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Wilson, John Dover (1881–1969), literary scholar and educationist
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Letter from J. Dover Wilson to W. W. Greg

University of Edinburgh.—Thanks him for a copy of The Editorial Problem in Shakespeare.



University of Edinburgh

My dear Greg,

Very many thanks for The Editorial Problem just received. I have read several of the chapters & passed it on to Duthie for the time to read you on Lear as he’s working on that just now. When I get it back I propose (now!) to write you a long letter about it. All I will say at the moment is that it seems at the top of your form, that I shall no doubt, as usual with your books, suck thereout no small advantage & that I only wish what you call ‘The’ problem was the only problem an editor had to face—it has seemed to one editor the least of his problems lately.

I read your friendly reference to myself at the beginning with very great pleasure: to be linked in this way with Aldis Wright is indeed an honour.

I hope that all continues to go well with your family in this disastrous world. My boy is now a Lance Cp.l† in the S.A.M.C. {1} but so far has not got farther than Port Elizabeth.

Yours ever
J. Dover Wilson


{1} South African Medical Corps.

† Sic.

Letter from John Dover Wilson to R. B. McKerrow

Three Beeches, Balerno, Midlothian.—Thanks him for a copy of his Prolegomena, and praises it. Has just returned from Germany, and finds it hard to believe that a war is coming.

(With envelope.)



Three Beeches, Balerno, Midlothian

My dear McKerrow,

The Prolegomena arrived by the first post this morning & I fell to at once. I had to run off to the University at 11, but have read enough to realise how grateful we all ought to be to you & how gently you have handled my serial theorisings, a good deal of which I have ceased to believe myself! And then this afternoon I had your letter. My dear man, you little know the thickness of skull I have developed after 18 years of editorial adventure {1} or you could not imagine I should be anything but delighted with your friendly thwackings. Think of EKC’s {2} bludgeon for example; yet we are still friends. Indeed I even gave him £100 prize the other day!.

I am sorry to hear about Colin & Malcolm. But I think you’ll find that they will be allowed to finish their course & hope that there will not be a war.

I have just returned from a fortnight in Germany, where I was overwhelmed with kindness by all, & cannot believe a war between our two nations is coming. Anyhow it’s the most peaceful country in Europe to look at. I left them all dancing round maypoles!

Yours ever

Many thanks for the book. I am so glad you have got it out. Kindest regards to Mrs McKerrow. My wife & I laughed over your tirade against N.C. {3}—quite a pleasant man really & a keen Shakespearean

[Direction on the envelope:] Dr R. B. McKerrow | Picket Piece | Wendover | Bucks


The envelope was postmarked at Edinburgh at 8.30 p.m. on 6 May 1939.

{1} The reference is to the period since the publication of the first volume in the Cambridge Shakespeare in 1921, though Dover Wilson had in fact been invited to help edit the series in 1919. See ODNB.

{2} Sir Edmund Chambers.

{3} Neville Chamberlain, the prime minister. ‘There is probably no prime minister who knew his Shakespeare better than Chamberlain’ (ODNB).

Letter from John Dover Wilson to R. B. McKerrow

1 Briar Hill, Purley, Surrey.—Approves McKerrow’s plans for the first number. Will try to contribute something to the second.



1 Briar Hill, Purley, Surrey
25 July

Dear McKerrow

Many thanks for your long letter about the R.E.S. which I wish I could have saved you by a meeting in town, but I have been fearfully rushed lately trying to get free from the red tape tentacles of the Board. {1} With luck I ought to be disentangled this week. I think your preface A.1. & I hope you will put it in just as it is. {2}

I sat next to E. K. Chambers the other day at a committee & he wanted to know when I was going to do my promised article for you. But I think you have quite enough about Shakespeare for No. I & I will really try & get something done for No. II. I rejoice to hear that you are hoping to print in the autumn & I think it is quite a good notion to date it Jan 1925. I am here until Aug. 22nd, after which we go away for three weeks.

Yours ever
J. Dover Wilson


{1} The Board of Education.

{2} See Review of English Studies, i (1925), 1–3.

