Lists of books donated to the Harvard College Library by Thomas Hollis
- Harvard College Library (Organization)
Extent.26 cubic feet (1 half document box)
Biographical Note: Thomas Hollis
Thomas Hollis was born in London, England on April 14, 1720. He was born into a family of successful merchants and manufacturers and was the only child of Thomas Hollis (d. 1735). The name of his mother, a daughter of Mr. Scott of Wolverhampton, is not known. His father died when he was fifteen years old, leaving Thomas sole heir to a large fortune. When his grandfather died three years later, his estate increased substantially once again. Hollis pursued broad, liberal studies throughout his life. He was a student at the free school in Newport until the age of nine or ten, when he enrolled at St. Albans. Several years later he spent fifteen months in Amsterdam, studying languages and mathematics in anticipation of a career in business. He took chambers at Lincoln's Inn from 1740 to 1748, and although he read law he never pursued a legal or political career. Due to his sizable inheritance, Hollis was never obligated enter professional life, and he instead devoted much of his time and energy towards travel, civic engagement, and philanthropy.
Hollis was an ardent admirer of John Milton and collected artifacts related to him; this interest ran so deep that he even purchased the bed in which Milton died. He also collected widely, with collections encompassing books, classical antiquities, coins, medals, and works of art. He remains widely known among bibliophiles for the distinctive bindings he commissioned for books he donated and otherwise distributed, and he was a patron of many writers, printers, publishers, and artists. Although he has been described as a "political propagandist," most assessments of Hollis's life and deeds are more generous.
Thomas Hollis died suddenly on January 1, 1774 and was buried, as he had wished, ten feet deep in a field at his Corscombe, Dorset farm. The field was then plowed over, also per Hollis's instructions, leaving his grave unmarked. As Hollis never married, his estate was left to longtime friend Thomas Brand on condition that Brand added the name of Hollis to his own name. He did, becoming Thomas Brand Hollis, and continued his friend's traditions of philanthropy and political engagement.
Although the fire was devastating, as the College library was already more than a century old and had been the largest library in British North America prior to its destruction, the donations made in its wake were tremendous. Although many colonists made small donations, the rapid and thoughtful rebuilding of the library collections were primarily the result of large and generous donations from Britain. Thomas Hollis V, who shipped thousands of volumes across the ocean to Harvard from London, was the most significant of these donors. The titles he shipped in the years following the 1764 fire were not arbitrarily selected, but rather carefully assembled to represent what he considered the most important and relevant works for the education of young men in colonial New England. He sent works on government and political theory, classical antiquity, agriculture, geology, medicine, and many other subjects he deemed practical for the formation of citizens and scholars. Hollis often had these books distinctively bound, and he frequently annotated them to highlight the passages and themes he considered most essential. Following Hollis's death in 1774, a bequest of 500 pounds sterling established Harvard's first endowed fund for the purchase of books. This fund is still in active use.
- An Account of the fire at Harvard-College, in Cambridge; with the loss sustained thereby. Boston: Printed by R. and S. Draper, 1764.
- Bond, W. H. Thomas Hollis of Lincoln's Inn: A Whig and his Books. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
- Bond, W. H. "The Cover." In The Journal of Library History vol. 22, no. 3 (summer 1987): 338-341.
- Bonwick, Colin. "Hollis, Thomas (1720-1774)." In the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
- Clegg, Samuel. "Thomas Hollis: Book-Lover, Politician, and Philanthropist." In The Bibliophile vol. 1, no. 1 (March 1908): 37-40.
- Robbins, Caroline. "Library of Liberty – Assembled for Harvard College by Thomas Hollis of Lincoln's Inn." In the Harvard Library Bulletin vol. 5, no. 1 and 2 (1951): 5-23, 181-196.
This finding aid was created by Laura Morris in January 2011.
Preservation and description of the Lists of books donated to the Harvard College Library by Thomas Hollis was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.
- Harvard College Library. Lists of books donated to the Harvard College Library by Thomas Hollis, 1763-1787: an inventory
- EAD ID
Part of the Harvard University Archives Repository
Holding nearly four centuries of materials, the Harvard University Archives is the principal repository for the institutional records of Harvard University and the personal archives of Harvard faculty, as well as collections related to students, alumni, Harvard-affiliates and other associated topics. The collections document the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard and the influence of the University as it emerged across the globe.
Cambridge MA 02138 USA