File 2.99 - Letters of William Whewell to Hugh James Rose

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Letters of William Whewell to Hugh James Rose


  • 1817-1836 (Creation)

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1 vol.

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Biographical history

William Whewell was born in Lancaster on 24 May 1794, son of John Whewell, master carpenter. Whewell's talents were spotted by Joseph Rowley, Master of Lancaster Grammar School, who offered to teach him for free. When John Hudson, a Fellow of Trinity College, prophesied that Whewell would be among the top six Wranglers at Cambridge, Whewell moved to Heversham School, which offered an exhibition to Trinity.

Whewell came up to Trinity in 1812 and graduated Second Wrangler in 1817. In the same year he was elected to a Fellowship and the following year was appointed Assistant Tutor, becoming Tutor in 1823.

Whewell was famously a polymath. He wrote on subjects as diverse as mechanics and church architecture, English hexameter and the plurality of worlds. In 1828 he was elected to the Chair of Mineralogy, which prompted an immediate essay on mineralogical classification and experiments in a Cornish mine with George Biddell Airy in an attempt to determine the density of the Earth. However, he resigned the Chair in 1832. In June 1838 he was elected to the Knightbridge Chair of Moral Philosophy, which he held until 1855.

Between 1833 and 1850 he published a number of papers on tides. In 1837 he published his History of the Inductive Sciences and in 1840 the sequel The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences. In the former year he also published his On the Principles of an English University Education which he was to expand into Of a Liberal Education in General, with particular reference to the leading studies of the University of Cambridge, publishing the first volume (of three) in 1845.

Once he had resigned his tutorship in 1839, Whewell began to tire of college life and considered taking a parish. He married Cordelia Marshall, daughter of the wealthy Leeds flax merchant John Marshall, and Jane his wife, a school friend of Dorothy Wordsworth's. Their marriage took place on October 12, 1841, and on the same day Trinity's Master Christopher Wordsworth announced his intention to retire, safe in the knowledge that the new prime minister Sir Robert Peel would not propose a Whig to replace him. Whewell took formal possession of the Master's Lodge on 16 November.

For much of his tenure as Master, University reform was in the air. In 1844 the College statutes were revised. In 1850 the Royal Commissions on Oxford and Cambridge Universities began their investigations. A reformer in his youth, Whewell was a reactionary as Master and sternly defended the autonomy of the colleges and the type of liberal education he espoused in his 1845 book.

Whewell served as the university's Vice-Chancellor twice: in 1842-43 and 1855-56. Cordelia Whewell died on December 18, 1855. Whewell married Frances Everina Affleck, the widow of Sir Gilbert Affleck on 1 July 1858. Lady Affleck, a name she continued to use after her remarriage, died 1 April 1865. Neither marriage had produced children. On 24 February 1866, Whewell fell from a horse while riding near Cambridge, and died of his injuries on 6 March.

Towards the end of his life, Whewell set about endowing his college and the university. Two courts were built opposite the Great Gate of Trinity with monies provided by Whewell, although only one was completed during his lifetime. He also endowed six university scholarships and a chair of International Law, the latter with the express intention of making war less likely.

Archival history

Given to Hugh James Rose's nephew William Francis Rose by his mother S. Caroline Rose, 1875.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The gift of H. A. Rose, widow of William Francis Rose, 1917.

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Scope and content

A bound volume of 42 letters which have been catalogued separately in item records attached to this catalogue record. A letter from H. A. Rose to Mr Jackson dated 28 May 1917 is tipped in the front of the volume, accompanied by a printed flysheet headed "Utopia University, 1816", a parody of an examination paper sent to Whewell in 1816, also tipped in. At the front of the volume is a lithograph of Whewell by E. U. Eddis, 1835.

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      Finding aids

      This volume has been catalogued briefly in the James Catalogue of Western Manuscripts: R.2.99

      Allied materials area

      Existence and location of originals

      Existence and location of copies

      Copies of these letters were made by Isaac Todhunter in preparation for his biography of Whewell, and are housed as O.15.47/370-407.

      Related units of description

      The other side of this correspondence may be found in the William Whewell papers, Add.MS.a.211/128-146. The comprehensive record for the William Whewell papers is linked below.

      Publication note

      Some of these letters are published in I. Todhunter, William Whewell, D.D....An account of his writings with selections from his literary and scientific correspondence London, 1876.

      Notes area


      Spine label reads "William Whewell to Hugh J. Rose, M.S. 1816-1836".

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          Archivist's note

          The item records were added in 2020 by Diana Smith using a catalogue of some of the Whewell correspondence created by William J. Ashworth in 1994-1996.

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