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Philip James Bailey correspondence

Call Number: MS 204


Collection of letters written to poet Philip James Bailey (1816-1902) largely by important or minor figures in the literary world: authors (professional and amateur), journalists, editors of periodicals, publishers, dramatists, artists, patrons. Some letters include poems and sketches as parts of letters; there are also 5 copied quotations in the collection. The collection includes some letters from politicians, landowners, philosophers, geologists, members of the Scottish universities; some family letters and some letters not directed to Bailey; and one letter and some annotations by Bailey.


  • Creation: 1833-1898 (bulk 1840-1869)


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

Biography of Philip James Bailey

Philip James Bailey (1816-1902) was born in Nottingham, England on April 22, 1816, the only son of Thomas Bailey (1785-1856) and his first wife, Marie-Anne (Taylor) Bailey (circa 1791-circa 1818). Thomas Bailey was a merchant, newspaper editor, and author, and P.J. Bailey showed an early interest in his father's poetic tastes, which Thomas encouraged.

P.J. Bailey initially matriculated at Glasgow University at the age of 16, planning to pursuse a career in the Presbyterian ministry. This did not last, and by 1833 he was studying law in a solicitor's office in London. He was entered a member of Lincoln's Inn in April 1834.

After reading Goethe's Faust, Bailey was inspired to write his own version, spending the years 1836-1839 working on this. It was published at his father's cost, without the author's name, by William Pickering in 1839 and printed in Manchester by W.H. Jones.

Many leading literary figures of the time, including Bulwer Lytton, R.H. Horne, and Mary Howitt all responded to Bailey's Festus with enthusiasm. He produced a second edition of the poem in 1845, which became popular in the United States; Bailey continued rewriting and adding to the poem throughout several later editions. Other works by Bailey included The Angel World, and Other Poems (1850), The Mystic, and Other Poems (1855), and The Universal Hymn (1867).

Bailey was called to the bar in 1840 but never practiced law. He later helped his father edit the Nottingham Mercury newspaper.

Bailey married Anne Reed on April 23, 1840. The couple had two children, a daughter and a son (Philip Festus James Bailey). They divorced in 1862, and on February 24, 1863 Bailey married Anne Sophia (died 1896). The couple traveled frequently to Europe, and Bailey died of influenza in Nottingham in September 1902.

[Information retrieved from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.]


1 linear foot (2 document cases)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

Most letters contain analyses of Bailey's works, literary news and opinions, and/or domestic news; most are several pages long. Letters often discuss Bailey's style and philosophy, the style and philosophy of the letter writer, or general literary and publishing gossip, as well as personal news. A note of the subject has been made for letters not falling into this class. Some correspondents (e.g., Elliott and Thom) are often mentioned in other letters; not all correspondents have been identified. Some items have been copied, but most are originals.

The English intelligentsia judged the new style of "Festus" as the wave of the future and received the poem with enthusiasm, though in the 1850s Bailey was jeered as the father of the "spasmodic" school. From the letters in this collection it appears he was an important figure in a number of overlapping literary circles in London, Manchester, and Liverpool and was venerated by provincial amateurs particularly in Northern England.


Items remain in original binding order, which does not appear to have been in alphabetical or chronological order.

Physical Location

MS 204

Other Finding Aids

A more detailed inventory of the collection is available at

Custodial History

Items 1-190 were previously bound together; items 191-198 were laid in the book; ítem 199 was acquired separately by the Spencer Research Library. Since the last bound-up letter is dated March 1869, and most of the copies in the collection were made by "ASB", it is likely that Bailey's second wife, Anna Sophia Bailey, had her husband's correspondence files bound together in 1869. A loose slip marked H16 or 416 is probably a bookseller's marker.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, Myers & Co (Booksellers), London, [Offered December 1955].

Processing Information

Originally in bound album and disbound at Spencer Research Library in 1986.

Guide to the Philip James Bailey Correspondence Collection
Philip James Bailey correspondence
Finding aid prepared by alh, 1987. Finding aid encoded by mwh, 2019.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Philip James Bailey correspondence, MS 204, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States