Renaissance News Reporting

Information is so abundant and readily available today through the internet and social media, it can be difficult to imagine the glacial pace of news reporting in the distant past, before the advent of printed newspapers and organized postal services. In the Middle Ages, long-distance travel occasionally enabled such news reporting through oral and written accounts. By the fifteenth century, personal letters and news sheets written on paper, readily available and far less expensive than parchment, facilitated dissemination of international news by merchants, diplomats, soldiers, clergy, and other travelers. Information included in personal letters could be repackaged or aggregated in news sheets, at first handwritten and later printed, to report on current events of broad geopolitical and economic interest. The Manuscripts Division has examples of both types of news media, complementing other holdings in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

The Ottoman Empire’s challenges and threats to the Christian West was a recurrent news theme from the fifteenth century and is the subject of the best-known international news report in the Manuscripts Division: Testament de Amyra Sultan Nichemedy (Garrett MS. 168), an elegant manuscript, decorated with the royal arms (see below), was produced in Bruges (ca. 1482) and then bound by the Caxton Binder in Westminster. The manuscript was for Edward, Prince of Wales (b. 1470), who ascended the English throne briefly as King Edward V (r. 9 April–25 June 1483), under the control of his uncle, the Lord Protector, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who ascended the throne as Richard III (r. 1483-85). The text of this manuscript, available in print, is a French translation of an anonymous Italian letter of 12 September 1481, concerning the death and funeral of the Sultan Mehmed II (r. 1444-46, 1451-81), whose conquest of Constantinople in 1453 marked the the fall of the Byzantine Empire. The text also concerns the civil war faced by his successor, Beyazid II (r. 1481-1512).

From the mid-sixteenth century, news reporting by personal letter came to be complemented by organized scribal copying and dissemination of news sheets. The Manuscripts Division recently acquired a handwritten Genoese news sheet of around 1535 (Princeton MS. 239). This 21-line avviso, labelled “Copia de litera di Genoa de 22 Iulii,” offers an Italian news report, copied by a scribe on the recto of an unwatermarked paper sheet (28.3 x 19.5 cm) in a rapid cursive script, with abbreviations and corrections. The news sheet was presumably copied from a manuscript exemplar and dispatched to its intended reader by hand or post. The subject is the imminent defeat of the Ottoman Turkish Admiral Hayreddin Barbarossa (d. 1546) and death of the feared Turkish naval commander Aydin Reis (d. 1535), known as “Cacciadiavolo.” In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Genoa and Rome were close rivals of Venice in gathering and disseminating news. By the time it was written, news was already being circulated by printed news sheets, presumably in press-runs of 200 or more copies.

More common in the Manuscripts Division are personal letters conveying international news, such as a recently acquired three-page letter of 11 October 1480, with traces of a red wax seal (Princeton MS. 138.76). In it the Venetian merchant shipper Antonio Soranzo conveyed breaking news to Ierolimo Venier, member of an old Venetian noble family. The news was from the Greek fortress of Methoni, a town that the Venetians called Modon, located in the southwestern Peloponnese. Soranzo’s news dispatch concerned recent Ottoman military assaults by the forces of Sultan Mehmed II. Ottoman attacks were against a fortress known as the Castle of St. Peter (or Petronium) to the Knights Hospitalers of Saint John, and as Bodrum Kalesi to the Ottomans. The fortress built by the Knights Hospitalers was in the southwestern Turkish port city of Bodrum. They also had a fortress on the Greek island of Kos, twenty-four kilometers to the southwest. The Knights Hospitalers were able to resist attacks on both fortresses. Soranzo was a member of a Venetian family of merchant shippers, whose firm specialized in the importation of Levantine cotton from the Syrian ports of Hamā, Latakia, and Tripoli, for use in the European textile industry.

Italian news and diplomatic reports are found in other collections. A recent acquisition (Princeton MS. 138.77) is an anonymous Italian report dispatched from France around March 1552 to convey intelligence about the military preparedness of King Henry II (r. 1547-59), early in the Italian War of 1551-59. From stations across Europe and in the Ottoman and Persian empires, Venetian ambassadors prepared and submitted detailed diplomatic reports, which were later transcribed from archival copies for dissemination as bound sets of relazioni, such as Princeton MS. 157, dating from the last quarter of the sixteenth century. The Seventeenth-Century Italian Letters Collection (C0920) contains 97 letters and documents of various Italian church and political figures, primarily in Florence, Pisa, and Rome, 1598-1699. Many letters contain information about military and diplomatic history, focusing on the Farnese dukes of Parma, Spanish occupation of Milan, and political ambitions of the Holy See. Reporting on current events can also be found among the letters of Ottavio Falconieri (1636-75), the Papacy’s diplomatic internuncio in Flanders. His papers include 135 autograph drafts and secretarial copies of outgoing letters to Cardinal Francesco Barberini (1597-1679) and others, chiefly written from Brussels between February 1673 and December 1674. This correspondence covers many subjects, including church affairs, international politics, books and learning, and everyday life. Also found in the papers is Affari d’Inghilterra, a 23-page political report on England (C1305).

