Series S00713 - Correspondence

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  • 1861-1912 ; 1880-1911 predominant (Creation)
    Welby, Victoria, Lady, 1837-1912

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ca. 2.5 metres of textual records

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Biographical history

Lady Victoria Welby (1837-1912) was a philosopher, author and prolific correspondent.
She was the daughter of Charles Stuart-Wortley-Mackenzie (second son of James Stuart-Wortley, 1st Baron Wharncliffe), MP for Bossiney (1830-1832) and Emmeline Manners (daughter of John Manners, 5th Baron of Rutland and Lady Elizabeth Howard the daughter of the Earl of Carlisle), poet, traveller and editor of the annual "Keepsake" in 1837. Following the death of her father in 1844 and her brother Adelbert in 1847, Victoria accompanied her mother Emmeline on a series of travels throughout Europe, North and South America and the Middle East. As a result she did not receive a formal education typical of young girls of her class, although she did publish a travel memoir in 1852,"A Young Traveller's Journal of a Tour in North and South America During the Year 1850" (T. Bosworth, 1852).

During a trip through the Ottoman Empire, Victoria's mother died of dysentery en route from Antioch to Beruit, leaving Victoria orphaned and stranded. Upon her return to England, Victoria lived with her grandfather, the Duke of Rutland, later becoming a member of the household of the Duchess of Kent, Queen Victoria's mother. She would later serve as a maid of honour to Queen Victoria, her godmother.

In 1863, Victoria married William Welby-Gregory, MP for Grantham (son of Glynne Earle Welby-Gregory and Frances Cholmeley). They resided at Grantham in Lincolnshire. The couple had three children: Victor (1864-1876), Charles (1865-1938) and Emmeline (1867-1955), known as "Nina."

Starting at around 1863, Welby began building up a social network with leading thinkers, scientists, psychologists and other public figures. This coincided with a rigorous schedule of self-education after her marriage, begun at the encouragement of her husband. The Welby home was the site of many visits and gatherings of learned men throughout her lifetime. Accompanying this was Welby's robust correspondence with many leading philosophers, psychologists, theologians, novelists, scientists, mathematicians, artists and poets. She had notable exchanges with such figures as Charles Peirce, Francis Galton, C.K. Ogden, Mrs. W.K. (Lucy) Clifford, James Sully, Friedrich Max Müller, Sir Oliver Lodge, Peter Lang, Julia Wedgwood, Rev. Edward Stuart Talbot and others. In addition to being a member of the Aristotelian Society of London as well as the Sociological Society of Great Britain, there is evidence that Welby was involved in intellectual debates developed by members of the Society for Psychical Research.

Welby was heavily involved in the founding of the School of Art Needlework (later known as the Royal School of Needlework) which was founded in 1872 on Sloan Street in London, initially employing 20 women.

Starting in 1872, Welby began publishing essays and pamphlets, anonymously or in in collaboration with others. These works are frequently only attributed to "V.W." The topics focused on motherhood, Christian theology, scripture or spiritual matters. In the 1880s she published a number of essays, poems, and copies of her public addresses through W. Clarke, a local printer in Grantham. These works reflected her reading on theological matters, and culminated with an edition of essays published in 1881 (a second edition in 1883) titled "Links and Clues." She also published articles and poems in publications such as "Nineteenth Century."

Welby's intellectual focus shifts in the 1890s to issues of mental evolution, psychology and eugenics, privately printing her work for distribution through her correspondence and also publishing in periodicals such as "Monist" and "Mind." In 1893 she introduces the term "sensifics" to designate her theory of meaning. She would later replace this term with "significs." In 1896 she sponsored "The Welby Prize" for best essay on the critique of philosophical and psychological terminology based on a "significal perspective."

In 1897 she published "Grains of Sense" a collection of her 'essaylets', parables, satires and aphorisms that formed what Susan Petrilli has called "an appeal to scholars to adopt a more scientific approach to all areas of study and research, for the improvement of our powers of interpretation, ultimately of human thought and action. (Petrilli,98).

In October 1900 she delivered a series of lectures on significs at Oxford University and in 1902 James M. Baldwin's "Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology in Three Volumes" features entries on "Translation" and "Significs" written or co-written by Welby. This was the first official recognition of her new approach to the study of sign, meaning and understanding. She would later publish "What is meaning? Studies in the Development of Significance" with Jonathan Cape in 1903. The 1911 edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica would also feature an entry on "Significs" written by Welby.

In 1903 she visited pragmatists Giovanni Vailati and Mario Calderoni in Italy. In the same year she was a founding member of the Sociological Society of Great Britain.

In 1911 Welby also published "Significs and Language: the Articulate Form of Our Expressive and Interpretative Resources" (MacMillan). A companion volume of collected essays edited by George F. Stout and John W. Slaughter was planned but never published.

In January 1912 Welby suffered from partial aphasia and paralysis. She died at the age of 74 on 29 March 1912.

Scope and content

Series consists of correspondence files of Lady Victoria Welby.

Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition


Correspondence files are arrange roughly chronologically. Files often contain multiple carbon copies of typed letters sent by Victoria Welby. Also includes draft typescript of letter excerpts created by Nina Cust and others in the course of editing of two published collections of Welby's correspondence.

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  • English

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ASt.Onge: Created from legacy finding aid and migrated March 2016.

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  • English

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