“Unequal to Anything” — Now Available Digitally! Jane Austen’s Letters to her sister Cassandra

By Emma Sarconi, Reference Professional for Special Collections

The other week, a researcher contacted Public Services staff via the Ask Us! form with questions about the letters between Jane Austen’s sister, Cassandra Austen, and her niece, Anna Austen Lefroy (aka “Mrs. B. Lefroy”). These documents live in the massive and wide-ranging Robert H. Taylor Collection of English and American Literature (call number RTC01), which spans the years 1280 all the way to 1958. 

After requesting the box in our finding aid system, retrieving it from the vault and setting it up in my office, I reached for folder nine in pursuit of answering the patron’s question. It was then that I saw that folder eleven was titled “Austen, Jane, 1775-1817: two autograph letters to sister, Cassandra” and my heart skipped a little beat. 

Now, we at Princeton are not short on notable Austen holdings — we have first editions of each of her books as well as at least two books owned by her (A Companion to the Altar and Travels from St. Petersburg, in Russia, to diverse parts of Asia), with her ownership marking in the fronts —  but letters, and not just any letters but those to her sister, that’s a horse of a different color (at least in this librarian’s heart). 

Sometimes, in the rush of doing the work of being a reference librarian, I feel my sense of wonder slip away a bit. “Oh look, another George Washington letter” I think to myself placidly in the same way that  I would imagine someone who works at Yellowstone would feel after seeing Old Faithful erupt for the thousandth time. We all lose sight of the marvels in front of us from time to time, don’t we? 

Well on this day, seeing that letter, dear reader, my sense of wonder was out in full force. How could I, a woman who first watched the PBS version of Sense and Sensibility with her mother at age eight, whose same mother has read all Austen novels too many times to count, who owns and frequently plays the card game Marrying Mr. Darcy, and, on top of it all, is named EMMA, pass this folder by? (Although Emma Woodhouse is sort of terrible and not, in my opinion, the kind of person you want to be named after, which incidentally, I am not.) Well, this woman just could not. 

I read the letters, the original in one hand, the transcription, thoughtfully copied by some wonderful library worker of the past letting me avoid laboring over 18th century handwriting, in the other, and then called my mom and read them to her. They are, much like Austen’s novels, incredibly witty, very dry, deliciously catty, tender and sweet. 

First page of the letter from Jane to Cassandra, April 21st

Below is the transcription, but thanks to the quick digitization work of my colleagues AnnaLee and Brianna, you are welcome to view high quality images of this material (as well as letters between Cassandra (both mother and sister) and Anna) directly in the finding aid site.

One day, I hope you come to our reading room on C-floor of Firestone library to view them yourself in person and feel a little bit of wonder.

In the meantime, enjoy. To learn more about Jane, Cassandra or Anna Austen, there are numerous Jane Austen appreciation societies including the Jane Austen Literary Foundation Pride and Possibilities blog and the Jane Austen Society of North America that will help you get started.

Castle Square, 
Tuesday, Dec. 17th (1808) 

