Series 56 - Letters (A-F) to Sir James George Frazer

Identity area

Reference code

Add. MS c/56


Letters (A-F) to Sir James George Frazer


  • 1886-1928 (Creation)

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Extent and medium

1 box

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Name of creator


Biographical history

Frazer was born 1 January 1854 in Glasgow, and after graduating MA in 1874 from the University of Glasgow, entered Trinity College with a scholarship. He was Second Classic in 1878, and a year later was made a Fellow of the College on the strength of his dissertation, "The Growth of Plato’s Ideal Theory”. This Title Alpha Fellowship, for which no duties were required, was renewed as a Title B fellowship (for those 'engaged in the systematic study of some important branch of literature or science') in 1885 and 1890, before becoming qualified to hold a Pension Fellowship in 1895, at which time it became tenable for life.

“The Golden Bough”, the work for which Frazer is best known, was first published in 1890. The book drew on a comprehensive amount of data and traced common evolutionary patterns in the development of seemingly disparate cultures worldwide. His evolutionary theory of societal development, in which societies moved from a belief in primitive magic, to religion, to science was expanded over three editions, which ballooned from two, to three, to twelve volumes, with an additional volume (“Aftermath”) twenty years later.

Frazer followed “The Golden Bough” with other anthropological works, including “Totemism and Exogamy” (1910), “The Belief in Immortality and the Worship of the Dead” (1913-1924), “Folk-Lore in the Old Testament” (1918), “The Worship of Nature” (1926), “Myths of the Origin of Fire” (1930), “The Fear of the Dead in Primitive Religion” (1933), and the four volume “Anthologia Anthropologica. The Native Races of Africa and Madagascar [and Australasia, Asia and Europe, and America]” (1938-1939). His first published work was the revised edition of George Long’s “C. Sallusti Crispi Catalina et Iugurtha” (1884); he continued to produce works of classical scholarship at intervals, with editions of “Pausanias’s Description of Greece” (1898), Apollodorus’s “The Library” (1921), and Ovid’s “Fasti” (one for Macmillan, 1929, one for Loeb, 1931). He also produced more literary works, editing the letters of William Cowper (1912) and essays of Joseph Addison (1915), and writing a series of articles in Addison’s style, “Sir Roger de Coverley” in “The Saturday Review” (1915, published as a book in 1920).

In 1896, he married Lilly Grove (born Elizabeth Johanna de Boys Adelsdorfer in 1854/5), a French widow with two children, Charles Grenville Grove (1878-1949) and Lilly Mary Grove (c 1880-1919). Lilly’s first husband Charles Baylee Grove had been a captain in the British merchant service; they married in 1877, he died in January 1889. Lilly was a French teacher who produced French schoolbooks and plays and promoted the use of phonographic records in the teaching of languages. Her publications include “Scenes of Familiar Life” (1896), “Berthes aux grands pieds” (1902), “Histoire de Monsieur Blanc” (1910), and “Je sais un conte” (1911). She was working on a book on the history of dance when she met Frazer (“Dancing”, 1895), and later wrote a book for children based on “The Golden Bough”, entitled “Leaves from the Golden Bough” (1924). She also translated one of his books, “Adonis” in 1921, and several works by French scholars, including Albert Houtin’s “A Short History of Christianity” (1926) and François Aulard’s “Christianity and the French Revolution” (1927). In the 1930s she commissioned an operetta based on her story “The Singing Wood”, and co-authored a book with James, a small book entitled “Pasha the Pom: the Story of a Little Dog” (1937).

Lilly had a highly developed business sense, and stepped into the role of James’s manager and press agent, promoting him in Britain as well as the continent, where she arranged for his works to be translated into French. James received many honours, most notably a knighthood in 1914, followed by the Order of Merit in 1925. He was named to the first chair of social anthropology in Britain at the University of Liverpool in 1908, was inducted into numerous societies, awarded a number of honorary degrees, and was particularly pleased by a lectureship in anthropology established in his honour in 1922. He was very often in the news, referenced whenever folklore or myth were discussed, and wrote a number of articles for both academic journals and popular newspapers, including a much-reproduced opinion piece in “The Morning Post” in 1925, in favour of forgiveness of the French war debt.

