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A. E. Housman's Classics Library


Alfred Housman (1859-1936) famously took only a Fourth Class degree while an undergraduate at St John’s despite his exceptional gifts as a classical scholar.  Leaving Oxford for a post as a clerk at the Patent Office he continued his work of textual analysis, building a reputation that led him to be appointed as Professor of Latin at University College London and then Kennedy Professor of Latin at Trinity College, Cambridge. Alongside his academic life Housman was, of course, an immensely popular poet: his best-known work is the elegiac and lyrical The Shropshire Lad (1896).

St John’s has several small but significant collections of Housman books and papers. Printed books, printed pamphlets and other printed ephemera enclosed with these are currently being catalogued electronically onto OLIS.

Housman’s library of classical works

The collection consists of about 300 books and pamphlets, whose particular value lies in the evidence they bear of Housman’s textual criticism, in the form of notes written in the margins and on loose leaves. It was acquired in 1936 from Basil Blackwell.

Housman collection donated by John H. A. Sparrow (1906-1992)

John Sparrow donated his collection of books and pamphlets by and about Housman to the College in 1984.

The collection consists of works:

  • from Housman’s own library, many with marginal notes or occasional inserts
  • by and about Housman, many bearing Sparrow’s marginal notes and inserted material often associated with Sparrow’s reviews of these publications
  • which Sparrow believed would have formed part of Housman’s collection, although these copies are without a Housman provenance.

The collection also contains items of Housman’s correspondence, photographs, and Sparrow’s own correspondence and papers pertaining to the collection and his work with John Carter to compile Housman’s bibliography.


Further material concerning Housman was received from:

H. E. Butler, Mrs H. E. Butler, P. F. Cornell, A. S. F. Gow, Richard Perceval Graves, F. W. Hall, Katharine Housman (A. E. Housman's sister), Laurence Housman (A. E. Housman's brother), Martin Higham, T. F. Higham, Hugh Last, Ruth Ogden, and Martin Symons.


  • The printed books from the Housman Collection have been catalogued on SOLO. To identify particular items from the collection go to the "Advanced Search" option, and include a "Copy Specific Notes" (from left hand drop down menu) search with the term 'Housman' in your enquiry. Also make sure the "Search Scope" drop-down menu (the bottom option to the right of the search boxes) is set to "St John's College".
  • Manuscripts, letters, printed books, photographs and ephemera from Housman's estate have gone through different hands since the poet's death in 1936. Therefore provenance attribution may have been lost in a few cases. During cataloguing of printed books, all ephemeral material was removed and stored separately. Cataloguing records for printed books (and enclosed ephemera) make references to Burnett's and Naiditch's handlists.

Finding aids

Naiditch, Paul G.

Summary catalogue of the Housman collection at St John's College, Oxford, typescript [1978]
Housman collections, St John's: Addenda and Corrigenda [to Burnett's indices of the Sparrow & Higham colls.] [December 1988]

Burnett, Archie

  • A. E. Housman: The Dr Michael Symons collection, card index [1984]
  • A. E. Housman: The John Sparrow collection, card index [1984]
  • A. E. Housman: The T. Martin Higham collection, card index [1984]

All finding aids are typewritten. They have been scanned and run through OCR software.

Special Collections are available for consultation - please email the Library.


Contact details

St John's College
St. Giles, Oxford OX1 3JP
Work Tel: 01865 277300
Fax: 01865 277435
University of Oxford