“Like others I had read, and eagerly / Sometimes, the master pamphlets of the day”: political pamphlets online

Part-way into the Ninth Book of his Prelude (1805), William Wordsworth reflects on his engagement with the political debates of the revolutionary times in which he lived.  The unexpected enjambement (butting together) of ‘eagerly / Sometimes’ hints at the ambivalence felt when reading political arguments. It is one thing to read even opposing views on a topic you are interested in or passionate about; another thing entirely when people bore on about topics that do not interest you in the slightest.

Nevertheless there is something to be said for looking back over the political arguments of the past to see what they tell us about what excited people in the past, and how often we find ourselves going over the same grounds in our own times.

Several collections of political pamphlets are now available online to members of De Montfort University, through a subscription to Jstor 19th Century British Pamphlets. These are:

  • Bristol Selected Pamphlets. 1800-1899. The University of Bristol has a substantial collection of 19th century pamphlets, including the National Liberal Club collection, with pamphlets from the libraries of Charles Bradlaugh, John Noble, the Liberation Society, the Land Nationalisation Society, the Cobden Club, and others.
  • Cowen Tracts. 1603-1898. The personal collection of Joseph Cowen (1829-1900). A social reformer and Member of Parliament for Newcastle (1873-86), Cowen’s pamphlet collection dates, mostly, from his active years from the late 1840s to early 1880s. The collection reflects his interests in social, educational and economic issues and includes much local material.
  • Earl Grey Pamphlets Collection. 1545-1900. Still owned by the family, this collection was largely accumulated by the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Earls Grey. The Greys were particularly interested in parliamentary reform, colonial affairs and Catholic emancipation.
  • Foreign and Commonwealth Office Collection. 1545-1900. This collection comprises the earlier collections of the Foreign Office and the Colonial Office. Both include rare publications from overseas. The Foreign Office Collection consists largely of pamphlets sent back to London by British ambassadors to help with policy formation. It is particularly rich in material related to South America, the Near East, and to the various great European political “questions” of the 19th century. The Colonial Office Collection is chiefly comprised of pamphlets sent back from Britain’s colonies, including some unique early material from Australasia.
  • Hume tracts. 1769-1890. Personal collection of Joseph Hume (1777-1855), Radical Member of Parliament. Hume’s collection covers the major political, economic and social developments and reforms taking place in Britain in the early part of the 19th century along with the causes he particularly championed, such as universal suffrage, Catholic emancipation, a reduction in the power of the Anglican church and an end to imprisonment for debt.
  • Knowsley Pamphlet Collection. 1792-1868. The Knowsley collection reflects the political careers of the Earls of Derby. Edward George, the 14th Earl, was successively Irish Secretary (1830-33), Colonial Secretary (1833-34, 1841-44), and three times Prime Minister (1852, 1858-59, and 1866-68). His son, Edward Henry, 15th Earl, was Colonial Secretary and later Indian secretary in his father’s administration of 1858-59.
  • London School of Economics Selected Pamphlets. 1800-1899. The LSE has a substantial number of 19th century pamphlets, including comprehensive collections of political party materials; election manifestos and political cartoons. There are also collections from pressure groups such as the Fabian Society, Imperial Federation Defence Committee, Poor Law Reform Association, Workhouse Visiting Society, Liberal and Property Defence League, and from cooperative movements such as the Cooperative Women’s Guild.
  • University of Manchester Selected Pamphlets. 1799-1900. The majority of this collection are pamphlets from the last 25 years of the century.
  • Wilson Anti-Slavery Collection. 1761-1900. A collection of 19th-century anti-slavery pamphlets received in 1923 from the executors of Henry Joseph Wilson (1833-1914), the distinguished Liberal Member of Parliament for Sheffield. The collection is of particular importance for the study of the activities of the provincial philanthropic societies, such as the Birmingham and Midland Freedmen’s Aid Association, the Birmingham and West Bromwich Ladies’ Negro’s Friend Society, the Glasgow Emancipation Society, the Manchester Union and Emancipation Society, and the Sheffield Ladies Female Anti Slavery Society. Of interest is the prominent role of women in the movement, who formed themselves into societies which lobbied MPs and printed pamphlets on the conditions of slaves.

How to search for pamphlets

JStor has an Advanced Search form with the option of restricting your search to just pamplets. You can use the ‘Narrow by item Type’ option to focus the results on to pamphlets. There are other options, such as setting a date range for your results that can help to exclude material that you are not interested in.





About Philip Adams

Senior Assistant Librarian at De Montfort University. I am interested in digital preservation and the use of data to measure a library's impact. All comments own.
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