Skip to main content

Mary Botham Howitt and William Howitt papers

Call Number: MS Eng.328

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of personal and professional correspondence from English poet Mary Botham Howitt (1799-1888) and her husband, English writer William Howitt (1792-1879), between 1823-1888. Of interest is a letter by Mary Botham Howitt discussing her translations of Fredrika Bremer’s articles pubished in a Stockholm newspaper and a letter by William Howitt discussing his interest in the Aurora Borealis. The collection also contains several manuscript fragments of poems, in both Mary and William Howitt’s hand, as well as clippings about Mary Botham Howitt and two cartes-de-visite: one of the Howitts and one of Mary Botham Howitt.


  • 1823 - 1888


Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Items in this collection may be subject to copyright restrictions. In most cases, the Boston Public Library does not hold the copyright to the items in our collections. It is the sole responsibility of the user to make their own determination about what types of usage might be permissible under U.S. and international copyright law.

Mary Botham Howitt (1799-1888)

Mary Botham Howitt (1799-1888) was an English poet, translator, and editor. Born Mary Botham on March 17, 1788 in Coleford, England to Quaker Samuel Botham and his wife Ann, Mary was educated at home, read widely, and began writing at an early age. She married the English writer William Howitt in 1821 and had four children, Anna Mary, Alfred William, Charlton, and Margaret. Together and separately, Mary and William Howitt published a large body of work in several different genres including poetry, natural history, travel, and "homes and haunts”. Among their shared works are The Forest Minstrels and other Poems (Baldwin, Cradock and Joy, 1823), Howitt’s Journal of Literature and Popular Progress (1847-1849), and The Ruined Abbeys and Castles of Great Britian (A. W. Bennett, 1862). They were also early contributors to Charles Dickens’ Household Words.

In 1829, Mary published the well-known poem The Spider and the Fly: An Apologue: A New Version of an Old Story which first appeared in The New Year's Gift and started writing popular children’s books. In the early 1840s, the Howitt family moved to Heidelberg, Germany where Mary learned Swedish and Danish and translated the novels of the Swedish feminist writer Fredrika Bremer (1801-1865), whom she introduced to English and American readers. She was also the first English speaker to translate several tales by Hans Christian Anderson (1805-1875). In addition to her literary work, Howitt was a strong supporter of the British anti-slavery movement and became acquainted with Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896) during Stowes’ trip to England in 1853. Her liberal belief in equality extended to women’s rights and along with Mary Gaskill (1810-1865) and Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861), Mary raised a petition for the Married Women’s Property Act in 1870. The Howitts became interested in Spiritualism and in 1847, they formally resigned from the Society of Friends. After William’s death in 1879, Mary converted to Catholicism. Mary Howitt died in Rome in 1888.

William Howitt (1792-1879)

William Howitt (1792-1879) was an English writer. He was born in Derbyshire, England on December 18, 1792 to Thomas and Phoebe Howitt. After attending the Friends school in Yorkshire, Howitt trained as a carpenter, worked on the family farm, and eventually became a pharmacist with his own business. William married the English poet Mary Botham in 1821, with whom he collaborated on over 180 books. The couple moved to Nottingham where he began his own writing career with Popular History of Priestcraft in All Ages and Nations, (Effingham Wilson, 1833). Howitt was elected as a Radical alderman in 1835; however, he resigned because he did not have enough time to write.

The Howitts moved to Esher in 1837 where they became involved in education reform and with the British anti-slavery movement. During this time, William published Visits to Remarkable Places (Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, & Longmans, 1840), in which he included a contribution by Elizabeth Gaskell titled "Clopton Hall". This helped launch Gaskell’s career. While in Germany, William immersed himself in the German language and culture and produced a series of books on German life. Back in England, he edited The People's Journal and Howitt's Journal. He also published Homes and Haunts of the most Eminent British Poets (Richard Bentley, 1847). Over the years, Howitt became a strong believer in Spiritualism and wrote The History of the Supernatural in all Ages and Nations, and in all Churches, Christian and Pagan, demonstrating a Universal Faith (J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1863), in which he included his own observations and experiences. From 1870 until his death, William Howitt and his family spent the summers in the Austrian Tyrol and the winters in Rome, where he died in 1879.


5 Folders

Language of Materials



Collection is arranged in two series: Series I. Correspondence and Series II. Manuscripts and printed matter.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from Emily Driscoll on the Benton Fund, 1969.

Processing Information

Information in this finding aid is transcribed from an earlier manuscript inventory, in which materials are described in several different ways. These descriptions have been retained to help researchers understand the contents of the collection. The format is described in a note for each file. The notes sometimes contain additional descriptions or paraphrases of contents. The physical items listed are further described in a physical description note which includes the number of unique intellectual items, and number of pages. Page counts include the front and back of each sheet, excluding blank pages. Single letters or manuscripts composed of multiple sheets are described as “1 item”, so a letter comprised of 3 sheets of paper with one blank side, would be described as “1 item (5 pages)”. In some cases, multiple items in the same folder may be listed separately.

Materials in this collection were preliminarily cataloged in the 2020 English Civilization Collection (MS Eng.) retrospective conversion project, and added to the electronic catalog from catalog cards or earlier typed inventories of manuscripts. Item descriptions were then converted to a finding aid to ease access to complete collections and materials with shared provenance.

This collection is held within the Boston Public Library Rare Books and Manuscripts Department's English Civilization collection.

Processing Information

This electronic finding aid is transcribed from legacy data. In many cases, transcriptions were not verified against collection materials at the time of transcription. As a result, this finding aid could be incomplete and might only reflect a partial understanding of the material.

Statement on harmful description

Archival description reflects the biases of time periods and cultures in which it was created and may include direct quotations or descriptions that use inappropriate or harmful language. Creator provided descriptions may be maintained in order to preserve the context in which the collection was created and/or used. Legacy description and potentially offensive content may be made available online until a collection can be reprocessed because the access that they provide to primary source materials is uniquely valuable to the research community at large. Our efforts to repair outdated descriptions and to describe our collections more equitably are iterative and ongoing.

Guide to the Mary Botham Howitt and William Howitt papers
In Progress
Boston Public Library Staff and Kimberly Reynolds
2022 August
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

About this library

Part of the Boston Public Library Archives & Special Collections Repository

700 Boylston Street
Boston MA 02116 United States