Something in which we find ourself: A.C. Bradley on Inspiration

The Library has recently purchased A.C. Bradley’s manuscript of his lecture on ‘Inspiration’ – what is meant by it and what value it has to society.



A.C Bradley studied at Balliol from 1868 having won an exhibition (a type of scholarship). He was elected a Fellow in 1874 and was a popular teacher in English and Philosophy. Balliol’s manuscript collections show Bradley’s involvement in the intellectual life and politics of the College during his time here; forming friendships with T.H. Green and R.L. Nettleship and earning the opposition of the Master, Benjamin Jowett. The latter is hinted at in Bradley’s entry in The Masque of B-ll—l, forty satirical poems about Balliol members printed as a broadsheet in 1881:masque-balliol-bradley

‘Inspiration’ was first given as an address in a Church in Glasgow, where Bradley was Regius Professor of English Language and Literature at the University from 1889. He held the post until 1901 when he returned to Oxford as Professor of Poetry. Bradley’s address formed the basis of the essay of the same name in his book, A Miscellany (MacMillan, 1929) [Balliol Library: 47 g 26 Ground Floor].

Throughout the manuscript, Bradley crosses out and rewrites as he tackles the question of what is meant by ‘inspiration’ in the secular context of poets and other thinkers. Bradley identifies three conditions of inspired thought. Firstly, that it is new; secondly, that it strikes the thinker as superior to their habitual thoughts; and thirdly that it should come upon them suddenly. He goes on to identify a paradox about the perceived origin of inspired thought which he feels is a point of comparison to religious inspiration:

“[inspiration] is something which we cannot attribute to ourself, it is given to us, and in it we lose ourself; that is the one aspect. It is something in which we find ourself, and are at last our true self; that is the other aspect.”


The manuscript has been bound in boards covered with grey paper and contains the bookplate of Glaswegian publisher and bookseller James J. Maclehose, designed by Sir David Young Cameron. It joins other manuscripts by A.C. Bradley at Balliol including the rare survival of an undergraduate essay, with the title ‘Does Literature tend necessarily to decay?’ and academic papers on Shakespeare’s work, the area of criticism for which Bradley is most famous today.

Will too boote, and Will in ouer-plus

Today the Bodleian Libraries are celebrating their Sonnets 2016 project, which saw each of Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets printed by hand this year. Small presses from around the world have sent in an amazing variety of contributions. The sonnets range from postcard-size to poster-size, with all kinds of flourishes, conceits and illustrations.

One of my favourite things about the project is that it was open to amateur printers as well as experts. When not cataloguing Crouch’s books at Balliol I can often be found messing around with ink and type, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to print one of the sonnets.

Trial and error: sonnets large and small (left) and some early experiments with registration (right)

Sonnet 135 is bawdy, mischievous and chock-full of puns on the word Will. In this context, I wanted to use the project as a chance to experiment and play with different techniques. However, the design was also constrained by the materials to hand. These consisted mainly of a selection of Gill Sans, an Adana 8×5 press, and an awful lot of tea.

A proof of the linocut next to John Byddell’s 16th century border (Photograph by Lucy Kelsall)
A proof of the linocut next to John Byddell’s 16th century border

The border was linocut based on a design reproduced in R.B. McKerrow’s Printer’s & publishers’ devices in England & Scotland, 1485-1640 (1913). This border, McKerrow 94, was used by John Byddell in the mid-16th century. Byddell had been an assistant to Wynkyn de Worde, and printed at the sign of the Sun after his master’s death.

Fifteen copies were printed in black and red, and the remaining twenty-five in black.

Sonnet 135, printed by Frazil Press (Photograph by Lucy Kelsall)
Sonnet 135, printed by Frazil Press

More information about other contributions to the project is available on the Bodleian’s special collections blog, and photographs of many of the sonnets in progress can be found on social media by searching the hashtag #154sonnets.

By Lucy Kelsall
Early Printed Books Cataloguer (and sonneteer)



  • Blake, N.F. ‘Worde, Wynkyn de (d. 1534/5).’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • McKerrow, R.B. Printer’s & publishers’ devices in England & Scotland, 1485-1640. London: Bibliographical Society, 1913.
  • Pollard, A.W. and Redgrave, G.R. Short-title catalogue of books printed in England, Scotland, & Ireland and of English books printed abroad, 1475-1640. 2nd ed. London: Bibliographical Society, 1976-91.