From the Library of G.D.H. Cole: Daniel Defoe, William Cobbett & William Morris (National Libraries Day 2016)

You may wonder what the author of Robinson Crusoe and a member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood have to do with the social sciences…

The foundation of Nuffield College Library was the personal library of G.D.H. Cole, which the College purchased in 1949. You can read more about this in a previous blog post.

Material which came from G.D.H. Cole can be identified by the Library bookplate & stamp (see the right hand page below) and also by Cole’s personal bookplate (on the left hand page).

COLE bookplate

Cole bookplates




Cole Collection books in locked cases

Most of these books are shelved throughout the library according to their subject, but the works of three authors have been kept together in discrete collections in locked cases in the library office. For National Libraries Day 2016 (Saturday the 6th of February) we have made a display in the Current Affairs Room (1st Floor Lobby) to publicise these collections



More information on Cole’s areas of interest can be found in Persons & Periods, a collection of biographical and bibliographical articles [Nuffield College Library, HN 13.C]. This volume acts as a key to much of the Cole collection and can be found on the tables with the display cases.


G.D.H. Cole 1889-1959


Daniel Defoe c1660-1731


Daniel Defoe c1660-1731

“He wrote as the words came; without elegance, but with directness, force and simplicity. His best

effects depend upon these qualities: he has a supreme naturalness, an ordinariness of phrasing that makes his fancy seem truth, and gets right home to readers.”

– G. D. H. Cole, “Persons & periods : studies” (London : Macmillan, 1938), p.3 [Nuffield College Library, Nuf.Cole]

Although best known as a novelist, Daniel Defoe wrote on a wide variety of subjects. One which captured Cole’s interest was A tour thro’ the whole island of Great Britain published  1724-1726 [Nuffield College Library, Special Defoe 1724]

Rather than being a tourist guidebook, the original edition was written to be a record of the social and economic conditions in various parts of the country:

“It is, then, primarily as a guide to social and economic conditions that Defoe’s Tour is important. It is an invaluable picture of the state of Great Britain about midway between the ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 and the period of the great inventions which we are used to call the ‘Industrial Revolution’.”

– G. D. H. Cole, op. cit p.24

Later editions (published after Defoe’s death) modified the original work and attempted to turn it into a guidebook. There were a further 8 editions published in the 18th century, but it was not re-printed until 1927 when Cole produced a restored edition [Nuffield College Library, DA 620.D]


William Cobbett 1763-1835


William Cobbett 1763-1835

“There are certain Englishmen who, being memorable for much besides, make one think, whenever they come into one’s mind, of England. Not of England as a nation, much less a Great Power, or of England as a political unit, or of England with any other special qualification, but purely and simply of England.”

– G. D. H. Cole, “Persons & periods : studies” (London : Macmillan, 1938), p.143 [Nuffield College Library, Nuf.Cole]

Cobbett was a radical journalist, farmer and, in later life, Member of Parliament for Oldham.  G.D.H. Cole wrote a full length biography The life of William Cobbett [Nuffield College Library, Special Cobbett 1924.LIF]

Cole felt that the book which best reflected Cobbett the man was his Rural rides [Nuffield College Library, Special Cobbett 1830.RUR] an account of his travels throughout southern England (see the “Map of Cobbett Country”) with (to quote the book’s subtitle) “Economical and Political Observations relative to matters applicable to, and illustrated by, the State of those Counties respectively” This was originally serialised in Cobbett’s Political Register, a newspaper which he published weekly from 1802, to his death in 1835.

“…no book was ever written that was more England’s own book, getting the smell and feel and look of the English country and the English country people down in print, so that the reader can smell and feel and see as well as Cobbett. Usually I set no store by first editions; but my first edition of Rural Rides always seems to have a country smell. Perhaps that is because it is a little mouldy.”

– G. D. H. Cole, op. cit p.148

In the display case in the Library you can see Cole’s first edition. We have checked and it smells fine to us.

Also – look around the Current Affairs room for episodes from Cobbett’s life illustrated by the satirical cartoonist James Gillray.



William Morris 1834-1896


Strawberry Thief by William Morris

William Morris is possibly best known to many as an English textile designer, the Strawberry Thief being among his most famous designs (see also the modern interpretation by Jeremy Deller in the College Buttery). However, he was also a poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist. We have many examples of all areas of his life in the Library, courtesy of G.D.H. Cole, but it is his socialist writings which we are focusing on in this post.



Frontispiece of News from Nowhere

Cole first read William Morris’s Utopian novel ”News from nowhere”* when he was fifteen years old and was converted to socialism immediately. He strove to lead his life according to Morris’s democratic socialist ideal, committed to social equality and the full development of an individual’s potential:

My conversion to Socialism had very little to do with parliamentary politics … I was converted, quite simply, by reading William Morris’s News from Nowhere, which made me feel, suddenly and irrevocably, that there was nothing except a Socialist that it was possible for me to be … I became a Socialist, as many others did in those days, on grounds of morals and decency and aesthetic sensibility.”

– G. D. H. Cole, “British Labour Movement: retrospect and prospect” (London: Fabian Society, 1951), pp. 3­‐4 [Nuffield College Library, HX 11.F]

*William Morris, “News from nowhere : or an epoch of rest : being some chapters from a Utopian romance”, [Nuffield College Library, Special Morris 17a]

He expressed his commitment to and belief in Morris’s socialism in a series of three lectures, “The life of William Morris” in which he wrote: “William Morris was a Socialist, not of the armchair or even of the merely writing sort, but as an active propagandist, who taught himself to address street-corner meetings–about the only thing … that he did badly … and saw no hope of good art or happy living except in a society of friends and equals, based on co-operative effort in production and on common enjoyment of the fruits of labour.”

– G. D. H. Cole, The Life of William Morris, Part 2 (London: Common Ground, n.d.), p. 8 [Nuffield College Library, G.D.H. Cole archive collection, E5/18/2/1-15]



Morris the propagandist

This drawing is by Walter Crane and illustrates Morris speaking to a crowd in Hyde Park, London. Cole wrote “he felt it to be his plain duty to take an active part in … propaganda … shirk no duty … disliked public speaking, and open air most of all, nor was he a good speaker … taught himself to lecture reasonably well … travelling about the country addressing Socialist meetings.

– G. D. H. Cole, The Life of William Morris, Part 2 (London: Common Ground, n.d.), p. 8 [Nuffield College Library, G.D.H. Cole archive collection, E5/18/2/1-15]


Cole admired much of Morris’s prose and poetry but he wrote that “A dream of John Ball”, “is the finest and most finished of all Morris’s prose writing : in it his love for the middle ages, for the English country, and for the common people were all caught up into a unity into which he put more of himself than usually got into any one of his works.

– G. D. H. Cole, The Life of William Morris, Part 2 (London: Common Ground, n.d.), p. 25 [Nuffield College Library, G.D.H. Cole archive collection, E5/18/2/1-15]


W. Morris, “A Dream of John Ball”, (London: Kelmscott P, 1892)






About Nuffield College Library

We are a social sciences library serving Nuffield College and the University of Oxford
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