Henry Baker Correspondence

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 133 Eng MS 19
  • Dates of Creation
      18th Century
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      Extent of unit of description: 257 x 197 mm.  8 volumes (365 folios, 308 folios, 394 folios, 332 folios, 354 folios, 381 folios, 402 folios, 351 folios); Medium: paper.

Scope and Content

Entitled, Literary and philosophical letters and papers of Henry Baker esq., F.R.S. and A.S., including correspondence with many of the most distinguished scientific observers of his day. The items cover his microscopical work, including experiments on the regeneration of Hydra (the Polyp). They also include extensive notes on his practice as a tutor for children with speech impediments. The material is arranged chronologically and the collection includes an index.

The breakdown of the volumes is thus:

  • I: 1722-1744;
  • II: 1745-1746;
  • III: 1747-1748;
  • IV: 1749-1750;
  • V: 1751-1753;
  • VI: 1754-1757;
  • VII: 1758-1762;
  • VIII: 1763-1770.

Administrative / Biographical History

Henry Baker was born in London on 8 May 1698. After serving an apprenticeship with a bookseller, he devised a system of instructing the deaf and dumb, by the practice of which he made a considerable fortune. It brought him to the notice of Daniel Defoe, whose youngest daughter Sophia he married in 1729. A year before, under the name of Henry Stonecastle, he was associated with Defoe in starting the Universal Spectator and Weekly Journal. In 1740 he was elected fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and of the Royal Society. He contributed many memoirs to the Transactions of the latter society, and in 1744 received the Copley gold medal for microscopical observations on the crystallization of saline particles. He was one of the founders of the Society of Arts in 1754, and for some time acted as its secretary. He died in London on 25 November 1774. Among his publications were The Microscope made Easy (1743), Employment for the Microscope (1753), and several volumes of verse, original and translated, including The Universe, a Poem intended to restrain the Pride of Man (1727).

Source: G. L'E. Turner, 'Baker, Henry (1698-1774)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/1120.

Access Information

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Purchased by Mrs Enriqueta Rylands, on behalf of the John Rylands Library, in 1901 from James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford.


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan, project archivist, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography article on Henry Baker.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (English MS 19).

Alternative Form Available

Victoria & Albert Museum, National Art Library, holds a copy of a letter between Baker and Arderon (volume III, f. 256); several other letters are mentioned as being duplicated.

Custodial History

In his will Henry Baker left the bulk of his property and manuscripts to his grandson, William Baker, afterwards rector of Lyndon and South Luffenham, Rutlandshire. Later the correspondence came to Dr Fotherley Baker. Subsequently part of the Bibliotheca Lindesiana, the Library of the Earls of Crawford and Balcarres, from Haigh Hall, Wigan, Lancashire.

Related Material

Papers of Henry Baker are held in several other repositories:

  • British Library, Manuscript Collections: correspondence with Emmanuel Mendez da Costa, 1758-63 (ref.: GB 058 Add. MS 28534 ff. 153-60);
  • Royal Society: lectures, 1741-66 (ref.: GB 117 L & P.I-IV);
  • Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce: letters to the Royal Society of Arts and related papers, 1756-62 (ref.: GB 403 Guard Book Vols. 1 & 6; A1/10-12; A3/13-14; Red book/277);
  • Victoria & Albert Museum, National Art Library: autobiographical memoranda, correspondence with William Arderon in 4 vols (GB 072 Forster Collection);
  • Yale University Libraries: Beinecke Library: letterbooks, 1722-70 ( fc 109 ).


See John B. Wilson, 'Letters from Dr. James Mounsey to Dr. Henry Baker', Transactions of the Dumfries and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, vol. 5 (1980), pp. 177-80.

See also John H. Appleby, '"Rhubarb" Mounsey and the Surinam toad - a Scottish physician-naturalist in Russia', Archives of Natural History, vol. 11, no. 1 (1982), pp. 137-52.

See also W. Johnson, 'Richard Jack and Henry Baker, F.R.S. in the Late Summer of 1746', Notes and Records of the Royal Society, vol. 47, no. 2 (1993), pp. 225-31.