Postcard from John Dover Wilson to R. B. McKerrow

[1 Briar Hill, Purley.]—Suggests using local correspondents to keep the editor (of the proposed journal) in touch with work in the universities.

(Postmarked at Purley Oaks.)




What about having, in addition to the panel of contributors, a list of local correspondents, one for each university or university college, who would be responsible for keeping the editor in touch with the work of his college & would act as a missionary for the Journal? This does not require an answer. I am seeing R. W. Chambers next Friday. {1}


[Direction:] R. B. McKerrow Esq Litt D | Enderley | Little Kingshill | Gt Missenden | Bucks


Postmarked at Purley Oaks Sorting Office at 2 p.m. on 19 November 1923.

{1} 23rd.

Letter from Alice Walker to R. B. McKerrow

2 Bankfield Lane, Southport.—Responds to his suggestions about her edition of Lodge. Offers to help with his work on Shakespeare, and reiterates her view of the importance of phonology in textual criticism.



2 Bankfield Lane, Southport.
5 March 1936.

Dear Dr. McKerrow,

Thank you very much for your letter. I will stay my hand in the matter of my application to the Publications Committee until at least the notes to Lodge are finished. In the meantime, I have asked Miss Willcock to find out, if she can, what is likely to be the most effective method of appeal. I will call and see you next time I am in London about the texts, as you suggest. I shall be down again probably towards the end of this month and certainly early in April. When my plans are more definite I will write again and you can then let me know when you can best spare the time to see me.

I am much interested in what you tell me about your Shakespeare. I didn’t know exactly what you were doing, though I gathered that you had some Shakespeare text (or texts) on hand. I should like to help you very much, if I can be of use. My time is my own except in domestic crises (which fortunately don’t occur very often) and I can give you whatever time you want. Thank you very much for asking me. I will be as ruthlessly accurate as I can and I am sure I shan’t find it dull. I have, I fear, a sadly materialistic mind that much prefers textual problems and notes to literary psycho-analysis.

If I had known exactly what you were doing I would have been more tactful in what I said about Shakespeare’s editors. I didn’t intend it as a caveat! What rouse me are Professor Dover Wilson’s thoroughly mischievous ways and the conviction that quite simple phonological explanations can be found for a good many variants over which editors boggle. I am sorry you think so badly of philologists. Phonology is one of the studies in which I have a full confidence, though I think the method of both Wyld and Jespersen makes their work unnecessarily difficult and I found when teaching that even the best students wanted a lot of help with them. I don’t think the phonological part of an Elizabethan language textbook should offer any serious difficulties. The greatest obstacle, I think, is likely to be the lack of anything very detailed on historical syntax, though Kellner has broken a lot of ground. Anyway, if you think it will be a useful work and don’t know of anyone else doing it, I shall proceed. It can be done along with other things and if it proves beyond my capacity I can always abandon it.

I won’t argue any more about Malichus! As long as you don’t insist that ‘malhecho’ is what was intended, I am satisfied! My great desire is to root out that alien and to have substituted something or someone that will satisfy the biped or quadruped requirements of miche suggested by the N.E.D.

My mother, thank you, is much better. I am sorry I have involved you in such a lot of letter writing when you are so busy. I hope Mrs McKerrow is well again and that you take to housekeeping more kindly than I do!

Yours sincerely,
Alice Walker.


Typed, except the signature.

Letter from John Dover Wilson to R. B. McKerrow

1 Briar Hill, Purley, Surrey.—Praises the first number of the Review. Has asked De Selincourt to send his article direct to McKerrow.



1 Briar Hill, Purley, Surrey
16 Dec:

Dear McKerrow,

I have had a frightful rush this last week or I should have written before to congratulate you on Vol I No i of R.E.S. I like it in every way: type, size, cover, arrangement, matter & even head lines now I see them in their place. If you keep up the standard it will be a great review.

I wrote to de Selincourt quoting to him more or less what you said about his article {1} & asking him to send it to you direct. If he does not write to you before the New Year you might send him a line to stir him up.

With best wishes to you all at home for the season, in which my wife joins, I remain

yours ever
J. Dover Wilson

I enclose my subscription for 1925.


{1} ‘Notes in Correction of the Text of Wordsworth’s Prelude’, Review of English Studies, i (1925). 151–8.

