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Department Collection

Keats, Ode to the Nightingale

Keats, Ode to the Nightingale

Autographs and Archives

The Fitzwilliam Museum preserves autographs by some of the best-known names in literature, music, science, and art. These include Isaac Newton’s notebook, the Ode to a Nightingale in Keats’ own hand, Thomas Hardy’s manuscript of Jude the Obscure, and Virginia Woolf’s draft of A Room of One’s Own; letters by Charles Darwin, Charlotte Brontë, William Blake, Dante Gabriel Rosetti, Horatio Nelson, and Queen Victoria; and the massive archives of Edward Burne-Jones and John Linnell, William Blake’s last great patron.


Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727)

Celebrated as the ‘father’ of modern science, Newton is less well known as a theologian. His private life remains a mystery. Perhaps often carried in his pocket while at Trinity College, Cambridge, this notebook preserves his thoughts on optics together with the sums he spent on laundry and the confession of past sins he could remember in 1662. This little booklet brings together the scientist, the believer, and the every-day man.
Presented by the Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum, with the aid of a grant from Sir Thomas Barlow, 1936
MS 1-1936

John Keats (1795-1821)
Autograph manuscript of Ode to a Nightingale

One of the best-loved poems ever composed in English survives in its original draft, written by Keats on two sheets of scrap paper. His friend Charles Brown recalled how Keats sat in his garden in Hampstead on a beautiful spring morning and, moved by the song of a nightingale nesting nearby, wrote the lyrics within a few hours. The hastily penned lines recapture the moment of inspiration and spontaneous creativity as experienced by one of the greatest Romantic poets.
Presented by the Marques of Crewe, 1933.
MS 1-1933

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)
Jude the Obscure

Thomas Hardy’s best-known work was also his last novel. Jude the Obscure was a turning point in his career. Its dark, fateful pessimism unleashed the critics’ hostility and persuaded Hardy to abandon prose for poetry. He presented the original manuscript of the novel, as well as one of his eight volumes of verse, Time’s Laughingstocks, to the Fitzwilliam Museum whose Director, Sydney Cockerell, he had befriended.
Presented by the author, 1911
MS 1-1911

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
Autograph manuscript of A Room of One’s Own

Widely acclaimed as one of the most innovative novelists of twentieth-century modernism, Virginia Woolf was also a literary critic, journalist, and social thinker with a powerful voice in contemporary debates. As a founding member of the Bloomsbury Group, the circle of intellectuals that met in her London home, she spoke and wrote against the Victorian prejudices of class and gender. Based on her lectures ‘Women and Fiction’, A Room of One’s Own became a feminist classic, predicting a future for women-writers and poets, free from social, financial, and educational prejudices. Woolf’s learned and elegant, but accessible prose, is the best advocate for the dialogue she proposed between the intellectual and the audiences. Her concern for high standards of education in a world of mass-produced culture and her belief that the general public could share ‘highbrow’ culture remain relevant today.
Presented by Leonard Woolf, 1942.
MS 1-1942

William Blake (1757-1827)

At the Fitzwilliam Museum, William Blake can be studied in all his complexity, as an artist, as a poet, and as a mystical philosopher. The collections represent the full range of his creative genius, from paintings, watercolours, drawings, and engravings to illuminated books, poetry, and letters.

John Linnell (1792-1882)

A distinguished portraitist and landscape painter, John Linnell was one of the most successful artists of his day. He was also William Blake’s last major patron and his journals and cash-books are crucial in understanding Blake’s final years. Linnell built up an impressive network of connections with fellow artists, sitters, art dealers, suppliers, and prominent private collectors. They all speak through his private papers and correspondence, an impressive archive of over 17,000 items and a treasury of information on the nineteenth-century art world.

Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898)

The leading figure of the later Pre-Raphaelite movement, Burne-Jones became the most sought-after European painter of the 1880s. In addition to important examples of his art works, the Fitzwilliam Museum preserves rich archival materials on his professional and private life, as well as on his friends and collaborators. Like William Morris, the founder of the Arts and Crafts movement, Burne-Jones crossed the boundaries between fine and decorative art, designing jewellery, furniture, stained glass, and stage costumes. His pass-books record his collaboration with Morris and their life-long friendship is reflected in the amusing, good-natured caricatures.