Oliver Madox Brown: Novels and Stories

  • Reference
      GB 133 Eng MS 1235
  • Dates of Creation
      19th century
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      various sizes. 381 items;

Scope and Content

Holograph versions and drafts, many differing considerably from the printed texts, of the following works of the novelist and painter Oliver Madox Brown:

  • (a) Gabriel Denver, 25 items;
  • (b) The Dwale Bluth, 78 items
  • (c) Hebditch's Legacy, 242 items;
  • (d) The Yeth-Hounds. A Legend of Dartmoor, 6 items;
  • (e) Poems, 4 items namely To all Eternity, Gypsy Song, Stanzas and Hushed Music (begins The air still vibrates with sweet quivering sound).
Together with miscellaneous fragments (10 items), drawings (12 items) and 4 letters to Ford Madox Brown from Wilkie Collins (15 January 1876), George Eliot (20 December 1875), Ouida (14 February 1876) and the painter Frederic James Shields (21 December 1875) respecting his gifts of the volumes containing his son's Literary Remains.

Administrative / Biographical History

Oliver Madox Brown (1855-1874), author and artist, born at Finchley, Middlesex, on 20 January 1855, was the second child and only son of Ford Madox Brown. A precocious child, Oliver (known as Nolly) was enrolled in the junior school at University College, London, but removed after two years because of his chronic untidiness, unfitness for academic discipline, and artistic promise. From 1865, he had no further formal education, being taught mainly by his father, though in 1871 he attended life classes in the atelier of Victor Barthé in Chelsea. At the same time Brown's friend the diplomat Jules Andrieu instructed Nolly in Latin and French.

The first watercolour that Oliver was known to have done was Centaurs Hunting, at the age of eight. At eleven he painted Queen Margaret and the Robbers. In 1870 he exhibited two horse-and-rider seashore paintings, Exercize at the Royal Academy and Obstinacy at the Dudley Gallery; he was fifteen. At the same time, for the Moxon Popular Poets series he produced two illustrations for The Poetical Works of Byron, edited by William Michael Rossetti and otherwise illustrated by Ford Madox Brown. His Mazeppa and The Deformed Transformed were then replicated in oils, and Mazeppa was exhibited at the British Institution in 1871.

During the winter of 1871-2, when Oliver was sixteen, he began The Black Swan, published posthumously in the Literary Remains. When Smith, Elder's editor demanded drastic expurgations, Oliver rewrote some of the novel and mutilated what remained, conceding even his flashback narrative scheme. It was published as Gabriel Denver. He began a new novel, The Dwale Bluth (deadly nightshade) and by July 1874 had completed 22 chapters, which Williams suggested might be offered first to the Cornhill Magazine for serial pre-publication. Unfortunately, it was returned, despite the author's revisions. By then Oliver was gravely ill with peritonitis aggravated by septicaemia. In late September he was dying. From his bed he continued to write, then to dictate, beginning a third novel, Hebditch's Legacy, several short fictions, and further verses. Oliver Madox Brown died at his home in Fitzroy Square, London, on 5 November 1874.

Source: Stanley Weintraub, 'Brown, Oliver Madox (1855-1874)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/3637.

Access Information

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Presented to the John Rylands Library by Manchester City Art Gallery in April 1959.


Description compiled by Jo Humpleby, project archivist, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Oliver Madox Brown.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1952-1970 (English MS 1235).


See Oliver Madox Brown, Gabriel Denver (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1873),  and William Doremus Paden, The ancestry and families of Ford Madox Brown, reprinted from the Bulletin of the John Rylands Library, vol. 50, no. 1 (1967), pp. 124-35. The following works are reproduced in William M. Rossetti and F. Hueffer (eds), The Dwale Bluth: Hebditch's legacy, and other literary remains of Oliver Madox-Brown, 2 vols (London: Tinsley brothers, 1876) : 

  • The Dwale Bluth, volume 1, pp. 33-235;
  • Hebditch's Legacy, volume 1, pp. 239-96, volume 2, pp. 1-67;
  • The Yeth-Hounds. A Legend of Dartmoor, volume 2, pp. 251-61;
  • Poem, To all Eternity, volume 2, p. 296;
  • Poem, Gypsy Song, volume 2, p. 289;
  • Poem, Stanzas, volume 2, p. 296.

Geographical Names