Cooper Collection of Thomas Carlyle Letters

Scope and Content

Twenty-four letters from Thomas Carlyle to various correspondents, including four letters of 1820 to the psychiatrist Dr M[atthew] Allen, correspondence with Alexander Galloway in the early 1820s, and substantial correspondence with C.H. Cooper and others relating to Carlyle's work on Cromwell, 1846-1853 (with a transcript of a letter from Cromwell to his sister Elizabeth dated 15 December 1661).

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), essayist, historian and social critic, was born in Ecclefechan, Dumfriesshire, on 4 December 1795. His early life was somewhat aimless. He enrolled at the University of Edinburgh in 1809 but did not complete his degree, and spent the years 1814-18 teaching mathematics in Annan and Kirkcaldy. He returned to Edinburgh in 1818, where, after studying law briefly, he became a tutor and wrote articles for the Edinburgh Encyclopedia. He studied German literature, and published a translation of Goethe's novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre. He also wrote a Life of Schiller (1825), which appeared first in serial form in 1823 and 1824 in the London Magazine. After a trip to Paris and London, he returned to Scotland and wrote for the Edinburgh Review.

In 1826 Carlyle married Jane Baillie Welsh, a writer whom he had met in 1821. After 1828 the Carlyles lived on a farm in Craigenputtock, Dumfriesshire, where Carlyle wrote a philosophical satire, Sartor Resartus (The Tailor Retailored). The work, first published between 1833 and 1834 in Fraser's Magazine, was partly autobiographical. Carlyle emerged as a social critic deeply concerned with the living conditions of British workers. At the farm he also wrote some of his most distinguished essays, and he established a lifelong friendship with the American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson.

In 1834 the Carlyles moved to Chelsea, where Thomas became a member of a literary circle that included the essayists Leigh Hunt and John Stuart Mill. In London Carlyle wrote The French Revolution, A History (2 volumes, 1837), a historical study concentrating on the oppression of the poor. This was followed by a series of lectures, in one of which, published as On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (1841), he contended that world civilization had developed because of the activities of heroes. His hatred and fear of democracy and praise of feudal society were reflected in much of his subsequent writing, especially in Chartism (1839) and Past and Present (1843). His concept of history appeared in a number of his later works, notably in Oliver Cromwell's Letters and Speeches, with Elucidations (1845) and History of Frederick II of Prussia, Called Frederick the Great (10 volumes, 1858-65), which was his most extensive work.

After his wife's death in 1866, from which he never completely recovered, Carlyle retired from public life, and wrote little. He declined the offer of a baronecy from Disraeli and died on 5 February 1881 in London.

Source: Fred Kaplan, 'Carlyle, Thomas (1795-1881)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -

Charles Henry Cooper (1808-1866), biographer and antiquary, published a number of historical works on the town of Cambridge. In 1858 the first volume appeared of the very ambitious work, Athenae Cantabrigienses, written jointly by Cooper and his eldest son, Thompson. Cooper was closely involved with many literary and antiquarian undertakings. Thomas Carlyle, in his Life and Letters of Cromwell, acknowledged the value of the information given to him by Cooper, as did many other writers.

Source: Thompson Cooper, 'Cooper, Charles Henry (1808-1866)', rev. John D. Pickles, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press -

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Acquired by the John Rylands Library as part of Mrs Rylands's bequest (R56745).


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan, project archivist, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography articles on Thomas Carlyle and Charles Henry Cooper.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (English MS 336).

Custodial History

This manuscript appears to have been created from two separate series of letters (one comprising miscellaneous autograph letters, the other comprising letters relating to Cromwell) belonging to C.H. Cooper, which were sold by Sotheby's in 1891.

Related Material

The JRUL also English MS 1191, Thomas Carlyle's letters to John Ruskin, 1855-74 (ref.: GB 133 Eng MS 1191).