Document ReferenceHt
TitleCorrespondence of Mary Howitt (1799-1888), née Botham, writer, 1822-1888
Extent5 boxes
AbstractThe collection contains correspondence of writer Mary Howitt (1799-1888), née Botham, and letters of members of the Howitt, Harrison, Alderson, Yarnell, MacDonnell and Watts families to which she was related via her brothers, sisters and children.
Access ConditionsPending full cataloguing, access is limited and is possible only for readers by advance notice and agreement.
Admin HistoryMary Howitt was born in Coleford, Gloucestershire in 1799 to Samuel Botham, a land surveyor, of Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, and Ann (née Wood) who were both Quakers. Soon after Mary's birth, the family moved back to Uttoxeter. She was educated at schools in Croydon and Sheffield. In 1821, she married William Howitt (1792-1879), a writer from Heanor, Derbyshire, who was at the time earning his living as a dispensing chemist. After a brief period living in Hanley, Staffordshire, they moved to Nottingham. Their surviving children were: Anna Mary (known as 'Annie', 1824-1884), Charles Botham (1826-1828), Alfred William (1830-1908), Claude Middleton (1833-1844), Herbert Charlton (known as 'Charlton', 1838-1863), and Margaret Anastasia (known as 'Meggie', 1839-1930).

In the 1830s, William and Mary moved to Esher, Surrey to be closer to London's literary circle and publishers. In 1840, they moved to Heidelberg in Germany and complemented earnings from their creative writing with those from translation. Mary learnt Swedish and Danish and translated some Icelandic sagas. In 1843, they returned to England and took up residence in London: first in Clapton, then in St. John's Wood, and finally in Highgate. Mary continued her translations and was commissioned by Hans Christian Andersen to translate some of his works for children. After a brief spell in Claremont, Surrey (1866-1869) the Howitts moved to Rome where Mary died in 1888.

Though brought up as Quakers both Mary and William left the Society of Friends in 1847 and began a period of religious experimentation, firstly attending Unitarian services and then becoming adherents of Spiritualism. In 1883 Mary Howitt was baptised into the Catholic Church.

Mary and William Howitt wrote both separately and in partnership. They contributed prose, tales and verse for journals such as the Edinburgh Journal and the Adelphi and for literary annuals such as Forget-Me-Not and Winter's Wreath and published topographical works about the places that they visited. In 1848 and 1849 Mary contributed to William's Howitt's Journal as well as being the paper's joint editor.

Antedivian Sketches (1830) was Mary's first poetry collection, followed in 1836 by Chronicle of Wood Leighton, a prose work for adults set in Uttoxeter. She also wrote fiction, and her books for children, such as Illustrated Library for the Young, were very popular. In all, about seventy-four books were written wholly or predominantly by Mary.
Custodial HistoryMembers of the Botham and Howitt families maintained close contact with each other through correspondence. Much of this was preserved and was available to Mary Howitt's great niece Amice Lee, who used the letters in her biographical work Laurels and Rosemary, The Life of William and Mary Howitt (Oxford University Press, 1955). Letters in the present collection bear notations indicating their original place in the archive used by Amice Lee.

The collection was purchased in two parts in December 1990 and August 1995 by The University of Nottingham's Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections. The first part was bought with the assistance of a grant from the Victoria and Albert Museum.
DescriptionThe collection is a rich resource for evidence not only on the life of Mary Howitt and her immediate family but on a wide range of social, political, and literary subjects from the mid-nineteenth century. The writers are observant, articulate and frank. The bulk of the correspondence was between women, and inevitably touches closely on domestic issues, including the raising of children, as well as on the role of women themselves. Geographical location is sometimes particularly important, as in the series of letters from Mary's sister Emma Alderson, in Cincinnati, Ohio before the American civil war. The following series comprise the main elements in the collection:

Correspondence from Mary Howitt to her sister Anna Harrison, 429 Letters, 1822-1882; her niece Mary Harrison, 16 letters, 1847-1888; and unidentified and other correspondents (Ht 1);

