Ward and Byrom : an insight into Ward as editor

Peterhouse’s Ward Library takes its name from Sir Adolphus William Ward (b. 1837), who was Master from 1900 until his death in 1924.  Ward bequeathed some 5,000 volumes to the Library; however, this did not constitute the entirety of his personal library. The Ward Library has recently been able to procure further volumes from Ward’s working library from the disposal at auction of books that had been inherited by his daughter and her family.

Last summer the Library acquired a number of volumes owned by Ward that relate to the Mancunian poet and inventor of a system of shorthand, John Byrom (1692-1763). Byrom is mostly remembered now for coining the expression ‘Twixt Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee’ and for his Christmas carol ‘Christians awake! Salute the happy morn’ (1750), but to his contemporaries he was known primarily as a poet.

Byrom’s books and manuscripts were donated to Chetham’s Library by his descendants in 1870. The Chetham Society, a body devoted to the local history of Lancashire and Cheshire, eventually published the multi-volume set The poems of John Byrom in 1894, which was edited by Ward. As professor of history and English language and literature at Owens College in Manchester from 1866 until 1897, Ward was particularly suited to the task. The Ward Library now holds two copies of each volume, some bearing annotations by Ward himself, and one set being one of three large-paper copies published by the Society. Some volumes still contain correspondence between Ward and his readers, as well as newspaper cuttings of obituaries and further information regarding Byrom and his world.

letters and cuttings

The library has also acquired Ward’s own copy of Byrom’s The universal English short-hand, published posthumously in 1767 in Manchester. This is bound with a related papers from the Manchester Literary Club – On the cipher of Pepys’s Diary by John E. Bailey (1876) – and A universal system of shorthand by W. J. O. Mitchell (London 1885).

example of shorthand

Example of Byrom’s shorthand from The universal English short-hand (1767)

The most interesting of the volumes that the library has acquired is a unique collection of printed items, engravings and manuscripts related to Byrom and other poets from the North West, and given the cover title Byrom’s poems; Roscoe’s Mount; Pleasant, &c. (hereafter referred to as Byrom’s poems). A list of contents can be found at the end of this post. Many of the items within the volume are extremely rare. ‘Greenfield : a poem’ is, as far as we can ascertain, the only copy remaining of this edition. Likewise, we can trace only one copy of Proposals for printing by subscription, a new method of short-hand, for general use (1739, ESTC T206619) at Lambeth Palace, and only two other copies of ‘An epistle to a gentleman of the Temple’ (1752, ESTC N9238), both in the United States.


Engraved frontispiece from ‘Greenfield: a poem’ (1759?), from Byrom’s poems; Roscoe’s Mount; Pleasant, &c., complete with a concept drawing for the engraver.

An inscription by Ward tells us that the book was previously in the library of J. E. Bailey – whose paper on the shorthand in Pepys’s Diary is mentioned above – and it carries the bookplate of the antiquary and promoter of municipal libraries John Fitchett Marsh (1818-1880), who had also contributed papers to the Chetham Society.

byrom portrait

Engraved portrait of Byrom bound within Byrom’s poems; Roscoe’s Mount; Pleasant, &c. The text reads ‘A sketch after spending an evening at Shawe’s Coffee House. Copied from a pen & ink drawing of the late Dorning Rasbotham.’

The volume is referenced in Ward’s Poems of John Byrom, I.i. pp. 226-7, where he explains the origin of the previously unprinted poetic fragments to follow.  These fragments, entitled ‘From a gentleman to his barber’, were taken from a folded manuscript within Byrom’s poems. The fragments had been copied from originals in the possession of John Baldwin. Ward claims there is ‘no reason for doubting their genuineness’ although ‘the Hudibrastic metre and manner were out of Byrom’s ordinary way’ (p. 226).

fragment resignation

‘A fragment of Dr Byrom’s poem on resignation’, from Byrom’s poems; Roscoe’s Mount; Pleasant, &c. Ford’s addendums read: ‘communicated to W[illiam] F[ord] by John Baldwin Esq. in whose possession is the original MS. which has never been printed’, and, at the foot of the page, ‘The same Gentleman afterwards very kindly lent me the Original to peruse, and also the following “Two Epistles”, viz. “To his Barber”, with the “Barber’s Pole” in three Cantos, written in the year 1736.’

