Joel Myerson Collection of Nineteenth-Century American Manuscripts, Images, and Ephemera
Irvin Department of Special Collections
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The Joel Myerson Collection of Nineteenth-Century American Manuscripts, Images, and Ephemera contains over 300 letters, photographs, page proofs, and various other items connected with many prominent persons of nineteenth-century American literary culture from New England and beyond. The bulk of the collection is comprised of items from the hand of or in relation to Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), often recognized as the luminary of the American Transcendentalism movement. Emerson’s life and works span the range of a nineteenth-century man of letters, and while the collection is not exclusively constructed around him, each of the Emerson materials can be said to have a correlation to the rest of the holdings. Material relating to Emerson’s early personal life is represented by the 1811 funeral bill for Emerson’s father, William, the program for the Harvard College commencement of 1821 listing Emerson as a participant, an 1824 letter to his cousin Rebecca Hastings, and a manuscript of “To Eva”, a poem based on his first wife, Ellen Louisa Tucker.
The labor of American intellectuals of the period often included appearances on the nation’s vibrant lyceum circuit and other public lectures. Emerson gave some 1,500 lectures throughout his career, and the collection holds several letters in which Emerson arranges for appearances, sets terms and dates, and occasionally sends his regrets or informs his correspondent of cancellations. Emerson’s reach was transatlantic as well as transcontinental. Dr. Myerson has written that perhaps his favorite of the over eighty Emerson letters he has is a letter written to Thomas Carlyle in 1848 about a visit to Carlyle’s house in London, along with the envelope addressed in Emerson’s hand. Indeed, there are several other envelopes which, along with earlier letters that had been folded and sealed with wax and the collection’s latter post cards written in Whitman’s hand, register the changing materials of epistolary communication throughout the nineteenth century. A letter to Emerson from Paris by Christopher Pearse Cranch and one to Elizabeth Hoar from Rome by Margaret Fuller, further illustrate the global wanderings of other transcendentalists, presaging the global reach their ideas would achieve.
In addition to illuminating Emerson’s personal life and work as a public lecturer, other letters in the collection cover Emerson’s work as a published author in the market place of nineteenth-century print culture. The collection boasts the opening manuscript page from a draft of Emerson’s essay “Man the Reformer” (the rest of the manuscript is now lost), instructions to publishers to send out review copies, and a royalty check to Emerson from Ticknor and Fields. Emerson’s work as an editor is represented by correspondence with Christopher Pearse Cranch that contain copies of some of Cranch’s early poetic submissions to The Dial.
While Emerson and his fellow authors and editors are famous for the words they wrote and brought into print, the Myerson collection is not merely one of letters and literary ephemera; it is also the home of the largest collection of Emerson iconography, containing dozens of cabinet cards and cartes de visites. While many of these images are of Emerson posed in a variety of learned positions – simulating reading, introspection, and lecturing – still others offer insight into Emerson as a proud grandfather or an old friend. The collection also extends its scope by offering photographs of Emerson’s Family. Furthermore, images of an ageing Emerson are complimented by letters from his children Ellen and Edward – who picked up correspondence on behalf of their father and offered posthumous recollections.
Supplemental to its focus on Ralph Waldo Emerson, the Myerson collection is also home to material relating to a variety of other authors and figures important to the Transcendentalist movement, New England, and nineteenth-century American literature more broadly. In fact, roughly 40% of the collection is comprised of material relating to other persons of greater or lesser literary fame. An 1873 postcard from Walt Whitman to Peter Doyle further emphasizes the intimate, interpersonal nature of the materials. The collection not only holds many letters by Theodore Parker, but also his portable writing desk, an item which highlights the material reality of the profession of writing. Letters from James T. Fields, Rufus Griswold, Nathaniel P. Willis, and William Dean Howells emphasize the business of authorship and editorship, while a consular document from the port of Liverpool signed by Nathaniel Hawthorne gives context to both the limits of living off of a life of letters and the political favoritism of the period. Other notable figures in the collection include James Russell Lowell, James Freeman Clark, William Ellery Channing, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and George Ripley. In addition to the many photographs, the collection’s visual material also boasts an oil painting by Cranch and many of his caricatures of Emerson’s writings, such as the “transparent eyeball” in Nature and the idea that “men in the word today are bugs.”
About the Collector
Joel Myerson has been collecting books since he was in junior high school and began collecting works by and about Ralph Waldo Emerson in earnest in 1975. His bibliophilic tendencies resulted in a working collection, out of which much of his scholarship took form. He is the author or editor of some 60 books on nineteenth-century American literature, from his early studies of Margaret Fuller, to such recent titles as Transcendentalism: A Reader (2000), Whitman in His Own Time (2000), The Later Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson (2 vols., 2001), vols. 8 & 10 of the Harvard edition of The Collected Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and The Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism (2010). He has published the standard scholarly bibliographical studies on each of the main authors he has collected; and he established and edited the major scholarly journal in the period, Studies in the American Renaissance (20 vols., 1977-1996).
The Joel Myerson Collection of Nineteenth-Century American Manuscripts, Images, and Ephemera took shape over a number of years with the help of Michael C. Weisenburg (Ph.D. candidate, English), Archivist Jessica Dowd, Digital Projects Librarian Ashley Knox, and Digital Initiatives Librarian Kate Boyd. Jessica scanned the majority of the material, with additional scanning by Michael. Michael compiled and edited the metadata, conducted research on the collection, and created the home page; and Ashley reviewed and edited the collection. Michael’s work on the project was supported by funding from the Maners Pappas Library Endowment Fund.
Digitizing the Collection
The scanning for the digital collection began in the fall of 2012 and was completed in the summer 2014. Items were scanned on an Avision fb 6280E bookedge scanner. Manuscripts were scanned as TIFFs at 300 dpi, and photos were scanned at 600 dpi. Cranch’s manuscript illustrations were also scanned at 600 dpi. The TIFFs were then converted into high quality JPEGs, which were then uploaded to CONTENTdm.
Myerson, Joel. “Collecting Ralph Waldo Emerson.” Manuscripts 55.2 (2003): 107-115.
Sudduth, Elizabeth. “Emerson Manuscripts in the Joel Myerson Collection of Nineteenth-Century American Literature.” Manuscripts 55.2 (2003): 101-106.