My dear Cassandra, 

[Page 1] I can now write at leisure and make the most of my subjects, which is lucky, as they are not numerous this week. Our house was cleaned by half past eleven on Saturday, and we had the satisfaction of hearing yesterday that the party reached home in safety soon after 5. I was very glad of your letter this morning, for my mother taking medicine, Elisa keeping her bed with a cold, and Charles not coming, made us rather dull and dependent on the post. You tell me much that gives me pleasure but I think not much to answer. I wish I could help you in your needlework, I have two hands and a thimble that lead a very easy life. (Lady Sondes’ match surprises, but does not offend me; had her first marriage been of affection, or had there been a grown up single daughter, I should not have forgiven her — but I consider everybody as having a right to marry once in their life for love, if they can — and provided she will not leave off having bad head-aches and being pathetic, I can allow her, I can wish her to be happy. Do not imagine that your picture of your tete-a-tete with Sir B. Makes any change in our expectations here; he could not be really reading though he held the newspaper in his hand; he was making up his mind to the deed, and the manner of it. — I think you will have a letter from him soon). I have heard from Portsmouth yesterday, and as I am to send them more clothes, they cannot be expecting a very early return to us. Mary’s face is pretty well, but she must have suffered a great deal with it — an abscess was formed and opened. Our evening party on Thursday, produced nothing more remarkable than Miss Murden’s coming too, though she had declined it absolutely in the morning, and sitting very ungracious and very silent with us from 7 o’clock, till half after 11- for so late was it, owing to the chairman, before we got rid of them. The last hour, spent in yawning  and shivering in a wide circle round [Page 2] the fire was dull enough — but the tray had admirable sweets. The widgeon and the preserved Ginger even as delicious, as one could wish. But as to our Black Butter, do not decoy anybody to Southampton by such a lure, for it is all gone. The first pot was opened when Frank and Mary were here and proved not at all what it ought to be; – it was neither solid nor entirely sweet — and on seeing it, Elisa remember that Miss Austen had said she did not think it had been boiled enough. It was made you know when we were absent. Such being the event of the first post, I w’d not save the second, and we therefore ate it in unpretending privacy, and tho not what it ought to be, part of it was very good. Jame means to keep three horses on this increase of income, at present he has but one; Mary wishes the other two to be fit to carry women— and in the purchase of one, Edward will probably be called upon to fulfill his promise to his godson. (We have now pretty well ascertained James’ income to be Eleven Hundred Pounds, curate paid, which makes us very happy — the ascertainment as well as the income.) Mary does not talk of the Garden, it may well be a disagreeable subject to her — but her Husband is persuaded that nothing is wanting to make the first new one good, but trenching, which is to be done by his own servants and John Bond by degree-not at the expense which trenching the other amounted to. I was happy to hear, chiefly for Anna’s sake that a Ball at Marrydown was once more in agitation; it is called a child’s Ball and give by Mrs. Heathcote to Wm.; —such was its beginning at least —but it will probably swell into something more. Edward was invited during his stay at Marrydown, and it is to the place between this and twelfth day. Mrs. Hulbert has taken Anna a pair of white shoes on the occasion. I forgot in my last to tell you, that we have by way of Kintbury and the Palmers that they were all well at Bermuda in the beginning of Nov.-Wednesday. Yesterday must have been a day of sad remembrance at Gno. I am glad it is over. We spent Friday even’g with our friends at the Boarding House, and our curiosity was gratified by the sight of their fellow-inmates, Mrs. Drew and Miss Hook, Mr. Wynne and Mr. Fitshugh, the latter is brother to Mrs. Lance, and ver much the gentleman. He has lived in that house more than twenty years. And moor Esau [Page 3] is so totally deaf that they say he c’d now hear a cannon, were it fired close to him; having no cannon at hand to make the experiment, I took it for granted, and talked to him a little with my fingers, which was funny enough. I recommended him to read Corinna. Miss Hook is a well behaved genteelism woman; Mr. Drew well behaved without being at all genteel. Mr. Wynne seems a chatty and rather familiar young man. Miss Murden was quite a different creature this last even’g. from what she had been before owing to her having with Martha’s health found a situation in the morning, which bids very fair for comfort. When she leaves Steventon, she comes to board and lodge with Mrs. Hookey, the chemist, for there is no Mr. Hookey. I cannot say that I am in any hurry for the conclusion of her present visit, but I was truly glad to see her comfortable in mind and spirits; at her age perhaps one may be as friendless oneself, and in similar circumstances quite as captious. My mother has been lately adding to her possessions in plate— a whole tablespoon and a whole dessertspoon and six whole teaspoons, which makes our side board border on the magnificent. They were mostly the produce of old or useless silver. I have turned the 11’s in the list into 12’s and the card looks all the better, a silver Tea-ladle is also added, which will at least answer the purpose of making us sometimes think of John Warren. I have laid Lady Sondes case before Marta— who does not make the least objection to it, and is particularly pleased with the name of Montresor. I do not agree with her there, but I like his rank very much, and always affix the ideas of strong sense, and highly elegant harness to a General. (I must write to Charles next week. You may guess in what extravagant terms of praise Earle Harwood speaks of him. H his looked up to by everybody in America.) I shall not tell you anything more of Wm. Digweed’s china, as your silences on the subject makes you unworthy of it. Mrs. H. Digweed looks forward with great satisfaction to our being her neighbors. I w’d have her enjoy the idea to the utmost, as I expect there will not be much in the reality. With equal pleasure, we anticipate an intimacy with [Page 4] her husband’s Bailiff and his wife, who live close by us, and are said to be remarkably good sort of people. (Yes, yes, we will have a pianoforte, as good a one as can be got for 30 Guineas, and I will practice country dances, that we may have some amusement for our nephew sand nieces when we have the pleasure of their company.) Martha seas her love to Henry and tells him that he will soon have a Bill of Miss Chaplin’s about £14 to pay on her account, but the bill shall not be sent in, till his return to town. I hope he comes to you in good health in spirits as a first return to Godmersham can allow. With his nephews he will force himself to be cheerful, till he really is so. Send me some intelligence of Elisa, it is a long while since I have heard of her. We have had snow on the ground here almost a week, it is now going, but Southampton must boast no longer. We all send our love to Edward, Jan and his brothers, and I hope speculation is generally liked. Fare you well, Yrs. affect’ll J. Austen. 

