The Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literature

The Clifton Waller Barrett Library takes as its province one hundred and seventy-five years of American literature, the years from 1775 to 1950. It contains, insofar as it has been possible to assemble them, all fiction, poetry, drama, and essays published by an American in book form up to and including the year 1875; for the years remaining it contains a very nearly complete collection of the works of every major American writer, as well as of those whose achievements were not of first rank but who, nevertheless, occupy a place in the literary history of the Republic. With the first editions are important later editions, many translations and periodical appearances, and a vast amount of biographical and critical material. Manuscripts and letters of quality have been brought together in such quantity that few similar collections can approach it in size and scholarly importance. Mr. Barrett acquired some 250,000 individual pieces, counting each printed item, manuscript and letter separately and the University Library has continued to acquire in substantial numbers since the Barrett Library was dedicated in 1960.

ThThe Clifton Waller Barrett Library of American Literaturee following description of the Barrett Library is taken primarily from Herbert Cahoon’s portrait of the Library published in 1960 (A Brief Account of the Clifton Waller Barrett Library ) to celebrate the dedication at the University of Virginia and incorporates some manuscripts not mentioned by him.

Well over a thousand American authors are represented in the Library, and of these nearly five hundred are considered of such importance that they are collected in depth–meaning everything in printed form, manuscripts and letters by or relating to them.


A Brief Register of Some of the Notable Authors


Joel Barlow must be mentioned separately, for the Library has a number of his letters and manuscript diaries. Susanna Rowson is represented by a virtually complete run of her other first editions, including the London, 1791, Mentoria, as well as by manuscripts and a collection of eighty-three letters, some of which were written to her husband’s illegitimate son. The first professional American novelist, Charles Brockden Brown, is represented by a collection of one hundred eighteen letters, manuscripts and documents including the earliest known letter and one with a manuscript poem; it is the largest group in existence. There is also a small but important packet of papers relating to Brown’s family. There is a strong collection of John Howard Payne’s plays, several note books and autograph correspondence with Washington Irving concerning their joint dramatic efforts. The collection of the printed works of Samuel Woodworth is quite complete and is supplemented by manuscripts and letters.



For these fifty years the Barrett Library has attempted to acquire “everything.” There are several hundred Washington Irving letters ranging in time from some written from Europe in 1804 and 1805, probably the earliest to survive, to some written in 1859, the year of his death. Mr. Barrett was able to acquire the manuscripts of Salmagundi, A History of New York (the only surviving portions), The Sketch Book, Bracebridge Hall, The Crayon Miscellany, A History of Columbus, Voyages and Discoveries of the Companions of Columbus, about one half of Astoria, notes for and a portion of the final manuscript of The Life of George Washington, The Vindication of Christmas, four unpublished manuscripts and two notebooks.

The James Fenimore Cooper collection includes manuscripts of Mercedes of Castile and The Two Admirals, both complete, and partial manuscripts of The Prairie, Afloat and Ashore, The Water- Witch, The Headsman, Notions of the Americans, The Sea Lions, The Naval History of the United States, and Lives of Distinguished American Naval Officers. There are seventy-eight letters to various correspondents written by this “English squire of the old school turned Republican,” as Parrington called him. Many of William Cullen Bryant’s letters are also here, written mainly to his literary colleagues. The highlight of the George Pope Morris collection is a complete manuscript of that elocutionary favorite, “Woodman, Spare That Tree!”

It is especially appropriate that the Barrett Library should contain all of Edgar Allan Poe’s major works in their original bindings as issued and four letters from Poe, including the earliest surviving letter to Dr. Thomas Holley Chivers, and four from his mother-in-law, Mrs. Clemm. For Ralph Waldo Emerson, there are the manuscripts of several poems, including “The Rhodora,” with its lines, “If eyes were made for seeing, Then Beauty is its own excuse for being,” the largest number of letters in a private collection. The letters of Nathaniel Hawthorne are often of more than usual interest and shed much light on his literary and personal affairs. There are one hundred and fifty-eight in the Barrett Library, including the earliest known, dated December 9, 1813, written at the age of nine to his Uncle Robert Manning, telling him of an injured foot; the last surviving letter is also here. The manuscript entitled “Consular Experiences,” which Hawthorne used in writing Our Old Home, is in the Library.

