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Jowett Papers - Introduction

II - Nature of the collection

The Jowett Papers shed much light on BJ's working practices, and his attitudes towards preserving or throwing out material. An understanding of his methods can also assist in dating problematic items.

BJ's working practices varied with the type of work required, and each type requires separate treatment. These include (i) lecture notes, (ii) notes for sermons, (iii) private jottings, (iv) drafts of published works, and (v) letters.

BJ preferred to write his lecture notes in notebooks, although lecture notes on loose leaves survive from periods throughout BJ's life. In earlier years, BJ re-used his notebooks several times: many have the main text in an early hand, with extensive revisions in a later one (the use of changes in BJ's handwriting for dating purposes is explained below). However, by the 1870s, rather than rewrite the text endlessly, he began to write lectures out afresh in a new book. The result is that several notebooks survive, each containing a different version of the same lecture course. Sometimes, if a lecture in an old book was considered satisfactory, he would make a note in the new book to 'see other book', or such like, or else the lecture course would peter out after a few lectures, as if BJ had decided to re-use an older set. Usually BJ wrote his lectures out quite fully, as if he intended to read them out, but sometimes a lecture only consists of rough notes, suggesting that BJ knew the topic so well that he did not need a full text. The earliest lecture courses are written in ink, but after c.1880 almost all BJ's lectures are written in pencil.

By the end of his life, BJ had evolved a set form for all his lectures. Each lecture began with a recapitulation of the previous one, often quite detailed, and then he started the new topic. He encouraged undergraduates to give him written questions, to which he would prepare answers for the next lecture (a practice noted in A & C Vol.II pp.287-8). Several examples of the questions that he received, with his answers, are found in Groups I and II.

BJ's notes for his sermons are similar to his lecture notes. Here too, some sermons have very extensive notes, others only a few jottings. Some sermons we know from external evidence to have been delivered more than once, but very few are extensively revised. However, whereas BJ usually used notebooks for his lectures, he used loose leaves and books almost equally for sermons, but often the books contain initial drafts, and the loose leaves his final version.

BJ used his private notebooks in a very different way from the above types. In these, he jotted down whatever came into his head, no matter how short or incoherent it might seem to another. In the 1840s and 1850s, he used large quarto-sized books for this purpose, but later he preferred smaller, pocket-sized ones. His notes cover theology and philosophy, sometimes considering original ideas, at other times reflecting on a book he was reading. One class of these notebooks kept for especially private musings have been called the 'commonplace books' (I H23-84). These are a running series of notebooks of almost identical size, which BJ used from the mid-1870s to his death in the manner of a diary to jot down not just notes on philosophy, theology and interesting books, but also anecdotes, jokes and gossip (kept, according to A & C, to improve his small talk), and notes on people or on interesting conversations.

Whereas many of BJ's private notebooks have survived, only a few drafts and working notes for his published works still exist, namely for his commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul and his essays on Thucydides and Aristotle's Politics. Even for the commentary, only notes on secondary sources and sketchy drafts of the commentary survive; no final drafts remain. It is significant that the fullest drafts, such as those for the Politics, are for works which BJ never completed. It therefore seems that BJ destroyed all his working material on a book once it was complete.

Fortunately the extant drafts for the essays on the Politics give some idea of BJ's working methods in later life. Each draft was written out in the hand of an amanuensis, and then BJ and one or more amanuenses wrote extensive corrections on it. Eventually a fresh draft was made and corrected in the same way. Some printed proofs survive to show that BJ corrected these no less heavily. They provide a fascinating glimpse of how compulsive a reviser he was.

BJ's letters need less comment. Many of them are preserved at Balliol and elsewhere, dating from his undergraduate years up to a few days before his death. The most important thing to note about them is that in later years he often dictated letters to an amanuensis, and added his signature. There is no clear pattern for this constant alternation between using his own hand and someone else's. A rare instance of an obvious reason arises during his major illness of 1891, when for about a month almost all his letters, even the 'signatures', are in another hand, and the first letters he himself wrote after his recovery show a disturbing shakiness.

