Papers of John Norman Bryson (1896-1976), Fellow of Balliol 1940

Scope and Content

The papers reflect Bryson's own research, broadcast and publication interests in art and literature (notably Shakespeare, Browning and the Pre-Raphaelites) rather than his teaching activities at Balliol College. Some of the essays in series 5 may be from his student days. Series 6 comprises his correspondence with Ulster novelist Forrest Reid (1875-1947).

Administrative / Biographical History

John Norman Bryson (6 Feb 1896-19 Aug 1976) was born at Portadown and educated at Bootham School York, Queen's University Belfast, and Merton College Oxford (1919-1922). He was a Lecturer in English at Balliol, Merton, and Oriel Colleges 1922-1940. He was a scion of an Ulster family trading in linen, and might have had some private means. A Fellow of Balliol from 1940, he was Fellow-Librarian following RAB Mynors, and an Emeritus Fellow from 1964.

Bryson's brief obituary in The Times ( 20 Aug 1976) says he published little; his only easily found publications are a book on the correspondence of DG Rossetti and Jane Morris (1976), a popular booklet on Robert Browning (1959,1963 and 1967), and a book on Matthew Arnold (1954). His major claim to original scholarly achievement was only published as a piece in The Times (13 Oct 1959 p 13 contd p15): this reports the identification of a portrait of John Donne, the "Lothian Portrait". But the surviving material in the present Collection shows that he was a prolific reviewer of books, music, and theatre as a young and middle-aged man, often anonymously. He was also a collector, and left significant pictures to museums; see the account of his estate (net £195.975) in The Times 31 March 1977. Other pictures of his were sold at Christies on 22 July 1977 and 10 March 1978.

His friends included John Betjeman (who spoke at his Memorial Service in Balliol Chapel, 27 Nov 1976), John Sparrow, Osbert Lancaster, Helen Gardner and many other literary figures.

Betjeman's eulogy is printed in Balliol College Annual Record 1977, pp.15-17, followed by an appreciation by Kenneth Garlick which makes special reference to Bryson's pictures.


The Bryson Papers are arranged in 13 series:

  • EV Quinn's papers re Bryson's papers
  • CR Maturin
  • Browning
  • Pre-Raphaelites in Oxford
  • Notes, essays, reviews, broadcasts
  • Forrest Reid & Henry James
  • Portraits of English literary figures
  • Rossetti & Morris
  • Pugin & Balliol
  • Reviews
  • Letters
  • Postcards
  • Caricature

Conditions Governing Access

This material is open to researchers.

Other Finding Aids

The Bryson Papers are listed online at

Archivist's Note

Description by JH Jones 2011-13, ed. A Sander 2018.

Appraisal Information

This material will be retained permanently.

Custodial History

When Bryson died in 1976, one Executor was Kenneth Garlick, a Fellow of Balliol, and Keeper of Western Art in the Ashmolean Museum. Garlick was assisted by EV Quinn (an Emeritus Fellow and ex-Librarian of Balliol), who was given discretion to destroy personal correspondence. The present Collection was created from mixed material relating to Bryson which was found in Balliol's Lower Library in 2011. It had probably been put aside by Quinn and may not have been intended for preservation.


None expected.

Related Material

The Bodleian Library holds Bryson's letters to Reginald Littleboy. None of Littleboy's in return survive in this Collection. Nor is there any material about pictures Bryson gave to museums.

The College has a 1972 drawing of Bryson by Gilbert Spencer, Balliol Portrait 31. The Portraits of Balliol College, 1990 notes that Bryson also sat for Derek Hill, and was instrumental in arranging the JEC Hill commission (Balliol Portrait 59), but the location of Bryson's portrait by Derek Hill is not known.