Mr. Barrett had the good fortune and good judgment to acquire the Carroll A. Wilson collection of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to combine with his own. Over three hundred letters to important literary figures and sixty-four manuscripts of poetry and prose add to the scholarly import of the collection. The Barrett Library is fortunate in having a large John Greenleaf Whittier collection with many of these rarities and many manuscripts and letters. For Oliver Wendell Holmes, “The Chambered Nautilus,” complete, is the prize manuscript, and the autograph letters are numerous. Of the two books published during Henry David Thoreau’s lifetime, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, presented by the author to Tennyson, is in the Library, as well as the manuscript of the map reproduced in the volume, and actually used by Thoreau and his brother on the expedition. Of Walden there is a copy inscribed to Ainsworth Rand Spofford, later Librarian of Congress, and three leaves of the manuscript of this American classic. A number of Thoreau’s college essays have survived and several of them are here; his comments as a student on Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dr. Johnson are neither original nor distinguished. Twenty-two of his highly individual letters, to Emerson, Sanborn, H. G. O. Blake, and to his mother and sister, as well as documents relating to his father and grandfather, have also been acquired. The manuscript of James Russell Lowell’s first published work, the Class Poem of 1838, is the star piece of a practically complete group of his books and a representative collection of other manuscripts and autograph letters. The Barrett Library contains nineteen letters of Herman Melville, including the last known to survive, written in August, 1890, to Havelock Ellis about the history of the Melville family, and the manuscripts of three of his poems, there is also a small group of family materials.

In the Barrett Library are three hundred and ninety-two separate pieces of the manuscript of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, among which is the earliest surviving portion. According to Fredson Bowers in his book Whitman’s Manuscripts Leaves of Grass 1860, “The Walt Whitman poetical manuscripts in the Library of Clifton Waller Barrett represent the largest single accumulation in existence of Whitman verse. There is a large group of letters, many of which are addressed to John Burroughs and to Peter Doyle, several notebooks, and pieces relating to his mother and father.

Three other figures of this period, William Gilmore Simms, Thomas Buchanan Read, and Bayard Taylor have virtually complete representation in the Barrett Library, with many firsts in presentation copies; for Read and Taylor the manuscripts outnumber those in any other collections and the file of letters from Simms is the largest to be found. With the exception of a few miscellaneous leaves the manuscripts of Simms do not seem to have survived.



Emily Dickinson’s manuscripts, protected after her death as in life, are now mainly in public collections. The Barrett Library has forty-one fine autograph letters as well as several letters from her sister, Lavinia, and especially good copies of her now scarce posthumously published volumes of poetry, in the various bindings. Louisa May Alcott worked from an early age to help support her family; Little Women, published in 1868-69, and its sequels finally brought them financial security. The Barrett Library has a large portion of the Alcott family papers–account books, family letters and personal records–with eleven of Miss Alcott’s manuscripts and over a hundred of her letters.

In the Library are over fourteen hundred letters and documents of Mark Twain dated from 1862 to 1910, some from his early and active days in Virginia City, Nevada Territory, and others dealing with the genesis of his books, his unfortunate business affairs, and his family– one of the latter is a touching final message that he wrote to his daughter, Clara, a few days before his death. Among the manuscripts are The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, portions of The Gilded Age (written with Charles Dudley Warner), Susy Clemens’s biography of her father and his of her, and the corrected proofs of his Autobiography; also here are the manuscripts of his collaborations with Bret Harte in Ah Sin (the only surviving text) and with William Dean Howells in Colonel Sellers, produced in 1880.

The manuscript of Gabriel Conroy, Bret Harte’s longest novel, is one of fifty-three holograph manuscripts, and there are over five hundred letters, many of them written to his wife and son. Despite his mysterious disappearance in Mexico in 1914, Ambrose Bierce’s seventy years on earth are fairly well recorded. The manuscript of his finest book, Tales of Soldiers and Civilians, is in the Barrett Library, and this manuscript is supplemented not only by a full collection of his printed works but by a host of scrapbooks, notebooks, personal letters and family correspondence. Recently the Barrett Library has added an archive of Bierce’s letters. The life and career of Lafcadio Hearn were both complex and colorful; they may be studied at length in the Barrett Library in the finest Hearn collection ever assembled. There are nearly three hundred letters, some of them to Ernest Fenollosa and to Japanese friends, twenty-five groups of manuscripts, including those of Kwaidan and the description of feudal customs, Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan , over thirty notebooks, and innumerable periodical appearances and translations.

The two other largest author collections for this period are of Henry James and Stephen Crane. A nearly complete library of English and American first editions of James is supplemented by four manuscripts, over 650 letters, some early corrected typescripts, and some magazine articles corrected for later book appearances. Also included in the Barrett Library is the archive of James’s biographer, Leon Edel. The Stephen Crane collection, among the largest group of his notebooks, scrapbooks and letters ever brought together, includes the manuscript of The Red Badge of Courage, with a discarded version of the novel on the verso of the leaves on which the final version was written, but not as published by Appleton in 1895.

