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Evelyn Simpson papers

Call Number: OSB MSS 90

Scope and Contents

The Evelyn Simpson Papers document aspects of the scholarly career of Evelyn Simpson, in particular her work on a complete edition of John Donne's Sermons during the 1950s. The papers span the dates 1906-1963 and have been organized into two series: I. Correspondence and II. Writings.

Series I, Correspondence , is organized into three subseries: Evelyn Simpson Correspondence; George R. Potter Correspondence; and Percy Simpson Correspondence. The subseries Evelyn Simpson Correspondence is further organized into Incoming Corrrespondence and Outgoing Correspondence.

Boxes 1-3 contain alphabetically arranged correspondence to Evelyn Simpson, almost entirely professional and scholarly in nature. Major correspondents include Helen Gardner, Mary Holtby, Sir Geoffrey Keynes, J. B. Leishman, James Marshall Osborn, George and Mabel Potter, and John Sparrow. Folders 76-80 hold letters from the University of California Press concerning their publication of Donne's Sermons. Outgoing Correspondence includes several folders of letters to Mary Holtby and Mabel Potter which mingle personal and professional news as well as comments on Simpson's editorial work on John Donne. The remaining two subseries contain small amounts of letters addressed to George Potter and Percy Simpson which were acquired with the Evelyn Simpson Papers.

Series II, Writings , is organized into six subseries. Sermons of John Donne, housed in boxes 5-21, contains notes, drafts, typescripts, proofs and galley proofs of the multi-volume edition of the Sermons produced by Simpson between 1953 and 1962. Box 21 also contains the subseries George R. Potter Research Materials, which includes notes by Potter, who coedited volume 1 of the Sermons with Simpson prior to his death in 1954. The subseries Other Writings Related to John Donne is housed in boxes 23-25 and includes article drafts and notes, printed copies and offprints of reviews by Simpson. Other Papers contains documentation of Simpson's research on Ben Jonson; Percy Simpson Materials includes three folders of notes and research material collected by Simpson's husband; and Other Printed Material includes offprints of reviews autographed to Simpson and a variety of newspaper and periodical clippings.

Oversize material is housed in boxes 27 and 28.


  • 1906-1963


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The Evelyn Simpson 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

Acquired by gift and purchase by James M. Osborn from Evelyn Simpson and Mary Simpson Fleay, 1960-1964. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Associated Materials

Percy Simpson Papers, OSB MSS 8.


13.97 Linear Feet (28 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


Correspondence and writings documenting aspects of the scholarly career of Evelyn Spearing Simpson, particularly her work on a complete edition of the Sermons of John Donne. Correspondents include her Donne collaborator George R. Potter and his wife Mabel; friend and fellow Donne scholar Helen Gardner; and Mary Holtby. Writings include research notes, drafts, typescripts and proofs of most volumes of the Sermons edition; and drafts and typescripts of scholarly articles on Donne's work.


Evelyn Mary Spearing Simpson was born on September 2, 1885 and was educated at Perse School and Newnham College, Oxford. She taught at Bedford College and was a fellow at Newnham, leaving to join the V.A.D. (Voluntary Aid Detachment) as a nurse in France during World War I. At the end of the war she returned to England and became English tutor at St. Hugh's College, Oxford. She resigned her position in 1921 upon marrying Percy Simpson, then librarian of the English faculty library at Oxford. The couple had two children: Edward Simpson, who was killed in a mountaineering accident near Chamonix in 1953; and Mary Simpson Fleay.

Evelyn Simpson's Study of the Prose Works of John Donne was published in 1924. The first two volumes of Percy Simpson's and C. H. Herford's projected edition of the Works of Ben Jonson appeared in the following year. After Herford's death in 1931, it became clear that Simpson would be unable to finish the edition alone. In 1937, when he was 72, Evelyn put aside her work on the sermons of John Donne and joined him as junior editor for volumes 6-11, the last of which appeared in 1952.

As the Jonson edition neared completion, Evelyn undertook a comprehensive edition of John Donne's Sermons in collaboration with George R. Potter of the University of California at Berkeley; the first volume appeared in 1953. Following Potter's death in 1954, Evelyn completed the ten-volume edition alone, despite failing eyesight and her husband's increasing frailty. The final volume appeared in 1962, shortly before Percy Simpson's death at the age of 97. Evelyn then began work on an anthology of Donne's prose, but it was unfinished at her death in September 1963. Edited by her close friend Helen Gardner, with T. S. Healy, Selected Prose was published in 1967 "as chosen by Evelyn Simpson."

Guide to the Evelyn Simpson Papers
Under Revision
by Diane J. Ducharme
October 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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Access Information

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