Critical Quarterly Archive

Scope and Content

The archive largely consists of material generated by C.B. Cox during his work on Critical Quarterly, although there is some material created by other editors, principally A.E. Dyson. It includes nearly 4,000 pieces of correspondence with Critical Quarterlycontributors and prospective contributors from Britain, America, Europe, and a small number from elsewhere, notably Ireland and India. The correspondence files include letters from eminent critics such as F.R. Leavis and Terry Eagleton, and novelists, such as CP. Snow, Kingsley Amis, Iris Murdoch and Malcolm Bradbury. The majority of the correspondents are, however, poets: as well as those whom Critical Quarterly helped to establish, such as Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes and R.S. Thomas, a very broad range of poetic voices are represented, including A. Alvarez, W.H. Auden, John Betjeman, Robert Bly, E.K. Brathwaite, Alan Brownjohn, Donald Davie, Ruth Fainlight, Robert Graves, Thom Gunn, Seamus Heaney, Geoffrey Hill, Elizabeth Jennings, Edward Lucie-Smith, George MacBeth, Andrew Motion, Norman Nicholson, Peter Porter, F.T. Prince, and William Stafford.

There is an extensive series of manuscripts and corrected proof copies of contributions to Critical Quarterly, principally poems, but also some short stories and critical articles. Business and financial papers reflect the day-to-day running of Critical Quarterlyand its funding, while associated Critical Quarterly Society activities and publications are also well represented, including: Critical Survey; poetry competitions; conferences; Manchester Poetry Centre; and the establishment ofPoetry Nation. There is also a large amount of material relating to the Black Papers, including correspondence with contributors, files on education issues and responses to the Papers, and manuscripts and proofs of Black Paper contributions.

The archive forms a useful source of information on almost any of the individual poets and writers who contributed to CQ; some specific groups and schools of poetry are also well-represented, notably the Movement of the 1950s and the Group of the 1950s-1960s; American poetry of the 1960s-1970s is another strength of the collection. The writers' correspondence, along with the manuscripts and proofs, business and financial papers provide valuable information on Critical Quarterly editorial policy, the publication process, the payment of poets and the struggles faced by the editors in seeking funding for a literary journal. The debate over comprehensive and progressive education of the 1960s and 1970s is also well illustrated by the material relating to the Black Papers.

Readers are also advised to consult the Papers of Brian Cox which are listed separately, and which contain further material relating to the Black Papers and Manchester Poetry Centre, as well as correspondence generated by Brian Cox in his capacity as poetry editor of Critical Quarterly from 1998 onwards.

Administrative / Biographical History

The foundations of Critical Quarterly were laid at a British Council Summer School for foreign students held in 1958 at Cambridge. C.B. (Brian) Cox and A.E. (Tony) Dyson - both young university lecturers teaching at the summer school - objected to a lecture given there by G.S. Fraser which relied principally on literary anecdotes. This betrayal of their deeply-held belief in 'the moral importance of literature'1 inspired them to plan their own literary journal, which they hoped would follow in the spirit of F.R. Leavis's Scrutiny. Their publication, however, would have more emphasis on recent and contemporary poetry and be more cosmopolitan in outlook than Leavis's journal, which had ceased publication in 1953.

Cox, a lecturer in English at Hull University, and Dyson, who lectured at the University of Wales in Bangor, were unknown names at the time. In order to lend their projected journal credibility, they decided to establish an eminent honorary committee of critics and writers. By autumn 1958, thirty-five writers and university lecturers had lent their support to the project, among them Philip Larkin, R.S. Thomas, F.T. Prince, William Empson and Angus Wilson. Cox and Dyson were to edit the journal, and they invited their academic colleagues John Danby and Richard Hoggart to stand as editorial advisers. The name Critical Quarterly was proposed by John Danby, on the basis that it sounded 'as if it has existed for a hundred years'. 2

Extensive advance advertising in late 1958 meant that the first issue of Critical Quarterly (priced at 3 shillings) achieved high sales: a further 1,000 copies had to be printed after the initial print run of 2,000 sold out. Cox and Dyson were determined to reach a large audience from the outset, believing strongly that 'literature is for everyman - for everyman, that is, who will pay it the courtesy of a creative response'. 3 The journal contained a readable mix of new poems, regular features with an emphasis on recent and twentieth-century literature, and short critical articles.

Almost immediately, Cox and Dyson began receiving large numbers of unsolicited contributions from unknown poets, although their general policy was to solicit material for publication from specific writers. Many new poets of high calibre were attracted to Critical Quarterly and the journal became very influential, drawing public attention to the work of poets like Philip Larkin, Thom Gunn, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes and R.S. Thomas. During its first decade the journal also published articles by a wide range of new and established critics, including Malcolm Bradbury, David Lodge, G.D. Josipovici, Helen Gardner, John Wain and William Empson.

