. 814
- Bennett, Betty, Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, 1980-88.
- Clemit, Pamela, The letters of William Godwin. Volume I: 1778-1797, 2011
- Clemit, Pamela, The Letters of William Godwin, Volume II: 1798-1805, 2014. Note: These volumes of William Godwin's letters were published after the completion of this online catalogue. They contain much additional research to provide new identifications and datings for his outgoing and incoming correspondence, which may supplement and extend the information provided here.
- Clemit, Pamela, William Godwin and Jame Watt's copying Machine: wet-transfer copies in the Abinger Papers in The Bodleian Library Record, 18/5 (April 2005), pp 532-60
- Garrett, Martin Mary Shelley Chronology, 2002
- Shelley, Mary Life of William Godwin, ed. Judith Barbour, 1998, [http://setis.library.usyd.edu.au/godwin/]
- St Clair, William The Godwins and The Shelleys, 1989
- Stocking, Marion, The Clairmont Correspondence, 1995
- Godwin | family (Family)
- Wollstonecraft | family (Family)
- Shelley | family (Family)
- Bishop | Elizabeth | b 1763 | nee Wollstonecraft (Person)
- Godwin | Mary Jane | 1768-1841 | formerly Clairmont | nee de Vial | translator and bookseller (Person)
- Godwin | William | 1756-1836 | philosopher and novelist (Person)
- Johnson | Jane | 1798-1884 | nee Cleveland | x Williams | x Hogg (Person)
- Shelley | Jane | d 1899 | nee Gibson | 1st wife of 3rd Baronet | x St. John (Person)
- Shelley | Mary Wollstonecraft | 1797-1851 | née Godwin | writer (Person)
- Shelley | Percy Bysshe | 1792-1822 | poet (Person)
- Shelley | Sir | Percy Florence | 1819-1889 | 3rd Baronet (Person)
- Wollstonecraft | Everina | 1765-1841 (Person)
- Wollstonecraft | Mary | 1759-1797 | later Godwin | novelist and essayist (Person)
- Catalogue of the Abinger Collection
- Language of description
- Script of description
- This catalogue was funded by the John R. Murray Charitable Trust.