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John Wilson papers

Call Number: OSB MSS 45

Scope and Contents

The John Wilson Papers contain correspondence and a few other papers mostly relating to the publication of Wilson's first book, The Isle of Palms. The papers span the dates 1810-1844 and are organized into two series.

Series I, Correspondence , is housed in folders 1-26 and arranged alphabetically by correspondent. The majority of the letters are addressed to the Glasgow booksellers John Smith & Son and concern the publication and distribution of The Isle of Palms. Correspondents include other booksellers; subscribers to the first edition; and customers of the Glasgow firm. Individual letters have been more fully described in the box and folder listing.

Folders 16-26 contain letters from Wilson himself to John Smith, Jr., who became a friend as well as a business associate. The first 28 letters date from 1810-1812 and are mostly concerned with Wilson's poetry and his keen interest in all aspects of the publication and sales of his first work. The remainder are briefer but contain personal news, requests for shipments of books and magazines, and occasional comments on Wilson's work for Blackwood's.

Series II, Other Papers , contains a holograph of Wilson's "Lines Raised to the Memory of the Rev. James Grahame;" copies of sonnets and of "The Endless Stream," all by Wilson; and a copy of the 1812 subscription list for The Isle of Palms.


  • 1810-1844


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The John Wilson 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

Purchased on the James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Fund, 1974. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.


0.41 Linear Feet (1 box)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence concerning the publication and subscription sales of Wilson's works, especially his long poem "The Isle of Palms" (1812). In addition to letters between Wilson and the Glasgow booksellers John Smith and Son, there are also letters from subscribers, other booksellers, and customers to John Smith concerning the availability and distribution of the poem, including James and John Ballantyne and Longmans Ltd. The collection also contains a poem by Wilson, "Lines Raised to the memory of the Rev. James Grahame," and a subscription list for "The Isle of Palms."

JOHN WILSON, 1785-1854

John Wilson was born in Paisley on May 18, 1785, and was educated at Glasgow University and Magdalen College, Oxford, from which he received his M.A. in 1810. He then took up residence at Elleray in Windermere, married Jane Penny, and devoted himself to writing poetry. The Isle of Palms, and Other Poems, was published in 1812.

In 1815 Wilson lost his inheritance due to a relative's mismanagement and returned to Scotland, where he was called to the bar in 1815. But his first interest continued to be literature, and in 1817 he joined with William Blackwood and John Gibson Lockhart to found Blackwood's Magazine. An ardent Tory, in 1820 Wilson was appointed to the Chair of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh University through the support of his political allies. Despite the controversy that greeted his appointment, Wilson won respect as a dedicated and inspiring lecturer.

Wilson continued to be a prolific and frequent contributor to Blackwood's until the death of his wife in 1837. Some of his more popular pieces were collected and published as Lights and Shadows of Scottish Life (1822) and Noctes Ambrosianae, which appeared posthumously.

Wilson retired from his professorship in 1851 due to ill-health, and died in Edinburgh on April 3, 1854.

Processing Information

This finding aid was produced in part from a previously existing card set in the Manuscripts Catalog, or from another inventory. All pertinent bibliographical information has been retained.

Guide to the John Wilson Papers
Under Revision
by Diane J. Ducharme
March 2003
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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