International news reporting was not restricted to Italy. Many German, Dutch, English, and French printed examples in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections are preserved in the Folke Dahl Collection of Early Newsbooks, Corantos, and Newspapers, 1512-1787. The oldest example in this collection is a report by the German humanist and historian Michael Köchlin (or Coccinius) of Tübingen (1478-1512), De rebus gestis in Italia (Strasbourg: Johann Grüninger, 1512), a 24-page news sheet, which covered the Spanish siege of Bologna, the Venetian occupation of Brescia, the Battle of Ravenna, and other recent events. Printed news sheets can also be found by searching the online catalog under the subject heading “Newsbooks.” Printed news continued to coexist with personal news dissemination. For example, found in the Radcliffe Family Papers (C0926), of Hitchin, Hertfordshire, are twenty-seven business letters written from the Turkish city of Galata (near Istanbul) and eleven other letters from Aleppo (modern Syria), ca. 1703-57, relating in part to current political conditions that impacted trade and commerce between England and the Ottoman Empire.

For more information about holdings of the Manuscripts Division, consult the online catalog and finding aids site or contact Public Services,

Garrett MS. 168, folios 14v-15r

John Ennis, Irish Poet

The Manuscripts Division is pleased to announce that it has recently acquired the papers of the contemporary Irish poet and editor John Ennis, who is one of the poets included in the Leonard L. Milberg ’53 Irish Poetry Collection. Ennis’s papers include 79 boxes of manuscripts, drafts, corrected typescripts, notes, literary and publishing correspondence, and other materials dating from the 1960s to the present. His papers also include files relating to his editorship of the Poetry Ireland Review (Dublin) and anthologies of Irish Canadian poetry. To date, nineteen volumes of his poetry have been published, beginning with Night on Hibernia (Dublin: The Gallery Press, 1976), which won the Patrick Kavanagh Award. He has also published with Dublin’s Dedalus Press and Book Hub Publishing. From 2002 to 2007, he co-edited three anthologies of Irish and Canadian poetry, and edited a further all-Canadian anthology in 2009. Ennis was at the Waterford Institute of Technology for forty years as Lecturer, Head of the School of Humanities, and Chair of the Centre for Newfoundland and Labrador Studies. At present, Ennis divides his time between Waterford, Canada, and his native County Westmeath, Ireland. Ennis’s correspondence is with fellow poets and authors, editors, publishers, and friends, from the 1960s almost to the present. Among them are Seamus Heaney, John F. Deane, Des Hogan, Dennis O’Driscoll, Brendan Kennelly, Macdara Woods, Neil Jordan, Michael Hartnett, Chris Agee, Noel Monahan, Seán Dunne, Paul Durcan, Frank Ormsby, Padraic Fiacc, Seán Lucy, Francis Stuart, Michael Longley, Peter Fallon (The Gallery Press), David Marcus (New Irish Writing, The Irish Press), James and Janice F. Simmons (The Poets House, Ireland), and others. The Papers of John Ennis (C1563) are described in the finding aid. For information about other Irish literary holdings of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, contact

John Ennis’s Draft of “Orpheus”

Eyewitness to the Slave Trade

The Manuscripts Division has just acquired four journals and related papers of Captain John Matthews (d. 1798), an officer in the British Royal Navy. He was involved in the African slave trade in Sierra Leone, first as an agent for the African Company of Merchants, 1785-87, and later as naval officer on coastal patrol, 1797-98. During the last fifteen years of the eighteenth century, the transatlantic commerce in African slaves was at its peak, even though British reformers, such as Thomas Clarkson (1760–1846) and William Wilberforce (1759–1833), were working tirelessly for the abolition of slavery, and the British government had begun resettling Africans in Sierra Leone. Matthews is best known for his book, A Voyage to the River Sierra-Leone on the Coast of Africa: Containing an Account of the Trade and Productions of the Country and of the Civil and Religious Customs and Manners of the People (London, 1788), which focuses on the natural history, geography, and ethnology of Sierra Leone. The book later appeared in a revised edition (1791) and a French translation by Nicolas-François de Bellart (1797).

Matthews’s book is comprised of a series of descriptive letters that he wrote during his residence in Sierra Leone to an unnamed English friend, 1785–87, with an additional letter on the American slave trade and his own illustrations, which he describes as having been “drawn on the spot.” Most interesting are Matthews’s explorations of Sierra Leone and insights into the African side of the transatlantic slave trade. He emphasizes the people he calls Mandingoes, a term for the Mande-speaking peoples of West Africa, including (but not restricted to) Sierra Leone. Matthews argued that the Muslim faith of certain African kings and their subjects led to continuing warfare in the hinterland against other kings and peoples who refused to accept Islam. This resulted in thousands of prisoners-of-war, who were then enslaved and sold to western traders for the Middle Passage to North America and the Caribbean. Despite compelling moral arguments against the slave trade, Matthews concluded that its abolition would not contribute to the well-being of Africans because of continuing religious wars and local enslavement. In making this argument, however, Matthews ignored the degree to which transatlantic demand for African slaves contributed to the trade