My mother has no been out of doors this week but she keeps pretty —. We have received through Brookham an indifferent account of your Godmother. 

Gay St. Sunday Evening. April 21st. 

My dear Cassandra, 

[Page 1] I am much obliged to you for writing to me again so soon; your letter yesterday was quite an unexpected pleasure. Poor Mrs. Sten! It was been her lot to be always in the way; but we much be merciful, for perhaps in time we may come to be Mrs. Stents ourselves unequal to anything and unwelcome to everyone — We shall be very glad to see you whenever you can get away, but I have no expectation of your coming before the 10th or 11th of May. Your account of Martha is very comfortable indeed, & now we shall be in no fear of receiving a worse. This day, if she has gone to Church, must have been a trial of her feelings, but I hope it will be the last of an acuteness. — James may not be a Man of Business, but as a “Man of Letters” he is certainly very useful; he affords you a most convenient communication with the Newbury Post. – You were very right in supposing I wore my crepe sleeves to the Convert, I had them put in on the occasion; on my head I wore my cape and flowers, but I do not think it looked particularly well. — My Aunt is in a great hurry to pay me for my Cap. But cannot find in her heart to give me good money. “If I have any intention of going to the Grand Sydney-Garden Breakfast, if there is any party I wish to join, Periot will take out a ticket for me”. — Such an offer I shall of course decline; & all the service she will render me therefore, is to put it out of my power to go at all, whatever may occur to make it desirable. – Yesterday was a busy day with me. Or at least with my feet & my stockings’ I was walking almost all day long; I went to Sydney Gardens soon after one, & did not return till four, & after dinner I walked to Weston. – My morning engagement was with the Cookes, & our party consisted of George & Mary, A Mr. and Miss Bendish who had been with us at the Concert, & the youngest Miss Whitby; – Not Julia, we have done with her, she is very ill, but Mary; Mary Whitby’s turn is actually come to be grown up & have a fine complexion & wear great square muslin shawls. I have no expressly enumerated myself among the party, now & then in the intervals of his more animated fooleries with Miss Bendish, who is very young & rather handsome [Page 2] and whose gracious manner, ready whit, & solid remarks put me somewhat in mind of my old acquaintance Lucy Lefroy. – There was a monstrous deal of stupid quizzing, & common-lace nonsense talked, but scarcely any White; – all that border’d on it, or on Sense came fro my Cousin George, whom altogether I like very well – Mr. Bendish seems nothing more than a tall young Man, – I met Mr. F. Bonham the other day, & almost his first salutation was “So Miss Austen, your Cousin I come”. – My Evening engagement & walk was with Miss Armstrong, who had called on me the day before, & gently upbraided me in her turn with change of manners to her since she had been in Bath, or at least of late. Unlucky me! That my notice should be of such consequence & my Manners so bad! – She was so well-disposed & so reasonable that I soon forgave her, & made this engagement with her in proof of it, – such is really an agreeable girl, so I think I may like her, & her great want of a companion at home, which may well make any tolerable acquaintance important to her, gives her another claim on my attention. – I shall endeavor as much as possible to keep my Intimacies in their proper place & prevent their clashing. I have been this morning with Miss Irvine; it is not in my power to return her evening-visits at present; I must pay her as I can – On Tuesday we are to have a party. It came into my wise head that tho’ my Mother did not go out of an evening, there was no reason against her seeing her friends at home, & that it would be as well to get over the Chamberlaynes visit now, as to delay it. I accordingly invited them this morning, Mrs. C fixed on Tuesday, & I rather think they will all come; the possibility of it will deter us from asking Mr. and Mrs L.P. to meet them – I asked Mrs. Irvine, but she declined it, as not feeling quite stout, & wishing to keep quiet; – but her Mother is to enliven our circle. – Bickerton has been at home for the Easter Holidays, & returns