Special collections and heavy metal bands

By Daniel J. Linke, Interim Associate University Librarian for Special Collections, Princeton University Library

photo by Shelley Szwast, Princeton University Library

Amidst all the hubbub of the opening of the Emily Hale Letters from T.S. Eliot, a researcher asked me, “How many other sealed collections do you have?”  If by sealed, I replied, you mean restricted by donor covenant, there are a number, but I don’t have the exact figure in my head.  No, she replied, sealed, with metal bands, like this collection was. That answer was much easier: zero.  The reasoning for robustly sealing the collection and when it was done, however, are not well-documented, but I offer some speculation and hypothesize the answer to both here.

From the contents of the boxes, we know that the boxes were not sealed any earlier than April 1965. Though the correspondence between Hale and Eliot ended in 1957, the collection contains drafts of her narrative, including the final version from April 1965, just over three months after Eliot’s death.  Two years later, Hale donated additional material, including two additional Eliot letters.  In a letter to University Librarian William Dix, she stated that these letters need not be sealed with the other letters she previously donated.  

There are no documents that state explicitly when the collection was sealed, but sometime between these two points in time, the 12 boxes were wrapped in kraft paper and the paper taped shut.  Then six boxes were grouped and held together with four wood slats on the top, bottom, front, and back, with two large wood panels on the ends. Wire bands of the kind still used for shipping today were then wrapped around the four slats and ends and secured.  This configuration would not allow any easy or casual access to the letters.

Why? In 1965, the Firestone Library was still in its original form–there had been only a few renovations and small additions since its opening in 1948.  The biggest changes were the construction of the John Foster Dulles Library in 1960, the installation of air conditioning in 1964, and the addition of the Scheide Library in 1965.  Modern security systems did not yet exist, and Special Collections materials were protected by nothing more than an unmarked locked door within the department’s office.  That door was unlocked during the day to allow staff to retrieve materials for patrons, according to the retired Curator of Western Americana, Alfred Bush, who began working in the department in the mid-1960s.  Therefore, the entire boxed, taped, and banded contraption protected the letters from the idly curious or prying eyes. In addition, by packing six boxes together, the bulk would make it very challenging to surreptitiously squirrel away one box to some other location for private examination.

But why take the effort?  Then, as now, Princeton University Library staff took their obligations to donors seriously.  Given the notoriety of the letters, if the donor wanted the collection closed for 50 years, the librarians used the best tools at their disposal to ensure that it would be so.  Since the Firestone renovation and Special Collections’ move to its present location, restricted collections are protected by far more sophisticated measures, without the need for metal bands.  And the number of collections that are still restricted by donor covenant? Less than two dozen, but none for as long or with the anticipated expectation of these exceptional letters.

Women in 18th Century North Carolina

By Kelly Bolding, Project Archivist for Americana Manuscripts

While archival materials are usually interpreted within the context of surrounding materials, sometimes a single document can tell a story. The Manuscripts Division recently acquired an 1773 manuscript indictment from the North Carolina Court of Common Pleas and Quarter Sessions in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. The document summarizes the case of Margaret Smith, a woman living in 18th century North Carolina, likely as an indentured servant of William Sipards.

Smith, who was unmarried, had secretly given birth to a child that died under unexplained circumstances shortly thereafter. In the indictment, Smith is accused of asking a man who was enslaved to her employer to bury it the following day. Instead of following Smith’s instructions, the man took the child’s body to a neighboring barn. Although we do not know the circumstances of the child’s death, one can imagine the many pressures that Smith faced as a single mother with little social or economic power. While no related documents appear to be readily available in other repositories, perhaps a future researcher can locate additional pieces of Smith’s story.

This case is also notable due to the fact that Smith was indicted by an all-female jury, which would have been an anomaly for the time. The document notes that the twelve women jurors, all of whom are listed by name, were gathered by “Street Searching.” Martin Pfifer (1720–1791, also spelled Phifer) presided over the case as Justice of the Peace. While Pfifer or another agent of the court likely wrote the text of the indictment, the forewoman of the jury signed the document herself. Although the last two letters of her surname are indecipherable, her name is written as Abigil Shu– (perhaps Abigail Shuar or Shuan).


A description of this document can be found in the finding aid. For more information on visiting the Special Collections Department at Firestone Library, please see the library website or email RBSC@princeton.edu.

“Face to Face:” Emily Hale on Her Letters from T.S. Eliot

By Emma M. Sarconi, Reference Professional for Special Collections

In early March 1957, “at the urgent request of Mr. William S. Dix” (Princeton University Librarian), educator and dramatist Emily Hale drafted a review of her relationship with poet T.S. Eliot to accompany the collection of letters she donated to the Princeton Library in 1956. Completed in 1965 with the editorial support of Dix, and her long-time friends Princeton English Professor Willard Thorp, and journalist Margaret Thorp, she chronicled her relationship with the famous poet, describes the “unnatural code that surrounded us” as well as expressed her hope that through the letters’ release “at least the biographers of the future will not see this ‘a glass darkly’ but like all of life ‘face to face.’”

Upon learning of Hale’s donation of his letters to Princeton, T.S. Eliot drafted his own review of his relationship with Hale. That text can be found on Harvard’s Houghton Library Blog (see here). 