Critical Quarterly was initially administered from the Department of English at Hull University and produced by Hull Printers. Working to a tight budget, there was always pressure on the journal's editors to keep their circulation up: their income came largely from direct postal subscriptions, which quickly grew to around 5,000 - a figure which remained fairly constant until the early 1970s. The job of handling these subscriptions was taken over in spring 1960 by Oxford University Press, at a 10% commission; this took a large burden of work away from Cox and Dyson, who nevertheless retained control over the journal's finances.

The editors' plans for Critical Quarterly had always encompassed more than the production of the journal itself. Accordingly, in 1960, they published the first Critical Quarterly poetry supplement, a pamphlet containing a selection of the best poems of the 1950s - including work by Larkin, Gunn, Hughes, Amis and Elizabeth Jennings - alongside a number of new works, as well as prize poems by Sylvia Plath and Alan Brownjohn. The second pamphlet was edited by Plath herself, and contained her choice of the best recent American poetry. These two publications were the earliest of seventeen poetry supplements produced by Critical Quarterly, which presented short selections of the best poems written each year.

Another Critical Quarterly tradition, initiated in 1961, was the organization of conferences. The 1961 conference for teachers and other Critical Quarterly subscribers was held at Bangor, where speakers included Stephen Spender and John Wain. One or two conferences were arranged every year until the early 1970s, and literary conferences aimed at sixth-formers (the first of which was held in 1963) proved highly successful and continued until the 1980s.

By 1962 Critical Quarterly was well established. A three-year grant was obtained from the Calouste Gulbenkian foundation to fund a secretarial post, and Philip Larkin provided an office for the journal's administration in his new university library at Hull. In May 1962 the Critical Quarterly Society was founded: subscribing members received four issues of the journal each year, the annual poetry supplement, a new bi-annual journal for teachers entitled Critical Survey, and a reduction in conference fees.

In 1966 Critical Quarterly headquarters relocated to Manchester University, where Brian Cox had been appointed Chair in the English Department. During the same period Tony Dyson took up a part-time post at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, and opened an administrative office for Critical Quarterly at his home, 2 Radcliffe Avenue, London NW10. While Cox continued to handle the manuscripts submitted for publication and edited each issue of the journal, Dyson dealt with subscriptions to the Critical Quarterly Society (which by now numbered around 2,000 members) and organized the Society's conferences. This arrangement continued until 1969.

The year 1969 was a momentous one in the history of the Critical Quarterly Society because it saw the publication of the first 'Black Paper'. Critical Survey had always published material which tried to meet the educational needs of schools, but in 1969 it was decided to give the entire spring issue of the journal up to articles on education and the Labour government's education policy. This grew from Cox's disillusion with the progressive comprehensive system and mixed ability teaching of the 1960s. He and Dyson viewed themselves as 'moderate progressives'4 who agreed with some of the new educational reforms but condemned their more extreme aspects, along with what they saw as 'misplaced ideologies' such as the 'egalitarian ethos' which had come to dominate views on education and dictate educational policy of the time. 5

Entitled Fight for Education, the 'Black Paper' (a pun on government White Papers) addressed three broad educational issues: the introduction of free expression in schools; the Labour Party's plans for comprehensive education; and student demands to participate in university government. The pamphlet contained a mixture of 'popular polemic' and 'careful academic reasoning', 6 and contributors included a Conservative MP (Angus Maude), well-known writers such as Kingsley Amis and Robert Conquest, academics such as Cox, Dyson, Bryan Wilson and John Sparrow, and heads of secondary schools. Most of the contributors shared concerns about the breakdown of traditional authority in schools and higher education.

By the time of the press conference held to launch the Black Paper on 12 March 1969, Cox and Dyson had already received orders for several thousand copies of the pamphlet. It was extensively reviewed, but despite some initial sympathy it was widely attacked in the press and the views expressed in the pamphlet were condemned as anti-liberal and extremely right wing.

The autumn 1969 issue of Critical Survey was published as a second Black Paper, intended to rebut the charges levelled at the first pamphlet of ignoring the facts, and it contained an increased emphasis on progressive education and comprehensive schools. A similarly impressive group of contributors was assembled, and Black Paper Two achieved high sales, despite further attacks in the press. Subsequent Black Papers were published in 1970, 1975 and 1977, although Critical Survey itself ceased publication in 1973. The Black Papers marked a shift in British attitudes towards education; Cox felt that they expressed the hidden feelings of many ordinary teachers and parents, and broke taboos among educationalists and politicians who had previously been silenced by the apparently overwhelming support for progressive education. The Black Papers continued to provoke debate throughout the 1970s; Cox and Dyson were frequently invited to speak at meetings and Cox also gave numerous television and radio interviews on educational issues.

