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The Book World's Jekyll and Hyde: James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps

James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps was a notorious antiquarian who collected books but also had a habit of cutting them up and removing his favourite pages.

Mareike Doleschal
Halliwell-Phillipps
Halliwell-Phillipps "Hamlet" scrapbook

James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps is, without any doubt, the most controversial among those who donated books to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust library. He was a nineteenth century Shakespearean scholar and book collector with an unusual approach to research: he used to cut up rare and early printed books - not always his own - and glued them into his notebooks, which are now housed in our collection. There are about one hundred of his notebooks; all of them contain extracts from early printed books - even First Folios! He’s said to have destroyed eight hundred books and made thirty six thousand scraps.

John Chesman autograph in Pericles quarto
John Chesman autograph in "Pericles" quarto

It might make an interesting research project to examine his research method, or to identify the sources of the cuttings. In one of the pictures accompanying this blog, the extract was taken from Gerard’s Herbal, which is an important sixteenth century books on herbs and plants, the kind of book Shakespeare might have used in his library or in that of a patron.

Halliwell-Phillipps’s biography is the stuff of melodrama, including an elopement with the daughter of a book collector, betrayal (he tried to sell a book that he stole from the daughter’s father), and, of course, his destruction of valuable books. Not surprisingly he was banned from libraries, including the British Museum. I would have banned him too!

But what made him a Dr. Jekyll? Well, Halliwell-Phillipps was a very generous donor of books, especially to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust library, and some of the early printed books that he presented to us include a quarto edition of Pericles published in 1609, the source text for Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida, and even a Third Folio. These are among our rarest and most valuable books, especially the Folio and the quarto Pericles - the latter hasn’t come up on the market for at least thirty years. We are most grateful to our donor that he didn’t remove pages or cut bits out.

Title page of the Third Folio
Title page of the Third Folio