The first two Matthews journals, covering 1 April 1786–31 March 1787 and 28 April 1786–15 May 1787, concern the slave trade in Sierra Leone and negotiations with African kings and slave traders. The second volume also includes retained copies of four letters by Matthews, 20–25 April 1787. The third volume was the journal that Matthews kept aboard the HMS Vulcan, 3 May–15 September 1793, after he had been promoted to be the rank of captain in the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean fleet of Admiral Samuel Hood (1724–1816). He describes early stages of the Siege of Toulon (1793) his reassignment to HMS Courageux. In December 1795, Matthews became captain of the HMS Maidstone and on that ship kept his fourth journal, 1 January 1797–16 March 1798. In it he details his activities along the West African coast from 17 February 1797, in Sierra Leone but also Cape Coast Castle (now in Ghana); service in a convoy across the Atlantic and in the Caribbean, describing visits to leading figures in African coastal settlements; and official duties policing ships of various nations engaged in the slave trade (American, Dutch, Portuguese).

Of particular interest in this volume are Matthews’s “Detached Observations on the Manners and Customs of the Natives of Cape Gorse, Africa,” with headings, such as “Of the Craba & Acra” “Suicide,”, “Punishment of extravagance in youth,” “Veneration of the dead,” “Mode of ruining a man by costs of suit,” “Gaming,” and “Natural History.” This is followed by four watercolors by Matthews of the Sierra Leone coast, showing British colonial trading posts and anchored sailing vessels. He also offers navigational advice for sailing along the African coast from Sierra Leone to Cape Palmas. Along with the four volumes are a dozen separate items from the late 1780s, including his deposition on Sierra Leone and its “domestic slavery,” which he claims accounted for three-fourths of the population in the hinterland. There are also five watercolors of the Sierra Leone coast, signed by M. C. Watts as the artist; and three other watercolors (though with a shellac coating), similar to engravings in the second edition of Matthews’s book. Two are signed by Matthews and one by a Lieutenant John Larcom.

Three of four Matthews volumes complement A Voyage to the River Sierra-Leone on the Coast of Africa and provide additional information and illustrations not in the published editions. In his earlier career, Matthews served as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy and saw active duty against the French naval forces in the West Indies during and immediately after the American Revolution. On the basis of these naval tours, Matthews wrote and illustrated The Maritime Campaign of 1778: A Collection of All the Papers Relative to the Operations of the English and French Fleets… (1779); and Twenty-one Plans: with Explanations of Different Actions in the West Indies during the Late War (1784). It was after this that Matthews became a partner in a series of slave voyages, though he would spend more time in the Royal Navy.

Matthews was from the English port city of Chester (about 28 miles southeast of Liverpool), which was a second-tier county town, with a population of about 10,000 in 1800. Matthews erected a monument in Chester Cathedral in memory of his wife, Anna Helena Matthews (d. 1793). Additional details about his life emerge from his last will and testament, on file in The National Archives (Public Record Office), at Kew. The will was made on Christmas Day 1797 and (with a codicil) probated on 15 June 1798, several months after the last entry in his journals. Matthews seems to have died a relatively affluent man, in part probably as a result of his involvement in the slave trade. His will lists ₤2250 in legacies, charities, annuities, and annual allowances—the equivalent of nearly $300,000 today. Family members mentioned in his will include a few born or living in Jamaica, Antigua, and New York. Among his personal possessions were paintings of the HMS Victory, HMS Vulcan, and the island of St. Lucia.

The finding aid for the Captain John Matthews Papers (C1575) is available online. These papers complement the Manuscripts Division’s growing holdings related to slavery in the Western hemisphere. See the earlier Manuscripts Division blog-post, “African Slavery in the Americas.” For holdings on European colonialism in Africa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, see the journals of Walter Dundas Bathurst (C1588), kept while he was serving as an officer of the Association Internationale du Congo, 1884-85; and the papers of General Sir John Grenfell Maxwell (C0583) and Brigadier General Herbert Cecil Potter (C1409), which in part concern the British army in Sudan, Egypt, and South Africa. For more information about holdings of the Manuscripts Division, consult the online catalog and finding aids site. One can also contact Public Services,

John Matthews, Journal no. 4, with views of Africa.

Qur’āns from Africa to the Silk Road

The Holy Qur’ān has occupied a central position in the spiritual and intellectual life of the Islamic world since the 7th century, serving as a common bond among Muslims, whether native speakers of Arabic, Persian, Turkish, or other languages. Not surprisingly, there are many Qur’āns to be found in the Manuscripts Division’s extraordinary holdings of nearly 10,000 Islamic manuscripts. One can find bibliographic records for at least 65 Qur’āns by searching in Voyager for manuscripts by the uniform title “[al-Qur’ān].” These are complemented by Qur’ānic commentaries and related texts. Sacred text merited the most luxurious production by book artisans, writing in calligraphic hands on parchment or glazed Arabic paper, which was then handsomely embellished with geometric and non-representational forms in gold, lapis lazuli, and other colors, and finally encased in hand-tooled, decorated morocco bindings. Most of Princeton’s manuscript Qur’āns are from the Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Persia, Turkey, and the Indian subcontinent, dating from the earliest centuries of Islam through the 19th century, when printing finally replaced scribal production of the Qur’ān. Among the oldest Qur’āns at Princeton are two on parchment: a 17-line Qur’ānic fragment (Sūrah 21:15-36), written in Hijāzī script, probably dating from the 8th century, early in the history of the Abbasid Caliphate (Islamic Manuscripts, no. 14G[a]); and a largely complete Qur’ān (Sūrahs 1-100), in Kufic script, dating from the late 9th or early 10th century (no. 34G).