tomorrow; he is a very sweet boy, both in manner & countenance. He seems to have the attentive, affectionate feelings of Fulwar-Williams – who by the bye is actually fourteen – what are we to do? I have never seen Bickerton without his immediately enquiring whether I had heard fro you – from “Miss Cassandra”, was his expression at first. – AS far as I can learn, the Family are all very much pleased with Bath, & excessively overcome by the heat or the Cold, or whatever happens to the be the weather. – They go on with their Masters & Mistresses, & are now to have a Miss; Amelia is to take lessons of Miss Sharpe. [Page 3] – Among so many friends it will be well if I do not get into a scrape; & now here is Miss Blanchford come. I should have gone distracted if the Bullers had staid. – The Cookes leave Bath next week I believe, & my Cousin goes earlier. – The papers announce the Marriage of the Rev. Edward Bather, Rector of some place in Shropshire to a Miss Emma Halifax. A wretch! – He does not deserve and Emma Halifax’s maid Betty. Mrs. Hampson is here; this must interest Martha; I met him the other morning in his way (as he said) to Greek Park Bus; I trusted to his forgetting our number in Gay st., when I gave it to him, & so I concluded he has, as he has not yet called . – Mrs. Stanhope has let her house from Midsummer, so we shall get rid of them. She is luck in disposing of it so soon, as there is an astonishing number of houses at this time vacant in that end of the Town. – Mrs. Elliot is to quit hers at Michaelmas. – I wonder whether Mr Hampson’ friend Mr. Saunders is any relation to the famous Saunder those letters have been lately published. – I am quite of your opinion as to the folly of concealing any longer our intended Partnership with Martha, whenever there has been of late been an enquiry on the subject I have always been sincere, & I have sent word of it to the Mediterranean in a letter to F[rank]. None of our nearest connections I think will be unprepared for it’ and I do not know how to suppose that Martha’s have no foreseen it. – When I tell you that we have visiting a Countess this morning, you will immediately & with great justice, but no truth, guess it to be Lady Roden. No, it is Lady Leven, the mother of Lady Balgonie. On receiving a message from Lord and Lady Leven thro’ the Mackays declaring their intention of waiting on us, we thought it right to go to them. I hope we have not done too much, but the friends & admirers of Charles must be attended to. -They seem very reasonable, good sort of people, very civil, and fully of his praise. – We were shown at first into an empty Drawing-room, & presently in came his Lordship, not knowing who we were, to apologize for the servants mistake, & tell a lie himself, that Lady Leven was not within. – He is a tall, gentlemanlike looking man, with spectacles, & rather deaf; – after sitting with him ten minutes we walked away; but Lady L. Coming out of the dining parlor as we passed the door, we were obligated to attend her back to it, & pay our visit over again, – She is a very stout woman with a very handsome face. – By this means we had the pleasure of hearing Charles’s praises twice over; – they think themselves excessively obliged to him, & estimate him so highly as to wish Ld. Balgonie when he is quite recovered, to go out to him. – The long man is much better, & is gone fo rate confirmation of his health to Penzance. – There is a pretty little Lady Marianne, of the party, to be shaken hands with & asked if she remembers Mr. Austen.

[Page 4] Monday
The Cooke’s place seems of a sort to suit Isacc if we means to go to service again, & does not object to changes of Country. He will have a good Soil, & a good Mistress, & I suppose will not mind taking physic now & then. The only doubt which occurs to me is whether Mr. Cooke may not be a disagreeable, fidgety Master, especially in matters concerning the Garden. – Mr. Mant has not yet paid my Mother the remainder of her money, but she has very lately received his apology for it with his hope of being able to close the account shortly. – You told me sometime ago that Tom Chute had had a fall from his horse, and I am waiting to know how it happened before I being pitying him, as I cannot help suspecting it was in consequence of his taking order. Very likely as he was going to Duty or returning from it. 

