- 1745-1941 (Creation)
Level of description
Extent and medium
Name of creator
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.
The Frazer Papers were bequeathed to Lady Frazer by Sir James George Frazer on his death 7 May 1941. Lady Frazer bequeathed the Papers to Trinity College on her death the next day, 8 May 1941.
The papers were catalogued in 1973. A second group of material, described as having been found after the main index was completed, was catalogued in 1984, appearing as FRAZ/20-33 here.
In 2017-2019, the papers were given enhanced cataloguing records and entered into AToM, an archival database. At that time, material of the same provenance was added to the collection, FRAZ/34-35. This material, Frazer's travel diaries and notebooks, had been housed on Trinity College Library shelves with printed books. Thirteen volumes and a small number of loose notes had been removed from the papers at the time they were bequeathed by Lady Frazer, and were presented by the College to the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, and then transferred to the Haddon Library of Archaeology and Anthropology. In 2010 these volumes were transferred back to Trinity College. A note has been made recording the previous location of each volume.
The material in the last series, FRAZ 36, were found in the library with other framed items and memorabilia in 2020, and this series was added to the collection in July of that year.
Immediate source of acquisition or transfer
Bequest of Lady Frazer, 1941.
An exception is FRAZ 1/57-61, xerox copies of five letters from JGF to A. B. Cook, described on the catalogue card as having been given by 'P. Lazlett, TCC'. This is probably Thomas Peter Ruffell Laslett (1915–2001), Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. It is not known when these copies were added to the Frazer Papers.
Content and structure area
Scope and content
The papers consist of correspondence, writings, notebooks, diaries, music manuscripts, printed material, and photographs which document the life and work of social anthropologist and classical scholar Sir James George Frazer, and to a lesser extent that of his wife, the writer and translator Lilly Frazer (known after June 1914 as Lady Frazer), who acted as his manager and press agent. The collection spans the years 1872-1941, but the bulk of the material dates from the 1920s and 1930s.
Research strengths include Frazer’s writings in the 1920s and 1930s, social anthropology, folklore, classical scholarship, British and French publishing history, and Trinity College academic and social life. The bulk of the collection dates from the last two decades of his life, and therefore contains material from a time well after his reputation was established. While there are letters from people with anthropological data, the collection does not include the vast amount of data and answers to his anthropological questionnaires that he presumably possessed when compiling the first edition of 'The Golden Bough'. Very often letters with anthropological data are in the form of fan letters, whose writers wish to correct or add to information in one of his books.
The papers are arranged in small and repeated groupings, with alphabetical runs of letters followed by writings and printed material, returning to more alphabetical runs of letters featuring many of the same correspondents as the previous runs, more writings, and research materials, and on. The searching abilities of the database will be useful to find all materials by a person or on a subject.
The correspondence is almost entirely incoming, with just 29 original letters from James Frazer (in FRAZ/1) and 15 typed copies of his letters (in FRAZ/1-4, 16, 25 and 29) and twelve original letters, a draft and four typed copies by Lilly Frazer (in FRAZ/1, 3, 17, 31 and 33) in a collection of over 2300 letters evenly divided between the two. In addition to runs of alphabetically arranged letters, there are also groups of letters on specific topics featuring many of the same correspondents. Letters may also be found with writings and research notes elsewhere in the collection.
The correspondence spans the years 1872-1941, however, the earliest dated letter to or from James or Lilly is dated January 1888. There are a limited number of letters from this early period. Many letters addressed to Lilly concern business related to James’ works, and some letters written in the late 1930s are addressed to her to be read aloud to him due to his increasing blindness.
Anthropologists appearing in the collection include L. C. G. Clarke, Edward Clodd, A. C. Haddon, J. H. Hutton, Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, Bronisław Malinowski, R. R. Marett, John Roscoe, and Sir Grafton Elliot Smith. There are only three letters from Sir Walter Baldwin Spencer, but 16 from his daughter Dorothy Young. Classical scholars in the collection include A. B. Cook, F. M. Cornford, A. E. Housman, J. P. Postgate, Sir William Ridgeway, and H. J. Rose. Principal editors and publishers in the collection include James Loeb, George Macmillan, T. E. Page, and W. H. D. Rouse. Other principal correspondents are David Lindsay, the Earl of Crawford and Balcarres; and Sir Joseph Thomson and his wife Rose Thomson. Many of Lilly's correspondents write to her in her native French. Her principal correspondents include François Ceccaldi (many of them written from his native Corsica), Noémi Psichari, the daughter of Ernest Renan; translator Pierre Sayn, and James’ friend W. J. Lewis.
Writings by Sir James Frazer comprise 21 boxes, with additional writings to be found in the notebooks in FRAZ/35. The work represented by the most amount of material in the collection is Frazer’s edition of Ovid’s 'Fasti', published by Macmillan in 1929, and by Loeb in 1931. The papers do not include notes for the preparation of the original 'Golden Bough' nor do they include the manuscript. There are, however, three notebooks containing notes relating to the second and third editions (FRAZ/35/9-11). Frazer’s own copies of the different editions of 'The Golden Bough' are housed separately in the printed books Adversaria collection and carry numerous annotations.
Printed material consists of press cuttings, pamphlets, offprints, and small books. An album of cuttings of reviews of the first edition of 'The Golden Bough' may be found at FRAZ/22/4. Ten small books and pamphlets have also been catalogued into the Trinity Library printed materials catalogue but remain housed with the papers. The music manuscripts are housed in FRAZ/8 and consist of scores composed by Stuart Young setting Sir James’ poems to music. Margaret Rose’s operetta libretto based on Lady Frazer’s story 'The Singing Wood' was similarly set to music (the libretto at FRAZ/32/266 and the score FRAZ/8/1/5).
The travel diaries and many of the notebooks were previously housed on Trinity College Library shelves with printed books and have been reunited with the collection, along with 13 volumes and a small number of loose notes returned from the Haddon Library of Archaeology and Anthropology. The photographs in the collection include 16 photographic prints of sites in Greece possibly taken by Sidney George Owen, two of them dated June 1906 (FRAZ/21/67-82).
Appraisal, destruction and scheduling
System of arrangement
Conditions of access and use area
Conditions governing access
This material is open for research.
Conditions governing reproduction
For permission to publish material described in this catalogue please consult the Librarian, Trinity College Library, Cambridge, CB2 1TQ.
Language of material
- Ancient Greek
Script of material
Language and script notes
Physical characteristics and technical requirements
Generated finding aid
Allied materials area
Existence and location of originals
Existence and location of copies
Related units of description
Robert Ackerman, 'J. G. Frazer, His Life and Work' (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).
The papers were catalogued in 1973 by Patricia Bradford; additional materials found later were catalogued by Helen Clifford in 1984, and the collection with the addition of FRAZ/34 and FRAZ/35 was recatalogued and entered into the online catalogue by Diana Smith in 2017-2018. FRAZ/36 was added by Diana Smith in July 2020 following their discovery amongst other framed items and memorabilia.
Cite as: Trinity College Library Cambridge, Papers of Sir James George Frazer, FRAZ.