The Critical Quarterly Society saw some changes to its organization in late 1972. Critical Survey ceased publication, the Radcliffe Avenue office was closed, and Manchester University Press took over the publication of Critical Quarterly. They also took over all the journal's finances, although Cox and Dyson retained the ultimate responsibility for paying bills and balancing the books. Whilst working on a very small budget, the editors were usually able to achieve a small surplus from Critical Quarterly activities, although the circulation of the journal itself slowly decreased from the early 1970s before steadying at around 1,700 in the late 1980s.

The Critical Quarterly editors were also involved in other separate projects during the 1970s: Dyson founded a new journal called Christian in 1973, and in the same year Brian Cox helped Michael Schmidt to launch the twice-yearly journal Poetry Nation (later to become PN Review); Schmidt's move to Manchester with Carcanet Press had largely been facilitated by Cox, who had obtained a grant for his appointment to a post in the University's English Department. In addition, Cox was busy organizing readings for Manchester Poetry Centre which had been established with the help of a grant from the Arts Council. The inaugural reading was given by W.H. Auden on 11 October 1971. Most readings took place in Manchester University Theatre, often attended by several hundred students; the subsequent programme included readings by Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, Stephen Spender, John Betjeman, R.S. Thomas and John Wain.

Throughout the 1970s, Critical Quarterly continued to publish its traditional mixture of criticism and new poetry - much of it specially solicited by the editors. Its twenty-fifth anniversary was marked by a double issue in 1984, containing contributions from an impressive array of poets and critics, including a number who had long-standing Critical Quarterly connections. This issue of the journal also reflected Brian Cox's continued involvement in the education debate, with the publication of the Manifesto of the Association for Verbal Arts, organized by Cox, Alan Young and Anne Cluysenaar. Signatories to the manifesto shared a belief in the importance of the verbal arts - the practice of imaginative writing and verbal skills - as an essential component of courses and examinations in English at all levels of education.

By the late 1980s a number of new faces had joined the Critical Quarterly editorial board, which had already been augmented with the addition of editors such as Alan Young, J.R. Banks, D.J. Palmer and William Hutchings. In 1986 Maureen Duffy was appointed fiction editor, and that year's autumn issue (Vol. 28, No. 3) saw the appearance of short fiction in Critical Quarterly for the first time. Colin MacCabe took over as criticism editor in 1987, becoming chief editor in 1990 when Blackwell took over from Manchester University Press as the publisher of the journal. Kate Pahl had also joined the team by 1989 - the year in which Brian Cox stood down as general editor to take a less active role. From this time, an editorial team was established and each issue of Critical Quarterly was compiled by a number of contributing editors - one person usually taking responsibility for criticism and two for fiction. During the 1990s, Critical Quarterly continued to publish short fiction, although there was less emphasis on this than there had been in the 1980s. Each issue also included poetry (Brian Cox took over as poetry editor again in 1998), criticism and articles on 'current issues' such as politics and education. True to Brian Cox's conviction that '[s]uch little magazines are vital for the free dissemination of new ideas', 7 the journal continues to operate today, carrying Critical Quarterly traditions into a new century.


Original order has been respected as far as possible in the arrangement of the archive. The Critical Quarterly files were kept in a fairly systematic way until the 1980s, when editorial roles became more dispersed, and when it seems there was no designated secretary to organize the papers. Even during the earlier period, some of the papers were kept in better order than others; this presumably reflects the priorities of the Critical Quarterly editors, who clearly prized their writers' correspondence which was kept in a coherent alphabetical sequence. Here, the earlier files remain intact, while the disordered mass of papers dating from the 1980s has largely been arranged by the archivist, either according to the earlier systems of arrangement, or into chronological order, thus reflecting the way the papers accumulated. The archive is divided into seven subgroups which reflect distinct functions within the Critical Quarterly organization, or different activities with which Brian Cox was involved under the auspices of Critical Quarterly.

Critical Quarterly is referred to as CQ throughout this catalogue.

The archive is divided into subgroups as follows:

  • CQA1 - Papers relating to Critical Quarterly writers and contributions
  • CQA2 - Critical Quarterly business and administrative papers
  • CQA3 - Papers relating to Critical Quarterly finances and subscriptions
  • CQA4 - Papers relating to education and the Black Papers
  • CQA5 - Papers relating to poetry pamphlets
  • CQA6 - Papers relating to the Manchester Poetry Centre
  • CQA7 - Miscellaneous material

Access Information

Some material in the archive is closed under the provisions of the Data Protection Act; closed records are identifed at item level in the catalogue. Please consult archivist for further details.