William Dean Howells is represented by over four hundred letters, to Professor H. H. Boyesen of Columbia, Major Pond of the lecture bureau, to Harper & Brothers, and to a variety of other correspondents, as well as by the manuscripts of several articles and poems. The collection of the books, in first editions and association copies, manuscripts and letters of O. Henry is the largest ever brought together. Two of the manuscripts are signed, in full pseudonymity,”Olivier Henry.”

Many manuscripts of Eugene Field, who always had a kind word for book collectors, have found a home in the Barrett Library, as have letters of Frank Norris. The family papers of Richard Harding Davis, containing some four thousand letters written to members of the family, as well as many letters of Davis and his mother, were acquired several years ago. There is the manuscript of the beloved juvenile Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, by Mrs. Alice Hegan Rice, and the manuscript by James Lane Allen which was published in 1897 as The Choir Invisible.

Jack London’s A Dream of Debs and The Sea-Wolf; both autograph manuscripts are in the Barrett Library.



Among the authors represented in the Barrett Library for the final four decades are the manuscripts and letters of James Branch Cabell. For Edwin Arlington Robinson there are several hundred letters and about seventy-five association copies of his books of poems, many of them presentations to other poets. The Theodore Dreiser collection is the largest in a private library and includes a box of early manuscripts and typescripts.

The largest and most complete collection of Robert Frost’s works ever brought together forms part of a library of the American literature of which he is such an eminent representative. Early notebooks and poetical manuscripts, over forty letters mainly of the early period of his career, family papers, and about five hundred printed items: first editions, association copies, magazine appearances, books about, Christmas cards, and ephemera. The group of letters from Willa Cather is probably the largest ever brought together and the Library also contains over forty presentation copies of her books. The Vachel Lindsay Archive (with a capital A), acquired from the widow of the poet, is so vast that it seems to contain not only every scrap from his pen, published and unpublished and often in multiple copies, but everything of a literary nature that came his way.

For Sinclair Lewis there are the manuscripts of two short stories, and some early letters. There are the first editions and a few letters each for Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot. Marianne Moore is represented by volumes of her poetry in which she has made occasional corrections as well as by several manuscripts. There is a copy of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Renascence printed on japan vellum, and portions of the manuscripts of From Death to Morning and You Can’t Go Home Again, by Thomas Wolfe, with several fine letters from him. Ernest Hemingway is represented by the manuscript of The Green Hills of Africa, the typescript of the Sun Also Rises (including the first chapter which wasn’t published) and a heavily annotated (by Hemingway) typescript of the filmscript of The Sun Also Rises and a group of his earliest known letters.

The letters from Eugene O’Neill to his second wife, Agnes Boulton O’Neill, to his son Shane, and to Harold de Polo are intimate and revealing; there is also a typescript of an early unpublished O’Neill short story in the Library. The manuscripts of three notable modern books add to the Barrett Library–Noon Wine, by Katherine Anne Porter, The Time of Your Life (the corrected typescript), by William Saroyan, and The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck.

There has been a consistent effort to acquire both to the strength of Mr. Barrett’s collecting and to his few weaknesses. Recent acquisitions have included: a series of letters between Langston Hughes and Youra Qualls and Ina Qualls Steele, two Texas schoolteachers; another major portion of Washington Irving’s manuscript of Astoria; one of the few surviving literary manuscripts of Willa Cather for the short story Avignon and a group of twenty-five letters from Cather concerning her portrait by Leon Bakst; a major archive of Sara Teasdale; the filmscript of a Booth Tarkington work entitled “A Great Man’s Career” (apparently not produced); a Clarence Day–Arthur Johnson collection of ninety-five letters to Johnson from various editors and publishers; typed manuscripts, two drafts, June 8, 1956 (first draft, 159 pp.) and February 20, 1957, (final version, 152 pp.), screenplays by Peter Viertel of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and the November 2, 1956, version which includes extensive autograph annotations by Ernest Hemingway, with his signature on the title page; thirty-six letters of Ambrose Bierce, 1896-1903, to Harriet Hershberg, Oakland, Ca. containing mostly expressions of love and devotion; “The Obliterated Door,” a manuscript poem by Lydia Sigourney written to her friend, Mrs. A.M. Collins and referred to in a letter by Sigourney to Mrs. Collins dated April 4, 1851; the uncorrected galley proofs of The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck; a typed manuscript by Ezra Pound, “Pork or Possibly ‘The Bacon;'” an original unpublished essay on banking, with corrections, and a collection of nineteen items of Tennessee Williams containing titled and untitled manuscripts, manuscript fragments and fair copies of poems.