Phillipps, Thomas (DNB00)
|←Phillipps, Samuel March||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 45
PHILLIPPS, Sir THOMAS (1792–1872), baronet, antiquary, and bibliophile, born at 32 Cannon Street, Manchester, on 2 July 1792, came of a family long settled at Broadway, Worcestershire. He was baptised at the collegiate church (now the cathedral) of Manchester, where the entry runs ‘1792, July 22, Thomas Phillipps, son of Hanna Walton.’ His father, Thomas Phillipps, son of William Phillipps, was born in 1742, was a magistrate for Worcestershire, and was appointed high sheriff for the county in 1801. A man of considerable culture, he acquired a large property around Broadway, including the Child's Wickham, Buckland, and Middle Hill estates. Sir Thomas succeeded to the whole of the property on the death of his father in 1818.
Thomas was educated at Rugby and University College, Oxford, matriculating 19 Oct. 1811, and graduating B.A. in 1815 and M.A. in 1820. From his earliest years he showed a love for literature, and while at Rugby collected a number of books, of which the catalogue is still extant. His father encouraged his studious tastes. All his pocket-money was spent in books, and he passed his holidays both in and out of doors with a book as his constant companion. While at Oxford his taste for old books and manuscripts increased. Within a year of his father's death he married, and soon afterwards entered on the main business of his life, the collection of rare manuscripts of all ages, countries, languages, and subjects. ‘In amassing my collection of manuscripts,’ he said later (Cat. pref.), ‘I commenced with purchasing everything that lay within my reach, to which I was instigated by reading various accounts of the destruction of valuable manuscripts. … My principal search has been for historical, and particularly unpublished, manuscripts, whether good or bad, and more particularly those on vellum. My chief desire for preserving vellum manuscripts arose from witnessing the unceasing destruction of them by goldbeaters; my search for charters or deeds by their destruction in the shops of glue-makers and tailors. As I advanced, the ardour of the pursuit increased, until at last I became a perfect vello-maniac (if I may coin a word), and I gave any price that was asked. Nor do I regret it, for my object was not only to secure good manuscripts for myself, but also to raise the public estimation of them, so that their value might be more generally known, and, consequently, more manuscripts preserved. For nothing tends to the preservation of anything so much as making it bear a high price. The examples I always kept in view were Sir Robert Cotton and Sir Robert Harley.’
The earliest of his large purchases of manuscripts Phillipps made while on a prolonged visit to the continent, between 1820 and 1825, when he visited Belgium, Holland, France, Germany, and Switzerland. In 1824, at the sale at The Hague of the famous Meerman collection of manuscripts, Phillipps was the chief buyer—in fact three-fourths of these valuable manuscripts passed into his hands; but, owing to his unwillingness to bid against Thomas Gaisford, dean of Christ Church [q. v.], the Bodleian Library was able to acquire a few important volumes. In the same year another great series of manuscripts, dating from the ninth century, Phillipps purchased privately from Professor Van Ess of Darmstadt. Most of these were formerly in German monasteries, and, though chiefly theological, were of importance for the study of old German dialects. In Belgium he acquired large batches of early manuscripts on vellum, coming from the libraries of famous monasteries. At the Chardin sale in Paris he obtained upwards of 120 manuscripts, and at the Celotti sale more than 150. In 1827 Phillips persistently outbid the agent of the Dutch government at the sale of the Muschenbroek collection of charters, chronicles, and cartularies dealing with the history of Utrecht and other provinces of Holland.
When again settled in England he was in constant communication with the most important English and foreign booksellers. From Thorpe, whom he first commissioned to search for manuscripts in 1822, he obtained some of his largest and most valuable collections. In 1836 he bought of him upwards of sixteen hundred manuscripts. Before 1830 he acquired many important classical manuscripts from the Drury collection, the Lang collection of French romances, the Battlesden library belonging to Sir Gregory Page Turner, the Williams collection which included Bishop Gundulf's celebrated bible, the Craven Ord collection, rich in chronicles, cartularies, household books of kings, queens, and nobles, and the Earl of Guilford's splendid collection of Italian manuscripts in more than thirteen hundred volumes. At a later period he secured the manuscripts respecting Mexico belonging to Lord Kingsborough, whom Phillipps had first recommended to study Mexican subjects [see King, Edward, Viscount Kingsborough]. French Revolution papers (in some eight or nine hundred volumes), the Hanbury Williams, the Ker Porter, and Roscoe correspondence likewise fell into his hands. In 1836 he obtained over four hundred lots from the Heber collection, including valuable volumes of early English poetry and French romances. He also acquired the historical collection (in ninety-seven volumes) of charters, grants, rolls, together with the original cartulary and other evidences relating to Battle Abbey since its foundation.
