University of Delaware Library

Special Collections Department

A. J. A. Symons Papers

1920 - 1982
(bulk dates 1922-1938 )

Manuscript Collection Number: 177
Accessioned: Purchase, 1986.
Extent: 72 items (1 linear ft.)
Content: Letters, pamphlets, prospectuses, notebooks, lectures, essays, biographies, booklets, drawings, agreements, contracts, and clippings.
Access: The collection is open for research.
Processed: August 1999 by Anita A. Wellner.

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Table of Contents

Biographical Note

British biographer and bibliophile A. J. A. (Alphonse James Albert) Symons was born in London in 1900. A brother to novelist and critic Julian Symons, A. J. A. Symons is most widely recognized for his experimental biography, The Quest for Corvo (1934), which explored the life of novelist Frederick Rolfe (Baron Corvo).

Other biographies written by Symons include Emin, the Governor of Equatoria (1928) and H.M. Stanley (1933). Symons also wrote A Bibliography of the First Editions of Books by William Butler Yeats (1924), An Anthology of 'Nineties' Verse (1928), The Nonesuch Century (1936). Some of A. J. A. Symons's essays and short biographical studies were published posthumously by Julian Symons in Essays and Biographies (1969).

A. J. A. Symons, who founded the First Edition Club (London), served as one of the editors of The Book-collectors Quarterly, its official publication.

Several of Symons's literary projects, including a bibliography of the 1890s writers and a biography of Oscar Wilde, remained incomplete at the time of his death.

A. J. A. Symons, who also founded the Wine and Food Society, died on August 26, 1941.


Magnusson, Magnus (ed.) Cambridge Biographical Dictionary. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990. p. 1425.

Scope and Content Note

The A. J. A. Symons Papers consist of seventy-two items (1 linear foot), including letters, essays, biographies, notebooks, pamphlets, prospectuses, lectures, booklets, drawings, legal documents, and clippings. Spanning the years 1920-1982 (bulk dates 1922-1938), the papers include letters and manuscripts written by Symons, as well as documents recording Symons's establishment of, and participation in, The First Edition Club and The Wine and Food Society.

The small collection of letters in Series I includes Symons's letters to G. Jean-Aubry, concerning the sale of some Joseph Conrad letters in Symons's possession, and a letter to Osbert Burdett complimenting and criticizing Burdett's recent publications. Symons's letters to Ellis and Oscar Wilde concern completed chapters of his Wilde biography. His letters to Arnold Yates and to an unidentified individual concern The First Edition Club.

In addition, Series I includes a letter from Sir Hugh Walpole to David Garnett, in which Walpole expresses his dislike for Symons, and a letter from Bishop Charles Tyndall, in which he describes his friendship with Symons during World War II.

The second series of the papers consists of essays, lectures, bibliographies, biographies, stories, and other material written by Symons. Among the manuscripts are biographical notes and essays on Oscar Wilde, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, and the Tennant family. Other manuscripts include a lecture on the 1890s, Symons's selections for the "Gateway Standard Editions," an article on Curwen Press Books, page proofs for collections of his letters to Vincent O'Sullivan and Wyndham Lewis, and an autograph notebook.

The autograph notebook, which was probably written during the 1920s, includes a variety of notes, book-dealing records, ink caricatures, Wildean dialogue, lists of books in his personal library, several short stories, an incomplete essay on utopia, as well as miscellaneous notes and signatures.

Documents in Series III concern Symons's founding of and participation in The First Edition Club (London). A registration certificate, legal contracts dictating management, a design for a club logo, membership pamphlets, and several publications by The First Edition Club combine to provide information about the formation and early life of this institution.

The remainder of the collection consists of a contract between Symons and Andre Louis Simon, documenting the formation of The Wine and Food Society in 1934; Symons's copy of Lunch: A Conversation Piece; notes regarding the administration of A. J. A. Symons's estate, following his death; and several clippings.

Related collections:

Mss 99 Symons's letters to C.P. Johnson and Hartley Clark

Mss 204 Julian Symons Papers

Arrangement Note

The A. J. A. Symons Papers are organized into five series. Series I. Letters is arranged in alphabetical order first by sender and subsequently by recipient. Series II. Manuscripts written by A. J. A. Symons is arranged in alphabetical order by title, or subject when no title is available.

