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Papers of John Norman Bryson (1896-1976), Fellow of Balliol 1940


Biographical note

John Norman Bryson (6 Feb 1896-19 Aug 1976) was born at Portadown and educated at Bootham School, Queen’s University Belfast, and Merton College Oxford . He was a Lecturer in English at Balliol, Merton, and Oriel Colleges 1922-1940. He was a scion of an Ulster family trading in linen, and might have had some private means. A Fellow of Balliol from 1940, he was Fellow-Librarian following RAB Mynors, and an Emeritus Fellow from 1964.

Bryson’s brief obituary in The Times ( 20 Aug 1976) says he published little; his only easily found publications are a book on the correspondence of DG Rossetti and Jane Morris (1976), a popular booklet on Robert Browning (1959,1963 and 1967), and a book on Matthew Arnold (1954). His major claim to original scholarly achievement was only published as a piece in The Times (13 Oct 1959 p 13 contd p15): this reports the identification of a portrait of John Donne, the ”Lothian Portrait”. But the surviving material in the present Collection shows that he was a prolific reviewer of books, music, and theatre as a young and middle-aged man, often anonymously. He was also a collector, and left significant pictures to museums; see the account of his estate (net £195.975) in The Times 31 March 1977. Other pictures of his were sold at Christies on 22 July 1977 and 10 March 1978.

His friends included John Betjeman (who spoke at his Memorial Service in Balliol Chapel, 27 Nov 1976), John Sparrow, Osbert Lancaster, Helen Gardner and many other literary figures.

Betjeman’s eulogy is printed in Balliol College Annual Record, 1977, 15-17 followed by an appreciation by Garlick which makes special reference to Bryson’s pictures.

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When Bryson died in 1976, one Executor was Kenneth Garlick, a Fellow of Balliol, and Keeper of Western Art in the Ashmolean Museum. Garlick was assisted by EV Quinn (an Emeritus Fellow and ex-Librarian), who was given discretion to destroy personal correspondence.

The present Collection was created from mixed material relating to Bryson which was found in Balliol Lower Library in 2011. It had probably been put aside by Quinn and not intended for preservation. It was cleaned, rusty paper clips were replaced with brass, it was sorted, and was then packed in archive folders after listing. It is now arranged in three archive boxes.

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Related Material

The Bodleian has Bryson’s letters to Reginald Littleboy. None of Littleboy’s in return survive in this Collection. Nor is there any material about pictures Bryson gave to museums.

The College has a 1972 drawing of Bryson by Gilbert Spencer, Balliol Portrait 31. The Portraits of Balliol College, 1990 notes that Bryson also sat for Derek Hill, and was instrumental in arranging the JEC Hill commission (Balliol Portrait 59), but the location of Bryson’s portrait by Derek Hill is not known.

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1. EV Quinn’s papers re Bryson’s papers
A scrappy file, but containing some interest including two TS postcards from John Betjeman. It appears that when Bryson died some of his books were already at All Souls College, and the sale of some to the University of Trondheim was under discussion. The file also contains a photocopied sheet of discretionary instructions to the Executors, in Bryson’s hand, signed and dated 7 January 1969.

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2. CR Maturin
A copy of The Times Literary Supplement 26 August 1920 bearing Bryson’s signature top right, including on p548 an anonymous article “Maturin and the Novel of Terror” concerning CR Maturin, especially Melmoth the Wanderer (1820). With Bryson’s draft, research notes and 2 ALS to Bryson’s mother from the Rev AH Maturin.The second letter (6 Sept 1920) makes reference to her “gifted son’s brilliant article” and the letter writer’s “gifted but neglected kinsman”. The first letter ( 19 June 1920) is written on the blank back page of a 4pp service sheet for the Annual Masonic Service, Maghera Parish Church Lodge No 42.The Rev AH Maturin was Rector of Maghera and Chaplain to the Lodge; he was also the author of two hymns sung at the service, which are printed.

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3. Robert Browning
Some of Bryson’s papers re his Browning interests, including, TS, an address he gave in Westminster Abbey on 12 Dec 1960.

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4. Pre-Raphaelites in Oxford
Bryson’s notes, drafts and a broadcast script (1948) re the Pre-Raphaelites in Oxford; including a polished TS, nd, 42pp.

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5. Notes, essays, reviews, and broadcasts
Gatherings of MS notes by Bryson on:-

  • MR James, Old Testament in Mediaeval Art.
  • Old Mortality Register, MS Top Oxon d 242.
  • Baldwin Brown, The Arts in Early England vol V.

Reviews by Bryson:-

  • AW Pollard et al., Shakespeare’s hand in the Play of Sir Thomas More, CUP,TS .
  • C Hollis, Oxford in the twenties :recollections of five friends, galley proof.
  • Sir Henry Newbolt ,a new study of Poetry , MS , signed and dated Jan 1918.