Among manuscripts relating to Ireland that found their way into Phillipps's library from the Cooper, O'Reilly, Betham, Monck Mason, Todd, and other collections, was a far-famed manuscript of Giraldus Cambrensis of the twelfth to the thirteenth century, illustrated with spirited contemporary drawings.
In the history and literature of Wales Phillipps took peculiar interest, and his large collection was rich in old Welsh poetry. Among the Welsh treasures was one of the four famous books of Wales, i.e. Aneurin's ‘Gododin,’ a manuscript of the twelfth century, on vellum.
Of oriental manuscripts Phillipps owned some four or five hundred volumes, and among many valuable Greek manuscripts was a splendid manuscript of Dioscorides of the tenth to eleventh century on vellum, beautifully illustrated. Phillipps's illuminated manuscripts were of rare beauty; some of them had been executed for the Medici, Charles VIII of France, Pope Nicholas V, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, Mathias Corvinus, king of Hungary, and other important persons. The gem of the library was a thirteenth-century volume of miniatures, representing numerous incidents of bible history beginning with the creation. Another important feature of Phillipps's great storehouse were the manuscripts bound in ornamental metal and studded with crystals or gems, of which there are not two hundred known specimens throughout Europe. The whole of Phillipps's manuscripts ultimately numbered about sixty thousand.
Phillipps at the same time purchased printed books of all classes, both ancient and modern. With Van Ess's manuscripts he bought a fine series of incunabula in about a thousand volumes. He sought the original printed editions of the classics, and secured several of them printed on vellum. He owned a copy of Caxton's ‘Recuyell of the Histories of Troye,’ and numerous rare works on America. Phillipps also formed a fine collection of coins and of pictures, including a number of drawings collected by Sir Thomas Lawrence, and a large collection of pictures by George Catlin, illustrative of the manners and customs of the North American Indians.
Unlike most collectors, Phillipps bought his manuscripts for work. Few volumes were without some trace that he had studied them, while hundreds of notebooks are filled with his own topographical, historical, genealogical, and miscellaneous notes. In 1819 he privately printed, at Salisbury, ‘Collections for Wiltshire,’ and in 1820, at Evesham, ‘Account of the Family of Sir Thomas Molyneux’ (his first wife's father). With a view to making some of his manuscripts more generally accessible, he established about 1822 a private printing-press in a tower situated on the Middle Hill estate, and known as Broadway Tower. A vignette of this tower is to be found on some of the title-pages of the genealogical, topographical, and other works from time to time issued from this press (see infra).
In 1862 Phillipps decided to remove both his library and printing-press from Middle Hill to a larger and more commodious building, Thirlestane House, Cheltenham, which he purchased of Lord Northwick. His collections replaced in the galleries the Northwick collection of pictures. Continually corresponding with literary men in all parts of the world, he was always glad to welcome students to Middle Hill or Thirlestane House.
Phillipps was assiduous in the regulation of his estates, and was fond of sport. In 1826 he unsuccessfully contested the parliamentary representation of Grimsby. He was created a baronet on 27 July 1821, and was high sheriff for Worcestershire in 1825. He was a trustee of the British Museum, was admitted a fellow of the Royal Society in 1819, and was fellow of the chief learned societies at home and abroad. He declined election to the Roxburghe Club on the ground that they did not publish sufficiently important works. He was one of the earliest members of the Athenæum Club.