Baldwin had given these manuscripts to the Mancunian bookseller and bibliographer William Ford (1771-1832) for transcription. Ford went on to compile Byrom’s poems, and his hand amends and captions the items throughout the volume. Ford had also played a role in the 1814 edition of the Miscellaneous poems of Byrom (Leeds: John Nichols), edited by Byrom’s brother-in-law John Houghton. The preface reveals ‘The portrait of Mr Byrom which is prefixed to this volume, was procured through the kindness of that accomplished bibliographer, Mr. Ford, of Manchester’ (p. vi).  This is the same engraving bound within Byrom’s poems (see image above) and later reproduced in Ward’s Poems of John Byrom. The preliminary sketches by Rasbotham can be found in the National Portrait Gallery, London: https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person/mp64985/john-byrom

The Library has also acquired Ward’s own copies of the Miscellaneous poems of Byrom – both the original 1773 edition (Manchester: J. Harrop) and Houghton’s later re-publication. Ward’s copy of the latter contains copious pencil marks and notes, which reveal something of his editorial process.

ward editing

This particular copy has a strong connection to John Houghton himself, as it contains a letter written on the front endpapers in April 1820 by E. Houghton, the son or daughter of the editor, and Byrom’s nephew or niece. In shaky handwriting, the author explains to the anonymous recipient that they may like to read the poems to their mother as ‘they are much estim’d by me both for their goodness & being composed by an uncle of mine. & transcribed … by my father’. Rather movingly, they then add: ‘my hand is so unsteady can add no more but all our respects you [sic]’. The recipient may have been a Mr Shaw Jr, as the same unsteady hand has written the name on the next page.


What is clear from these acquisitions is the meticulousness with which Ward prepared for his edition of Byrom’s works. As a collection, they offer a fascinating insight into his work as an editor and his place in Mancunian literary society. We are pleased to have brought these volumes to Peterhouse to sit alongside much of the rest of Ward’s library.

By Sarah Anderson. With thanks to Elisabeth Leedham-Green.

Contents of Byrom’s poems; Roscoe’s Mount; Pleasant, &c.

  1. [Engraving of] The house in which John Byrom Esq. resided in Manchester.
  2. [Engraved portrait of] Mr John Byrom, M.A., of Manchester.
  3. Proposals for printing by subscription, a new method of short-hand, for general use.
  4. Lines to the memory of the late ingenious Dr Byrom.
  5. A fragment of Dr Byrom’s poem on resignation.
  6. The following poems are in MS : have never been printed and are in the possession of John Baldwin Esq. Two epistles from a gentleman to his barber, together with the Barber’s pole in three cantos written in the year 1736.
  7. Sir Lowbred O—n : or, The Hottentot knight : a new ballad, to the tune of The abbot of Canterbury. Occasion’d by a pamphlet lately publish’d, intitled Jacobite and nonjuring principles freely examin’d, in a letter to the master-tool of the faction at Manchester : with remarks on some part of a book lately published, intitled A Christian catechism, &c. said to be wrote by Dr. D—-c–n. By J. Owen.
  8. Sir Lowbred O—-n : or, The Hottentot knight.
  9. Tunbridgiale, a poem : being a description of Tunbridge.
  10. An epistle to a gentleman of the Temple. : Occasioned by two treatises just published, wherein the fall of man is differently represented ; viz. I. Mr. Law’s Spirit of prayer ; II. The Bishop of London’s Appendix. Shewing, that, according to the plainest sense of Scripture, the nature of the fall is greatly mistaken in the latter.
  11. An epistle to a friend : occasioned by a sermon intituled, The false claims to martyrdom consider’d : a sermon preach’d at St. Anne’s Church, Manchester, November 2, 1746 … by Benj. Nichols, M.A. Assistant-Curate of the said church.
  12. The false claims to martyrdom consider’d : a sermon preached at St. Anne’s church, Manchester, Nov. 2, 1746. Being the Sunday after All-Saints Day.
  13. Greenfield : a poem
  14. Mount Pleasant : a descriptive poem. To which is added, an ode.


  1. Patricia Aske · · Reply

    Really interesting and such a great addition to your collection.

  2. Tim Underhill · · Reply

    Thank you for this very interesting post about some fascinating acquisitions which, as a Byromite, I very much look forward to studying!

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