In recent years, the Manuscripts Division has been making a conscious effort to acquire Qur’āns from other geographical areas of the extended Islamic world, in order to document the book arts and trace minor variations in textual transmission. Holdings of Qur’āns now include 19th-century examples from the Philippines (Moro), Malaysia, and Nigeria. The most recent additions are two complete Qur’āns from China under the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), written in Arabic on paper and elegantly decorated in gold and vivid colors. Both are in contemporary bindings. In style, they combine Arabic, Central Asian, and Chinese influences. One of the Qur’āns dates from the 17th century (Islamic Manuscripts, Third Series, no. 875), and the other has a scribal colophon dated AH 1138 / 1726-27 CE (Third Series, no. 876). Islam was introduced to China in the 7th century and survives to this day as a minority religion, practiced by the Hui people, an ethnically Chinese group, chiefly in northwestern China, bordering on Muslim areas of Central Asia; by the Uyghurs, a Turkic people in Xinjiang, an autonomous region in northwestern China; and by Kazakhs, Kyrgyzs, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Tartars, and other less numerous ethnic minorities in China. The chronological range and geographical distribution of these substantial holdings of Qur’āns has made it possible for Professor Michael Cook, Department of Near Eastern Studies, to devote one class of his graduate seminar, NES 502 (An Introduction to Islamic Scholarly Tradition), to one-on-one engagement with a selection of about a dozen manuscript Qur’āns in the Consultation Room of Rare Books and Special Collections. See a recent NES 502 class at work (below).

The Princeton University Library has the largest collection of Islamic manuscripts in North America and one of the finest such collections in the Western world. About two-thirds came to the Library as part of the collection of Robert Garrett (1875-1961), Class of 1897, one of Princeton’s preeminent manuscript collectors. He donated most of his collection to the Library in 1942. The rest have been acquired by gift and purchase since the 1950s. Most of the manuscripts originated in Near Eastern centers of Islamic civilization. But holdings also include manuscripts from Moorish Spain and the Maghreb in the West, to the Indonesian Archipelago in the East, and even a few from sub-Sahara Africa. The chief strength are Arabic texts relating to all aspects of the world of learning. Subject coverage is broad and comprehensive, including theology based on the Qur’ān and tradition (hadīth); Islamic law (fiqh); history and biography (especially of the Prophet and other religious leaders); book arts and illustration; vernacular literature; science; magic and the occult; and other aspects of the spiritual, intellectual, and artistic life of the Islamic world and its diverse peoples, including non-Muslims.

The Princeton University Library has long been committed to making these collections available to researchers worldwide. Access was initially provided by printed catalogs. In the last two decades, with initial support from the U.S. Department of Education, followed by more substantial support from Princeton’s Magic Project and Council of the Humanities (Virginia and Richard Stewart Memorial Fund), the Library has put many thousands of bibliographic records online and has digitized over 1,200 Islamic manuscripts. For more information about Princeton’s Islamic manuscripts, one can search bibliographic records in the online catalog or access the Princeton University Digital Library. Reference assistance is available from Public Services staff,

Professor Michael Cook with his NES 502 seminar in Rare Books and Special Collections

The British Empire and the Revolutionary War: Recent Acquisitions

The Manuscripts Division has recently acquired several manuscripts relating the British Empire in North America during the Revolutionary War. These acquisitions have been possible by special funds made available to the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections for the purpose. The earliest of these recent acquisitions is a manuscript penned by Colonel Thomas Howard (1735–78), “A Sketch of the Interest of Great Britain in her American Colonies, with Some Remarks upon the Policy, Trade, and Commerce of America,” probably dating from the late 1760s (C1555). The author advocates free trade between Britain and the American colonies, encouragement of American manufacturing, a better understanding of the needs and desires of American settlers, limitation of taxation, and abolition of legislation reserving white pines to be used as masts on British ships. The manuscript is written in the same hand as an 8-page autograph letter of 30 November 1777, signed by “Thomas Howard” and addressed to Thomas, 1st Earl of Clarendon, on British military policy and difficulties in the American Revolution. “The country is so very strong, and the general enmity so very prevalent against us, that we find infinite difficulties whenever we are separated for any length of time from our shipping…” The letter was written in Philadelphia by Colonel Howard, commander of the First or Grenadier Guards in America, during the winter of 1777–1778. At the time, the British Army occupied the city and Continental forces were encamped at Valley Forge. While returning back to England in 1778, Howard was killed when the British ship in which he was sailing was attacked by an American privateer. His brother was John Howard (1739–1820), also a British military officer, became 15th Earl of Suffolk in 1783. This manuscript came from Holywell House, Hampshire, home of the Villiers family, earls of Clarendon.

