Samuel Alexander Papers

  • Reference
      GB 133 ALEX
  • Dates of Creation
      1866-1979 (bulk 1886-1938)
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
      The vast majority of items is written in English , while a smaller number is in French  and German .
  • Physical Description
      3.5 linear metres; 6 subgroups; 1295 items
  • Location
      Collection available: John Rylands Library, Deansgate.

Scope and Content

The papers of and relating to Samuel Alexander constitute a major source for studies of philosophy and cognate subjects in the fifty years preceding his death in 1938. Alexander was in the forefront of philosophical discourse for much of this period, and corresponded with most of the leading philosophers in Europe and North America.

The papers consist of various accessions to the John Rylands Library. The largest subgroup (ALEX/A) comprises Alexander’s own papers, including a substantial and significant body of correspondence, various drafts and published writings, published material relating to his life and work, photographs and miscellaneous items in his possession. Correspondents represented in the archive include well-known figures from various spheres of public life - politics, literature, philosophy and academia - such as: Bertrand Russell, Alfred North Whitehead, Ernest Rutherford, Chaim Weizmann, C.P. Scott, C.E. Montague, A.N. Monkhouse, Marie Stopes, Beatrice Webb, Sybil Thorndike, A.C. Bradley, Robert Bridges, and A.J. Balfour.

The second subgroup (ALEX/B) comprises papers in the possession of Alexander’s literary executor, and fellow philosopher and academic, John Laird. Amongst these papers are letters from Alexander himself as well as an important grouping of reminiscences about his life written by friends and acquaintances of Alexander, containing much anecdotal information. The remainder of the material comes from various sources. It includes papers originally belonging to the office of the Vice-Chancellor of Manchester University, cuttings collected after Laird’s death, reminiscences of Alexander’s friend Florence MacCunn and original and copy letters sent to Naomi Mitchison by Alexander.

Administrative / Biographical History

Samuel Alexander, philosopher, was born in Sydney, New South Wales, on 6 January 1859. Educated in Melbourne, he spent two years at the University there before leaving Australia for England in 1878. Later in the same year he obtained a scholarship at Balliol College, Oxford, and after graduating in 1882 he moved to Lincoln College as a fellow, becoming the first professing Jew to hold a fellowship at Oxford or Cambridge. He remained at Lincoln College for eleven years, spending much of his time as a lecturer. He grew increasingly dissatisfied with the system of education at Oxford, however, and identified gaps in the curriculum, such as a neglect of experimental psychology, which he tried to rectify. He developed his own interest in empirical psychology during this period, and he worked towards modernizing the discipline of philosophy by stressing the philosophical significance of contemporary developments in psychology, biology and evolutionary theory. His first book, Moral Order and Progress (1889), was a treatise on evolutionary ethics. Although this was his major work of the period he also made regular contributions to journals.

In 1893 Alexander moved to Manchester to take up the post of Professor of Philosophy at Owens College, which was then part of the federal Victoria University. At first he published little, although in 1908 he produced a short work on Locke. He is probably best known for his theory of ‘emergent evolution’, as expounded in his main philosophical work, Space, Time and Deity (1920), a work based on the Gifford Lectures he gave in Glasgow in 1917 and 1918. In this volume, which reflects his interest in evolutionary theory, he argues that existence is hierarchically ordered, and that there is an ongoing evolutionary process, with the emergence of ever-higher levels of existence moving towards an unrealized ideal; the ultimate emergent is God.

Alexander was a well-known and popular figure at the University. Although the philosophy and psychology courses he taught were small, he gained life-long admirers among his students, many of whom kept in touch with him for years after graduating. He also played an active part in wider University life. He was a leading figure in the movement for replacing the federal Victoria University, of which Owens College was a constituent, with an independent university for Manchester, issuing a pamphlet, A Plea for an Independent University in Manchester, in 1902. Full independence was achieved in 1903 with the foundation of the Victoria University of Manchester. A keen advocate of women’s suffrage and equal educational opportunities for women, Alexander was also involved in the establishment of Ashburne Hall, a hall of residence for women, enabling more women to attend the University. His admirable speaking voice and distinguished appearance also meant he was well-suited to his role as the presenter of graduands for honorary degrees, and he put much work into his speeches on these occasions.

Alexander retired from his chair in 1924, although he remained in Manchester where he was a respected figure and had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances. In 1925 his contribution to the University was acknowledged by the presentation of a bust, sculpted by Jacob Epstein, which still stands in the University’s Arts Building. In 1930 he was awarded the Order of Merit.

Alexander continued to publish philosophical works after his retirement, his interests lying chiefly within the sphere of metaphysics, although he also became increasingly interested in aesthetic theory. His final work, Beauty and Other Forms of Value, was published in 1933, and he died in Manchester on 13 September 1938, aged seventy-nine. A further collection of essays was brought together by his literary executor, John Laird, and published posthumously in Philosophical and Literary Pieces (1939).


The material has been arranged into subgroups according to provenance, as follows:

  • ALEX/A: Papers of Samuel Alexander;
  • ALEX/B: Papers of John Laird relating to Alexander;
  • ALEX/C: Vice-Chancellor’s records relating to Alexander;
  • ALEX/D: News cuttings collected after the death of John Laird;
  • ALEX/E: Florence MacCunn’s reminiscences of Alexander;
  • ALEX/F: Letters to Naomi Mitchison.

The original order of Alexander’s and Laird’s papers is impossible to determine, as they had largely been reordered by former Library staff. This applies in particular to the correspondence, which was sorted into alphabetical order by correspondent. This arrangement has of necessity been retained, although the other papers have been grouped in a way which attempts to reflect original order or the way in which the papers were collected together by the original owners.

