The John Rylands University Library holds around 700 books from the personal library of Norman Nicholson. The collection is particularly rich in twentieth-century poetry; it includes numerous first editions, many of which are signed by the author and annotated by Nicholson. Many of Nicholson's books contained loose inserts, ranging from publishers' catalogues and publicity leaflets, to cuttings, letters and other papers stored in the volumes by Nicholson himself. These papers were removed from the volumes after the book collection had been catalogued. They have not, however, been added to Nicholson's own archive (also held at the Library) because the archive is held on different terms from the book collection.
The most common insert encountered in the collection is the review slip: publishers' slips were placed in review copies of books which were sent to journals or magazines; books would then be forwarded to a potential reviewer, and the journal often inserted their own additional review slip addressed to Nicholson. Spanning a period from the early 1940s through to 1986, the year before his death, these slips can shed light on the extent of Nicholson's reviewing work, which formed an important element of his writing career from the outset. They also indicate which journals he contributed to regularly; particularly numerous here are review slips from the Church Times, for whom he was a long-standing poetry reviewer.
The papers also include a large quantity of press cuttings, collected by Nicholson and inserted in appropriate volumes. There are numerous cuttings of book reviews (often unattributed) inserted inside the volume to which they relate. Many of the unattributed reviews are from unidentified publications, but the typeface suggests that a significant number of these are from the Times Literary Supplement, where Nicholson started his career as an anonymous reviewer in the 1930s. The main part of Nicholson's archive does not contain a large quantity of his own published reviews, so many of the reviews included here may in fact be by Nicholson himself. He also frequently collected reviews by other writers - either as background for his own reviewing or for general interest. Further cuttings found in his books include: reviews of other works by the same author; articles, interviews and obituaries relating to the author; articles relating to the subject of the book; and poems by the relevant author taken from newspapers and magazines. In some cases, there are a number of cuttings in the same volume which must have accumulated over a long period, suggesting that Nicholson used some of his books as files to store material of interest; for example, Hugh MacDiarmid's festschrift volume of 1962 (NBK/75) contains cuttings relating to MacDiarmid which span the period 1962-1984. In addition to review slips and cuttings, there are a small number of Nicholson's own rough notes and outlines of planned reviews, and in one case (at NBK/132) a galley proof of one of his reviews.
Probably the most significant inserts are letters to Nicholson, of which there are over 50. Some of these are covering letters from writers sent to accompany copies of their new books; a number of writers offered their books as tributes to Nicholson and the inspiration or influence he provided, and in some cases they sought his comments or advice on their work; there are a few letters of thanks to Nicholson for reviews he has written; and other letters simply relate in some way to the book in which they were inserted. Nicholson would also sometimes use a single book by a particular author to file away a letter or letters received from that author, even when the letters do not relate specifically to that work. Some of the correspondents represented in the collection include: George Mackay Brown; Charles Causley; Phoebe Hesketh; Louis MacNeice; W. Moelwyn Merchant; Willa Muir; Richard Murphy; Rodney Pybus; Anne Ridler; Colin Simms; Robin Skelton; R.S. Thomas; David Wright; and Andrew Young. There are some letters of particular interest or significance. There is, for example, an undated letter (NBK/81) from George Every (poet, lecturer and lay brother in the Anglican Society of the Sacred Mission), who discusses Nicholson's poetry, and the early encouragement of his writing by Every himself, T.S. Eliot and Michael Roberts. He also refers to early work of Nicholson's he has in typescript which he intends to dispose of, apparently thinking of Nicholsons' long-term reputation and the possibility that his work may be the subject of literary criticism and scholarship in future. Alan Rook's letter (NBK/203) relates to Nicholson's first volume publication as a poet, in Selected poems by Nicholson, John Hall and Keith Douglas, published in 1943; it appears that Nicholson took the place of Rook, whose work was originally to appear in the volume. Geoffrey Hill (at NBK/120) remarks that he still retains the letters of advice that Nicholson wrote to him when he was at school, and John Masefield (in a letter written to Canon Young, presumably forwarded to Nicholson), states his intention to acquire and read Nicholson's books. A letter from Roberto Sanesi (NBK/205) relates to the translation of Nicholson's works; Sanesi responds to specific comments from Nicholson on readings given in Sanesi's Italian translations of his poems. There are three letters from John Heath-Stubbs (NBK/115), two of which include lengthy discussions of Wordsworth, Charles Williams and Romanticism. Douglas Dunn's letter (NBK/72) refers (in the context of Yvonne Nicholson's death) to the death of his own wife, and the Elegies he wrote in response to this; he goes on to praise the "rootedness in place" of Nicholson's work, which he also associates with other writers like George Mackay Brown and Seamus Heaney. As well as letters, there are some typescript poems - often signed - sent to Nicholson by other writers, including Roger Garfitt, Philip Gardner, Glyn Hughes, Anne Ridler and John Heath-Stubbs.
Other material found in Nicholson's books consists of the kind of ephemera and scraps which inevitably accumulate over a lifetime, including: two programmes for performances of Eliot's Murder in the cathedral in Cumbria, presumably attended by Nicholson; a number of picture postcards; leaflets; a scrap of nineteenth-century manuscript found in an old volume; and fragments of Christmas cards.
As a whole, the papers can tell us something of how Nicholson's own personal library was built up. A significant proportion of his collection - largely twentieth-century poetry - was amassed as a result of his work as a reviewer; numerous books came to him as presentation copies from their authors; and others were received through his agents (whose compliments slips are included) in the form of permissions or contributors' copies.