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British Theatrical and Literary Prints

 Collection
Call Number: LWL MSS 33

Scope and Contents

British Theatrical and Literary Prints is a collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century engravings and etchings depicting scenes and characters from 267 plays and stories by 112 authors that were published in England and Ireland during those two centuries. While many of the playwrights were contemporary with the publication dates, the collection also contains several authors from the sixteenth century, showing how their works remained in circulation for many decades after first being produced.

Among the playwrights and authors most prominently featured in the collection are Joseph Addison (1672-1719), Francis Beaumont (1584-1616) and John Fletcher (1579-1625), Susanna Centlivre (1667?-1723), Colley Cibber (1671-1757), George Coleman the Elder (1732-1794) and George Colman the Younger (1762-1836), William Congreve (1670-1729), Hannah Cowley (1743-1809), Richard Cumberland (1732-1811), John Dryden (1631-1700), George Farquhar (1677-1707), John Gay (1685-1732), David Garrick (1717-1779), Oliver Goldsmith (1730?-1774), Elizabeth Inchbald (1753-1821), Robert Jephson (1736-1803), Nathaniel Lee (1653-1692), Molière (1622-1673), Arthur Murphy (1727-1805), Nicholas Rowe (1674-1718), James Shirley (1596-1666), Voltaire (1694-1778), and most especially William Shakespeare (1564-1616), whose work is represented by over 110 images from twenty-four of his plays. The images in the collection were created by more than 150 artists and engravers; their names, as well as those of the printers and publishers, were transcribed in each entry.

The prints are generally small in format—octavo or quarto in size—and most were extracted from publications, in particular Elizabeth Inchbald’s twenty-five-volume set British Theatre; or, A Collection of Plays, which are acted at the Theatres Royal, Drury Lane, Covent Garden, and Haymarket (London, Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, 1808); those scenes are often accompanied by lists of dramatis personae. Series I is comprised of plates taken from A Collection of More Than Eight Hundred Prologues and Epilogues (London: Fielding and Walker, 1779), and Series III includes prints of theater costumes drawn from A Collection of the Dresses of Different Nations, Antient and Modern ... To which are added The Habits of the Principal Characters on the English Stage (London: Thomas Jefferys, 1757). Complete editions of all of these source works can be found in the Lewis Walpole Library’s rare book collection.

Scenes from plays typically identify the play title, with act and scene numbers also indicated; actors and theatrical roles generally are not specified. In a few cases, the play title, playwright and/or actor(s) depicted have been added in a penciled note in a modern hand. Most of the prints also identify the artist and engraver of the image; publication citations were added when known. Several prints appear in proof states as well as in published form.

One impression of each print in this collection was digitized (though not all of the prints in the folder, in cases where multiple impressions or states of a print are present) and can be viewed within this finding aid, as well as in the digital library via the Yale University Library Digital Collections System. Each digitized print is identified by a unique number—[lwlpr#]—assigned when the print was photographed.

The British stage was a topic of great interest to Horace Walpole, whose own collection of plays, both by him and by other authors, is largely held at the Lewis Walpole Library. Most of the prints here were acquired by Wilmarth S. Lewis (1895-1979) as background material for his work on Horace Walpole, the British eighteenth century, and the Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence. Relatively few prints were added to the British Theatrical and Literary Prints collection after Lewis’s death in 1979. All theatrical prints acquired since then were described individually in Orbis, the library’s online catalog, and most have been digitized.

Groups of related theatrical prints in the Lewis Walpole Library include “Portraits of Actors in Character” filed in Portrait Prints of Notable British People (LWL MSS 35) and those appearing in volumes such as Dramatic Characters, or Different Portraits of the English Stage (LWL 724 770D) and Bell’s British Theatre (LWL 767 B41), both of which include period prints depicting performers. The library also holds various collections of eighteenth-century playbills which can be located by searching in Orbis.

Dates

  • 1711 - 1880
  • Majority of material found within 1770 - 1820

Creator

Language of Materials

In English with some German.

Conditions Governing Access

This material is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

The British Theatrical and Literary Prints is the physical property of the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the W. S. Lewis Librarian/Executive Director.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Bequest of Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis (Yale 1918), 1979.

Arrangement

Organized into four series: I. Prologues and Epilogues, 1779. II. Plays and Stories, 1711-1880. III. Characters and Costumes, 1757-1796. IV. Other Prints, 1788-1820.

Extent

2.75 Linear Feet (4 boxes)

Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL

http://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/lwl.mss.033

Overview

British Theatrical and Literary Prints is a collection of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century engravings and etchings depicting scenes and characters from 267 plays and stories by 112 authors that were published in England and Ireland during those two centuries. The prints are generally small in format—octavo or quarto in size—and most were extracted from publications.

Processing Information

British Theatrical and Literary Prints was processed in the summer of 2020 by Eileen Horansky, Sandra Markham, and Scott Poglitsch. Prior to its reorganization it had been titled Collection of 18th-Century British Theatrical Prints (under call number Theatrical Prints), and the material had been arranged alphabetically by title of play; no authors, printers, or publishers had previously been listed.

The Thomas Jefferys costume prints now in Series III were formerly filed in the library's collection of Topographical Prints (LWL MSS 34). Several prints of Shakespeare's Monument were removed from Theatrical Prints and filed with other images of the same monument in Topographical Prints.
Title
Guide to British Theatrical and Literary Prints
Status
Completed
Author
by Lewis Walpole Library Staff
Date
October 2020
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the The Lewis Walpole Library Repository

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