The Thomas Hardy Society in conjunction with the Dorset History Centre have purchased a newly discovered letter by Hardy

Purchase of New Hardy Letter

The Thomas Hardy Society in conjunction with the Dorset History Centre have purchased a newly discovered letter by Hardy.

The Letter to Sir Clifford Allbutt

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Andrew Leah (Honorary Curator of the Hardy Collection) with Dr Faysal Mikdadi (THS Academic Director)

On Thursday last (25th July), at a meeting of the Hardy Country Learning Group at the Dorset History Centre, Sam Johnstone, the Director of the Centre, opened the folder to reveal what we all there to see - the letter from Thomas Hardy to his friend Sir Clifford Allbutt, the eminent physician. With bated breath, we watched as Sam carefully opened the folder and revealed a perfect example of a Hardy letter.

Prof. Angelique Richardson and I had been asked to view and authenticate the letter on behalf of the Thomas Hardy Society, with a view to purchasing the letter for the Dorset County Museum, as a joint venture with the History Centre, each providing half the cost of the £1,800 asking price.

We both pored over the letter trying hard not to breathe on it. First we examined the handwriting. As an honorary curator of the Thomas Hardy Archive and Collection I have examined many examples of the great man’s handwriting over the years, and here were all the characteristic flourishes to word endings and instantly recognisable ‘t’s and ‘g’s. Next we considered the use of language and found it to be consistent with the many other letters in the collection and The Collected Letters. The paper too was similar to the paper of other of Hardy’s letters, as was the embossed address line.

All in all we were pleased to be able to say that the letter looked ‘right’, and that we both thought it authentic. In view of this we both felt the purchase should be allowed to go ahead.

I’m sure that much more research will be done on the letter in the future and no doubt will shine more light in Hardy’s interest in and empathy towards those with mental illness.

I have provided a transcript of the letter with some background information regarding Hardy’s relationship with Allbutt from The Life, a short biography of Sir Clifford from the online Encyclopaedia Britannica and information on Camberwell House Asylum from the Wellcome Trust below.

Andrew H Leah (Honorary Curator of the Hardy Collection)

Max Gate,


June 8: 1922

My Dear Clifford Allbut.

You are among the few people whose letters I value, and the more intimately you write the better. I am glad to hear that the book of poems gives you pleasure. It is, to tell the truth, rather an olla podrida, & covers a great number of years. One of the unexpected features in its receptionis that readers seem to prefer those pieces I thought hardly worth including at all.

I have been trying to think when it was we first met. I cannot be sure, but fancy it was at the Milnes-Gaskells at Wenlock in 1893; or else it was that you were coming there, but at the last moment could not. Anyhow it is a long time ago, and we are but a remnant of the Victorians of that day.

That visit to Camberwell House with you was a strange experience for me. I remember that I got so interested in the patients that the time flew more rapidly than it would have done at an evening party.

I was in bed for three weeks in the winter, but am very well again now. Please convey my kindest regards to Lady Clifford Allbutt, which my wife would join me in sending if she were not in London at the present moment. We should have appeared in Cambridge several times of late years had not the war thrown all arrangements out of joint. Believe me.

Yours always sincerely

Thomas Hardy

(‘olla podrida’ – a Spanish stew made of multiple ingredients; a hodge-podge).

Excerpts from ‘The Later Years of Thomas Hardy, 1892 – 1928 by Florence Emily Hardy, relating to Sir Clifford Allbutt:

“May 10 (1893) Spent a scientific evening at the conversazione of the Royal Society, where I talked on the exhibits to Sir R. Quain, Dr. Clifford Allbutt, Humphrey Ward, Bosworth Smith, Sir J Chrichton- Browne, F. & G. Macmillan, Ray Lankester, and others, without (I flatter myself) betraying excessive ignorance in respect of the points in the show.” (p.18)

‘ Hardy attended a dinner a week later (June 1907) given by the Medico-Psychological Society, where he had scientific discussions with Sir James Chrichton-Browne and Sir Clifford Allbutt, and where one of the speakers interested Hardy by saying that all great things were done by ment “who were not at ease.” p.126)

‘ During some of these days (July 1908) he sat to Sir Hubert Herkomer for his portrait, kindly presented to him by the painter. He went on to Cambridge for the Milton celebration, where at the house of his friend Sir Clifford Allbutt he met Mr. Robert Bridges, the Poet-Laureate, for the first time.’ (p.133)

‘In the evening (15 September 1913) he dined in Hall, where “the Master proposed the health of him (Hardy?) who was no longer a guest, but one of the Society, and the day’s proceedings terminated happily.” It was an agreeable evening for Hardy, Mr. A.E. Housman and Sir Clifford Allbutt being present as guests among others of his friends.’ (p.158)

Interestingly Hardy makes no mention in ‘The Life’ of the visit to Camberwell House and there are no letters to Allbutt in The Collected Letters. I have not yet checked with Helen Angear to see if there are any letters from Allbutt to Hardy in the DCM collection.


Sir Thomas Clifford Allbutt, (born July 20,1836, Dewsbury, Yorkshire, Eng.—died Feb. 22, 1925, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire), English physician, the inventor of the short clinical thermometer. His investigations also led to the improved treatment of arterial diseases.

During a 28-year practice in Leeds, Allbutt made valuable clinical studies, primarily of arterial and nervous disorders. In 1866 he introduced the modern clinical thermometer, a welcome alternative to the foot-long instrument that required 20 minutes to register a patient’s temperature. In 1871 he published a monograph outlining use of the ophthalmoscope (used to inspect the interior of the eye) as a diagnostic instrument. In 1892 Allbutt became regius professor of physic at the University of Cambridge, where he spent the rest of his career. Continuing his previous work, he postulated that the painful heart condition angina pectoris originates in the aorta (1894).

Allbutt was also a noted medical historian. Two of his most important publications were Diseases of the Arteries, Including Angina Pectoris(1915) and Greek Medicine in Rome (1921). He also edited A System of Medicine, 8 vol. (1896–99). He was knighted in 1907.

Online Encyclopaedia Britannica (updated Jul 16 2019)


Camberwell House Asylum in London first opened in 1846. It remained a private hospital until its closure in 1955. The archive dates from 1846-1920, with gaps.

Camberwell House Lunatic Asylum opened in 1846, accommodating 150 pauper and 12 private patients. By 1878 it was the second largest asylum in London, licensed to accommodate 362 patients. The asylum consisted of three substantial houses built in 1790 and 20 acres of parkland that later included tennis courts and a putting green. In 1919 it dropped the term asylum to become Camberwell House. It remained a private hospital until its closure in 1955. 

The archive contains three volumes of patient case books, for over 1000 people, from 1846–1887. There are also two volumes of admissions records for pauper patients from1846-1848 and a Visitors' Book of Commissioners in Lunacy, 1846-1865. A few individual items from the early 20th century include photographs of the grounds, and a book of rules for laundry workers.

Wellcome Library 



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