A scholar of eighteenth century British literature and culture, Thomas W. Copeland began what would become more than half a century of research on the statesman and political philosopher Edmund Burke while studying for his doctorate at Yale (1933). After publication of his dissertation in 1949 as Our Eminent Friend Edmund Burke, Copeland was named managing editor of the ten-volume Correspondence (1958-1978). After academic appointments at Yale and the University of Chicago, he joined the faculty at UMass in 1957, remaining here until his retirement in 1976. A chair was established in his name in the Department of English.
The Copeland Papers are a rich collection of personal and professional correspondence, journals and writings from Copeland’s Yale years, manuscripts, typescripts, notes, and draft revisions of his works on Edmund Burke, and a journal chronicling Copeland’s four-year exercise in the daily practice of writing.
Background on Thomas W. Copeland
An eminent scholar of the political philosopher Edmund Burke, Thomas W. Copeland was born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, on July 10, 1907, the youngest of two sons of the attorney Mark Anson Copeland and Louise Wellsted. Distinguishing himself during his undergraduate years at Yale (AB 1928), Copeland spent a year sidelined in study at Harvard Law School before returning to Yale to pursue a doctorate in English literature. It was during his third year in the program that he discovered Burke, who would become the subject of his dissertation, Burke and Dodsley’s Annual Register (1933), and the focus of his scholarly life for the next five decades.
In the Depression’s slim job market, Copeland took an Instructor’s appointment at Cornell, but he was called back the next year to his alma mater, serving as Instructor (1934-1940) and then Assistant Professor (1940-1949). During the Second World War, he was commissioned in the Navy reserves, retiring in 1945 with the rank of Lieutenant Commander, moving to the University of Chicago in 1949.
The timing of the appearance of Copeland’s first monograph — a much-amplified version of his dissertation, Our Eminent Friend Edmund Burke (New Haven, 1949) — proved to be fortuitous. As his reputation rose as an authority on Burke, Eric Spencer Wentworth-Fitzwilliam, the ninth Earl Fitzwilliam, agreed to deposit the papers housed at the family’s Yorkshire estate, Wentworth Woodhouse, at the Sheffield Central Library, including the bulk of Burke’s correspondence. Copeland became a leader of a multi-national editorial team devoted to the massive collection, issuing the Checklist of the Correspondence of Edmund Burke in 1955 and the first of ten volumes of the Correspondence of Edmund Burke in 1958.
Devoted himself to his scholarship, Copeland split his time — and salary — evenly between Chicago and Sheffield for several years. He came to UMass in 1957 as part of a small wave of academic hires designed to strengthen the humanities, recommended by his close friend from graduate school days and faculty member at UMass, Maxwell Goldberg. He continued his practice of alternating years in Sheffield, and while in Amherst, he devoted about one third of his time to the editorial. Despite splitting his time, he became well known on campus for his wit and sharp memory, and he was often described with the words civilized, erudite, scholarly, and unpretentious. In 1961, in recognition of his scholarly distinction, he was selected to become one of the first faculty members to be designated Commonwealth Professor. Twice a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, he was recognized with honorary doctorates from Burke’s alma mater, Trinity College, Dublin, and the University of Sheffield.
Although Copeland formally retired in 1976, he continued in his scholarly pursuits and was completing an edition of the correspondence of Burke and Boswell when he died unexpectedly at Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton on Jan. 28, 1979. He was commemorated with a named professorship, the Thomas W. Copeland Professor of English, which was filled by his friend and colleague Arthur Kinney.
Like most of his academic career, the Copeland Papers are centered on five decades of study of the eighteenth century statesman and political philosopher Edmund Burke. Volumetrically, the largest portion of the collection is comprised of drafts of Copeland’s publications on Burke, but the collection includes significant correspondence relating to his editorial work and scholarly connections, as well as some amusing and occasionally fascinating letters and a journal written while an undergraduate at Yale.
The papers are organized into four series: Personal material, Correspondence, Professional records, and Writings.
Acquired from Mrs. Chads O. Skinner, 1981.
Processed by Virginia Conrad, 1987.
Cite as: Thomas W. Copeland Papers (FS 050). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.
- Burke, Edmund, 1729-1797
- University of Massachusetts Amherst--Faculty
- University of Massachusetts Amherst. Department of English
- Golden, Morris