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The Brett-Smith collection of plays and dramatic literature was initiated between 1910 and 1920 by H.F.B. Brett-Smith, an Oxford don. His son, John, continued to add to the collection after the Second World War. John Brett-Smith's aim in 1949 was to form as complete a body of English Restoration drama as possible. Plays by the Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists, even in editions published between 1660 and 1700, were originally excluded, as were plays of the Civil War and Commonwealth periods. With time, the scope of the collection expanded to include political plays, and coronation or city pageants and processions with theatrical interludes. More important playwrights of the first half of the eighteenth century (but omitting Fielding and Gay), together with a selection of interesting minor figures were also collected. In consequence, the collection that reached the Library in 1984 has as its main emphasis the original dramatic works of the period 1641-1715, mainly in quarto format extending in a more selective way to 1750.

The collection contains some 1400 play texts, around 870 having been published in the seventeenth century. Approximately 925 plays are first editions and some forty authors have all of their dramatic works represented in original printings. These include Aphra Behn, William Congreve, John Dryden, Sir George Etherege, Nathaniel Lee, Thomas Otway, Nicholas Rowe, Sir Richard Steele and William Wycherley. Different issues of the same edition were also sought for the collection, together with later editions incorporating changes of textual significance.

This collection complements the Verney collection which contains over two hundred plays, libretti, poems, songs, and prologues and epilogues to plays. Highlights include the first collected edition of Dryden's plays in four volumes quarto, 1691.

All the items in the collection are entered on iDiscover. John Brett-Smith's manuscript list of the collection, ordered approximately alphabetically by author and giving details of editions and issues, is available for consultation from the Staff Desk.

References and further reading:

  • Gertrude L. Woodward and James G. McManaway, A check list of English plays 1641-1700. Chicago: The Newberry Library, 1945. R415.5.40