Vizetelly Papers

Scope and Content

Files on each Vizetelly named in the Biographical History, containing a few original letters, family photographs, drawings, news-cuttings, birth certificates, notes from secondary sources, correspondence with descendants, etc. Russell Purchase's working notes, correspondence and drafts for the biography of Henry Vizetelly. Some Zola-related secondary material including a tape of a BBC broadcast and miscellaneous clippings.

Administrative / Biographical History

In 1967 Russell Purchase, a wine merchant of North Street, Chichester, conceived the idea of a biography of Henry Vizetelly, an early writer on wines, centring on his trials in 1888 and 1889 for obscene libel, by reason of publishing Emile Zola's novels in English. Purchase traced Henry's grandson, Victor R. Vitetelly, who had continued the family firm of printers and was then living in retirement nearby at Angmering-on-Sea, West Sussex (see file 1/8 for Purchase's letters to Vizetelly, and 2/5 for Vizetelly's to Purchase). Vizetelly contacted members of the family, gathered together and arranged family memorabilia, and made some notes from published sources, and lent these to Purchase. Purchase made good progress over the following two years, prepared draft chapters and approached a publisher. But he died in 1970, and his executors passed all the papers to Vizetelly.

The Vizetelly family first established a presence in the world of publishing in 1843, when Henry Richard Vizetelly (1820-1894) and his elder brother James Thomas Vizetelly (1817-1897) launched a newspaper, The Pictorial Timesas a short-lived rival to the Illustrated London News. The brothers were sons and grandsons of printers. From an early stage they sought to combine publishing with journalism and printing. Henry was an experienced wood-engraver, whose contributions were valuable to his publications. A younger brother, Frank Vizetelly (1830-1883), worked as a travelling correspondent for the Pictorial Times, and went on to found the Monde Illustrin Paris. Frank became a war correspondent, reporting and producing sketches from Sicily during Garibaldi's expedition of 1860, and from the American and Spanish civil wars. He died in the massacre of Hicks Pasha's army in Sudan in 1883.

In 1865 Henry took up the post of Paris correspondent with the Illustrated London News, and spent the following six years in France. He continued to publish throughout this period.

After resigning from the post of correspondent, Henry returned to London, where his publishing activities focussed on translations of French authors such as Flaubert, Droz, Daudet, Cherbuliez, and Hugo. In 1884, Henry began to publish translations of the works of Emile Zola, which proved popular with the public. In 1888, the literal translation of graphic scenes in Zola's La Terre ( The Soil) led to prosecution for obscene libel, which was fined. Vizetelly, undeterred, reissued Zola's works the following year and was imprisoned for three months.

Henry's son Ernest (1853-1923) was an editor and reader in the company at the time of the lawsuits and he continued to edit translations in Henry's wake, including more of Zola's works and a study of his own: Emile Zola, Novelist and Reformer: An account of his life and work(John Lane, 1904). Ernest also wrote books on Republican France, The Anarchists: Their faith and their record (Bodley Head, 1911) and Lord Kitchener. Henry's other son, Francis Horace (1864-1938), emigrated to the USA in 1891 and became a well-known lexicographer. The two brothers prepared a manuscript 'Account of the Vizetelly Family' which is in the collection.

See Dictionary of National Biography for Henry and Frank Vizetelly.

Access Information

Items in the collection may be consulted for the purpose of private study and personal research, within the controlled environment and restrictions of The Keep's Reading Rooms.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Dr O. Wright Holmes, Ernest Vizetelly's grand-daughter, in 1982.


Prepared by John Farrant, August 2002.

Other Finding Aids

An online catalogue is available on The Keep's website.

Conditions Governing Use

COPIES FOR PRIVATE STUDY: Subject to copyright, conditions imposed by owners and protecting the documents, digital copies can be made.

PUBLICATION: A reader wishing to publish material in the collection should contact the Head of Special Collections, in writing. The reader is responsible for obtaining permission to publish from the copyright owner.

Related Material

Many Vizetelly editions of Zola's writings are included in the associated collection of books in the Library.