Series III. Material related to The First Edition Club is arranged with material related to the organization of the Club appearing in the initial folders, followed by a design of the Club logo, pamphlets describing the Club and its expansion, and finally publications of The First Edition Club. The publications are arranged in alphabetical order.

Series IV. consists of a single contract which legalized the formation of The Wine and Food Society. Series V. Miscellaneous material related to A. J. A. Symons includes three items.

Series Outline

I.   Letters, 1925-1933    

II.  Manuscripts written by A. J. A. Symons, [1920-1982]  

III. Material related to The First Edition Club, 1922-1937 

IV.  Contract forming The Wine and Food Society, 1934  

V.   Miscellaneous material related to A. J. A. Symons, 1928-1950                                      

Contents List

Box -- Folder -- Contents

1         Series I.  Letters, 1925-1933
               Includes letters from Symons to Aubry, Burdett,
               and Yates, as well as two letters which mention A.
               J. A. Symons.

     F1   Symons, A. J. A. (Alphonse James Albert), 1900-1941
            To Jean-Aubry, G. (Georges), 1882-1950
          1925 Oct 5          ALS       1p
               Oct 13         ALS       1p
          1926 Jan 13         ALS       1p
               Feb 14         ALS       1p
               Feb 20         ANS       1p
          [1926] Apr 13       ANS       1p
          1927 Feb 11         TNS       1p
                    Note:  Includes letter from Symons to Field
                    Roscoe & Co.

     F2   Symons, A. J. A.
            To Burdett, Osbert, 1885-1936
          1925 Dec 26         ALS       2p

     F3   Symons, A. J. A.
            To Ellis
          1925 Jul 16         ALS       1p

     F4   Symons, A. J. A.
            To Wilde
          [n.d.]              ALS       1p

     F5   Symons, A. J. A.
            To Yates, Arnold
          1933 Mar 6          TLS       1p

     F6   Symons, A. J. A.
            To unidentified
          1932 Oct 17         TLS       1p

     F7   Tyndall, Charles, Bishop of Derry and Raphoe
            To unidentified
          [n.y.] Feb 24       ALS       3p

     F8   Walpole, Hugh, Sir, 1884-1941
            To Garnett, David, 1892-1981
          1931 Sep 27         ALS       4p

1         Series II.  Manuscripts written by A. J. A. Symons,

     F9   A. J. A. Symons to Wyndham Lewis: twenty-four letters
               with comments by Julian Symons (Edinburgh: The
               Tragara Press, 1982), [1982]
          Typescript and page proofs, both with autograph
          corrections by Julian Symons.  48p.

     F10  [1890s: Art and Literature], [1930s]
          Unpublished Typescript, with autograph corrections and
          notes, lecture on art and literature in the 1890s,
          delivered by Symons at the Tomorrow Club.  14p.

     F11  "Gateway Standard Editions" list, [n.d.]
          Autograph and Typescript pages listing Symons's
          selections for the "Gateway Standard Editions," bearing
          notes by E. V. Lucas of Methuen Company.  4p.

     F12  Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (1814-1873) essay, [n.d.]
          Autograph, with extensive revisions, unpublished and
          incomplete essay on Irish author Le Fanu, 20p.

     F13  "On Curwen Press Books," [n.d.]
          Article in Curwen Press Newsletter, (no. 8).  8p.

     F14  Some Letters of Vincent O'Sullivan to A. J. A. Symons
               (Edinburgh: Privately printed at The Tragara
               Press, 1975)
          Page proofs, incomplete.  8p.

     F15  [Tennant family], [n.d.]
          Autograph with revisions excerpts from Symons's
          proposed biography of the Tennant family, which was
          never completed.  It includes an interview with
          Christopher Tennant (Lord Glenconner).  7p.

2    F16  [Untitled] notebook, [1920s]
          Autograph notebook containing signatures, ink
          caricatures, notes on "The Spectrum," an incomplete
          essay concerning utopia, early records on his book-dealing, 
          Wildean dialogue, an unfinished short story on
          John Fenton, lists of furniture in his home, list of
          his early book acquisitions, several untitled short
          stories, a portion of the poem "The Ballad of Reading
          Gaol," and pages of miscellaneous notes and shorthand
          notations.  53p.   

