Barlow Papers

Scope and Content

Papers of Henry Clark Barlow, comprising papers relating to his Dante studies, both published and unpublished work, including manuscripts and notes for unfinished essays and lectures, titled manuscript notebooks, titled manuscripts, notes from codices and other sources, printed matter, and papers relating to the festivals of Dante; papers relating to his other studies, including a few items on geology and theology, and many sketches relating to the history of art, to architecture and to topography; personal papers, including Barlow's diaries and journals in which he wrote his observations on the architecture, art, geology, history and people of the places he visited, travel notes, and correspondence devoted almost entirely to Dante matters; acquired papers, including photographs, pictures, books, maps, plans, printed matter and ephemera.

Administrative / Biographical History

Henry Clark Barlow was born on 12 May 1806 in Surrey, the only child of Henry and Sophia Barlow. He was educated at schools in Gravesend and Bexley. In 1822 he was articled to the architect and surveyor George Smith of Mercer's Hall and soon afterwards he also began to study at the Royal Academy. Following an accidental wound to his right thumb which affected a nerve, he gave up his architectural work in 1827 and spent the next few years in private study and attending lectures. In 1831 he began a course in "classical reading"; at the University of Edinburgh. He stayed at Edinburgh for six years during which his interests covered a wide field: mathematics, metaphysics, philosophy of the mind, theology and natural sciences, with special emphasis on geology. In November 1831 he matriculated as a medical student without any intention of graduating in the subject, but on the persuasion of a friend he stayed on to become a doctor.

After graduating, he spent a further winter in Edinburgh and then went to Paris where he attended hospitals and lectures on medicine and joined the Parisian Medical Society. During his time in Paris, Barlow also found time to pursue his two greatest interests: geology and the fine arts. He made a collection of the rocks and fossils of the Paris Basin and he frequently visited the Louvre. He had become a member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1833: he was to become a fellow of the Geological Society in 1865. His love of geology and the arts, combined with that of travel, kept him fully occupied until the autumn of 1840. During that time he toured the British Isles and northern Europe. The winter of 1840-1841 was spent in making a detailed study of Italy and the Italian language in preparation for an extended stay in that country. He left England in May 1841 and travelled through Belgium, France and Switzerland, arriving in Milan in the autumn. He stayed in Italy until Christmas 1845 and made innumerable sketches and drawings of architecture, sculpture and painting which culminated in the writing of his histories of Italian sculpture and painting. Although he intended their publication he was never quite satisfied with them and they remained unpublished.

Barlow spent the winter of 1844-1845 in Pisa where he "discovered Dante"; and "led the life of a literary student ... The study and illustration of the Poet's work now took precedence of everything else";. He painstakingly examined Dante texts and also searched for the localities mentioned in the 'Divina Commedia' in order to compile an album of original drawings illustrating Dante's great work. In 1846 he went to Florence where he became involved in the political movement for the unification of Italy. After further travel through Greece, Turkey, the Austrian Empire and Germany, Barlow returned to England. He began writing to the 'Morning Post' a series of letters concerning diverse subjects, which continued until 1868, usually under the signature XYZ. In 1850 Barlow published his first paper relating to Dante, 'Remarks on the reading of the 59th verse of the 5th canto of the Inferno'. Other articles followed, many of which were printed in the 'Athenaeum' between 1857 and 1874. During the 1850s he published some occasional verse, but his main work was the preparation of at least eight books or major essays on Dante, while at the same time planning a text of the 'Divina Commedia' according to his interpretation of the codices studied, and a new translation in prose with a life of Dante. In 1858 he listed this material in 'Works on the Divina Commedia Preparing for Publication', which included a sample page from his 'Word Book of the Divina Commedia'; and from his 'Critical, Historical and Philosophical Contributions to the Study of the Divina Commedia'. This last remains his most important work, and its publication in October 1864 was the result of years of study in European libraries. He dedicated the book to the approaching Festival of Dante at Florence, and was awarded a silver medal for it by the municipality of the city. Barlow attended the Festival of Dante held in 1865: he was the British representative appointed by the organizing committee. Ten days after the Festival in Florence, Dante's bones were discovered at Ravenna, so another Festival was hastily arranged. Barlow attended this too and sent an article to the 'Athenaeum' describing both events: it was published on 9 September 1865. In recognition of his part in the organization of the Florence festival, Barlow was knighted by Victor Emmanuel II, who bestowed on him the title of Cavaliere dell'Ordine dei SS Maurizio e Lazzaro.

Barlow continued to travel and study abroad. He was a corresponding member of the Accademia dei Quiriti of Rome from 1854 and an honorary fellow of the German Dante Society. He corresponded with many other Dante scholars, including Carl Witte and Lord Vernon. Although Barlow did not publish many of his projected works, he did much in preparation. Many of his original drawings to illustrate the 'Divina Commedia' were finished and mounted, but the series is incomplete. No commentary on the 'Divina Commedia' was ever published by him although he wrote three over the years. Among his published and unpublished works were several essays on medicine, symbolism and theology. His quest for knowledge and his love of travel never left him. He died aged 70 on 8 November 1876, while on a visit to Salzburg.

Access Information


The papers are available subject to the usual conditions of access to Archives and Manuscripts material, after the completion of a Reader's Undertaking.

Acquisition Information

Bequeathed to University College London in 1876.

Other Finding Aids

A detailed catalogued is available on the online catalogue. See also Jacqueline Golden, 'A list of the papers and correspondence of Henry Clark Barlow MD (1806-1876)' (London, 1985); name index.

Conditions Governing Use

Normal copyright restrictions apply.