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The Charlemont Manuscript Collection

The Academy holds the most complete collection of papers pertaining to James Caulfeild, 1st earl of Charlemont. The collection consists of correspondence, essays, memoirs and translations of literary works, together with commentaries on the texts.

James Caulfeild, 1st earl of Charlemont, 1728-99, was a founding member and the first President of the Royal Irish Academy.

The correspondence (MSS 12 R 9-21) consists of 1,300 letters arranged in two series, spanning the period 1745-1799, and includes one earlier letter, from William, second viscount Charlemont, to Hugh Montgomery, 2nd earl of Mount Alexander, dated 1707. The correspondence is wide-ranging.

The correspondents include almost all of the major political, literary and artistic figures of the second half of eighteenth-century Britain and Ireland – Edmund Burke, Charles Fox, Henry Flood, Henry Grattan, the Dukes of Portland, Rutland and Leinster, Joseph Baretti, Horace Walpole, Joseph Cooper Walker, Arthur Young, Sir William Chambers, Sir William Jones and others. Please note that some of the correspondence is between individuals other than Charlemont.

Charlemont writes about the major events of the day, his building schemes in Dublin, at Marino and at Charlemont House, and his domestic affairs and his financial affairs.

The first three hundred letters were collated in three volumes by Rev. Edward Groves in 1825. The remaining thousand were arranged in ten further volumes by John P. Prendergast in 1867 – they had only come to light in 1864. There are two further volumes of letters, from Charlemont to his friend, the eminent physician, Dr Alexander Henry Haliday of Belfast, covering the period 1782-99. Haliday was the first Secretary of the Northern Whig Club and had become acquainted with Charlemont when he came to Belfast to conduct reviews of the Irish Volunteers. A duplicate set of the Haliday correspondence is also held.

Selected items from the two main series of letters were edited by John T. Gilbert, Librarian to the Royal Irish Academy (1861-98), and published in two volumes by the Historical Manuscripts Commission.

James Caulfeild is also remembered for the Account of his political life (MS 12 R 7) addressed to his three sons, which includes an essay on the plague at Messina, anecdotes of David Hume with whom Charlemont had become friends at Turin, and observations on a storm at sea between Rhodes and Malta. The Account covers the period 1755-83 and treats extensively of affairs in Ireland, in particular the conditions which gave rise to the Volunteer movement in which Charlemont, as Commander-in-Chief, was to play a major role. Although the author intended the memoir ‘solely for your information and instruction,’ addressing himself to his sons Francis, James and Henry, it was published by Gilbert in the 12th Report of the Historical Manuscripts Commission in 1891. The Account is not only a memoir of Charlemont’s political life and the history of events as he saw them, but an ‘impartial account of your father’s principles and conduct, and, as it were, the political history of his heart.’

Two further manuscripts (MSS 12 R 5,6) have been published, albeit in abridged form. These are Charlemont’s Traveller’s essays, relating to his travels in Greece and Turkey, 1749. Their importance as documentary records lies in the fact that few westerners had visited the Greek islands and Turkey and recorded their unbiased observations. This Charlemont did with refreshing open-mindedness and candour, recording not only the places he visited but leaving a memorable record of the local people, from government officials to village folk. His accounts of the escapades of himself and his companions, Francis Pierpoint Burton, later Baron Conyngham, and Alexander Scott, are humorous, while he treats the recording of sites of archaeological importance with due deference. Charlemont was the first person in modern times to describe the temple of Aphrodite at Cnidos and the first to identify Bodrum as the site of Halicarnassus. The Essays portray the author as fun loving, yet scholarly, and an acute observer of human nature. He returned to them throughout the course of his life, annotating them and finally publishing some papers based on parts of his Greek essay and his classical research in Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy. W.B. Stanford, MRIA, and E.J. Finopoulos published an edition of the Traveller’s essays in 1984 and Stanford published a commentary on Charlemont’s eastern travels in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy in 1980.

