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Senate House Library

Durning-Lawrence Library

About 5,000 15th-20th century volumes from the library of Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence (1837-1914), by or in some way relating to Sir Francis Bacon.

The Collection

Subject: English literature

Described as ‘Baconian’ by its main collector, the collection comprises about 5,000 titles from the fifteenth to the twenty-first century. Many are either by the philosopher and statesman Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626) or are perceived as relating in some way to Bacon, to William Shakespeare, or to the Bacon-Shakespeare authorship controversy, i.e. the view that Sir Francis Bacon wrote the plays and poems of William Shakespeare.

Titles by Sir Francis Bacon, from the Essays of 1598 onwards, stand out. Shakespearean sources in early editions, books and pamphlets on the Bacon-Shakespeare authorship controversy, first editions of the works of Daniel Defoe, and early emblem books are additional strengths. Also present are early editions of Elizabethan and Jacobean literature generally, Jacobean and Caroline quarto plays, rare seventeenth-century Rosicrucian books, some early and foreign Bibles, several incunabula, and early history of the Elizabethan period. The first four Shakespeare folios occupy pride of place. Surprises representing non-Baconian enthusiasms include early editions of the works of Charles Darwin, not least the first edition of the Origin of the Species, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1866), with a manuscript illustration by one of Tenniel’s pupils pasted in.

Manuscripts with a Baconian connection supplement the printed books. These range from a seventeenth-century manuscript of An Apologie of the Earle of Essex which demonstrates the continued circulation of manuscripts in the early modern period to a lecture dated 1805 advocating Bacon as the author of Shakespeare (actually a twentieth-century fake). Invoices and inventories provide rich background information about the collection.

The collection is largely the library of Sir Edwin Durning-Lawrence (1837-1914), a major protagonist in the Bacon-Shakespeare authorship controversy (see Alexander Gordon, Family History of the Lawrences of Cornwall, [1915]) who believed firmly that Sir Francis Bacon wrote not only Shakespeare’s plays but much else of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods not attributed to him besides, and built up the collection to substantiate his views. Edith, Lady Durning-Lawrence (1844-1929) acquired a few books after her husband’s death. She bequeathed the library to the University of London, together with money to augment it. This has enabled Senate House Library to add to the collection, mainly with more recent works about the authorship controversy. Later the Durning-Lawrences’ niece, Theodora, gave the University the original library furniture from Carlton House Terrace, and Durning-Lawrence’s original bookshelves were built into the room named after him in Senate House Library.


For an overview of the library in classified order, do a mixed classmark search on [D.-L.L.]. An author search on “Durning Lawrence, Edwin” as former owner will isolate items owned by him.

Related material

Further reading