I have not much more to add. My Uncle & Aunt drank tea with us last night, & inspire of my resolution to the contrary, I could don’t help putting forward to invite them again this Evening. I thought it was the first consequence to avoid anything that might seem a slight to them. I shall be glad when it is over, & hope to have no necessity for having so many dear friend at once again. – I shall write to Charles by the next Packet, unless You tell me in the meantime of your intending to do it. Believe me if you choose. 

Yr. affectionate sister 

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. 

Musical Collaborations

In memory of Toni Morrison (1931-2019), the Princeton University Library has acquired two autograph music manuscripts containing drafts and sketches that the contemporary American composer Richard Danielpour wrote in pencil on the pages of orchestral score books: (1) Sweet Talk: Four Songs on Texts by Toni Morrison, a song cycle commissioned as part of the 1996 Princeton Atelier Program, for mezzo-soprano Jessye Norman (who recently passed), with instrumental accompaniment, 1995-96; and (2) Spirits in the Well, another song cycle with lyrics by Morrison, composed for voice and instrumental accompaniment at Yaddo, the artists’ community in Saratoga Springs, New York, November 1997. These two manuscripts will form a new one-box collection complementing related materials in the Toni Morrison Papers (C1491) The papers contain Morrison’s own files related to collaborations with Richard Danielpour, including these two song cycles and the opera Margaret Garner(2005), for which she wrote the libretto. Danielpour recalls, “When I realized that Beloved was based on the historical account of Margaret Garner, I thought, [Toni] is the person who needs to write [the libretto].” Morrison’s other well-known musical collaboration was Honey and Rue, a song cycle composed by André Previn with lyrics by Morrison for the soprano Kathleen Battle and chamber orchestra, which premiered at Carnegie Hall in 1992.

The papers of Toni Morrison, Nobel Laureate in Literature (1993) and Robert F. Goheen Professor in the Humanities (Emeritus) at Princeton University, contain several hundred boxes of archival materials documenting her life and work, including manuscript drafts and other materials pertaining to her eleven published novels: The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1973), Song of Solomon (1977), Tar Baby (1981), Beloved (1987), Jazz (1992), Paradise (1997), Love (2003), A Mercy (2008), Home (2012), and God Help the Child (2015). Morrison was especially fond of her work at the Princeton Atelier and fruitful collaborations with Danielpour and other composers and creative artists. Now part of the Lewis Center for the Arts, the Princeton Atelier, in its own words, “brings together professional artists from different disciplines to create new work in the context of a semester-long course.” When President Christopher Eisgruber announced on Friday, October 17, in Richardson Auditorium, that Morrison’s papers had found their permanent home in Firestone Library, the author responded by thanking Princeton for some of the happiest days of her life, both in the classroom and the Atelier. When the manuscripts have been cataloged, descriptions will be available in the online catalog and finding aids.

Richard Danielpour, Sweet Talk (detail).

Egyptology Seminar

Verena M. Lepper and her graduate seminar (Ancient Egyptian Manuscripts: Writing, Materiality, Technology [REL 404/CLA 404/HUM 404]) is visiting Special Collections eight times this fall to study selected holdings of the Manuscripts Division. She is a Visiting Stewart Fellow in the Humanities Council and Department of Religion, as part of the Council’s Global Initiative in Comparative Antiquity. The seminar will be studying the Manuscripts Division’s collection of Books of the Dead and other ancient texts written in Hieroglyphic and Hieratic script. These have all been digitized, as described in a recent blogpost. The seminar will also study a selection of Coptic, Demotic, and Greek papyri and ostraka in the Manuscripts Division. Guest lecturers in the seminar include four Princeton faculty: AnneMarie Luijendijk (Religion), Marina Rustow (Near Eastern Studies), Martin Kern (East Asian Studies), and Thomas Hare (Comparative Literature). The seminar will visit the Princeton University Art Museum to study a newly acquired Book of the Dead. One possible outcome of the seminar will be a future exhibition, either gallery-based or virtual, relating to the materials studied. Lepper is Curator of Egyptian and Oriental Papyri and Manuscripts at the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung. She is the author or editor of several books on Egyptology and is chief editor of two monograph series: Ägyptische und Orientalische Papyri und Handschriften des Ägyptischen Museums und Papyrussammlung Berlin (DeGruyther) and Studies on Elephantine (Brill).