Correspondence from Anna Harrison to her daughters Mary Harrison, 43 letters, 1853-1876, Margaret Yarnell, 14 letters, 1860-1864, and Agnes MacDonnell, 14 letters, 1861-1871; her sister Mary Howitt, 268 letters, 1823-1882; her niece Anna Mary Watts, 8 letters, 1861-1878, and other correspondents (Ht 4);

Correspondence from Emma Alderson to her sisters Mary Howitt, 81 letters, 1823-1847, and Anna Harrison, 8 letters, 1824-1847; her mother Ann Botham, 40 letters, 1834-1847; and other correspondents. There are also parts of her American journal (Ht 7);

Correspondence from [Anna] Mary Harrison to her aunt Mary Howitt, 27 letters, c. 1841-1888, and other correspondents (Ht 12);

Smaller series include correspondence from: William Howitt (Ht 2), Richard Howitt (Ht 3), Daniel Harrison (Ht 5), Hannah Harrison (Ht 6), Harrison Alderson (Ht 8), Charles Botham (Ht 9), Anna Mary Watts (Ht 10), Alfred Howitt (Ht 11), Margaret Ann Yarnell (Ht 13), Ellis Yarnell (Ht 14), Agnes MacDonnell (Ht 15), Emily Harrison (Ht 16), Joe (Ht 17), William Alderson (Ht 18), Mildred Yarnell (Ht 19), Agnes Yarnell (Ht 20), Margaret Howitt (Ht 21), Anne MacDonell (Ht 22), Anna Mary Alderson (Ht 23), Agnes Alderson (Ht 24), envelope containing letters from the Harrison family (Ht 25), miscellaneous items (Ht 27), and notes by biographer Amice Lee.
MgtGroupPersonal papers
MgtSubGroupPrivate papers
ArrangementThe collection has been divided into series by correspondent. Within these series, items have been arranged chronologically as far as possible with undated material placed at the end of the sequence.
TermEnglish literature - 19th century
FindingAidsCopyright in all finding aids belongs to The University of Nottingham. In the Reading Room, King's Meadow Campus: Typescript catalogue, 307pp. Online: Available on the Manuscripts Online Catalogue, accessible from the website of Manuscripts and Special Collections.
ReprodnNoteReprographic copies can be supplied for educational use and private study purposes only, depending on access status and the condition of the documents.
Related MaterialThe University of Nottingham; Department of Manuscripts and Special Collections: Letters from William and Mary Howitt and their daughter, Margaret, to William and Eliza Oldham, 1869-1889. Reference: Bg
A number of other archive collections held elsewhere in the UK containing manuscripts relating to Mary Howitt are recorded on The National Archives Discovery catalogue. In addition, two letters from William Howitt, to William Hone (1826, 1830) and Mr Trollope (1876) are in the University of London Library.
A substantial collection of published works by William and Mary Howitt forms part of the reserved stock in the Department's East Midlands Collection. Individual titles can be identified through the <a href="">University's library online catalogue, UNLOC</a>
Related RecordBg
Publication NoteAmice Lee, 'Laurels and rosemary: the life of William and Mary Howitt' (Oxford University Press, London, 1955)

Click the links below to view related name indexes

Click the links below to view related place indexes

CodePersonNameDates of existence
NA66Howitt; Mary (1799-1888); née Botham; writer1799-1888
NA66Howitt; Mary (1799-1888); née Botham; writer1799-1888
NA65Howitt; William (1792-1879); writer1792-1879
NA384Mansfield; Katherine (1888-1923); pseud. of Kathleen Beauchamp; married George Bowden 1909 John Middleton Murry 1918; writer1888-1923
NA75762Alderson; family
NA75847Harrison; family; of Nottingham
NA75877MacDonnell; family
NA75914Yarnell; family
NA75918Howitt; family
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