Fonds WHWL* - Papers of William Whewell

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Papers of William Whewell


  • 16th-19th c. (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

114 boxes, 21 volumes, 3 portfolios

Context area

Name of creator


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

After William Whewell's death, his executors sought a qualified person to write Whewell's biography, approaching several men before turning to Isaac Todhunter in October 1872. Whewell's papers, which had been bequeathed to Trinity College Library, were then sent to Todhunter. In the preface to William Whewell, D.D. : an account of his writings with selections from his literary and scientific correspondence (London, 1876), Todhunter describes the arrival by instalments of ‘a mass formidable on account of its extent and the confusion into which it was thrown’ and comments, ‘it would be difficult to convey an idea of the hopeless disorder in which the papers were involved’. He describes Whewell’s habit of pinning leaves of manuscripts relating to the same subject, and preserving and improving these groupings: “The manuscripts are now carefully sorted and catalogued; so that it will be easy henceforward for any specialist, if necessary, to consult all those belonging to the matter in which he may be interested.” Todhunter’s catalogue of the collection is shelved as Add.MS.a.70. It includes a calendared list of letters with names of correspondents, dates, summaries and an indication of which letters may be published. Related lists in his hand are found throughout the collection. In addition to Todhunter’s biography, Whewell’s niece Janet Douglas, the daughter of his brother-in-law John Marshall, was asked to write a personal memoir of Whewell, encompassing his Trinity and University career. Parts of the papers were sent to her, as can be seen in notes in Add.MS.a.58/59 and O.15.46. After the return of the papers to the Library they were stored in Wren classes O and R. Over the years, these materials were gradually removed from these classes to the newer class of Additional Manuscripts. Several lists and finding aids have been created since their arrival at the Library and are described in Finding Aids below.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The papers were bequeathed to Trinity College Library by William Whewell in 1866.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

The papers consist of correspondence, diaries, subject files, writings, other Whewell papers, family papers, and later papers of others. The family papers include those originally gathered by Whewell's first wife Cordelia (née Marshall) and his second wife Lady Affleck (née Ellis). The papers of Lady Affleck's brother and Whewell's friend Robert Leslie Ellis now form a subset of this collection.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

Whewell's papers have been extensively rearranged over the years, and original order may not be assumed from their present arrangement. Additionally, the papers have been subject to various cataloguing projects of varying degrees of completion, and the importance of materials should not be inferred from the level of cataloguing accorded them.

The papers are housed in over 100 boxes under a variety of numbers in Additional Manuscripts a and c and Wren classes O and R.


There are over 4500 letters dated 1814-1866 which appear in two main correspondence runs as well as five sets of letters representing both sides of his correspondence with three friends, three sets of letters removed or still tipped in to books from Whewell's library. In addition, there are eleven more groups of miscellaneous correspondence. More letters appear in the Subject Files described below.

The two main sets of letters are arranged roughly alphabetically. One set of 15 boxes is housed as Add.MS.a.200-214 and includes drafts of letters sent by Whewell in Add.MS.a.214. A smaller set of five boxes is housed as Add.MS.c.87-91.

Both sides of Whewell’s correspondence with two of his friends are gathered in separate runs: letters from Julius Charles Hare appear in the first run mentioned above, Add.MS.a.206, with more at Add.MS.a.77/126-162. Whewell’s letters to Hare are housed as Add.MS.a.215/1-107. Similarly, letters from Richard Jones are housed as Add.MS.c.52 and letters from Whewell to Jones are housed as Add.MS.c.51. A third run of correspondence between William Whewell and Michael Faraday has been artificially re-created by combining Faraday's letters to Whewell, part of the Whewell bequest of papers, and Whewell's letters to Faraday, a gift made in 1914 and 1916 into a bound volume, O.15.49.

A group of letters originally appeared in Whewell's printed books given to Trinity College Library. Some of these were removed from books and have been catalogued as part of Add.MS.c.75 and Add.MS.c.111, and others which are still tipped in to books have been catalogued in this archival catalogue as Manuscripts in printed books.

The eleven other groups of miscellaneous correspondence are as follows:

Subject Files

The collection contains extensive subject files comprised of letters, notes, writings, and printed matter. Many of the boxes follow an arrangement set out in the catalogue of the Whewell Papers Box A (housed as O.15.50), describing bundles of papers given headings beginning A-Z and I-XLIII. Not all materials of a similar nature were gathered together, and may now be spread across multiple boxes. There are over 1000 letters in these files, most of them incoming, but with some drafts of Whewell's letters as well. The following subjects appear:


There are also materials catalogued in the printed books catalogue, which include proofs, and annotated copies of his books and those of others. These may be found by searching for Whewell as Former Owner in the Advanced Search of the printed books catalogue


