William Empson letters

Biographical and Historical Notes

William Empson (1791-1852)

British barrister, literary reviewer, and editor William Empson was born in 1791.

After graduating from Trinity College, Cambridge, Empson was called to the bar in 1819. Empson practiced law until 1824, when he became a law professor at the East India Company College in Hertfordshire, England. In 1823 Empson began to write for the influential Edinburgh Review, prolifically covering such topics as history, biography, literature, law, and politics. In 1847 Empson was named editor and moved the base of operations of the Edinburgh Review to London. Empson worked as both editor of the review and professor of law at the East India College until his sudden death from influenza on December 10, 1852.


Shattock, Joanne. "Empson, William (1791-1852)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Available online at http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/8800 (accessed January 27, 2009).

Scope and Content Note

This small collection comprises five letters written by William Empson, editor of the Edinburgh Review, largely regarding Leigh Hunt's review of James Dennistoun's Memoirs of the Dukes of Urbino (1851), including at least one letter apparently written to Leigh Hunt.

Though dates on the letters do not include the year in which they were written, the interval between publication of Dennistoun's book and Empson's death would date these letters in 1851 or 1852. The letter of April 29 is presumably written to English poet and essayist Leigh Hunt, because it refers to a review in progress of Dennistoun's book, and some of the later letters (apparently addressed to a mutual acquaintance) refer to Hunt's progress on the review. All five autograph letters are written by Empson on black-bordered stationery from "E.I.C." (East India College).

The five letters are accompanied by a brown envelope labeled "Mr. Dobell / 8 Bruton Street W." The envelope also bears penciled notes indicating that this small collection was for sale at one time by the London firm of P. J. & A. E. Dobell, booksellers and publishers.