Articles by Bryson:-

  • Mrs Hazlitt in Ireland ,with a gentle rejection letter from the Irish Statesman 1926.
  • “Sea Music” ,MS, accepted by the Irish Statesman 1919, with mention of earlier reviews Bryson had been paid for and future reviews he might do.

Essays or articles by Bryson for publication:- Mostly neat MS but some typed; all but one nd; some may be undergraduate essays. Topics: Yeats, Rupert Brooke, Swinburne, Marlow (1919), Tennyson, Keats , Chesterton, and Saxon Studies in 17th century Oxford. All probably ca. 1920-1930, except the last, which is probably post-WWII.

Scripts for broadcast talks by Bryson on the Third Programme:-

  • “The Notebooks of Henry James”, 21 Oct 1948. Foolscap cyclostyled TS.
  • “Coventry Patmore”, 21 Nov 1949. Foolscap cyclostyled TS.

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6. Forrest Reid and Henry James

Bryson knew Forrest Reid (1875-1947: see the ODNB) and acquired books and papers of his including his Henry James collection, and wrote the DNB article on Reid. This file comprises Bryson’s surviving material concerning Reid, and Quinn’s papers concerning the sale of the books and papers in 1977.

  • a) Reid to Bryson, ALS 7 Dec 1946:”My Dear Jack, I send you on the Henry James list....” ,enclosing a 4p TS list headed “ A Henry James Collection, including some rejected and unpublished material
  • b) MS (Bryson’s hand) and TS copies ( with some notes, but mostly completely transcribed letters) of Forrest Reid’s correspondence with Andre A Rutherford and MA Raffalovitch, dates in the range 1894-1920, but mostly nd.
  • c) Material re F Reid, Illustrators of the Sixties (1928). Bryson seems to have had two copies, one of them annotated by the author and with loose insertions .Some original letters to Reid survive in this file. The books were sold after Bryson’s death, but Quinn took a photocopy of Reid’s annotations which survives here.
  • d) Newspaper obituaries and appreciations of Forrest Reid, from diverse newspapers.
  • e) Appreciation in the Dublin Magazine (George Buchanan, nd ), and broadcast scripts (1948 and 1952) re Forrest Reid; a 12 pp TS probably by Bryson ,and ephemera re the Forrest Reid Memorial, Belfast 10 Oct 1952 ( with texts of addresses by EM Forster, Walter de la Mare and Stephen Gilbert )
  • f) Bryson’s notes etc re the DNB article on Forrest Reid.
  • g) Photocopies and transcripts by Quinn of 4 ALS Henry James to Reid 1900-1905. One of these letters was exhibited in Belfast in 1953, and all were sold at Christie’s in 1977. With a copy of the 1953 Exhibition catalogue (32p, cyclostyled booklet) and correspondence of 1977 about the letters.

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7. Portraits of English literary figures
It appears (The Times 13 Oct 1959) that in 1959 Bryson was involved with John Woodward (Keeper of Art, City Museum and Gallery, Birmingham) in a project to produce a book on Portraits of English Poets.The Donne portrait identification was either a result or the stimulus of this, but the project seems to have come to nothing, although Bryson put a great deal of effort into it, and many of his notes were professionally typed up in near final form.The following files survive:-

  • A. Photographs of literary figure portraits. A collection of ca 100 photographs of portraits of literary figures, mostly poets 16th-19th cents, from very widespread museums and galleries. Identifications and sources mostly noted on the backs. Found near B below .
  • B. Bryson’s files re the planned book Portraits of English Poets. The headings below are Bryson’s file designations verbatim; his folders were tattered and soiled and were discarded.
    • a. Introduction. Two “THINGS SEEN” section cuttings from The Times “From a correspondent”, 1958, re Poet’s Corner sculpture and Puritan age portraiture. Bryson’s drafts of an Introduction ”....the present book is an attempt to assemble in chronological order and to examine critically a collection of portraits of the main English Poets...”
    • b. Chaucer. Bryson’s notes and drafts, mostly MS.
    • c. Shakespeare. Bryson’s notes and drafts, including a 14p TS corrected in MS.
    • d. Donne. Bryson’s notes and drafts; photographs including a negative on glass of the Lothian portrait identified by him; and a single ALS, mostly after the publication in The Times , with comment and congratulation, from AL Rowse, John Sparrow, Evelyn M Simpson, Walter Raeburn, R Ursula Som...vell, Lord Lothian, Barbara Spenser Blundell; and 6 ALS from Helen Gardner.
    • e. Milton. Bryson’s notes and drafts. Also some correspondence:
      Francis Dashwood to Bryson, TLS 14 August 1959, about the Dashwood family Milton portrait, including a family tree showing the relationship of John Milton to the Baronets Dashwood.
      Rex Whistler to Bryson ALS 15 March 1959, about Milton portraiture and with comment on the Contemporary Art Show and works of Francis Bacon. Kenneth Garlick autograph PC from America 29 Oct 1970.
    • f. 16th/17th Century. Bryson’s notes and drafts.
    • g. 18th Century. Bryson’s notes and drafts.
    • h. 19th Century. Bryson’s notes and drafts.

