Obituary: Marion Pottle

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The Independent Online
Marion Isabel Starbird, literary archivist, born Oxford Maine 23 October 1897, married 1920 Frederick Pottle (one son, and one son and one daughter deceased), died Ithaca New York 24 May 1992.

FREDERICK POTTLE's prolonged and devoted editorial work on the private papers of James Boswell, as they were rediscovered in several tranches from the 1920s onwards, was matched by the careful cataloguing of them that was long his wife's special responsibility. Pottle died in 1987, and his wife's death at the age of 94 marks the end of their historic association with the Boswell papers, and is indeed a significant break in the older tradition of literary scholarship at Yale University.

She was associated with the editorial project from an early stage, when in 1929 she gave up her professional career in the Yale Law Library to assist her husband's work on the papers, commissioned by the New York collector Col Ralph Isham, who had recently acquired them and started an ambitious publication programme. Patient sorting and listing was an essential preliminary, and Marion Pottle's training and interests were exactly suited to the task. She was co-author of the substantial catalogue published when the Boswell papers from Malahide Castle, Dublin, were exhibited at the Grolier Club, New York, in 1930-31, taking responsibility for the section dealing with Boswell's correspondence.

As successive discoveries were made, especially the major group of documents from Fettercairn House, Kincardineshire, Mrs Pottle continued her careful inventorying. When the project moved from Isham's private patronage to the more secure base of the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale, she became an essential member of the 'Boswell Factory' which has edited the complete text of the Journal and will for some years to come continue the 'research edition' of Boswell's complete correspondence.

From 1949 she was engaged on a complete catalogue of the archive, including Scottish estate and legal papers as well as Boswell's literary manuscripts. The Catalogue of the Papers of James Boswell at Yale University was in proof some 15 years ago, at the time of her 80th birthday, but publishing complications led to vexatious delays, and it was only recently, after new arrangements had been made, that production was resumed. Publication is at last imminent, and the three volumes are announced from the Edinburgh University Press in the course of this year.

Even without this published catalogue, Pottle's special position in the Boswell office was recognised by many generations of researchers, who had reason to be grateful for her detailed and precise knowledge of the documents. None was more in her debt than the principal editor himself, whose partly autobiographical study, Pride and Negligence: the history of the Boswell papers, published in 1982 as a preface to the comprehensive catalogue, was a tribute to their scholarly life together.

Like her husband, Marion Pottle came from Maine, and was a graduate of Colby College. They remained Maine folk at heart, simple and frugal in their tastes (and Ralph Isham's lively social life cannot have been at all to their liking during their early married life). Each summer the Pottles vacationed at their house at Oxford, Maine, until old age made the journeys impossible. And each Fall they returned refreshed, to the great Boswellian task in hand. His death ended a partnership of well over 60 years, and she was frail in her old age: but there was the satisfaction of knowing that their long collaboration had its substantial literary memorial.

They had three children, of whom their daughter and their younger son, Samuel Pottle, the composer, predeceased her. She is survived by her elder son.

(Photograph omitted)