Phillips died at Thirlestane House on 6 Feb. 1872, and was buried at the old church, Broadway, Worcestershire. He married, first, on 7 Feb. 1819, Harriet, daughter of Lieutenant-general Sir Thomas Molyneux, bart., of Castle Dillon, co. Armagh, by whom he had three daughters. The eldest, Henrietta Elizabeth Molyneux (d. 1879), who married James Orchard Halliwell, the Shakespearean scholar, succeeded to the entailed Middle Hill estates [see Halliwell, afterwards Halliwell-Phillips, James Orchard]. The second daughter, Maria Sophia, married the Rev. John Walcot of Bitterley Court, Shropshire, and died on 26 Feb. 1858. The third daughter, Katherine Somerset Wyttenbach, married John Edward Addison Fenwick, formerly vicar of Needwood, Staffordshire, and is still living. Sir Thomas married, secondly, in 1842, Elizabeth, daughter of the Rev. W. J. Mansell. A fine portrait of the collector, by Thomas Phillips, R.A. (1770–1845) [q. v.], is at Thirlestane House.
By his will Phillipps left Thirlestane House, together with his books, manuscripts, pictures, prints, coins, &c., to his youngest daughter, Mrs. Fenwick. A portion of the manuscripts has since been dispersed by private treaty or by auction at Sotheby's (July 1891, July 1892, June 1893, March 1895, June 1896, May 1897, June 1898, June 1899, and June 1908). The German government purchased most of the Meerman collection; the Dutch government the manuscripts relating to Holland, and the Belgian government those coming from or relating to their country, while Alsace-Lorraine acquired the cartularies, charters, &c., relating to Metz, Strasburg, and other places. Some manuscripts still remain at Thirlestane House. The printed books in Phillipps's library were sold at Sotheby's in three portions, in August 1886, January 1889, and December 1891 respectively.
An incomplete enumeration of the works issued from Phillipps's private press at Middle Hill (‘Typis Medio-Montanis’) occupies some fourteen pages in Lowndes's ‘Bibliographer's Manual’ (pp. 1856–8, and appendix, pp. 225–237). Many of these issues were edited by Phillipps himself. But some are mere leaflets, comprising extracts from registers, visitations, genealogies, cartularies, and brief catalogues of manuscripts in private and public libraries, both in England and abroad, besides a number of complimentary and other verses, lists of inscriptions, prospectuses, squibs, and other trifles.
Among the more important of Phillipps's private issues are: 1. ‘Institutiones Clericorum in Comitatu Wiltoniæ, 1297–1810,’ 2 vols. fol. vol. i. Salisbury, 1822; vol. ii. Middle Hill, 1825. 2. ‘Monumental Inscriptions in the County of Wilton,’ 1822. 3. ‘Catalogus Librorum Manuscriptorum Antonii a Wood’ (in the Ashmolean Library) [by William Huddesford, Oxford, 1761], 1824, fol. 4. ‘Catalogus Librorum Manuscriptorum in Bibliotheca Phillippica,’ 1824–[1867?] fol.; the second sheet describes the manuscripts of Dr. Van Ess, and the fifth the Meerman MSS. Succeeding supplements describe a total of 17,872 manuscripts, and other manuscripts were roughly catalogued up to 34,316 (Notes and Queries, 4th ser. ix. 201). 5. ‘Itinerarium ad Terram Sanctam: per Petrum de Suchen A.D. 1336, scriptum A.D. 1350,’ 1825, 12mo, pp. 5–78 (incomplete). 6. ‘Marriages, Baptisms, and Burials in Somerset House Chapel,’ 1831, 8vo. 7. ‘Catalogus Manuscriptorum in Bibliothecis Angliæ,’ pts. i. and ii. 1833–9, fol. 8. ‘Index to Cartularies, now or formerly existing since the Dissolution of the Monasteries,’ 1839, 12mo. 9. ‘Aubrey's Collections for Wiltshire, printed from the original Manuscript under the Inspection of Sir T. P.,’ London, 1839, 4to. 10. ‘Sir Dudley Carleton's State Letters during his Embassy to The Hague, 1627, now first edited by Sir T. P.,’ 1841, 4to.
[Times, 8 Feb. 1872; Athenæum, February 1872; Bibliothèque de l'École des Chartes, 1889, pp. 68, 180; Book Lore, iv. 141; private information.]