In memory of Mary, Viscountess Eccles
Mary Viscountess Eccles died at her home, Four Oaks Farm, New Jersey, on 26 August 2003. She was 91 years old. Mary was a bibliophile and an Anglophile, so it is perhaps not surprising that she gravitated towards the British Library. Through her interest in the Library she met David Eccles, whom she married in 1984. David and Mary endowed the Eccles Centre for American Studies at the Library in 1991.
Mary Eccles was a book lover and collector whose interest was underpinned by scholarship. Her Columbia PhD developed into her first book, Playwriting for Elizabethans (1949), and stimulated her initial forays into collecting. Her interests shifted thereafter to the 18th century, and especially to the work of Dr Samuel Johnson. Reputed to contain 80 percent of the known surviving letters from Dr Johnson, her collection of materials pertaining to the lexicographer is unrivalled. Her collection of Boswell materials is almost equally strong, and she also brought together a remarkable range of items relating to Oscar Wilde. Her purpose-built library contains many other treasures, including such items as individual letters from Jane Austen, Peter the Great, George Washington, Horatio Nelson, and Elizabeth I.
She maintained a very active interest in the British Library and in the Eccles Centre. In July 2002 the Library hosted a celebration of her 90th birthday, and 2003 was the first time that failing health prevented her from attending the Eccles Centre's Bryant Lecture. On 16 August Philip Davies, Director of the Centre, visited the Viscountess to discuss the Centre's activities. Lady Eccles was clearly pleased, but not content to dwell on existing success: 'Now, we must consider what we are going to do next!' The Centre will endeavour to continue that commitment.
More about Mary, Viscountess Eccles:
Philip J Davies 'Viscountess Eccles: a Anglo-American patroness of literature', Contemporary Review, no. 1656, vol. 284, January 2004, pp. 23-27.