The History of the Larpent Collection

Sue Hodson

Like much archival and manuscript material that lands in libraries and archival repositories, the Larpent Collection followed a somewhat circuitous and anomalous path to its ultimate resting place in the stacks of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. Tracing this path leads to a government official, a widow, a famous forger, a lord of a stately house, and a wealthy businessman-turned-collector in southern California.

The Larpent Collection consists of primarily manuscript and a few printed copies of 2,503 scripts submitted for licensing from 24 June 1737, to 18 January 1824. Larpent became the examiner of plays in 1778, following the first appointee, William Chetwynd, who had assumed office one year after the Licensing Act of 1737 required all plays to be submitted to the Lord Chamberlain for license. The Lord Chamberlain did not read and rule on the plays himself but appointed an examiner of plays to perform this duty. When Chetwynd died in 1770, his deputy Edward Capell acted as the examiner until Larpent’s appointment eight years later. John Larpent (1741-1824) began his career in the Foreign Office. Among other posts, he served as secretary to Francis Seymour Conway, first marquess of Hertford and lord lieutenant of Ireland. Larpent continued to serve the marquess in the Lord Chamberlain’s office, holding the post of groom of the privy chamber. In 1778 Hertford appointed him examiner of plays.

Larpent married Anna Margaretta Porter in 1782. She is best known to us now as the creator of seventeen diary volumes for the years 1773-1830, now in the Huntington Library. The diaries form a voluminous record of her reflections on personal and spiritual matters, life in London, and travels in England. In addition, the diaries reveal that Anna read plays for her husband, especially those written in Italian, which he could not read, and she records her comments about these plays in the diaries, making them an important resource for research on the production of the plays. We also know from the diaries that the censorship reviews were performed at home, rather than in the government office, and that John often read the plays aloud, an arrangement that enabled Anna to be a working partner in reviewing the plays.