Who is James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps?

Both loved and despised during his life, Halliwell-Phillipps was a Shakespearean scholar. The wiki article on him is, I suspect, no more than the usual wiki practice of cutting and pasting old reference material, which is then treated as fact. Many of its historial articles are taken verbatim from the 1911 Encyclopedia Brittanica. This is not stated explicitly, instead it will say at the end of the entry, as it does for this one:

This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

In fact it is generally, from my observations to date, far more wholesale than that. This is important as people reading these historial articles don’t realise that they are reading something which is, by our standards, imbued with the morality and attitudes of research conducted over one hundred years ago. The fact that if you bother to look, the wiki entry on the 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia states:

…but the outdated nature of some of its content makes its use as a source for modern scholarship problematic. Some articles have special value and interest to modern scholars as cultural artifacts of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

does not compensate for what is being done to history via the pages of wiki.

It is such a shame that entries like this one, that damn the subject with faint praise and to boot make allegations about him without so much as a reference, has become History for us.

For an alternative to wiki which lists much written about the man and his work, go here. You will find a memoir by one of his friends written in appreciation after his death: A BRIEF MEMOIR OF THE LATE J.O.HALLIWELL-PHILLIPPS, LL.D., F.R.S., F.S.A. BY GEORGE R. WRIGHT, F.S.A., his 1890 Dictionary of Biorgraphy entry, a late nineteenth century bibliography.

He is a bibliographer’s nightmare, publishing during his life many tiny editions for subscribers. I don’t know to what extent that was due to his very difficult life financially. As a young man he married well, but his wife’s father refused to acknowledge the marriage and life was tough from then on. He was a compulsive historian and researcher who attempted to revive and preserve memories of people important to English history who had been forgotten. Shakespeare became his great passion and it was because we have his The Complete Works of SHAKSPERE, Revised from the Original Editions, with Historical and Analytical Introductions to each Play, also Notes Explanatory and Critical, and a Life of the Poet: by J.O. HALLIWELL, Esq., F.R.S., F.S.A., Member of the Council of the Shakspere Society, Etc. Etc. that I sent about looking him up.

As well as the practice of tiny subscribed editions to keep prices up, he was also seriously suspected of stealing important historical manuscripts early in his life. It wouldn’t particularly surprise me if this were true, it is typical of passionate compulsive collectors and researchers to consider this path. On top of this, his financial difficulties led him to regularly sell off what he had purchased for research in the way of historial documents and manuscripts. Whether or not he did ever behave in this way, he was obviously a generous man when he could afford to be, as his association with developing Stratford-on-Avon would show. In that sense, I fail to see why the dodgy ways he might have had to raise money were any more unacceptable to us now than, say, a Rockefeller or a Gates, taking or withholding from the poor and using those ill-gotten gains to become a ‘philanthropist’. Unless in this as in other odd ways we somehow consider that small theft is less acceptable than a grand one.

He sounds fascinating. I’m hoping to read more about him.

See you here again soon.

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One thought on “Who is James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps?

  1. I found 3 books about Shakespeare written by J.O. HALLIWELL. I was trying to get a date a ttyl when they were published. These books are pretty old. I have the 3 Tragedy,Comedies and Historical. There are pieces of tissue paper covering the pictures in the book which look to have been placed there when the books were binded. If you could give me some info on him or a link to where i might more info,it would be much appreciated. I found the books at a flea market. Fbailey2011@gmail.com

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