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8. Rossetti and Morris.

Bryson’s file concerning the publication of his book Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Jane Morris (1976),including numerous letters from Virginia Surtees, photographs for illustrations, material re difficulties with his collaborator Janet Camp Troxell; and letters after publication, especially from Simon Nowell-Smith and John Gere.

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9. Pugin and Balliol
Notes and correspondence re Bryson’s article “The Balliol that might have been. Pugin’s rejected designs”, Country Life, 27 June 1963, and a cut-out of the article. Mostly of ca. 1963, but also included is AD Lindsay to Bryson,TLS from Keele , 28 Nov 1949, re the Pugin episode and making reference to University of Keele staffing and buildings in construction (Lindsay was founding VC of the University of Keele).

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10. Reviews
A red album containing numerous theatrical reviews by “J.N.B.” pasted in, mostly of ca. 1940; with many loose insertions of proofs and other reviews, and newspaper cuttings of ca. 1919 re theatre, music and art.

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11. Letters

  • Alan Dent, ALS to Bryson, 16 July 1942; mention of a review of a book of Dent’s by Bryson,: John Gielgud a common friend; inviting Bryson to join the Maximilian Society and attend the first assembly celebrating Max Beerbohm’s 70th birthday.
  • John Betjeman, ALS to Bryson, 8 Nov 1939, from Garrards Farm Uffington. Begins “Ow Mr Bryson, yew are noice won” and ends “Much love Sean Simeon Solomon”. The letter speaks about architecture at some length and mentions John Piper. The College’s picture of the Chapel by Piper was commissioned and presented by Bryson.
  • John Betjeman, autograph PC to Bryson from Trebetherick, date uncertain, all in capitals, ending ”Love from Beowolf Ethelraede Betjeman”.
  • Seven pages of cc TS verse, found near the above , which is perhaps in Betjeman style.
  • Osbert Lancaster’s personal printed Christmas cards, with drawings by him, 1931-1934.
  • Lancaster to Bryson, ALS 22 April 1974 .
  • John Sparrow “Great Poetry”, Proc. British Academy 1960, XLVI, offprint inscribed “J.B d.d. J.S”; interleaved is a printed sheet of poetry, first line “Every morning when I rise”.
  • JHA Sparrow, “The Sin Of Pride” , a sermon in St Mary’s 23 Nov 1975, cyclostyled TS ,inscribed “John Bryson with the Preacher’s compliments “.
  • Sparrow to Bryson, autograph but unsigned note 8 August 1960.
  • Henry Moore to Bryson, TLS 16 Nov 1947.
  • Simon Nowell-Smith to Bryson, autograph PC initialled and dated 21 March 1948.
  • Stephen Tennant to Bryson from Wilsford, ALS March 1952, written around and between the twigs of a skilled watercolour and ink sketch of almond blossom.
  • Viscountess Templewood ALS to “John” (identified in Bryson’s hand as John Betjeman) 3 August nd ca. 1961. “.... I had heard of the article but had not seen it. It ought to give those Balliol dons a sense of perspective and cause them to spare the Waterhouse....” At about this time it was suggested that the Waterhouse Broad Street Front should be demolished; and in the mid sixties Waterhouse buildings flanking the Hall actually were demolished: see Peter Howell “The fiftieth anniversary of a ‘philistine’ proposal “, Balliol College Annual Record , 2012,54-59.
  • A colour photograph of a portrait painted 1971-1972 by Lilian Buchanan of an elegant mature lady in a DLitt gown, probably Helen Gardner.
  • Ruth Young to Bryson, ALS 4 Jan 1949, sending a portrait of Henry Wall ,Balliol Portrait 156, and re its origin.

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12. Postcards
A collection of about 100 postcards, all unused: a few topographical scenes but mostly paintings of interest to Bryson.

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13. A Caricature by Derek Hill
A small finely drawn original caricature in profile of an unidentified clergyman, mounted ready for framing. Found very near the Bryson material above, but without any other clue as to origin or identification. Signed with encircled initials DH, i.e. Derek Hill (cf. the duplicated signature on Balliol Portrait 59 by Hill), who was a friend of Bryson’s.

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- John Jones, January 2011, revised June 2012 and April 2013


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Updated 25.i.18
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