Also from Holywell House are manuscript essays by Ambrose Serle (1742–1812) on North America, its economic opportunities, and other subjects (C1556). Serle was a British colonial official, who in 1772 was appointed under-secretary to William Legge (1731–1801), 2nd Earl of Dartmouth, Secretary of State for the Colonies. Serle also served from 1776 to 1778 as Secretary to General William Howe, commander of British forces in North America, and remained in America until 1780. Contents of the volume include: (1) “Thoughts of the Fur Trade on the River Mississippi,” 10 pages, 1769; (2) “Lusus Politicus or an Essay on the Pretensions of the Colonies,” 29 pages, 1769; (3) “Thoughts upon the Means of Establishing Episcopacy in the Colonies,” two copies, one with an introduction signed by the author addressed to Lord Hillsborough [Wills Hill, 1st Marquis of Downshire (1718–1793)], 71 pages, 1771–1772; (4) “A Political Essay,” concerning Rhode Island, 19 pages, August 1772; (5) Untitled tract on American policy, addressed to Lord Hyde, signed and dated, 10 pages, Lambeth, 28 May 1768; (6) Signed untitled tract on the development of manufacturing in America, addressed to Lord Hyde [Thomas Villiers, 1st Earl of Clarendon (1709–1786)], 7 pages, Lambeth, 26 July 1768; (7) “An Epitome of Some Facts and Thoughts respecting North America,” arguing that the American colonies had been a drain on British resources, 18 pages, January 1780. Serle wrote six of these tracts before publishing his well-known political pamphlet, Americans against Liberty; or an Essay on the Nature and Principles of True Freedom, Shewing that the Designs and Conduct of the Americans Tend only to Tyranny and Slavery (1775).

Other recent acquisitions include sets of financial accounts related to provisioning of the British Army. The more significant accounts are for Daniel Chamier (1724-1778), a wealthy Baltimore-born Loyalist, who served as Commissary General of the British Army in North America, 1774-1777 (C1560). The principal item is a 43-foot parchment roll, detailing the funds that he expended in provisioning the British Army during those years, from Nova Scotia to Florida. The detailed financial records underscore the saying, “an army moves on its stomach.” Chamier’s accounts include expenses for forces under generals Sir William Howe, Lord Charles Cornwallis, Sir Henry Clinton, and Thomas Gage. Chamier’s heirs and family compiled these records in the 1790s in an effort to gain reimbursement for the personal fortune that Chamier had spent during his service as Commissary General; for it appears that Chamier received some £65,000, but spent more than £300,000. Payments covered costs for provisions, including beef, pork, flour, rum, vinegar, rice, potatoes, turnips, corn, and butter, as well as for printing stationery and advertisements. Some of the printing was done by New York Loyalist printers Hugh Gaine and James Rivington.

The Manuscripts Division also acquired a two-volume British Army account book kept in the Carolinas and Florida, recording expenditures during the final stages of the Revolutionary War, 1781-1782 (C1559). The accounts are under headings, such as garrisons, labor, construction, transport, and names of individuals or companies. Some expenditures relate to African Americans. For example, Colonel James Moncrief, an engineer and commander of the Black Pioneers (a black loyalist force), spent £7.18s.8d with Walter Stewart, a hairdresser, £3.5.4 on a spy glass from George Ward and gave an order for the payment of £1.1.9 to “Negroe Jack, a Carpt.”

These recent acquisitions are most welcome because Princeton already has significant holdings of original research materials for this period. Most of these materials have come to the Library either as gifts of generous Princeton alumni collectors, such as Andre DeCoppet, Class of 1915. His extraordinary collection of American historical documents (C0063) includes “A Brief History of the American War.” The author of this manuscript was an English supporter of the American war for independence. A “Preliminary Discourse” and the early chapters of the main text largely consist of the author’s philosophical viewpoints on war, religion, and civil government. Later chapters include more historical detail. The history is incomplete, stopping with an account of a 1778 battle in Rhode Island. The manuscript was originally housed in a wooden box covered in brown leather with gold tooling. The box has a contemporary ownership inscription, “The Revd. E. Cartwright.” Initial speculation that the manuscript may have been written by British reformer Major John Cartwright or his brother Edmund Cartwright has been quelled, largely based on the author’s extremely antagonistic view of the Church of England, of which both Cartwrights were members. The author never references himself by name, which makes any attribution of authorship highly speculative.

For more information about these and other holdings of the Manuscripts Division, consult the online catalog and finding aids site. One can also contact Public Services,