Egyptology Seminar (left to right): Jianing Zhao, Leina Thurn, Verena M. Lepper, Rachel E. Richman, Emily Grace Smith-Sangster, and Rebekah Haigh.

Visions of Hell

Unbearable torments and punishments awaited the wicked in Hell, according to the ancient Persian prophet Zoroaster (Zarathustra), who lived at some point between 1500 and 600 BCE. His teachings inspired the Zoroastrian religion, which flourished in pre-Islamic Persia and has managed to survive until the present day among the persecuted Zoroastrian minority in parts of Yazd and Kerman, in northeastern Iran; and among the Parses (meaning Persians) of India, about 200,000 of whom live in Mumbai (Bombay) and its environs. From there, the Parses have brought their faith to other places, including the Princeton area. Surviving Zoroastrian texts describe Hell as a fiery, stench-filled place for men and women guilty of sins ranging from murder, sodomy, and sorcery, to bad administration, perjury, and other crimes against the social order. Punishments meted out in Hell include torture, mutilation, dismemberment, and immolation. Depictions of these punishments can be found in the relatively uncommon Zoroastrian illustrated manuscripts preserved in major research libraries.

The Manuscripts Division is fortunate to have a particularly attractive example: Islamic Manuscripts, New Series, no. 1744, possibly dating from the year 1589. This manuscript contains Sad dar, Arda Viraf, and other Zoroastrian texts, written in Persian and illustrated with fifty miniatures of Heaven and Hell. See the miniatures below for particularly vivid scenes of armed demons, snakes, and wild beasts attacking the unfortunate souls consigned to Hell. The Library digitized this manuscript for the Digital Princeton University Library (DPUL), where it may be accessed at this URL. It is one of more than 1,600 manuscripts in the growing Princeton Digital Library of Islamic Manuscripts. As one can see online, the manuscript was living in its own kind of Book Hell. When acquired by the Library, perhaps a half century ago, the manuscript was disbound and badly worm-damaged, like many manuscripts of Iranian and Indian origin. In this compromised condition, it was difficult for the manuscript to be handled by researchers or shown to Near Eastern Studies classes without further damaging it. The volume needed full conservation treatment. Over the course of weeks, as time allowed, the manuscript was expertly flattened, mended, and rebound by Mick LeTourneaux, the Library’s Rare Books Conservator. This manuscript has now been saved. But many other seriously damaged and deteriorated manuscripts at Princeton need extensive conservation treatment if they are to survive as well.

Islamic Manuscripts, Third Series, no. 1744, pp. 214-215.

Entering the Public Domain

Under U.S. Copyright Law, a significant number of classic works first published in 1923 have entered into the public domain this year, which means that they can be republished and sold or read online free-of-charge through Project Gutenberg without permission of (or payment to) rights holders. Among the works entering the public domain this year are particular books by Virginia Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, and other leading authors of the last century. One title represented in the holdings of the Manuscripts Division is The Prophet, a collection of twenty-six brief inspirational essays by the Lebanese-American writer and artist Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931), a Maronite Christian influenced by Sufism and Baha’i. This thin volume has sold tens of millions of copies since it was first published by the New York publisher Alfred A. Knopf on 23 September 1923. This popular book achieved cult status in the 1960s. Even before being discovered by the counterculture, President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address (1961) paraphrased Gibran’s essay The New Frontier, in which the latter had written (actually about the Middle East), “Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country?” The book has been a perpetual bestseller and has been translated into twenty languages. Even today, Amazon.com rates Knopf’s Borzoi edition of The Prophet among its dozen best-selling works in the categories of “religious philosophy” and “inspirational philosophy.”

