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The Manuscripts Department’s literary holdings are extensive and excitingly diverse, ranging from major collections associated with noted British and foreign writers to centuries’ worth of miscellaneous verses, prose works, letters and related materials.

Particularly remarkable among the older holdings are the two manuscripts of Chaucer’s The Former Age, without which we would not know about this poem today. The Former Age appears at classmark MS Ii.3.21 after a copy of Boethius’ De consolatione philosophiæ and alongside Chaucer’s Fortune, and at MS Hh.4.12 as part of a collection of miscellaneous early English poems. Also of special interest is MS Gg.4.27, consisting mainly of verse and prose works by Chaucer including The Canterbury Tales and The Five Bookes of Troilus and Cresseide. Additionally there may be found in the collections many examples of religious verse from the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries, Cædmon’s Hymn from the Moore Bede manuscript of 737 AD (MS Kk.5.16), and works with a Cambridge connection, most notably the Verses for Elizabeth I which were written to mark the Queen’s visit to the town in 1564.

Among the main post-medieval literary items held in the Department’s collections are the notebooks, letters, and poetry and prose manuscripts of poet and memoirist Siegfried Sassoon (1886–1967); film scripts and other drafts and writings by Austrian author Arthur Schnitzler (1862–1931); and correspondence, plot outlines, and recorded media pertaining to the German-American writer Stefan Heym (1913–2001). There are academic notes and papers of A. E. Housman (1859–1936), many on classical subjects, and letters from the writer and translator Edward FitzGerald (1809–1883). Additionally the Department holds several small collections and individual items connected with well-known writers, including notebooks on entomology, botany and chemistry and other subjects of the poet George Crabbe (1754–1832), drafts of Alfred Tennyson’s (1809–1892) poem The Princess, and the autograph manuscript of Rewards and Fairies by Rudyard Kipling (1865–1936).

The Department keeps correspondence and papers associated with Christopher Hassall (1912–1963), librettist, lyricist, and collaborator with Ivor Novello, and papers of the popular novelist and traveller Hammond Innes (1913–1998), including family and general correspondence, research and overseas travel files, diaries, account books, manuscripts and typescripts of his novels. There is also a small number of papers relating to Hammond Innes’ wife Dorothy Mary née Lang. Writers from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries represented include the Anglo-American poet, essayist and critic Anne Stevenson (b. 1933); poets Nicholas Moore (1918–1986, MS Add. 9779), John Holloway (1920–1999, MS Add. 9857), Peter Scupham (b. 1933, MS Add. 9941), George Gömöri (b. 1934), John Mole (b. 1941), George Szirtes (b. 1948) and Joanne Limburg (b. 1970); and the novelists Sir Wilson Harris (b. 1921), drafts of whose late work The Ghost of Memory are held, and Dame Margaret Drabble (b. 1939), whose papers are on deposit as MS Add. 9974.

Since 2011, the Department has had a particular focus on collecting the papers of poets associated with The English intelligencer and the so-called ‘Cambridge School’. Holdings in this area include papers of Anthony Barnett, Andrew Crozier, Michael Grant, Jeremy Hilton, John James, J. H. Prynne, Denise Riley, John Riley, Peter Riley, W. G. Shepherd and John Welch / The Many Press.

To begin exploring the Manuscripts Department’s literary holdings please visit our ‘Search the Collections’ page.