Chamier roll

Sealed Treasure: T. S. Eliot Letters to Emily Hale

In 1956, Emily Hale (1891-1969) donated 1,131 letters from T. S. Eliot (1888-1965), Nobel Laureate in Literature (1948), to the Princeton University Library, together with mailing envelopes and enclosures. Dating from 1930 to 1956, the T. S. Eliot Letters to Emily Hale (C0686) are the largest single series of the poet’s correspondence and among the most best-known sealed literary archives in the world. Hale was a Boston-born speech and drama teacher, who between 1916 and 1942 taught at Simmons College, Milwaukee-Downer College, Scripps College, and Smith College. She was also an actor and stage director. Most important, she was the poet’s oldest friend and for decades his secret love, confidant, and muse. They met in 1912, reunited in 1927, and corresponded for decades. The British literary biographer Lyndall Gordon has observed about their relationship, “Emily Hale was exempt from low desire. Though not ethereal herself, and not in the least silent as a teacher of speech and drama, she became his model for silent, ethereal women in Eliot’s poetry.” From 1933 to 1946, Gordon adds, Emily Hale “provided a chaste love that could be sustained, it seemed, indefinitely.” By agreement between the Library and Hale, the letters have remained closed in the Manuscripts Division since 1956. They will open to the public on 2 January 2020. Of course, it is not unusual for donors to close, seal, or impose other restrictions on access to papers and archives. In 1940, for example, Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh donated selected papers (C0697), which by agreement would remain sealed until both had passed, allowing the papers to open in 2001.

Hale’s interest in the Princeton University Library grew out of conversations with two friends: Professor Willard Thorp (1899-1990) and his wife Margaret Thorp. Willard Thorp was a professor of English at Princeton and a founder in 1942 of what became Princeton’s American Studies Program. He actively supported Library efforts to acquire modern literary archives, including the papers of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), Class of 1917, which began to arrive at the Library early in 1943. On 7 July 1942, Library Director Julian P. Boyd wrote to Hale, “I understand that you wish to protect the Eliot letters by placing them in a safe repository until they can be safely transmitted to their permanent home, which I assume is to be the Bodleian Library.” However, by the time Hale was ready to send the letters to Princeton, she had changed her mind about the permanent home for the letters. On 24 July 1956, Hale wrote to Thorp and promised to send the letters to Princeton “with the knowledge of T.S.E. At least I asked him this spring if he had any preference for the deposit of the correspondence and he said ‘no.'” She told Thorp that the gift was because of “my years of friendship with you.” In a separate note, Hale specified that the letters were to be “under auspices of Professor Willard Thorp, as executor of my wishes in regard to to them; not be looked through or published [until] 25 years after my death.” Thorp discussed the gift with William S. Dix, the new University Librarian; and Alexander P. Clark, Curator of Manuscripts. By 17 November 1956, Hale had reconsidered the length of restriction, probably based on her understanding of Eliot’s wishes, and she signed a deed of gift, stipulating that the letters be kept “completely closed to all readers until the lapse of fifty years after the death of Mr. Eliot or myself, whichever shall occur later. At that time the files may be made available for study by properly qualified scholars in accordance with the regulations of the Library for the use of manuscript materials. To carry out this intention the Library is to keep the collection in sealed containers in its manuscript vaults.”

Once Princeton received the letters in November 1956, Alexander P. Clark put chronological bundles of Eliot letters in a dozen Fibredex blue document boxes, of the type used in the Manuscripts Division from the early 1940s to the early 1970s. On 14 December 1956, Clark counted the letters to facilitate their appraisal for tax purposes. The initial appraisal was done for the 1930-32 letters by the New York autograph dealer Emily Driscoll. In time, the blue boxes were covered in heavy wrapping paper and tape, wooden boards, and steel bands for additional security. The gift had been formally accessioned on 12 December 1956 (AM 15768) as the “E Collection.” Additional gifts from Hale were received over the next dozen years, including Eliot’s inscribed copies of particular books, which are cataloged in the Library’s online catalog; and two typed Eliot letters of 1930, donated in 1967, which are now in the Emily Hale Collection (C1294). The two single-spaced typed letters are on Faber & Faber letterhead and are entirely literary in content. For this reason, they were not considered personal enough to warrant being sealed with the bulk of the letters received in 1956. T. S. Eliot died on 4 January 1965 and Emily Hale on 12 October 1969. The fifty-year restriction period should end on 12 October 2019. However, William S. Dix (1910-78), Librarian of Princeton University from 1953 to 1975, stated in 1971 that the Eliot letters would not be available for study until January 2020. This allowed time for processing and cataloging. That has been the official policy ever since then. This provides sufficient time for processing, conservation assessment, and other work that must be done before the official opening on 2 January 2020. The Library will produce digital or paper surrogates for Reading Room use, in order to accommodate multiple researchers reading the letters during regular visiting hours. Note: Eliot’s writing remains under copyright until 2036. [September 14, 2020 Correction:  These letters remain under copyright until January 1, 2036. ].

The collection will be of incalculable importance for Eliot scholars and other students of modern literature. The recently published volume of The Letters of T. S. Eliot (2019), vol. 8, edited by Valerie Eliot and John Haffenden, largely concerns his working life as an editor and publisher, 1936-38. The opening of the letters will finally resolve over a half century of scholarly curiosity and popular speculation about their content. Their relationship and the mystery of the sealed letters have even inspired novels by Martha Cooley, The Archivist (1998), and by Stephen Carroll. The letters should offer a wealth of detail about Eliot’s relationship with Hale; his life as a poet, playwright, literary critic, and editor at Faber & Faber and The Criterion; and his candid opinions about the contemporary literary scene and authors. The Manuscripts Division holds selected Eliot correspondence in the papers of Sylvia Beach, F. Scott Fitzgerald, T. S. Matthews, Paul Elmer More, George Seferis, Allen Tate, and others. For information about the holdings of the Manuscripts Division on T. S. Eliot and modern literature, visit the finding aids site or contact Public Services.