In 2007, the Library received the William H. Shehadi Collection of Kahlil Gibran (C1178) as a gift of the collector’s son Albert B. Shedadi (Woodrow Wilson School *1986). William H. Shehadi was a physician and director of the Department of Radiology at New York Medical College and Westchester Medical Center. He most admired Gibran’s compassion for others. His brother was the late Fadlou A. Shehadi (PhD *1959), a long-time Princeton resident. The collection includes significant portions of Gibran’s working manuscripts and notebooks for four well-known books, all written in English and published by Alfred A. Knopf in New York: The Madman: His Parables and Poems (1918), The Fore-Runner: His Parables and Poems (1920), The Prophet (1923), and The Earth Gods (1931). A page from the collection’s manuscript of The Prophet can be seen below. In particular, the notebooks contain the author’s many textual changes and deletions. The collection also includes fragments of other manuscripts, photographs of his New York studio, and published editions of his works. The Shehadi Collection is one of the main sources on Gibran, in addition to the author’s published works, love letters and private journal of his American friend and muse Mary Haskell, and Gibran manuscripts retained by family members and not readily available for research. In 1991, American University of Beirut published his book Kahlil Gibran: A Prophet in the Making, based on the Shehadi Collection. For more information, contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts, dcskemer@princeton.edu


Ancient Egyptian Manuscripts Online

The Manuscripts Division is pleased to announce that ten Pharaonic rolls, written in Hieroglyphic and Hieratic script either on papyrus or linen, have been digitized and are now available online in the Digital Princeton University Library (DPUL). See the listing below, with links to the digitized manuscripts. These rolls are the oldest part of the Princeton Papyri Collections. Most of them came to Princeton as part of the extensive 1942 gift of Robert Garrett (1875-1961), Class of 1897. In the late 1920s, Garrett acquired several such rolls, chiefly from the Ptolemaic period (305-30 BCE), in the antiquities trade. He purchased a fully mounted Saite recension of the Book of the Dead in Hieratic, 26th Dynasty, from Spink & Son (London) in 1928. Others were purchased still fully rolled. One of these, a Hieroglyphic Book of the Dead (Pharaonic Roll, no. 5), New Kingdom, 18th/19th Dynasty, was partially examined at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1944-48 by Egyptologist and fellow Princetonian William C. Hayes (1903-63), Class of 1924. Five of Garrett’s Pharaonic rolls were finally unrolled and mounted in the Library’s Preservation Office in 1998-99 under the supervision of paper conservator Ted Stanley. The work was done as part of the APIS Project (Advanced Papyrological Data System), with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts, supervised the project at Princeton. Leonard H. Lesko, Charles Edwin Wilbour Professor of Egyptology Emeritus at Brown University, was the project consultant who provided guidance during the unrolling and mounting, and then described them for the APIS database. Over the past twenty years, Egyptologists have studied these rolls and published their findings in books and articles. Previous blog posts have focused on three of the Pharaonic rolls: no. 5; no. 8; and no. 10. For more information, contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts, dcskemer@princeton.edu

Book of Amduat. Hieroglyphic script on papyrus. Ptolemaic Period. Contains 12th hour. Pharaonic Rolls, no. 1. https://dpul.princeton.edu/papyri/catalog/dn39x503f

Book of the Dead. Hieroglyphic script on papyrus. Probably from a Theban tomb. Ptolemaic Period (?) Chapter 17 with polychrome illustrations. Pharaonic Rolls, no. 2. https://dpul.princeton.edu/papyri/catalog/0r9677259

Book of the Dead. Hieroglyphic script on papyrus. Ptolemaic Period (?) Owner’s name is (N)es-Ese, a “chantress of Amon.” Contains chapter 110 (Field of Hetep) and beginning of chapter 149 written in retrograde from left. Unrolled and mounted in the Princeton University Library,1998. Pharaonic Rolls, no. 3. https://dpul.princeton.edu/papyri/catalog/xd07gz04k

Book of the Dead. Hieroglyphic script on papyrus, with polychrome illustrations. Ptolemaic Period (?) Owner’s name is Pedimeh(y)et. His father’s name is (N)espautitaui, a “first prophet of Re”; his mother’s name is Lady Nebethutiyti. Pharaonic Rolls, no. 4. https://dpul.princeton.edu/papyri/catalog/sn00b312r