Six diaries dated 1820-1840 are housed as Add.MS.a.80/2-6, 8. There are also notes on books read written in diary form, which were previously identified as diaries; these are dated 1817-1830, 1841-1853 are housed as (R.18.9/1-14), (R.18.16/1) , and a journal of Whewell's daily work as Master of Trinity, (O.15.45)

Other Whewell Papers

These papers appear in various boxes of mixed materials, and include account books, memorandum books, documents, sketches and sketchbooks, printed material, and other miscellaneous material as follows:

Family Papers

Whewell’s first wife Cordelia was a member of the Marshall family of Leeds. Some of her family papers are included in the papers, in particular her collections of franks and autographs. The autograph collection is housed as Add.MS.c.65-66. Her collection of franks is housed as part of Add.MS.a.77 and Add.MS.a.80. In addition, William Wordsworth's Poetical Works was presented to Cordelia on her marriage to William Whewell by Mary and William Wordsworth, and includes a couplet in William Wordsworth's hand, catalogued in our printed materials catalogue, shelf mark G.13.71.

Whewell’s second wife was Frances Everina, the widow of Sir Gilbert Affleck, who continued to be known as Lady Affleck after her marriage to Whewell. About 1,000 items of her correspondence appear in the collection together with the papers of various members of her family, the Ellis family of Bath, including those of her brother and Whewell's friend Robert Leslie Ellis. Lady Affleck's letters received are housed as Add.MS.a.68, Add.MS.a.79, and Add.MS.a.81. An account book that may have belonged to her is housed as Add.MS.a.83/6 and her commonplace book is housed as Add.MS.a.219/10.

Robert Leslie Ellis' papers form a subset of the Whewell papers and consist of his letters, notebooks, diaries, and writings. His outgoing letters date from 1838 to 1859 and are housed as part of nine numbers in Add.MS.a, c, and R: Add.MS.a.58, Add.MS.a.68, Add.MS.a.79, Add.MS.a.81, Add.MS.a.203, Add.MS.a.222, Add.MS.c.67, Add.MS.c.88, and R.6.13 (not yet catalogued). Letters received appear in 4 numbers in Add.MS.a and c: Add.MS.a.68, Add.MS.a.79, Add.MS.a.81, and Add.MS.c.67.
His diaries are dated 1827-1845 and are housed as part of Add.MS.c.67, Add.MS.a.82, Add.MS.a.218, and Add.MS.a.219. His notes and writings are housed as part of Add.MS.a.78, Add.MS.a.80, Add.MS.a.218, and Add.MS.a.219, Add.MS.a.220, Add.MS.a.221, Add.MS.a.222, Add.MS.a.223, and Add.MS.c.67. In addition, the Library also holds books owned by Leslie, including his copy of Whewell's On the Free Motion of Points 1832-1834, which has Ellis' notes on the endpapers.

The papers of other members of the Ellis family may be found as part of 13 boxes: Add.MS.a.57, Add.MS.a.67, Add.MS.a.68, Add.MS.a.79, Add.MS.a.81, Add.MS.a.83, Add.MS.a.203, Add.MS.a.218, Add.MS.a.220, Add.MS.a.223, Add.MS.c.67, Add.MS.c.88, and R.6.13 (not yet catalogued).

Later papers of others

These papers are not numerous but are notable in that they date after Whewell's death and are intermixed with those papers left to the College by William Whewell. They include those of James Lempriere Hammond, the surviving executor, Whewell's biographers Isaac Todhunter and Mrs Stair Douglas, and Trinity Master Henry Montagu Butler.

Letters to J. L. Hammond dated after Whewell's death appear in Add.MS.a.77/163-272, and are also scattered through the collection: Add.MS.a.62/64; Add.MS.a.64/66, 79-84; Add.Ms.a.78/41; Add.Ms.a.80/139; and Add.Ms.c.65/68. Three letters written by J. W. Clark to Hammond report on Whewell’s final illness Add.MS.a.78/38-40.

Many of Isaac Todhunter's notes appear throughout the collection, and may also be found in Add.MS.a.65/52-55. There are two letters from Todhunter in the collection, Add.MS.a.68/124 and Add.MS.c.95/165, and two addressed to him, Add.MS.a.207/170 and Add.MS.c.89/53.

There are only seven letters written to Whewell's niece Janet Douglas (Mrs Stair Douglas) in the collection. They may be found in Add.MS.a.57/8, Add.MS.a.62/64, Add.MS.a.64/121, Add.MS.a.67/30-32, and Add.MS.a.77/173.

Later letters written to Henry Montagu Butler concerning an appeal to purchase Whewell 'relics' are housed as Add.MS.a.67/15a-48.