T. S. Eliot and Emily Hale in Dorset, Vermont, summer 1946 (C0896).

Eliot-Hale Sealed Letters


Seeing Medieval Music

Generations of Princeton undergraduates and graduate students in the Department of Music have learned about music history in part by class visits to the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. For well over a half century, medievalists and chant specialists at Princeton have figured prominently in visits to the Manuscripts Division to see Latin and Greek manuscripts. Among the music faculty have been Kenneth Levy, Margaret Bent, Peter Jeffery, and now Jamie Reuland, who has visited twice in spring 2017 with her graduate seminar, Medieval Musical Style and Notation (MUS 504). The most recent visit was to see and learn about a thirteenth-century Gradual (Princeton MS. 245), just acquired through the cooperative efforts of the Manuscripts Division and the Mendel Music Library. In the new West Consultation Room of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (see photo below), Professor Reuland (center) uses the Gradual to illustrate Christian liturgy and musical notation for the graduate students (left to right) Carolyn Watts, Jane Hines, Mumbua Kioko, and Ambra Casonato.

A Gradual is a liturgical manuscript containing the sung portions of the Mass, with text and musical notation. Religious houses needed Graduals as part of their complement of service books. While Princeton has many such books, the new acquisition offers a particularly good example for instruction and research. This Gradual was produced in the second half of the 13th century for a Dominican religious house, probably located in northern France or the southern Low Countries. The manuscript contains 176 parchment leaves (measuring 34.0 x 24.5 cm), with text in black and red ink, square notation on four-line red staves, ten large illuminated initials, and pen-work decoration in blue and red. Below is a close-up of the initial G for the word Gaudeamus (Latin for “Let us rejoice”), inhabited by a green, blue, and red dragon. The gold and rich colors of the illuminated initials are still vivid after seven centuries. The manuscript probably left the Dominicans around the time of the French Revolution, when monasteries were being closed and their property sold. From 1912, the Gradual was in the library of the British collector Allan Heywood Bright (1862-1941), whose descendants sold it and many other manuscripts in 2014.

Most liturgical manuscripts in the Manuscripts Division are described in Don C. Skemer, Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Princeton University Library (2013), 2 vols.; and Nancy Sevcenko and Sofia Kotzabassi, Greek Manuscripts at Princeton, Sixth-Nineteenth Century: A Descriptive Catalogue (2010). More recent acquisitions are described in the Library’s online catalog, as are music manuscripts in the Scheide Library.

Professor Reuland and graduate students

Princeton MS. 245 (detail)

Fitzgerald’s Unpublished Short Stories

Lovers of the writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), Class of 1917, can celebrate the publication of I’d Die for You and Other Lost Stories (Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster). Anne Margaret Daniel *99, a literature professor at The New School, prepared this eagerly awaited edition. The book includes sixteen previously unpublished short stories and two “uncollected stories.” Some are what Fitzgerald labeled “false starts.” Others had been rejected outright by publishers; needed revision, for which he lacked time; or dealt with taboo subjects. Daniel has edited most of these unpublished stories from handwritten and typescript drafts in the F. Scott Fitzgerald Papers (C0187), Manuscripts Division. The author’s daughter, Scottie Fitzgerald Lanahan, donated the papers to Princeton in 1950, along with the papers of her mother, Zelda Fitzgerald. Scottie retained a group of unpublished stories in the hope of finding a publisher. Unfortunately, most of these stories were not published. Put aside and forgotten, they were rediscovered by the Fitzgerald family a half century later.

Fitzgerald is celebrated today for The Great Gatsby (1925) and Tender is the Night (1934), though his youthful first novel, This Side of Paradise (1920), holds a special place in Tiger hearts. Yet for most of his life, Fitzgerald made a living as a successful writer of light fiction, especially for The Saturday Evening Post. Fitzgerald published more than 150 short stories in popular American magazines, from “Babes in the Woods” (1919) to the posthumous “Gods of Darkness” (1941). Some stories were published in series, like the Basil Duke Lee stories in The Saturday Evening Post and Pat Hobby Stories in Esquire. A number of the short stories are highly regarded by critics, such as “Winter Dreams” (1922), “Absolution” (1924), “The Rich Boy” (1926), “Babylon Revisited” (1931), and “Crazy Sunday” (1932). Many of Fitzgerald’s short stories were anthologized by Charles Scribner’s Sons in Flappers and Philosophers (1920), Tales of the Jazz Age (1922), All the Sad Young Men (1926) and Taps at Reveille (1935).

