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American Literary Materials in Special Collections: 18th and 19th Century Literature

A guide to resources for the study of American literature in Duke University's David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library


 Literary works from the late colonial period and early republic include:Phillis Wheatley

  • Important individual items such as a signed copy of Phillis Wheatley’s Poems (1773). 
  • Many first or early American editions of works by British authors and works in translation, giving a broader perspective on the literary works available in the new republic. 

19th-century materials are a major strength of Duke's American literature collections:

  • Many literary periodicals, annuals, and gift books are present in full or long runs.  These are solid primary sources for research on popular literature and also include many of the first appearances in print of important works by canonical authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and Edgar Allan Poe.  
  • One of the three main collections of Walt Whitman manuscripts, and major manuscript collections for 19th-century Southern authors such as Paul Hamilton Hayne, Clara Maclean, and Thomas Nelson Page.  See below for details.
  • Large collections of the published works of William Cullen Bryant, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and William Dean Howells, among many other authors.  See below for details.  
  •  19th-century humor, including regional sketches, novels, folktales, and juvenile literature along with ephemeral publications like songsters and joke books. 

Notable Book and Manuscript Collections

Bryant, William Cullen, 1794-1878: The library holds more than eighty published works by Bryant, including many editions of his poetry and translations.  There are also several early editions of Thanatopsis.  A small Bryant manuscript collection contains several letters by Bryant, largely concerning literary matters.  There are a number of Bryant letters in several of the library's other manuscript collections, including those of Paul Hamilton Hayne, Charles Colcock Jones, and Johannes A. S. Oertel.

Chivers, T. H. (Thomas Holley), 1809-1858: A major manuscript collection of Chivers, Georgia poet and friend of Edgar Allan Poe, containing over 600 items and including correspondence, literary manuscripts, and clippings of poems and reviews. 

Cooke, John Esten, 1783-1853: The major manuscript collection of Cooke, a Virginia novelist, with about 300 items, including professional and personal correspondence and literary notes of John Esten Cooke and of his brother, Philip Cooke. In addition, there are more than 15 Cooke letters in the library's other collections, including the Alexander R. Boteler, Paul Hamilton Hayne, Frederick Holliday, Edmund C. Stedman, and Bedinger-Dandridge Family Papers.

Dupuy, Eliza A., 1814-1881: A manuscript collection of over fifty items of this novelist from Flemingsburg, Kentucky, primarily consisting of correspondence with Robert Bonner, editor of the New York Ledger, about Dupuy's stories.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882: Over eighty published works by Emerson, including many presentation copies (one to Nathaniel Hawthorne) of  first editions and other significant rarities from the library of the bibliographer Carroll Atwood Wilson.  A small manuscript collection contains correspondence as well as manuscript poems. 

Hawthorne, Nathaniel, 1804-1864: A collection of over 100 volumes of Hawthorne's published works, including many early and significant editions. 

Hayne, Paul Hamilton, 1830-1886: One of the two principal bodies of Hayne's papers, as well as 1,500 items from his personal library.  Hayne was a celebrated poet of the Confederate cause and editor of Russell's Magazine, published in Charleston, S.C.  A description of the volumes from Hayne's personal library appears in the Check list of the Paul Hamilton Hayne Library

Holmes, Oliver Wendell, 1809-1894: Over thirty letters by Holmes in manuscript collections, including the Paul Hamilton Hayne, Charles Colcock Jones, Thomas Nelson Page, Augustin Louis Taveau, and Bedinger-Dandridge Family Papers, and early editions of The Autocrat of the Breakfast-table and other works by Holmes.

Howells, William Dean, 1837-1920: Over 100 early editions of works by Howells.  Correspondence by and research materials about Howells are located in the Edwin Harrison Cady Papers.  Ten letters by Howells are located in other manuscript collections, including the Paul Hamilton Hayne, Thomas Nelson Page, Lassiter Family, and Henry E. Rood Papers.

Maclean, Clara Victoria Dargan, 1841-1923: About 730 manuscript items of Columbia, S. C., poet and novelist Clara Maclean.  Included in the collection are correspondence, diaries, scrapbooks, and other papers containing information on Southern literature and the effect of the Civil War on literary effort and remuneration. 

Meek, A. B. (Alexander Beaufort), 1814-1865: About forty manuscript items and five volumes.  The collection includes correspondence, literary works, and diaries.  Meek was a poet and journalist from Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Page, Thomas Nelson, 1853-1922: A collection of about 9,200 items of Page, novelist, lawyer, and diplomat.  Included in the papers are correspondence, legal and business papers, diplomatic dispatches, and other material relating to Page's legal and literary career.

Southworth, Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte, 1819-1899: A Southworth manuscript collection numbering about 340 items.  Southworth was a novelist from Walt Whitman Georgetown, Washington, D.C.  The collection contains literary, business, and personal correspondence. 

Taylor, Thomas: Correspondence, diary, writings, business papers, and scrapbooks of this Confederate soldier, farmer, writer, and inventor, of Warrenton, Va. The bulk of the collection consists of manuscripts of Taylor's short stories, poems, and novels, and material concerning his successful inventions. Other items relate to planting in Louisiana, life in the Confederacy, farming in Virginia after the war, and his unsuccessful literary career.

Wheatley, Phillis, 1753-1784: Holdings related to this African-American poet include a first edition of Wheatley's Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773) and a 1770 letter written for Nathaniel Wheatley by Phillis while still a slave. 

Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892: One of the three most extensive collections of Whitman material in the world.  The collection includes manuscripts, correspondence, published material, portraits, and photographs.  The published items number more than 400, including many first editions.  Manuscripts include poems, prose experiments, and autobiographical pieces by Whitman, as well as manuscripts about or relating to him.