Some general observations about BJ's working practices (especially in the notebooks) can also be made, with regard to his use of amanuenses, the extent to which he used the same book for different purposes, the length of time for which he would use an individual book and his attitude to preserving or destroying material.

BJ only tended to use amanuenses for letters and literary work, the most obvious occasions on which someone else would have to read his writing. Almost none of his lectures, sermons, or jottings are in any hand other than his own. There are some important exceptions, such as I E1-2, which contain lecture notes on Greek philosophy, and which were copied in the 1860s, and three notebooks (I C12-C13 and I D33) used for recording examination marks in the late 1840s and early 1850s, in which several hands set up the pages for BJ (see the relevant entries in the catalogue for more on these), but they form a tiny minority.

It is possible to identify the hands of all BJ's most important secretaries. His earliest assistant was Matthew Knight [3] , who first began to work for BJ in the late 1860s. After Knight developed tuberculosis in the late 1870s, BJ came to rely on Knight's sister Martha (already his housekeeper) and Frank Fletcher. Fletcher assisted BJ in all fields, but Martha Knight tended only to help in letter-writing; whereas all the draft texts of the Aristotle essays are in Frank Fletcher's hand, it was Martha Knight to whom BJ dictated letters during his illness of 1891. At the end of his life, Charlotte Green, T.H. Green's widow, sometimes wrote his letters. Another occasional assistant in BJ's academic work was W.H. Forbes. Other unknown hands exist, but they are far less used. The detailed catalogue lists all instances of BJ's use of other hands, and identifies them where possible.

The functions of BJ's notebooks were usually kept separate. There are very few instances of, say, a lecture book containing notes for sermons, or a notebook for lectures or sermons containing notes of a private conversation. Although the subject matter of the private notebooks is very diverse, nevertheless all the comments in them perform a similar function in reflecting BJ's private thoughts.

A similar demarcation can be seen in the length of time for which BJ used individual notebooks. Some people use notebooks for many years, constantly adding to or correcting them. BJ, however, preferred to use a book for a short time (rarely more than two or three years) and then discard it, even if it was not finished. The only exceptions were his earlier lecture books, which he re-used and corrected over several years, and I E1-E2, to which he added notes almost 30 years after the main text had been written. Many notebooks, therefore, have over half or even three-quarters of their pages blank. Subsequently BJ may have looked over his notebooks, but usually made no annotations in them.

BJ also seems to have had a policy about the preservation of his papers. On the one hand, not only did he destroy many letters himself, but his executors, in particular Sir William Markby and Evelyn Abbott, had no doubt that in destroying all the letters that they could find they were obeying his wishes. He also seems to have destroyed all drafts for his completed books. However, he seems to have kept other records very carefully; the long series of the commonplace books is one of the most striking examples of these. There are fewer records of any kind for BJ's early years, but in his maturity he seems to have kept almost everything except letters and the manuscripts of his books.

BJ's practice in dating his papers was inconsistent. Sometimes he dated lecture courses, commonplace books or letters very fully, sometimes (especially in letters), he omitted the year, and frequently no date is given whatever. Sometimes internal evidence dates an item, but often only BJ's handwriting can help. Fortunately his writing style changed greatly during his life, and since dated examples of his hand exist throughout his career, these can be compared with undated material elsewhere. On this basis, I have offered a date, however approximate, for everything in the collection in BJ's hand. Such an exercise is subjective, and no claims to complete acccuracy are made, but it is hoped that users will have some idea of the date of an item to within twenty years. The only problem is that BJ's hand is easier to date when he used ink: BJ used pencil for informal jottings, and wrote in an especially cursive script, which changed less than his 'neater' hand. However, as BJ grew older, and tended only to use ink for letters, it becomes easier to date even his writing in pencil.

The hands of BJ's known amanuenses cannot be used in the same way, due to lack of evidence. On the other hand, external evidence (e.g. in A & C) often shows when they were employed. This alternative method of dating means that documents in the hands of Matthew and Martha Knight, Frank Fletcher or Charlotte Green can be assigned dates within reasonable boundaries.

[3] For details of Matthew Knight and BJ's other secretaries, see their entries in the Biographical Index.

- Robin Darwall-Smith, 1993


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