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MS 960

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MS 960


Victor Gollancz Limited Publishers author files: A.J. Ayer: Language, Truth and Logic (1936)



Administrative / Biographical history

Victor Gollancz established his publishing house in 1928 at Henrietta Street, Covent Garden in London. It became one of the most profitable and successful firms in British publishing history. Isaiah Berlin appears to have persuaded Gollancz to take an interest in the young A.J. Ayer's first book in December 1933. Initially entitled 'Logical Positivism, the book was published as Language, Truth and Logic by Gollancz in 1936 when Ayer was just 26 years old.

Born in 1910, Ayer had developed an interest in philosophy as a King's Scholar specialist in Classics at Eton College (1923-1928). Particularly impressed by Bertrand Russell, Ayer went on to win a Classics scholarship to Christ Church College, Oxford, where he studied Greek and Philosophy, graduating with a BA 1st class honours in 1932. His tutor, Gilbert Ryle suggested he should go to Vienna to study with Moritz Schlick, the leader of the 'Vienna Circle'. The Vienna Circle were group of analytical philosophy scholars who championed empiricism and logic and developed the new idea of Logical Positivism. Ayer became convinced that their doctrine of logical positivism marked an important advance in the empiricist tradition, and he returned home an ardent convert aged 23. Within two and a half years he had written a manifesto for the movement, Language, Truth, and Logic. It was the first exposition in English of Logical Positivism as developed by the Vienna Circle. It caused much controversy and debate, particularly its sweeping dismissal of metaphysics, but especially for the metaethical emotivism Ayer championed in one of its notorious chapters. In the book, he popularised the verification principle. It was at the heart of debates of the Vienna Circle with whom he had studied as a young guest in 1932/33. Its clear, vibrant and polemical exposition of these ideas made Language, Truth and Logic essential reading on the tenets of logical empiricism.

For the next few years after the publication of the book, he spent working defending and refining some of the positions adopted in the work, in meetings in Oxford with Isaiah Berlin, Stuart Hampshire and J L Austin – especially with Austin, the confrontations were long-lasting. He spent the rest of his career articulating its arguments, refining them and helping introduce philosophy in general to a wide audience. Ayer established himself as the leading English representative of the logical positivism movement. He saw himself as continuing in the line of the British empiricists established by John Locke and David Hume; an empiricism whose most recent representative was Bertrand Russell. He is ranked second only to Bertrand Russell amongst British philosophers of the 20th century.

Language, Truth and Logic is regarded as a classic of 20th Century analytic philosophy and is widely read in philosophy courses around the world. Victor Gollancz Limited regarded it (in 1966) as their most successful back-list book. It was reprinted many times, translated into at least 12 languages, recorded into Braille and audiobook format.


1933 - 1998

Extent & medium

6 files

Content description

The Victor Gollancz Limited publishing 'author files' for A.J.Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic (1936), comprise correspondence files created and maintained by the publisher's Rights and Permissions Department. The files contain chiefly correspondence regarding copyright and use permissions, sales, royalties, publication agreements for several translations and include a photograph of Ayer and some dust jacket samples. The files include 55 signed autograph letters from A.J.Ayer to staff at Victor Gollancz Limited

The papers make an interesting resource for the study of 20th century publishing history, how the book came into being and how it became an influential text on philosophy around the world. The original letters from Ayer within the files show his keen interest in its translations and increasing sales.


Authors files were maintained by Victor Gollancz Limited for each title of works they published. The firm was sold to Houghton Mifflin publishers in 1989 and then to Cassells plc in 1992. Victor Gollancz Ltd was incorporated into Orion Books (now Orion Publishing Group) in 1998. Part of the Victor Gollancz publishing archive was deposited at the Modern Records Centre at Warwick University by Cassells in November 1992, but the authors files were retained until about 2018 when they appear to have been offered for sale to UK book dealers, with some finding their way to Princeton University Library Manuscripts Division and Edinburgh University Library. Two boxes of Gollancz's author files for A.J.Ayer's Language, Truth and Logic were purchased by Eton College Library in May 2018.

Associated material

University of Warwick Modern Records Centre: Victor Gollancz Archive GB 152 GLL

Bodleian Library, Oxford: A.J.Ayer Archive MSS 5985/1-39 (39 items)

Eton College Library holds a painting; a photograph of Ayer as a student (College Archives), some letters in the Diana Cooper Collection and copies of some of his books

Publication note

Sheila Hodges, Gollancz: The Story of a Publishing House, 1928-78 (1979)
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