Book of the Dead, with polychrome illustrations. Hieroglyphic script on papyrus. Dynasty XVIII. Owner is Iwt.nyr.syh (Iwtlsyh?), a name possibly of Semitic origin. Includes chapters 84, 77, 86, 85, 88, 114, 38, 105, 31, and 125. Unrolled and mounted in the Princeton University Library, 1999. Pharaonic Rolls, no. 5. https://dpul.princeton.edu/papyri/catalog/ff3658534

Unidentified fragments. Fourteen small pieces with either Hieroglyphic or Hieratic script. Pharaonic Rolls, no. 6. https://dpul.princeton.edu/papyri/catalog/rx913v491

Book of Breathings. Hieratic script on papyrus. Ptolemaic Period. Nearly complete, unrolled and mounted in the Princeton University Library, 1998. Pharaonic Rolls, no. 7. https://dpul.princeton.edu/papyri/catalog/8w32r9117

Book of the Dead. Hieratic script on linen, Two complete rolls of the Saite recension (chapters 67-165), with illustrations in ink. The owner’s name is Hekaemsaf (or Heka-m-saf), whose mother was named Tinetmehenet. The owner should probably be identified with Hekaemsaf, a naval officer who served as Chief of Royal Ships under Pharaoh Ahmose II [or Amasis II] (570-526 BCE), 26th Dynasty. Pharaonic Rolls, no. 8. https://dpul.princeton.edu/catalog/k643b257s

Book of the Dead. Hieratic script on papyrus. Owner’s name is Khay-Hapy, “son of Isis-great-of-truth.” With Hieroglyphic labeling. Includes (from right) chapters 16, 18, 38B (?), 21, 23, 24, 25, 26, 28, 110, 27, 32, and 125. Ptolemaic Period (?). Pharaonic Rolls, no. 9. https://dpul.princeton.edu/papyri/catalog/2514nq85z

Osiris text. Hieratic script on papyrus. Ptolemaic Period. Unrolled and mounted in the Princeton University Library, 1998-99. Pharaonic Rolls, no. 10. https://dpul.princeton.edu/papyri/catalog/t148fm633

Litany or Hymn to Osiris. Hieratic script on papyrus. Pharaonic Rolls, no. 11. https://dpul.princeton.edu/papyri/catalog/0v838406h

Note: A fragment of a Book of the Dead, in Hieratic script on papyrus (Dynasty XXI, ca. 1100-950 BCE), with the owner’s name Pen-Amen-Apt, has been digitized in Treasures of The Scheide Library. The Scheide Library M P95.

Not yet digitized: Crocodile mummy cartonnage made from gesso with polychrome decoration (Tebtunis, 2nd century BC) box 8 Item 1-5.

Pharaonic Roll, no. 5 (detail). Transformation Spell, no. 86: Swallow perched on mummy.

Minassian Islamic Leaf Collection

Over the past dozen years, Library renovation, space reallocation, and staff changes have led to the fortuitous rediscovery of valuable materials acquired long ago, even before Rare Books and Special Collections moved to the newly completed Firestone Library in 1949. One such rediscovery is a collection of early Qur’ānic and Persian decorated manuscript leaves (19 items), dating from the ninth to eighteenth centuries. Below one can see one of the nineteen: a bifolium of an early Qur’ān written on parchment in Kufic, the oldest of Arabic calligraphic scripts. Krikor Minassian (1874-1944), a New York dealer in Islamic manuscripts and Near Eastern art, probably assembled this collection by the late 1920s or 1930s and donated it to Princeton around 1940. The Library accessioned it in May 1945 (AM 13658). Minassian was a native of Kayseri, Turkey, and remained active in the international market for decades. He formed other Islamic leaf collections, which are in various American libraries, such as the Library of Congress and Brown University’s John Hay Library. It is likely that particular leaves in the Princeton collection were from the same manuscripts as those in these collections. The Minassian Collection has been rehoused and designated Islamic Manuscripts, Third Series, no. 885. When cataloging has been completed, it will be digitized and added to the growing Princeton Digital Library of Islamic Manuscripts. At least a dozen additional Islamic manuscripts were found along with the Misassian leaves. For more information, contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts, dcskemer@princeton.edu

Kufic bifolium