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Sir Walter Besant Manuscript

Identifier: MSS 0160

Scope and Contents

The signed manuscript in this collection is untitled, but is enclosed in a gilt lettered buckram portfolio case that bears the title Queen Victoria's Jubilee. The chapter headings are: "I. The First Prophet," "Chapter 2. The Second Prophet," "III. The Third Prophet," "Ch. IV," and "Ch. V. Of the Future."

Accompanied by a typescript of the same manuscript, with a few typed corrections, the work explores the theme of the social ills of England in 1825, and the resulting improvements under the reign of Queen Victoria up through 1895. Possibly an unpublished preliminary essay that was greatly enlarged upon in Besant's publication of The Queen's Reign and Its Commemoration (1897), the topics covered include political freedoms, provincialism, child labor, educational reform, religion, trade and agriculture, colonization, health and hygiene, medical improvements, and finally a proposal for an alliance of the "Five Great Nations" (Great Britain, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand). Besant remarks, "Perhaps, the United States as well will join, though in the present temper of the people that appears improbable."


  • circa 1895


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright is retained by the creators of items in these papers, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.

Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information. Please see our Sensitive Materials Statement.

Biographical or Historical Information

Walter Besant (1836-1901) was an English author and social critic. He was born in Portsea August 14, 1836, the fifth child of a family with six sons and four daughters. His parents were William Besant, a merchant, and Sarah Ediss Besant, the daughter of an architect.

Besant spent three terms at King's College, London and graduated from Christ's College, Cambridge in 1859. After his graduation, Besant worked briefly but unsuccessfully as a journalist, then accepted a mathematics teaching position at Leamington College, followed by a senior professorship at Royal College on the island of Mauritius from 1861 to 1867.

Besant returned to London to pursue his literary career, and published his first book, Studies in Early French Poetry, in 1868, followed by several articles on French literature and social topics. Encouraged by his success, Besant continued to write while he supported himself as secretary of the Palestine Exploration Fund, a position which he held until the success of All Sorts and Conditions of Men established his literary career in 1882.

A prolific writer, Besant published sometimes three or four novels a year, and his most successful collaboration was with James Rice, the editor of Once a Week. From 1872 until Rice's death in 1882 the two published more than a dozen novels and collected editions of long stories that brought them commercial and critical acclaim. After Rice's death, Besant continued writing the East End working-class romances upon which his reputation was made.

During the final period of his career, from 1887 until his death in 1901, the quality of Besant's novels suffered, but he continued to pursue his interests in various social reforms in both his fiction and nonfiction writing. One work in particular, Fifty Years Ago (A Picture of Society in This Country as It Was When the Queen Ascended the Throne), was published in 1888 as an historical retrospective of the year Queen Victoria began her reign. Another work, The Queen's Reign and Its Commemoration was published in 1897, and echoes Besant's familiar themes of social reform and the vast improvements that had taken place since Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837.

In 1895, Besant was knighted, largely due to his East End writings and his efforts on behalf of social reform.


0.20 Linear Feet (1 box)

Language of Materials



Walter Besant (1836-1901) was an English author and social critic. The signed manuscript in this collection is contained in a case bearing the title "Queen Victoria's Jubilee," and explores social improvements in England under the reign of Queen Victoria.

Method of Acquisition

Purchased in November 2000.

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Revision Statements

  • April 20, 2021: This finding aid underwent changes in Spring 2021 after a reparative archives review. The following link leads to the legacy version of this finding aid:

Repository Details

Part of the Martha Blakeney Hodges Special Collections and University Archives Repository

P.O. Box 26170
320 College Ave.
Greensboro NC 27402-6170 US