Access Information

The collection is open to any accredited reader.

This finding aid may contain personal or sensitive personal data about living individuals. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), The John Rylands University Library (JRUL) has the right to process such personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the JRUL to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, the JRUL has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately, according to the Data Protection Principles.

Individuals have the right to make a request to see data relating to them held by the JRUL which falls under the provisions of the DPA. Access requests must be made formally in accordance with the provisions set out in the DPA and all enquiries should be directed to the University's Data Protection Officer.

Acquisition Information

The archive was originally deposited in Manchester University Library and was transferred to the Deansgate building, the former John Rylands Library, after the merger in 1972.

Other Finding Aids


Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

Many items within the collection remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, 150 Deansgate, Manchester, M3 3EH.

Custodial History

The majority of the archive was created and maintained by Samuel Alexander and was bequeathed to the Victoria University of Manchester by Alexander after his death in 1938. Professor John Laird, [Philosopher (1887-1946)], acted as Alexander's literary executor and brought together and incorporated into the collection his own letters from Alexander, various cuttings and reminiscences of Alexander. The remainder of the archive was gathered from various sources including from the office of the Vice-Chancellor of the Victoria University of Manchester and reminiscences of Alexander from Florence MacCunn.


No further accruals are expected.

Related Material

The John Rylands University Library holds the institutional archives of the Victoria University of Manchester. Among the Vice-Chancellor's files are seven letters from Alexander concerning various matters, 1908-1914 (ref. GB 133 VCA/6/12), and a file relating to the unveiling of the Epstein bust of Alexander on 24 November 1925 (ref. GB 133 VCA/8/98). The Library also holds the archive of the Manchester Men’s League for Women’s Suffrage, of which Alexander was President for a time (ref. GB 133 MML). The papers of Alison Uttley include letters from Alexander, who was a good friend and encouraged her to write after her husband died (ref.  GB 133 AJU/2/4/2). There is a single letter from Alexander to A.N. Monkhouse among the latter's papers, 8 June 1930 (ref.  GB 133 ANM/1/5/2). There are also letters from Alexander among the papers of T.F. Tout, historian ( TFT/1/14), and in the Manchester Guardian Archive. The Dame Mable Tylecote Papers also includes three letters and a postcard from Alexander dating from 1930 to 1933 (ref. GB 133 TYL1/1/5-8).

Papers elsewhere include:

  • Glasgow University Library, Special Collections Department: 15 letters from Alexander to Dugald Sutherland MacColl, 1915-38 (ref. GB 247 MS MacColl).
  • British Library, Manuscript Collections: correspondence with Macmillans, 1918-38 (ref. GB 58 Add MS 55167); correspondence with Marie Stopes, 1906-38 (ref.GB 58 Add MS 58476).
  • Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections and Western Manuscripts: correspondence relating to the Society for Protection of Science and Learning, 1933-40 (ref. GB 161 MS. S.P.S.L. 16/5).


Samuel Alexander, Moral Order and Progress (London: K. Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1906).

Samuel Alexander,Locke (London: Constable, 1908).

Samuel Alexander, Space, Time, and Deity (London: Macmillan, 1927). 2 volumes.

Samuel Alexander, Beauty and Other Forms of Value (London: Macmillan, 1933).

Samuel Alexander, Philosophical and Literary Pieces; edited by John Laird, (London: Macmillan, 1939).

Samuel Alexander, 'The idea of value', Mind, N.S., Vol. I, Jan (1892), pp. 31-55.

Samuel Alexander, 'Mental activity in willing and ideas', Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, N.S., Vol. IX, Nov (1908), pp. 1-40.

Samuel Alexander, 'Ptolemaic and Copernican views of the place of mind in the universe', Hibbert Journal, Vol. 8, Oct (1909).

Samuel Alexander, 'Foundations and sketch-plan of a conational Psychology', Journal of Psychology, Vol. 4, Dec (1911).

Samuel Alexander, 'Collective willing and truth', Mind, N.S., Vol. 22, Jan/Apr (1913), pp. 161-89.

Samuel Alexander 'The basis of realism', Proceedings of the British Academy, Vol. IV, Jan (1914), pp. 279-314.

Samuel Alexander, 'Some explanations', Mind, N.S., Vol. 30, Oct (1921), pp. 409-28.

Samuel Alexander 'The artistry of truth', Hibbert Journal, Vol. 23, Jan (1925), pp. 294-306.

Samuel Alexander 'Art and nature', Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, Jul (1927), pp. 256-272.

Samuel Alexander, 'Morality as an art', Journal of Philosophical Studies, Vol. 3, Apr (1928), pp. 143-57.

Samuel Alexander, 'Philosophy and art', Journal of Philosophical Studies, Vol. IV, Apr (1929), pp. 157-61.

Samuel Alexander, 'Truth, goodness and beauty', Hibbert Journal, Vol. 28, Jul (1930), pp. 616-28.

Samuel Alexander, 'Science and art', Journal of Philosophical Studies, Vol. 5, Jul/Oct (1930), pp. 331-52 and 516-32.

M.A. Weinstein, Unity and Variety in the Philosophy of Samuel Alexander (West Layfayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1984).

John W. McCarthy, The Naturalism of Samuel Alexander (New York: King's Crown Press, 1948).

Bertram D. Brettschneider, The Philosophy of Samuel Alexander: Idealism in 'Space, Time, and Deity' (New York: Humanities Press, 1964).

Milton R. Konvitz, On the Nature of Value. The Philosophy of Samuel Alexander(New York: King's Crown Press, 1946).