2         Series II.  Manuscripts written by Symons (cont'd)

          [Untitled] biography of Oscar Wilde, [n.d.]
          Incomplete and unpublished manuscripts toward the

     F17  Biographical notes on Oscar Wilde, [n.d.]
          Autograph.  2p.

     F18  Notes about Wilde as a schoolboy and at Oxford, [n.d.]
          Autograph and Typescript with autograph corrections. 

     F19  Unpublished essay on Oscar Wilde for a bibliography of
               the 1890s, [n.d.]
          Typescript with autograph footnotes.  19p.

          Series III.  Material Related to The First Edition
               Club, 1922-1938
               The First Edition Club (London) was founded by A.
               J. A. Symons and Max Judge in 1922.

     F20  Registration certificate for The First Edition Club,
               1922 Jun 30

     F21  Legal agreement between A. J. A. Symons and Max Judge,
               1923 May 4
          Retires Judge as a partner in the club.

     F22  Legal agreement between A. J. A. Symons and William and
               Gilbert Foyle, 1923 Jul 6
          Agreement regards the formation of a partnership for
          managing The First Edition Club. 

     F23  The First Edition Club logo design, [n.d.]
          Framed drawing, possibly drawn by Percy Smith.

          Pamphlets describing The First Edition Club, 1928-1932

     F24  Pamphlets detailing the rules of the club, membership
               lists, invitations, committees and members,
               history and purpose of the club, lists of
               benefactors, lists of exhibitions and books
               published by The First Edition Club, and an
               application form, 1930-1932

     F25  Three pamphlets describing openings and enlargements of
               The First Edition Club facilities, 1928-[1932]

3         Series III.  First Edition Club (cont'd)

          Publications of The First Edition Club, 1926-1937

     F26  Book-Collector's Quarterly, [1932]
          Order forms and prospectus for various issues.

     F27  Catalogue of a Comprehensive Exhibition of Post War
               German Book-Production including Printing,
               Calligraphy, Type-Design Illustration, and Trade
               and Hand-binding, (London: The First Edition Club,
               [1937]), [1937]
          Catalogue contains the bookplate of A. J. A. Symons.

     F28  Catalogue of an Exhibition of Books Printed in the
               U.S.S.R. in the Period 1930-1936 held by The First
               Edition Club, November-December 1936 (London:
               Pelican Press, [1936]), [1936]

     F29  Fifty Books of the Year (London: The First Edition
               Club, 1930-1938), 1930-1938
          Proofs and copies of this exhibition list of 50 books
          selected from the publications of a particular year by
          a committee of club members.

     F30  First Edition Club - Opening Speech by Holbrook Jackson
               at an Exhibition of Percy Smith's Typographical
               Work (Camden Town: Mac, Hardy & Co., [1935]), 1935
          Two copies, including one inscribed by Jackson.

     F31  Four Letters From Edward Garnett to Joseph Conrad
               ([London]: The First Edition Club, 1926), 1926
          Page proof.

     F32  Foyles Catalogue of Modern First Editions (London: 
          W. & G. Foyle, Ltd., 1935), 1935 Mar
          Includes a list of books published by The First Edition
          Club and two order forms.

     F33  A List of Books Illustrated by Edy Legrand--Exhibited
               by The First Edition Club ([London]: The First
               Edition Club, 1932), 1932

     F34  A List of Books Published by The First Edition Club
               ([London: The First Edition Club, 1929]), 1929

     F35  Twenty Letters to Joseph Conrad: an introduction and
               some notes by G. Jean-Aubry (London: The First
               Edition Club, 1926), 1926

3         Series IV.  Contract forming The Wine and Food Society,
               1934 Mar 15

     F36  Contract between Symons and Andre Louis Simon
               concerning their partnership and the society.

          Series V.  Miscellaneous material related to Symons,

     F37  "Administrating of A. J. A. Symons Estate," 1941-1943
          Autograph document includes lists of expenses, funeral
          details, and a copy of the death certificate.

     F38  Lunch: A Conversation Piece by Daniel George (Private,
               April 1933), 1933
          Inscribed "to A. J. from H. J. (Holbrook Jackson)."

     F39  Reviews of Julian Symons's A. J. A. Symons: His Life
               and Speculations and an article on Baron Corvo,

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