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COLLECTION Identifier: UAIII 50.27.61

Lists of books donated to the Harvard College Library by Thomas Hollis

Overview

Thomas Hollis V (1720-1774), widely known as Thomas Hollis of Lincoln's Inn, was a very generous donor to the Harvard College Library, particularly in the wake of a 1764 fire in Harvard Hall which destroyed most of the library's books and scientific instruments. This collection contains lists of titles (books and pamphlets) which Hollis shipped from England to Harvard between 1763 and 1770, as well as a "catalogue" of books from Hollis compiled in 1787. While these lists are not comprehensive and represent only a fraction of Hollis's donations to Harvard, they illustrate not only his extreme generosity but also the books he considered vital in shaping the intellects and political beliefs of young men in colonial New England.

Dates

  • 1763-1787

Creator

Researcher Access

The Lists of books donated to the Harvard College Library by Thomas Hollis are open for research.

Copying Restriction

Copying of fragile materials may be limited.

Extent

.26 cubic feet (1 half document box)
This collection contains lists of books and pamphlets donated to the Harvard College Library by Thomas Hollis V (1720-1774). The bulk of Hollis's donations came in the wake of the 1764 fire in Harvard Hall which destroyed almost all of the library's holdings. The lists in this collection include the title of books and pamphlets he donated, as well as occasional information about their format, number of volumes, year and place of publication, and shipping-related details. The lists are written in multiple hands and appear to have been created by Harvard librarians. While these lists are not comprehensive and represent only a fraction of Hollis's donations to Harvard, they illustrate not only his extreme generosity but also the books he considered vital in shaping the intellects and political beliefs of young men in colonial New England. The collection also contains a self-titled "Hollis catalogue," which appears to have been compiled by a librarian in 1787. Arranged alphabetically, this list of titles possibly represents purchases made through the endowed fund for the purchase of books created after Hollis's death in 1774.

Biographical Note: Thomas Hollis

Thomas Hollis V (1720-1774), widely known as Thomas Hollis of Lincoln's Inn, was a very generous donor to the Harvard College Library, particularly in the wake of a 1764 fire which destroyed most of the library's books and scientific instruments. From a wealthy British family with a history of generous philanthropy towards the young College, Hollis donated thousands of books to an institution he would never visit. He was widely known for his ardent and energetic promotion of civil and religious liberties (he was a liberal Whig, known for being a somewhat radical dissenter), and the books he sent to the College reflected his own interests and intellectual bent. His legacy endures at the Harvard libraries to the present day.

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.
Historical Note: Harvard Hall Fire of 1764 On the night of January 24, 1764, Harvard Hall (sometimes referred to as "Old Harvard Hall," as another building named Harvard Hall was later built) burned to the ground, destroying all of the volumes in the Harvard College Library except for the approximate 400 which were then out on loan and another 100 or so books which had been received but were not yet unpacked and shelved. The fire also destroyed the College's "philosophical apparatus," a significant collection of scientific instruments. This fire took place during the College's winter vacation, while the Massachusetts General Court was temporarily holding session in the building due to a smallpox epidemic in Boston. Apparently a fire was left burning in the library's fireplace and spread to the floor beams, quickly destroying the entire building and its contents. The General Court took responsibility for the loss of the building and agreed to pay for the building's replacement. The burning of the library prompted an immediate and tremendous outpouring of generosity from myriad other sources, which included both financial donations and thousands of new books. By the time a new home for the library - Harvard Hall - was completed in 1766, the size of the library collection had surpassed what it was before the fire just two years earlier.

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.

Arrangement

The items in this collection are arranged chronologically.

Acquisition information

The materials in this collection are University records and were acquired in the course of University business.

Related Materials

In the Harvard University Archives
  1. Harvard University. Corporation. Records of gifts and donations, 1643-1955.
  2. Early Catalogs and Shelflists of the Harvard College Library, 1723-1822.
  3. Thomas Hollis of Lincoln's Inn: A Whig and his Books by W.H. Bond (HUF 523.590.9)
  4. General information about Thomas Hollis, 1780-1943 (HUG 300, HUG 1455.1, and HUG 1455.13)
In Houghton Library, Harvard University
  1. Diary [of Thomas Hollis], Apr. 14, 1759-July 3, 1770 (MS Eng 1191).

References

  • 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.

Inventory update

This document last updated 2018 November 27.

Processing Information

The materials in this collection were first classified and described in the Harvard University Archives shelflist prior to 1980. They were united to form a single collection in 2011; this involved a collection survey, re-housing in appropriate archival folders and boxes, and the creation of this finding aid.

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.
Link to catalog
Title
Harvard College Library. Lists of books donated to the Harvard College Library by Thomas Hollis, 1763-1787: an inventory
EAD ID
hua01011

Repository Details

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.

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