Mortimer Rare Book Room History

Frank H. Ellis, 1916–2007

Frank Ellis joined the Smith College faculty in 1958 and retired nearly four decades later as the Mary Augusta Jordan Professor of English Language and Literature. Even after he ceased teaching, he maintained a rigorous schedule of scholarly research, writing, and lecturing about English 17th- and 18th-century figures, notably Jonathan Swift and the Earl of Rochester. His heavily annotated edition of The Tale of a Tub was published in 2006, and he left behind an almost complete new biography of Rochester.

Frank had a justly deserved international reputation as an avid collector of books and political pamphlets from the late Stuart and early Augustan periods of English history. He donated the bulk of his extensive collection, acknowledged to be the best in private hands, to Smith College in 1991. His office in Neilson was adjacent to the Mortimer Rare Book Room, where he held the position of Adjunct Curator of Queen Anne Pamphlets and took tea at four o’clock every afternoon. His books, catalogued and available to other scholars, were shelved in his office until his death in 2007, when his daughter donated the remainder of the collection to Smith. The collection was not limited to political pamphlets, but also included illustrated books, among them seventeen editions of James Thomson’s The Seasons, published between 1730 and 1842. The 1805 edition shown here has engravings by the English wood engraver Thomas Bewick and his students.

Most pamphlet literature was considered ephemeral and was often issued unbound, with stab sewing and no covers. Frank had many of his pamphlets bound in modern blue cloth, but often one can see evidence of the original sewing, such as two holes on the title page of An Appendix to John Bull. The two sections of Fleetwood’s A Sermon, never sewn, were originally held together with two pins, preserved by Ellis with a note to ensure their survival.

The gift of his library, however, was not the sum of Frank Ellis’ generosity to Smith. Over the years he made numerous gifts to Neilson Library, the Art Museum, and to students in need, all anonymously or in memory of his wife of fifty years, Constance Dimock Ellis.

James Thomson. The Seasons. Embellished with engravings on wood by Bewick. London: Printed for James Wallis by T. Bensley, 1805. PRESENTED BY GAY ELLIS IN FOND MEMORY OF HER FATHER FRANK H. ELLIS

An Appendix to John Bull Still in His Senses: or, Law is a Bottomless-Pit. Second edition. London: Printed for John Morphew, 1712.

William Fleetwood. A Sermon Preach’d Before the Right Honourable the Lords … London: Printed by T. H. for Charles Harper, 1710.

f h ellis on swing-cropped-web.jpg
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permalinks for books:
John Bull: