Series 37 - Typescript copies of letters (R-Z) to Sir James George Frazer

Identity area

Reference code

Add. MS b/37


Typescript copies of letters (R-Z) to Sir James George Frazer


  • c 1910?-1958 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

2 boxes

Context area

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.

Name of creator

(b 1905)

Biographical history

Robert Angus Downie, assistant to James George Frazer, and author of 'James George Frazer: The Portrait of a Scholar' (1940) and 'Frazer and The Golden Bough' (1970), editor of the three volumes of 'Anthologia anthropologica': 'The native races of Africa and Madagascar : a copious selection of passages for the study of social anthropology from the manuscript notebooks of Sir James George Frazer / arranged and edited from the MSS. by Robert Angus Downie' (1938), 'The native races of Asia and Europe ... ' (1939), and 'The native races of Australasia, including Australia, New Zealand, Oceania, New Guinea, and Indonesia ... ' (1939).

Archival history

See archival history note for Add.Ms.b.35. A box list accompanying the collection lists a third letter from William Robertson Smith on Hercules at Erythrae, dated 1891, which was listed as missing by Robert Ackerman when he consulted the collection 31 May 1973.

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Add.Ms.b.37 is part of a group, Add.Ms.b.35-37, which contain over 1100 typescript copies of letters written to Sir James George Frazer, arranged by surname of correspondent. A full description of the group may be found in the scope and content note for Add.Ms.b.35.

Add.Ms.b.37, the fifth and sixth boxes in the alphabetic sequence of letters, covers the surnames R-Z, and contains 392 typescript copies of letters in these two boxes, two other items catalogued as stand-alone items, and a group of seven items (which aren't copies) found together at the bottom of the second box. The two other copy items are a copy caption by Northcote Thomas for a photograph (Item 274), and a copy of a clipping (Item 389a). The group of seven items (Items 393-399) is miscellaneous original material, and includes a letter from the Trinity College Bursar to the Librarian (Item 393) about a group of Frazer letters sent to him in 1958 (our items Add.Ms.c.56-61); other items, letters and proofs sent to Frazer are closely related to those original manuscripts housed as Add.Ms.c.56-61.

Most of the letters in Add.Ms.b.37 are from correspondents represented by two or three letters only, but there are three large groups of letters from one correspondent: G. G. Ramsay (Items 1-32), Northcote Thomas (Items 261-266, 269-278), and a large cache of letters written by J. G. Frazer to John Roscoe with three letters from Roscoe in the gaps: Items 33-106, 109-144, 146-171.

Of the 146 copies of letters in Add.Ms.b.37 written by J. G. Frazer, five were published in Robert Ackerman's 'Selected Letters of Sir J. G. Frazer', and none are represented by originals in the Add.Ms.c.56-61 series (see allied materials note below). There are ten copies of letters written to Lilly Frazer.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Conditions governing reproduction

Language of material

  • Ancient Greek
  • English
  • French
  • German
  • Hebrew
  • Spanish

Script of material

    Language and script notes

    Physical characteristics and technical requirements

    Finding aids

    Allied materials area

    Existence and location of originals

    The location of less than a fifth of the originals from which these typescripts were made is known; the originals are housed within the run of letters described as Add.Ms.c.60/63-Add.Ms.c.61/53, as noted, with a few outliers in Add.Ms.c.56 and Add.Ms.c.59.

    Existence and location of copies

    Robert Ackerman, in his 'Selected Letters of Sir J. G. Frazer', lists the location of a Copy letter from Edward B. Tylor to J. G. Frazer dated September 15, 1898 (Item 309) as being in the Pitt Rivers Museum, but their Tylor collection there notes that Ackerman gave 'a number of photocopies of letters exchanged between E.B.T. and J.G. Frazer which are on the files at Trinity College, Cambridge.'

    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. Frazer papers which were in the possession of Robert Downie at the time of Lady Frazer's death were returned in part in 1955, and are catalogued as ADD.Ms.c.56-61. Another accession of Frazer papers is catalogued as ADD.Ms.d.55-60.

    A collection of the sound recordings referred to in the Northcote Thomas letters (Items 271-273) may be found at the British Library and British Library Sounds website.

    Publication note

    Robert Ackerman, 'J. G. Frazer, His Life and Work' (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).

    Notes area


    There is no Add.Ms.b.37.130, 355 or 375.

    The typescripts have two holes punched along the left margin, and many carry pencilled numbers at bottom left, indicating the number of words typed.

    Some typescripts have been corrected by Robert Angus Downie, with lacunae in the typescripts filled in by Downie, often supplying words in foreign languages. These corrections and completions have been noted in the catalogue record.

    The typescripts are not a true copy in every case: The copy letter from Macleod Yearsley to J. G. Frazer, dated Sept. 5, 1920 omits the section on superstitions relating to menstruous women, with no indication that the letter has been abridged.

    Alternative identifier(s)

    Access points

    Subject access points

    Place access points

    Name access points

    Genre access points

    Description identifier

    Institution identifier

    Rules and/or conventions used


    Level of detail

    Dates of creation revision deletion




        Accession area