After James suffered a dramatic loss of sight while giving a lecture in May 1931, he and Lilly travelled to Switzerland for a number of eye operations, which were temporarily helpful, but failed to stave off an eventual near blindness. Secretaries were employed as James revised and added to earlier works in the later 1930s. Lilly became increasingly deaf herself. In the late 1930s, they moved from accommodation in London to 7 Causewayside in Cambridge, where they died within a day of each other: James on 7 May and Lilly on 8 May, 1941.

Archival history

In February 1941, Sir James and Lady Frazer loaned their assistant Robert A. Downie a group of letters in order that he might interest a publisher in a volume of letters. When the Frazers died in May, 1941 Downie still had the letters but no publisher. In 1947, the Trinity College Council agreed to pay the cost of making typed copies of these letters in order to assist Mr Downie's attempt to interest a publisher, with the understanding that when finished, a set of copies should be sent to the College. In 1955 those typescripts arrived and are catalogued as ADD.Ms.b.35-37. In June 1958 the College received a large collection of Frazer letters sent by the Official Receiver upon Mr Downie's bankruptcy, but not all of the letters originally loaned (recorded in an index by Downie, see note below) appear to have returned.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Content and structure area

Scope and content

The seven boxes which comprise ADD.Ms.c.56-61 contain over 530 letters written to Sir James George Frazer, arranged by surname of correspondent. The letters date from 1886 to 1955, but the bulk date from 1900 to 1920, earlier than the closely related Sir James George Frazer Papers also at Trinity College Library. Many of the correspondents here are also represented by letters in the Sir James George Frazer Papers.

The letters document the life and work of social anthropologist and classical scholar Sir James George Frazer. Research strengths include Frazer's writings in the 1900s and 1910s, social anthropology, folklore, classical scholarship, Trinity College academic and social life, and the impact of World War I. There is evidence here of Frazer's support of anthropologists who wished to embark on expeditions, discussions of anthropological theory and classical scholarship, and discussions of books Frazer published during this period: the second and third editions of 'The Golden Bough', as well as 'Lectures on the Early History of the Kingship', 'Adonis, Attis, Osiris', 'Psyche's Task', 'Totemism and Exogamy', 'The Letters of William Cowper', 'The Belief in Immortality and the Worship of the Dead', 'The Essays of Joseph Addison', and 'Folk-Lore in the Old Testament'.

ADD.Ms.c.56 is the first box in the alphabetic sequence of letters, covering the surnames A-F. There are 99 letters in this box, as well as four other items catalogued as stand-alone items: two cuttings (Items 28 and 83), one offprint (Item 56), and a group of notes on Sutherlandshire Folklore (Item 92). This box contains the only letters from J. G. Frazer in this grouping: two letters and a postcard to Henry Jackson (Items 87-87b). There is one letter to Lilly Frazer, from Hermann Diels (Item 64). Most of the letters are from correspondents represented by one or two letters only, and the largest group of letters is thirteen from Edward Clodd (Items 9-21).

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


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Language of material

  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Latin

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    Allied materials area

    Existence and location of originals

    Existence and location of copies

    Only one of these letters is represented by a typescript copy. It is ADD.Ms.c.56/93, represented by a copy at ADD.Ms.b.37/230.

    Related units of description

    The main papers bequeathed by Lady Frazer on her death in 1941 are catalogued as The Papers of Sir James George Frazer, FRAZ 1-35. Typescripts of some of the letters here (ADD.Ms.c.56-61) were given to Trinity College Library in 1955, and are catalogued as ADD.Ms.b.35-37. Another accession of Frazer papers is catalogued as Add.MS.d.55-60.

    Notes area


    The letters are accompanied by envelopes docketed in Frazer's hand, and by an index to the Letters of Sir James Frazer made by R. A. Downie in two green paperbound notebooks, using the precis created by Frazer on envelopes of letters. These contain a list of over 1320 letters, with eight additional packets of letters left undescribed.

    181 letters described here are not to be found in the collection at all, and a further 651 letters are only represented by copy typescripts in Additional Manuscripts b.35-37. It is unclear whether they went missing while in Downie’s care, or were missed by the Receiver when he gathered letters and sent them on to Trinity following Downie’s bankruptcy. The missing letters include those from people represented by other letters in the collection: Giacomo Boni, writing in 1901 about excavations at Nemi, J. W. Capstick writing from the front in 1915, fourteen letters from William Warde Fowler, sixteen from A. W. Howitt, six from his daughter Mary Howitt, and seven from John Roscoe, on idols in West Africa, and the sympathetic magic of a rusty nail.

    Some of the letters in this collection were keyed to the index after they arrived at Trinity College Library.

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