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Sources from the British Library, London

Part 1: Autobiographies, c.1760-1820

Original manuscripts and rare printed sources combine to make this a fertile resource for all those interested in life history, autobiography, life writing and the social and cultural history of the period from 1760 to 1820.

Subjects covered include religion, pugilism, agriculture, industry, journalism, literature, science, politics, medicine, naval and military careers, travel, poetry, art and music. Highlights include:

  • Thomas Bewick’s manuscript autobiography (Add Ms 41481) recounting life as part of a large family in Northumberland, his apprenticeship as an engraver, and the way in which he transformed a crude art form into the most popular form of graphic art.
  • Autograph memoirs of the poet William Cowper (Add Ms 59868) describing his work at Olney and his collaboration with the Reverend John Newton.
  • The memoirs of Dr Joseph Priestley to the year 1795 (published 1806) detail his discoveries in chemistry, his religious opinions, travels and riots.
  • John McLeod ‘s experiences as a ship’s surgeon travelling to Korea, Africa and the West Indies are told in Narrative of a Voyage (1817) and A Voyage to Africa (1820).
  • Thomas Wright, Yorkshire cloth maker and wool manufacturer, gives a good picture of domestic life, religion and Methodist disturbances during the second half of the eighteenth century in his Autobiography (1864).

Further autobiographical sources in manuscript include writings by Alexander Cuming, the Rt Rev John Douglas, Edward Gibbon, Warren Hastings, William Hogarth, Sir Hudson Lowe, James Northcote, James Stuart and John Wilkes. Additional printed sources range from George Allen’s Machine Breaker (1836) to university reminiscences of Henry Gunning (1854).


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