May Sinclair’s Philosophy Books in The London Library (Part II)

By Christine Battersby

May 2020.

This is a follow-up to Charlotte Jones’ excellent and most useful contribution to The May Sinclair Society Website, giving a summary of her findings about the fate of the Philosophy Books bequeathed to The London Library by May Sinclair on her death in 1946. As Charlotte Jones records, the acquisition stamps applied by the London Library to the individual volumes record these as being brought into the collection in April 1947. Charlotte Jones’ article is dated February 2016, and I visited The London Library twice, in November and December 2019, to see what else I could discover. I list some of my findings below as I think these will prove interesting for those working on May Sinclair, as well as for the editors of individual volumes in the Edinburgh Critical Editions series.

My findings are certainly not exhaustive, and more research remains to be done. In particular, Charlotte Jones has told me that she hopes to return to The London Library to investigate further the Sinclair donation. I have shared my findings with Charlotte, and am also happy to share further information—including the locations and barcodes of individual volumes—for those working on May Sinclair. Not all books are shelved under Philosophy: some count as Logic, History, Psychology, Religion, and their various sub-categories. All have a bequeath label, except where noted. I have indicated the amount of marginalia that I spotted. As Charlotte also notes, we cannot be sure that all the handwriting and marginalia in the books is that of Sinclair herself, although much clearly is. I would add that we also cannot be sure that, where notes appear in only a few sections of the text, Sinclair did not engage with the author in another edition (perhaps in a translation where the donated text is in German).

Of the books listed by Charlotte as untraceable from the online catalogue, I located the following:

1) Berkeley, George, Selections from Berkeley: with an introduction and notes, for the use of students in the universities / by Alexander Campbell Fraser. 2nd 1879 ed.

Inscribed May Sinclair, Gloucestershire, August 1880. Quite a few marginal notes and queries, mostly to do with substance, space and time. Some comments erased. A few paper page markers inserted. Comments reference Hume, Kant and perhaps also Mill.

2) Hartmann, Eduard von, Philosophie des Unbewussten. 3 large and separately bound volumes. Leipzig, Verlag von Wilhelm Friedrich, 1890.

Markings only seem to be in volume 1, especially on method and on precursors to Hartmann’s Philosophy of the Unconscious.

3) Hegel, G.W.F. Wissenschaft der Logik, 3 vols bound together under title of Werke, vols 3–5, 2nd ed., eds. Marheineke et al, publishers Duder u. Humblot, Berlin, 1841.

Inscribed May Sinclair. Extensive comments and markings. Much seems to be in Sinclair’s own handwriting. Some reference to Green’s criticisms of Kant.

4) Locke, John, An Essay concerning Human Understanding, 1 volume 1849.

Very few marginalia or pencil marks. Mostly to do with spatiality, including a reference to Berkeley.

5) Schopenhauer, Arthur, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung: 7th ed. 1888. 2 volumes of the 2nd revised edition, 1st published in 1844.

A pencil note on the front page says “May Sinclair 1890” and this is repeated opposite the title page. The markings by May Sinclair are mostly in volume 1. Most relate to his philosophy of art which is to be found in Book III of volume 1, although there is also a marking in vol. 1, Book IV where I also found an inserted double-sided, round, pen-and-ink drawing of a yacht. Side 1 of the cut-out shows the yacht in full sail, high on a heaving horizon, with light coming down on it from above, riding a sea with heaving waves. On the reverse is a less finished, and less centralised pen-and-ink drawing of a yacht on calm seas.

Rebecca Bowler has informed me that there are yacht drawings in the Sinclair archive at the University of Pennsylvania which seem to be drawn by her older brother. Some of May’s relatives also brought yacht drawings in a sketchbook, belonging to the same brother, to the first May Sinclair Society Conference in 2014. According to Theophilus Boll, May’s oldest brother, William (1851–1896), was the owner of a series of four yachts, whilst her brother Reginald was also a yacht owner prior to his death in 1891. In addition, May’s father, William (1828/9–1881), had also owned a yacht when he lived in the Merseyside area, and his yacht was, according to Raitt, one of the first objects that he sacrificed when his shipbuilding failed when May was around 7 years old. It therefore seems likely that this double-sided drawing is one that was inserted by May Sinclair herself (perhaps as a bookmark). Schopenhauer is a philosopher who uses nautical metaphors, especially in reference to the experience of the sublime, so using a drawing of a yacht as a bookmark seems quite apt. There are also some other inserted slips and turned corners of pages, mostly in vol. 1. The Schopenhauer volumes are in German gothic script, and do not seem to have been much used since 1947, despite having been re-bound and also electronically catalogued in 2014.

