James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps

James Halliwell was born in 1820, the son of a prosperous London linen draper. Although Shakespeare was only one among his early antiquarian interests, Halliwell later came to focus his energies on the study of the playwright’s life and work, producing a pioneering biography as well as a complete edition of the plays.

Halliwell’s life was nonetheless dogged by controversy. Early in his career he was accused of stealing manuscripts from Trinity College, Cambridge, and although no charges were brought he was never again entirely free from suspicion. He married Henrietta, daughter of Sir Thomas Phillipps, who owned one of the finest private libraries of the time. Sir Thomas opposed the match and sought continually to ruin Halliwell’s reputation and obstruct his projects. Ironically, Halliwell eventually added Phillipps’s name to his own, in order to meet the conditions set by his wife’s grandfather for inheriting a substantial property. But he never inherited Phillips’s library.

Halliwell-Phillipps created his Shakespeare collections primarily to further his studies. He acquired many copies of plays, and arranged clippings from other early printed works in scrapbooks alongside his own notes. He also produced facsimiles of the quartos, so that he might have accurate copies of editions he could not purchase.

The University of Edinburgh loaned its copy of the very rare second quarto of Titus Andronicus to Halliwell-Phillipps so that he might make a facsimile. As a mark of his gratitude, and in order to establish a Shakespeare library in Scotland, he donated a large collection of books and manuscripts to the University Library in 1872.


James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps

‘It is of such immense importance to me to have the early quarto Shakespeares in my own hands for collation, I hope you will kindly excuse my asking you to bear me in mind should you hear of any for sale, either perfect or imperfect. I am willing to give the wildest prices, and as I always pay cash without any intervention of bills, I might perhaps have the preference over any London booksellers should any turn up in Scotland.’ – Letter to David Laing, 1855

‘The library is small, all of it being contained in two large and two small bookcases, but it is choice and select, no rubbish, and every book nicely bound’ – Letter to David Laing re his collection, 1869

‘I am anxious, with your kind permission, to have the honour of founding a Shakespearian library in the beautiful city of Edinburgh’ – formal letter to the Principal of the University, 1872

‘The chief object which has been contemplated in the preparation of this series of facsimiles has been to place in the hands of the critical student reliable copies of all the editions of all the plays of Shakespeare which were issued during the lifetime of the poet.’ – Preface to Shakespeare Facsimiles, 1871


Shakespeare portrait

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