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      Finding aids

      A printed finding aid, "Report on the papers of William Whewell" compiled by the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts in 1973, is available for reference in Trinity College Library, but it should be noted that this finding aid makes no distinction between papers given to the College by Whewell and those of other provenance and does not include more recent acquisitions.
      Some of the correspondence is calendared in Isaac Todhunter's Catalogue of Dr Whewell's papers, Add.MS.a.70.
      An early finding aid (c 1930?), "Index to the Whewell letters in O & autographs & letters filed in boxes & placed in Adversaria Class in Lower Library", is housed as O.15.51
      D. A. Winstanley's finding aid for some of the Whewell papers (c 1939) is housed as O.15.50.
      Walter F. Cannon's 16 pp. typescript outline of the papers describing their arrangement in July 1961 is also housed as O.15.50.
      A project to calendar the correspondence was undertaken by William J. Ashworth in 1994-1996. These summaries have been incorporated into the item records in this archival catalogue. A plain text version of the computer files created are kept at the Library.

      Allied materials area

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      Related units of description

      The papers listed in this section are those papers in the library relating to William Whewell which were not part of the original bequest. They have been acquired by gift and purchase. They consist of correspondence, writings, diaries, other Whewell papers, family papers, and later papers of others and have been arranged in these categories to echo the arrangement of the Whewell bequest described in the scope and content section above.


      There are over 980 letters in this category, including over 700 letters in correspondence with his family, Add.MS.c.190-193.

      Letters received:

      Letters sent:



      • MS poem, "On receiving a chain of Hair" (Add.MS.a.301/2-3)
      • Notes on The Tempest and King Lear (Add.MS.b.59/12)
      • Poem [spoken by?] Whewell after the charade at Castle Ashby, copied by Richard Monckton Milnes (Houghton G1/297)
      • Printed poem, ‘The Isle of the Sirens’ (Crewe MS 53), (Houghton DB3/24)
      • Drafts of notices and reports for the University of Cambridge and Trinity College, believed to have been gathered and written by William Whewell, (Add.MS.a.625)
      • Printed letter to undergraduates dated 18 Dec. 1827 (Add.MS.c.71/118)

      Other Whewell Papers

      • Bookplate (Add.MS.a.88/67)
      • Certificate of Honorary Fellowship, Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society (Add.MS.a.627)
      • Declaration of intent to support the Marquess of Camden for the post of Chancellor of the University (Add.MS.a.244/152)
      • Lock of William Whewell's hair, 10 Mar. [1866?] (Curios B3)
      • Chancellor's Medal, 1814 awarded to William Whewell (Curios D31)
      • Royal Society's Royal Medal 1837 awarded to William Whewell, accompanied by a replica with a silver band (Curios D32)
      • Seal of William Whewell, with motto Lampada tradam (Curios D32)
      • Tassel from William Whewell's cap (Curios E1)
      • Eight drawings attributed to William Whewell (Add.MS.a.76)
      • Silhouette of Whewell by Auguste Edouart, 1828 (Portraits file)
      • Lithograph portraits of Whewell's head and shoulders, [by Eden Upton Eddis, 1835 (Adv.Album 10/46 and 47, PB X/27-28, PB X/30-31, R.2.99)
      • Photographs of Whewell (Add.MS.a.38/51, Add.P 328, Adv.Album 15/178, Adv.Album 17/1, Adv.Album 23/1, 26, Fellows Album I.6, PB X/29)
      • Printed notices by and relating to the University of Cambridge, two tax certificates, and drafts of notices and reports, believed to have been gathered and written by William Whewell (Add.MS.a.625)

      Family Papers

      • Cordelia Whewell and Frances Affleck letters in Add.MS.c.192 and 193
      • Cordelia Whewell letter to Frederic W. H. Myers (MYER 11.56)
      • An inscription to Cordelia Whewell from Mary Wordsworth with an autograph couplet in William Wordsworth’s hand dated 12 Oct. 1841, in a new edition of Wordsworth’s Poetical works, London, 1840. (Printed catalogue: G.13.71)

      Later papers of others

      • Accounts of the trustees and executors of the will of William Whewell (Add.MS.a.69)
      • Catalogue of Dr Whewell's papers by Isaac Todhunter (Add.MS.a.70)
      • Charles Wisbey: annotated sale catalogue of books, music, artworks, instruments, and wine belonging to William Whewell (Add.MS.a.628)
      • Isaac Todhunter's collection of copies of William Whewell's correspondence and related papers (O.15/46)
      • Isaac Todhunter's collection of copies of William Whewell's outgoing letters (O.15/47)
      • J. L. Hammond papers relating to Isaac Todhunter's Rev. William Whewell ... an account of his writings with selections from his literary and scientific correspondence (Add.MS.a.36)

      Related descriptions

      Publication note

      Janet Mary Douglas, The life and selections from the correspondence of William Whewell, late master of Trinity College, Cambridge. London: Kegan Paul, 1881.
      Isaac Todhunter, William Whewell, D.D. : an account of his writings with selections from his literary and scientific correspondence. London: Macmillan, 1876.

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      This record has been created to bring together links to Whewell's papers, catalogued as discrete items across several additional manuscripts series.

      Please cite as per item-level reference numbers.

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