The remaining four manuscripts are literary in content. The first, Translations and imitations from sonnets and epigrams, Italian, French, Latin and Greek, includes the original versions of some of the translations and explanations and commentaries on these. The next three form a set, An essay towards the history of Italian poetry, attempted in translated specimens of the noted classical poets from Dante to Metastasio. Charlemont’s acquaintance with Italian literature was deep and extremely comprehensive, ranging from Dante and Petrarch, through Lorenzo de’ Medici, Boiardo, Vittoria Colonna, Aretino, Tasso, Guarini, to the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century poets, major and minor. Throughout the three volumes Charlemont comments on the texts, be they passages from the Inferno or seventeenth-century sonnets. His commentaries are scholarly yet redolent of his sensitivity to the human condition. The Essay was edited by George Talbot and published in 2000. A limited edition of twenty copies of Select sonnets of Petrarch, based on the Essay was published in 1822.

Later additions to the collection are included on the attached listing.

Further reading:

For authoritative short accounts of Charlemont’s life see:

James Kelly, MRIA, ‘Caulfeild, James (1728-99), 1st earl of Charlemont’ in James McGuire and James Quinn (eds), Dictionary of Irish biography (9 vols, Cambridge, 2009), vol. 2, 428-31; (Online edition available by subscription).

James Kelly, ‘Caulfeild, James, first earl of Charlemont (1728-1799)’ in The Oxford dictionary of national biography (60 vols, Oxford, 2004), vol 10, 571-3; (Online edition available by subscription).

Additional resources:

Francis Hardy, Memoirs of the earl of Charlemont (London, 1810; 2nd ed., 2 vols, 1812).

Maurice Craig, The Volunteer earl (London, 1948).

John T. Gilbert (ed.), The manuscripts and correspondence of James, first earl of Charlemont, vol. 1, 1745-1783, Historical Manuscripts Commission, 12th report, Appendix part 10 (London, 1891); vol. 2, 1784-1799, Historical Manuscripts Commission, 13th report, Appendix part 8 (London, 1894).

James Kelly, ‘A secret return of the volunteers of Ireland in 1784’, Irish Historical Studies, 26 (1988-9), 268-9.

James Kelly, ‘Lord Charlemont and learning’, Proc. RIA 106C (2006), 395-407.  This article includes a reprint of Charlemont’s essay ‘The antiquity of the woollen manufacture in Ireland ...’, first printed in Trans. RIA, 1 (1787), 17-24. (PDF file available online)

Michael McCarthy (ed.), Lord Charlemont and his circle: essays in honour of Michael Wynne (Dublin, 2001).

Jane Meredith, ‘Letters between friends: Lord Charlemont’s library and other matters’, Irish Architectural and Decorative Studies, 5 (2001), 52-77.

Cynthia O’Connor, The pleasing hours: the Grand tour of James Caulfeild, 1st earl of Charlemont (Cork, 1999).

T.G.F. Paterson, ‘The county Armagh volunteers of 1778-1793’, Ulster Journal of Archaeology, 3rd ser., 4 (1941), 101-27 and 5 (1942), 31-61.

‘Lord Charlemont’ in The public characters of 1798 (Dublin, 1799), 185-91.

W.B. Stanford, ‘The manuscripts of Lord Charlemont’s eastern travels’, Proc. RIA, 80C (1980), 69-90.

W.B. Stanford and E.J. Finopoulos (eds), The travels of Lord Charlemont in Greece and Turkey 1749 (London, 1984).

G. Talbot, ‘The historical background and intellectual context of Lord Charlemont’s manuscript History of Italian poetry from Dante to Metastasio,’ Italian Studies, 54 (1999), 85-100.

G. Talbot (ed.), Lord Charlemont’s History of Italian poetry from Dante to Metastasio: a critical edition from the autograph manuscript (3 vols, Lewiston (NY) etc., 2000).

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