There are no legible markings in vol. 2, but some possible evidence of small erasures. In general, most of the markings could be linked to Sinclair’s first bestseller, The Divine Fire, in which Schopenhauer is mentioned, albeit briefly, in the context of aesthetic standards, “genius” and the publishing trade. For copyright reasons, it has not been possible to include photographs of the yacht drawings here; the cut-out has now been taken out of the volume and will be kept as a separate insertion at the Circulation Desk at the London Library, where it can be requested when visiting.


I turn now to the books that Charlotte Jones listed as not-yet-located, but as being on a potential shortlist, and discovered that the three Kritiks by Immanuel Kant are bound together, although not indicated as such in the London Library catalogue. They were evidently originally separate volumes, and had two different publishers, as well as separate inscriptions inside.

6) Kant, Immanuel Kritik der reinen Vernunft, ed. J. H. von Kirchmann. 5th ed., Leipzig: Erich Koschny, 1881.

On the inside page we read, “May Sinclair, Fairford 1881”. There is some evidence that there was an earlier signature before that. Maybe that would have matched the signature on the title page of this Kritik which reads: “Mary Amelia S. C. Sinclair”. This seems to be evidence that Sinclair was living in Fairford, Gloucestershire in 1881–1882. This was where her father was based and, in her biography of Sinclair, Raitt seemed quite sceptical about her living there with him at this time. This does, however, fit with the recent article by Rosalind Delmar on “May Sinclair’s Unknown Family” on the May Sinclair Society website.

Also inside, on the page after the first inscribed title page, we find a long and handwritten quotation in pencil from pp. 45–46 of John Watson’s Kant and his English Critics, concerning the a priori nature of space and time. My hypothesis is that the Kritik der reinen Vernunft was studied at Cheltenham Ladies College which Sinclair attended in 1881–82, perhaps alongside the John Watson’s text which was first published in 1881. (Cheltenham Ladies College Library received generous donations of books from America, and John Watson was based in Canada.). In favour of the idea that this was a school text is the placing of the marginalia and underlining. It is well known that Dorothea Beale had a particular interest in mathematics, and the parts of the Kritik that are most heavily annotated comprise the Introduction; the Aesthetic (i.e. on space and time); and the “Axioms of Intuition” and “Anticipations of Perception” which also link to space and time and extensive and intensive magnitudes.

Several of the pages have been cut in the margins and at the bottom to remove ink-based handwriting. Because the cuts are so straight and apparently done with a guillotine, I think this must have been done before the three texts were bound together. Although many of the comments are clearly by Sinclair, there is some German handwriting in ink which I was less sure about.

7) Kant, Immanuel, Kritik der praktischen Vernunft, ed. Kirchmann, 2nd ed, Berlin 1870, Verlag von L. Heimann.

There are no annotations or marks, but it is inscribed on the page before the title page Mary Amelia St C. Sinclair Jan: 28: 82.

8) Kant, Immanuel, Kritik der Urteilskraft, ed. J. H. Kirchmann, 2nd ed. Berlin 1872, L. Heimann’s Verlag.

There are no annotations or marks, and also no inscription or bequeath label. As such, I wasn’t entirely convinced that it was Sinclair’s copy, but I failed to locate an alternative.

The only other book on Charlotte Jones’ shortlist that I managed to locate was:

9) Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller, Riddles of the Sphinx: A Study in the Philosophy of Evolution by a troglodyte. London, Swan Sonnenschein 1891.

It includes a bequeath label, but no notes.


I looked at several of the books that Charlotte Jones did locate, and noted the following:

10) Courtney’s Studies in Philosophy includes some quite interesting notes.

11) Bradley, Appearance and Reality is extensively annotated.

12) Bradley’s The Principles of Logic includes extensive notes which seem to be by Sinclair. There was an inserted page of pencil notes at p. 469 which is also perhaps by Sinclair.


Christine Battersby, May 2020 (