Letter from Percy Simpson to John Dover Wilson

Oriel College, Oxford.—Expresses support for McKerrow’s enterprise, and makes some suggestions. Refers to the progress of his edition of Jonson.



Oriel College, Oxford
27 Nov. 1923

My dear Wilson,

I was in town in the vacation, but too early to catch you. I turned over 3000 uncalendared pa-pers at the Record Office to get a Jonson paper, & failed to find it; but a later searcher for me got it after looking at another 10,000. So that is well.

I am glad to hear of McKerrow’s enterprise. I’ll do what I can to help. I will send him a line later.

Middle English is a difficulty. One of the best men is Onions; but the More book showed you his defect. {1} He had all the material for that article at the tips of his neurotic fingers, & yet he could not put it into shape. Get Sisam, of the Clarendon Press.

The only suggestion I have concerns reviewing. Every paper seems to me weighted with stacks of reviews, half of which are not worth writing. Some eclectic system should be devised, of reviewing, say, six-months old books, & of these only a selection. This would differentiate the good. But it would be difficult to work & I expect rather invidious.

I have only read Pollard’s introduction to the More book. I have had no time for it. Just now I am deep in Inigo Jones, who fascinates me. Ben—vol. i—is virtually ready, & proofs should start soon.

I may be coming to town soon, & if so, I will write. Kind regards to Mrs. Wilson.

Yours ever
Percy Simpson


{1} Presumably Onions had been invited to contribute an article to the volume Shakespeare’s Hand in the Play of Sir Thomas More, but failed to do so. Cf. MCKW A3/1.

{2} The first volume of Herford and Simpson’s edition of Ben Jonson’s works appeared this year.

Letter from Percy Simpson to R. B. McKerrow

Oriel College, Oxford.—Supports his idea of issuing a scholarly English journal. Refers to his own unsuccessful attempt in that direction, and makes some suggestions.

(With envelope.)



Oriel College, Oxford
1 Dec. 1923

Dear Dr. McKerrow

Dover Wilson writes to me of your project of issuing a scholarly English Journal. I sympathize fully with you. Some years ago I mooted here the question of an ‘Oxford Journal of English Studies’, to be conducted by the English School, the staff of the Dictionary, & the Clarendon Press. I also tried to get the English Association to move, but I failed.

I shall be glad to give any help I can, but—frankly—I dread just now taking on more work.

Wilson asks about a scholar for Middle English: R. W. Chambers, if you can get him—a scholar & a literary critic in one, as his Beowulf book & his writings on Piers Plowman show.

I have one suggestion. Undertakings of this kind always seem to me to get water-logged by the review part. Need every damned thing anybody prints—if you don’t mind my violent way of putting it—get reviewed? Could you without invidiousness select the works {1} you would review, or from time to time print short surveys of study in a particular author or a particular subject. R. W. Chambers some time wrote an excellent report of the stage which the Piers Plowman controversy had reached. {2}

Your paper would, I suppose, be quarterly; or even three times a year, leaving the summer holiday free. I should suggest for its working motto not only Ne quid nimis, but Ne quid saepius. {3}

Yours sincerely
Percy Simpson {4}

Twelve years ago Henry Bradley said of Kenneth Sisam (now at the Clarendon Press) that he was far the first of the young men working at Old & Middle English. Enlist him. I can help if you don’t know him.

Nichol Smith for the eighteenth century if you can get him: he is difficult to get hold of. And, for an occasional article, R. W. Chapman.

On Elizabethan English F. P. Wilson.

From time to time I come across some very able young men. I should like to introduce them to you occasionally.

This is a disjointed letter, but I am in bed with a cold.


[Direction on envelope:] Dr. R. B. McKerrow. | Enderley | Great Missenden | Bucks.


The envelope was postmarked at Headington, Oxford, at 2.30 p.m. on 3 December 1923.

{1} Reading uncertain.

{2} ‘The Authorship of “Piers Plowman”’, MLR, v (1910). 1–32.

{3} i.e. not only ‘nothing in excess’, but ‘nothing too often’.

{4} Followed by ‘PTO’. A page ends here.