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Joseph Spence papers

Call Number: OSB MSS 4

Scope and Contents

The Joseph Spence Papers consist of correspondence, writings, and notes and memoranda of Joseph Spence, as well as a three volume extra-illustrated copy of Spence's Anecdotes (1820).

The Spence Papers are divided into eight series. Many of them, particularly those in Series IV, V, and VII, are related to the Anecdotes. A complete discussion of the complex editorial history of Spence's work can be found in the introduction to Joseph Spence, Observations, Anecdotes and Characters of Books and Men, edited by James M. Osborn (Oxford, 1966).

Series I, Correspondence (Boxes 1-2), is arranged alphabetically by correspondent and contains letters to and by Joseph Spence and several other individuals. A number of original letters are bound in the three volumes of the Derby Anecdotes, and cross-references for these to the volumes can be found in the list for Series I.

Series II, Documents--Legal, Financial and Ecclesiastical , is housed in Box 2, folders 54-66 and consists of documents relating to Spence's life and career, including his certificate of ordination, his appointment to the Professorship of Modern History at Oxford, and the articles of agreements between Spence and publisher James Dodsley for the rights to Spence's work.

Series III, Spence Travel Letters for 1739-1741 , is located in Box III and consists of photostats of letters from Spence to his mother, the originals of which are part of B. M. Egerton 2234.

Boxes 4 and 5 hold Series IV, Notes and Memoranda , which has been organized alphabetically by subject or occasionally by author. It includes notes on history and on Spence's reading; unpublished memoranda of conversations with Stephen Duck; and copies of works by other authors. Box 5, folders 135-52 contains writings by Spence himself, including "The Dream of Atticus," "Religious Fooleries," and drafts of various works published in Moralities (1753).

Series V, Gardening Notes , contains notes on and plans for various gardens throughout England, including Byfleet, Knole, Oatlands, and Prestonfield. Series VI, Miscellaneous and Indexes , located in Box 7, folders 215-23, contains photocopies of other sources of the Anecdotes and other material relating to the Spence Papers, including a copy of the sale catalogue and an index of names.

Loose Papers for the Anecdotes, Series VII, is housed is Box 7, folders 224-77. Numbered 1-54, these papers are the earliest notes of conversations by Spence; they have been described in detail in James M. Osborn's edition of Observations, Anecdotes, and Characters, xlvi-lxxiii. Each numbered anecdote is housed in a separate folder.

Series VIII, Derby Anecdotes (Oversize) , is located in Boxes 8-10 and consists of the three volumes of the Derby Anecdotes and a photocopy of A Catalogue of the Entire Libraries of the Rev. Mr. Joseph Spence.


  • 1649 - 1859
  • Majority of material found within 1739 - 1768


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Joseph Spence Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were the gift of James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn.


7.75 Linear Feet (10 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers include correspondence, personal papers, notes and memoranda, and related papers. Much of the material concerns Spence's Anecdotes, including manuscripts of his notes on conversations with Alexander Pope, memoranda on Stephen Duck and other authors, and notes on Spence's reading. There are also extensive notes on English gardens, shorter writings by Spence, and drafts of works which appeared in his Moralities (1753, under the pseudonym of Sir Harry Beaumont). The correspondence principally concerns personal and business matters, including the settlement of Spence's estate.
Series VIII, Derby Anecdotes (Oversize) contains a large paper extra-illustrated set of the Anecdotes (1820) with autograph documents bound in,including autographs of Eustace Budgell, Colley Cibber, William Congreve, George II, Charles Montagu, Earl of Halifax, David Mallet, Alexander Pope, Sir William Trumbull, and Joseph Warton.

Processing Information

This finding aid, created before the advent of computer-generated files, has been converted into a ASCII data file by means of scanning and Optical Character Recognition software. While attempts have been made to retain the complete information from the original document, a number of format changes have been made to present the structure of this archive in accordance with current practice.

Guide to the Joseph Spence Papers
Under Revision
by Beinecke Staff
August 1993
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

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Opening Hours

Access Information

The Beinecke Library is open to all Yale University students and faculty, and visiting researchers whose work requires use of its special collections. You will need to bring appropriate photo ID the first time you register. Beinecke is a non-circulating, closed stack library. Paging is done by library staff during business hours. You can request collection material online at least two business days in advance of your visit, using the request links in Archives at Yale. For more information, please see Planning Your Research Visit and consult the Reading Room Policies prior to visiting the library.