Per the agreement Hale made with the library upon her donation, the material in the Emily Hale Letters from T.S. Eliot had been sealed for fifty years following her death. On January 2, 2020, these items were made publicly available and are now open to view by all patrons. For more information on the release of these materials, please see the blog post drafted by the former Curator of Manuscripts, Don C. Skemer.

For more information on the contents of the collection, please view the collection finding aid. For more information on visiting the Special Collections Department in Princeton, please see the library website or email RBSC@princeton.edu.

Below, please find images of the final draft of Hale’s three-page narrative followed by a textual transcription. TIFF images of previous drafts as well as some of Hale’s correspondence with Dix, can be found here

At the urgent request of Mr. William S. Dix, currently Librarian of Princeton University Library, and my long-time friends, Professor and Mrs. Willard Thorp of Princeton (Professor Thorp is a prominent member of the English Department of the University), I am writing this brief review of my years of friendship with T. S. Eliot. 

We knew each other first in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he was working on his graduate course preparatory to completing his doctorate in philosophy.  He left in 1913 for such preparation in Germany. Before leaving, to my great surprise, he told me how very much he cared for me; at the time I could return no such feeling.  His subsequent life in Oxford and later citizenship in England are known by many and everyone who studies his work. At the close of the war he married an English girl whom he had met at Oxford.  This marriage was a complete surprise to his family and friends and for me particularly, as he had corresponded quite regularly with me, sent flowers for special occasions, etc.; I meanwhile trying [sic] to decide whether I could learn to care for him had he returned to the “States”. 

We did not meet until the summer of 1922, when I was in London with my aunt and uncle.  His marriage was already known to be a very unhappy affair which was affecting both his creative work and his health.  Only his closest friends at this time knew fully of the miserable relationship between his wife and him. Knowing this, I was dismayed when he confessed, after seeing me again, that his affection for me was stronger than ever, though he had assumed years of separation from his home in America and old friends would have changed his attitude toward me.  From this meeting in London until the early 30’s I was the confidante by letters of all which was pent up in this gifted, emotional, groping personality. 

He was finally legally separated from his mentally ill wife.  That they were never divorced was due to his very strong adherence to his conversion to the Anglo-Catholic Church. 

Up to 1935, between trips to America and correspondence, we saw each other and knew about each other’s life – though I had no feeling except of difficult but loyal friendship.  I taught during these years at private schools or girls’ colleges; he was becoming more and more acclaimed in the world of letters, everywhere.

Hiw [sic] wife was finally committed to an institution, leaving him emotionally freer, at least, than in many years. From 1935 – 1939, under this change in his life, he came each summer to stay in Compden, Gloucestershire, for a week or so, with my aunt and uncle who rented a charming 18th century house in the town – and to which I came for the whole summer to help my aunt in her entertaining and greatly enjoy the days in the lovely Cotswold village.  On one of his visits, we walked to nearby “Burnt Norton” – the ruins of an 18th century house and garden. “Burnt Norton”, as Tom always said, was his “love poem” for me. My relatives knew the circumstances of T.S.E.’s life, and perhaps regretted that he and I became so close to each other, under conditions so abnormal, for I found by now that I had in turn grown very fond of him. We were congenial in so many of our interests, our reactions, and emotionally responsive to each other’s needs; the happiness, the quiet deep bonds between us made our lives very rich, and the more because we kept the relationship on as honorable, to be respected plane, as we could.  Only a few – a very few – of his friends and family, and my circle of friends knew of our love for each other; and marriage – if and when his wife died – could not help but become a desired, right fulfillment. To the general public, and our friends in England and America, I was only “his very good friend”. 

Vivian Eliot died in the mid 40’s, at the close of the war, but instead of the anticipated life together which could now be rightfully ours, something too personal, too obscurely emotional for me to understand, decided T.S.E. against his marrying again.  This was both a shock and a sorrow, though, looking back on the story, perhaps I could not have been the companion in marriage I hoped to be, perhaps the decision saved us both from great unhappiness I cannot ever know. 

We met under these new difficult circumstances on each of the visits he continued to make to this country for personal or professional reasons.  The question of his changed attitude was discussed, but nothing was gained by anyffurther [sic] conversation.  However, in these years before his second marriage, he always came to see me, was gentle, and still shared with me what was happening to him, or took generous interest in speaking at the school where I then taught. 

The second marriage in 1947 I believe took everyone by surprise. He wrote of it to two persons in this country, his sister Marian, and me.  I replied to this letter, also writing to Valerie. I never saw T.S.E. nor ever met her after this marriage, although they came to Cambridge two or three times to be with his family and friends, as well as to deliver lectures or give readings. 

I can truthfully say that I am both glad and thankful his second marriage brought him the great comfort and remarkable devotion of Valerie; everyone who knew her testified to her tireless care of him, as his health grew worse; his family were delighted with her. The memory of the years when we were most together and so happy are mine always and I am grateful that this period brought some of his best writing, and an assured charming personality which perhaps I helped to stabilize. 

A strange story in many ways but found in many another life, public and less public than his.  If this account will keep the prying and curiosity of future students from drawing false or sensational conclusions I am glad.  After all, I accepted conditions as they were offered under the unnatural code which surrounded us, so that perhaps more sophisticated persons than I will not be surprised to learn the truth about us.  At least, the biographers of the future will not see “through a glass darkly,” but like all of life, “face to face.”

(s) Emily Hale

N.B. With the retirement of Curator of Manuscripts Don C. Skemer in November 2019, various Special Collections staff members will author blog posts on manuscript collections at Princeton.