This finding aid may contain personal or sensitive personal data about living individuals. Under Section 33 of the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA), The John Rylands University Library (JRUL) has the right to process such personal data for research purposes. The Data Protection (Processing of Sensitive Personal Data) Order 2000 enables the JRUL to process sensitive personal data for research purposes. In accordance with the DPA, the JRUL has made every attempt to ensure that all personal and sensitive personal data has been processed fairly, lawfully and accurately, according to the Data Protection Principles.

Individuals have the right to make a request to see data relating to them held by the JRUL which falls under the provisions of the DPA. Access requests must be made formally in accordance with the provisions set out in the DPA and all enquiries should be directed to the University's Data Protection Officer.

Acquisition Information

The archive was sold to the John Rylands University Library by C.B. Cox during the 1970s. The earliest accession consisted of correspondence with those Critical Quarterly writers who were presumably considered most significant, and whose files were removed from the main run of correspondence. The bulk of the archive came to the Library in November 1991. In addition, two further correspondence files dating from the 1980s were accessioned in July 1993.


1 Brian Cox, The great betrayal: memoirs of a life in education (London: Chapman, 1992), p. 107.

2 Cox, The great betrayal, p. 109.

3 Brian Cox and A.E. Dyson, 'Foreword', Critical Quarterly, vol. 1, no. 1 (1959), p. 4.

4 Cox, The great betrayal, p. 146.

5 Cox, The great betrayal, p. 3.

6 Cox, The great betrayal, p. 151.

7 Cox, The great betrayal, p. 264.

Other Finding Aids


Separated Material

In the late 1960s, A.E. Dyson sold some letters and manuscripts of poets which had been acquired during the course of Critical Quarterly business and which would have formed part of this archive. These were sold through a dealer to American institutions and their current whereabouts is unknown.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

A number of items within the archive remain within copyright under the terms of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988; it is the responsibility of users to obtain the copyright holder's permission for reproduction of copyright material for purposes other than research or private study.

Prior written permission must be obtained from the Library for publication or reproduction of any material within the archive. Please contact the Head of Special Collections, John Rylands University Library, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PP.

Custodial History

The archive was accumulated by C.B. Cox during his work as editor of Critical Quarterly, joint founder of the Critical Quarterly Society, and as organiser of numerous associated projects and publications. Some of the material originated with other editors, principally with the journal's co-founder A.E. Dyson, but subsequently passed into Cox's custody.

Related Material

The Special Collections Division of the John Rylands University Library also holds the archive of Brian Cox (COX), which contains a substantial amount of material relating to education and the Black Papers, as well as further material arising from Cox's literary activities, including correspondence with fellow poets. It is also home to the papers generated by Brian Cox as poetry editor of Critical Quarterly after he took over this role again, working from home, in 1998.

To support these two archives, Brian Cox donated to the Library in August 2000: a complete set of Critical Quarterly, from the first issue to vol. 42, no. 2 (2000); separate indexes to vols. 1-8 and vols. 1-25 of the journal; a set of Critical Survey; a specially bound copy of the first three Black Papers, with separate copies of the subsequent two Black Papers; all 17 annual Critical Quarterly poetry supplements; the first issue of A.E. Dyson's journal Christian (1973); and the first issue of Poetry Nation (1973).


Brian Cox kindly compiled some notes relating to the history of Critical Quarterly and other projects with which he has been associated. These notes have been used extensively by the archivist in drawing up this catalogue. Many copies of Critical Quarterly, the Black Papers, other issues of Critical Survey, and Critical Quarterly poetry supplements have also been consulted during the preparation of this finding aid. The bibliography given here lists a small number of sources which proved particularly useful in elucidating the history of Critical Quarterly and its philosophy.

Cox, Brian, 'Critical Quarterly - twenty-five years', Critical Quarterly, vol. 26, nos. 1-2 (1984), pp. 3-16.

Cox, Brian, The great betrayal: memoirs of a life in education (London: Chapman, 1992).

Cox, Brian and Dyson, A.E., 'Foreword', Critical Quarterly, vol. 1, no. 1 (1959), pp. 3-4.

Halkyard, Stella K. and McCully, C.B., '"Thoughts of inventive brains and the rich effusions of deep hearts": some of the twentieth-century literary archives of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester', Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, vol. 77, no. 2 (1995), pp. 105-21.

Additional Information

Letters from W.H. Auden, Philip Larkin and R.S. Thomas were used in an exhibition entitled 'A Strange Northern Accent', held at the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, Deansgate during 13 March-21 August 1993. The same letter from W.H. Auden was subsequently used in an exhibition entitled 'The Legacy of John Owens' during 5 March-6 June 2001.

Geographical Names