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Library of Congress Manuscripts: An Illustrated Guide

Arts and Literature

Although the Manuscript Division holds samples of the work of major European writers such as Shelley, Wilde, Shaw, and Ibsen, its greatest literary treasure consists the papers of preeminent American poet Walt Whitman. Whitman's papers exemplify the rich literary flourishing—often called the American Renaissance—that began in the mid-nineteenth century and that also featured the writings of Herman Melville, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Mark Twain, and Emily Dickinson, all of whom are represented in the division's collections.

Whitman bequeathed his papers, books, and photographs to three literary heirs. The first, Thomas Harned, began donating his holdings to the Library of Congress in 1917. Thereafter, additions arrived from England and various corners of this country in support of Harned's idea of centralizing Whitman's papers in Washington. The large collection previously owned by Whitman's personal Boswell—Horace Traubel—came to the Library in 1980 through the renowned Whitman collector Charles Feinberg, who had donated his own vast Whitman collection in the 1970s. Today the division holds the world's most extensive collection of Whitman items, including the only surviving manuscript page from the first edition (1855) of Leaves of Grass. There are many drafts of Whitman's famous Lincoln lectures and poems, including the dirge "O Captain! My Captain!," which became so popular that the poet regretted writing it. Artifacts in the collection include Whitman's cane, spectacles, pen, watch, and the haversack in which he carried small gifts for wounded soldiers whom he visited in Washington area hospitals during the Civil War.

Walt Whitman. "O Captain! My Captain!" (1865), draft. Charles E. Feinberg-Walt Whitman Collection. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.
This early draft of Walt Whitman's "O Captain! My Captain!"—the famous dirge inspired by Abraham Lincoln's death—is one of the Manuscript Division's literary treasures.
Walt Whitman. "O Captain! My Captain!" (1865), draft. [page 2] Charles E. Feinberg-Walt Whitman Collection. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.
Whitman recited his popular poem and delivered his Lincoln lecture almost annually in the 1880s. Only two lines from this version of the much-revised poem survive in the final "deathbed" edition (1891-92) of the poet's lifetime verse compendium Leaves of Grass.

Twentieth-century literary papers include representatives of a wide array of movements, forms, and points of view. Those of western writers Owen Wister and Zane Grey reflect the popularity of local color writing at the turn of the century and of regional fiction in the 1920s and 1930s. The papers of Benjamin Holt Ticknor, Hiram Haydn, Oscar Williams, and Ken McCormick provide the perspective of literary agents and editors. Works by women range from those of the poet Muriel Rukeyser—who was concerned with the Spanish Civil War, women's rights, and the Vietnam War—to those of novelist-philosopher Ayn Rand—who championed individualism, capitalism, and anticommunism. Small but interesting collections exist for the poets Robert Frost, John Ciardi, and Louis Simpson. The division has a particular attachment to the papers of poet- dramatist Archibald MacLeish, who served as Librarian of Congress during World War II and reorganized the entire agency. The rich correspondence in MacLeish's papers include several outspoken letters from Ernest "Papa" Hemingway about the incarceration of poet Ezra Pound for pro-Fascist war broadcasts from Italy.

Aubrey Beardsley. Illustrated letter to G. F. Scotson-Clark concerning James McNeill Whistler's Peacock Room. 1891. Pennell-Whistler Collection of the Papers of Joseph and Elizabeth Pennell and James A. McNeill Whistler. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.
Although some of the text of this richly illustrated informal letter has been published, the location and significance of the sumptuously illustrated original is not widely known. Beardsley tells his friend he still has "not got over the Leyland collection." His drawing at the top right depicts himself and his sister Mabel "Going thro' the rooms" of the mansion under the guard of one of Leyland's formidable footmen. Leyland was a Liverpool shipowner who had become the patron of the Pre-Raphaelites and a great art collector. He wanted the painting "La Princesse du Pays de la Porcelaine," by his friend Whistler to be the centerpiece of his mansion's dining-room, which also featured the Leylands' collection of blue and white porcelain.

Some of the modern fiction writers represented by major collections are James M. Cain, James A. Michener, Shirley Jackson, Bernard Malamud, Truman Capote, and Philip Roth. The original typescript of Cain's 1934 best-seller, The Postman Always Rings Twice, reveals the first title to have been Bar-B-Q. Prolific Michener's papers already number sixty thousand items, including photographs and diaries. The Jackson Papers feature drafts, adaptations, and information on the publishing history of her famous story, "The Lottery." Malamud's papers include a meticulous array of revisions valuable for textual study of his technique, Capote's papers feature notebooks for In Cold Blood, and Roth's papers include drafts and correspondence from his early career, best represented by Goodbye Columbus, through his 1993 Operation Shylock.

Daniel C. French in the Chesterwoord studio working on the bust of Ambrose Swasey. 1922. Daniel Chester French Papers. Library of Congress Manuscript Division.
Sculptor Daniel Chester French is shown in his studio working on a bust of industrialist Ambrose Swaysey, with a model of French's statue for the Lincoln Memorial in the background. Influenced by his years in Paris studying the Ecole des Beaux-Arts style, French gained fame for his allegorical heroic figures.

Theatrical papers have a long history in the division. Actress Frances "Fanny" Kemble caused a stir visiting the Capitol during highly oratorical pre-Civil War sessions, and some seventy-five items of her papers are here. A much larger collection documents the career of classical actress Charlotte Cushman. The John Thompson Ford Papers are a rich source for theatrical history from the manager's side, also providing interesting information on the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre. Twentieth-century theatrical records include newer manifestations of the performing arts. Represented by major collections are film actress Lillian Gish; Broadway and Hollywood director Joshua Logan; television performer Sid Caesar; actor Vincent Price; humorist and actor Groucho Marx; and well-known theatrical couples Ruth Gordon and Garson Kanin and Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn. The Library of Congress also holds some remarkable fine arts- related collections. American-born painter and etcher James A. McNeill Whistler is richly represented by a large collection compiled by Joseph and Elizabeth Robins Pennell, which includes drawings as well as correspondence and other manuscripts. Sculptors Paul Wayland Bartlett, John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum, Jo Davidson, Daniel Chester French, Vinnie Ream Hoxie, Adelaide Johnson, Lee Oskar Lawrie, and William Zorach all have collections of papers in the Manuscript Division. Correspondence, client files, designs, drawings, photographs, and slides (divided among the Library's custodial divisions) document the influential career of industrial designer Raymond Loewy, who was responsible for the modern streamlined look of everything from the 1937 Pennsylvania Railroad S-1 locomotive and the 1947 Coca Cola dispenser to various "autos of the future" and the presidential aircraft, Air Force One.

The papers of photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston, celebrated chiefly for her portraits of prominent personalities, also include information on her photographs of southern gardens and architecture. Similarly, the papers of architects Montgomery C. Meigs, William Thornton, Charles Follen McKim, Frank Lloyd Wright, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and Howard Dearstyne document the design and construction of America's built environment, from bridges and aqueducts, to the United States Capitol, to award-winning modern commercial and residential structures.

Significant thinkers who interpreted the beliefs and behavior of the modern world are also represented in the division's collections, notably theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and philosopher Hannah Arendt. The papers of these conceptualizers, together with those of the artists and writers mentioned, provide a cultural picture of American civilization that will be represented, preserved, and reinterpreted in future generations.