All but one of the short stories in I’d Die for You and Other Lost Stories date from the 1930s, when the intertwined lives of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald were unraveling, and Fitzgerald was struggling to make a living as an author and screenwriter. Several stories are clearly autobiographical in part, including “The I.O.U.” (1920), written early in Fitzgerald’s literary career, about publishing; “Nightmare (Fantasy in Black)” (1932), set in a mental hospital; “I’d Die for You (The Legend of Lake Lure)” (1935/36), drawing on his time in North Carolina; “Travel Together” (1935/36), about a struggling screenwriter; “The Pearl and the Fur” (1936), which takes some inspiration from Scottie Fitzgerald; “Offside Play” (1937), about collegiate football, ostensibly at Yale; and “Love is a Pain” (1939/40), recalling Princeton days. Providing a context for Fitzgerald’s very readable stories are the editor’s general introduction, head notes and explanatory notes for each story, and a selection of illustrations (mostly from the Fitzgerald Papers). The book is available from the publisher and e-booksellers. The editor has also written, “The Story behind Fitzgerald’s Lost Short Stories” in The Guardian.

Einstein in Princeton

The Manuscripts Division is pleased to acknowledge that Mara Vishniac Kohn, daughter of the Russian-American photographer Roman Vishniac (1897-1990), has donated four 10 x 13-inch photographic portraits of Albert Einstein (1879-1955), from the Roman Vishniac Archive at the International Center of Photography (New York). The photographer visited Princeton to photograph Einstein in the fall of 1941. Most of the series of photos show Einstein seated in his office on the ground floor of Fuld Hall, at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. But several show Einstein standing and writing computations on a large blackboard, possibly at another location. Vishniac used his Rolleiflex intermediate-format camera with Kodak black-and-white 120 film. Other photos taken during Vishniac’s Princeton visit show the German refugee painter Eugen Spiro (1874-1972) painting Einstein’s portrait, and also Vishniac’s daughter Mara, who accompanied him, standing in Princeton University’s Blair Arch and the archway of nearby Lockhart Hall. Vishniac sent a selection of photo-prints to Einstein, who thanked him in a 28 January 1942 letter in German for the truly artistic photos (“wahrhaft kunstlerische Aufnamen”).

Roman Vishniac and his family were then living at 105 West 72nd Street, in New York City. It was there that Vishniac had found refuge early in 1941 after escaping from Vichy France and the horrors of World War II. Vishniac was born near Saint Petersburg, Russia, and is probably best known today for his pre-Holocaust photographic documentation of Jewish communities and life in Central and Eastern Europe. He did this work between 1935 and 1938 on a commission from the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (Paris). These photos are the subject of Vishniac’s book, A Vanished World (1983). Many of them are now available online in the Vishniac Archive website and reproduced in Maya Benton’s Roman Vishniac Rediscovered (2015). In the 1950s-70s, Vishniac returned to his original academic interest in biology and zoology and did pioneering work in photomicroscopy. In fact, the Manuscripts Division has Vishniac’s author files in the Archives of Charles Scribner’s Sons (C0101). The files relate to publication of Building Blocks of Life; Proteins, Vitamins, and Hormones: Seen Through the Microscope (1971), for which he supplied both text and images. The Vishniac photographs have been added to the Manuscript Division’s Albert Einstein Collection (C1022).

Albert Einstein first visited Princeton in 1921 to deliver the Stafford Little Lectures on the Theory of Relativity (five lectures in all) at 50 McCosh Hall, 9-13 May. During this visit, President John Grier Hibben conferred on him an honorary Doctor of Science degree at Alexander Hall. Einstein was later awarded the 1921 Nobel Prize for Physics. He returned to Princeton in 1933 as a refugee from Nazi Germany to assume his post as a life member of the newly established Institute for Advanced Study. He would remain in Princeton for the rest of his life, residing at 112 Mercer Street. Relations between Princeton University and the Institute were close. Oscar Veblen and John von Neumann were among Princeton faculty recruited by the Institute. While not a member of the Princeton University faculty, Einstein’s office was at first on campus at 109 Fine Hall (now Jones Hall) from 1933 to 1939, when construction of the Institute’s Fuld Hall was completed. He gave occasional lectures at the Palmer Physical Laboratory (now the Frist Campus Center), in Room 302, still preserved as it was in his time, and he had many connections with Princeton faculty. Professor Eugene P. Wigner, later a Nobel Laureate in Physics, helped Leo Szilard with the famous Einstein letter (1939) to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt about the possibility of an atomic bomb. Einstein’s last lecture was at 307 Palmer Physical Laboratory, on 4 April 1954, in Professor John A. Wheeler’s seminar on general and special relativity. Professor Henry DeWolf Smyth, author of the Smyth Report (August 1945), the first history of the Manhattan Project, observed after Einstein’s death that Physics at Princeton had “immeasurably benefited by his presence at the Institute for Advanced Study.”

The principal archival resource for Albert Einstein are his own papers, which he bequeathed with full rights to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. They remain there today in the Albert Einstein Archives. But the original papers were microfilmed before going to Jerusalem, and the Princeton University Library used the microfilm to create the Einstein Duplicate Archive (C0701). Though not as complete as the archives in Jerusalem, the Duplicate Archive may be consulted in the Manuscripts Division. Researchers may also request photoduplication. Hebrew University has been digitizing and providing online access to substantial portions of the Einstein Archive, with an effective search engine. Einstein’s writings and correspondence through 1925 have been published by Princeton University Press in The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, with 14 volumes in print since 1987. Files about the Einstein Papers project can be found in the Princeton University Press Archives (C0728) and Valentine Bargmann Papers (C0657), in the Manuscripts Division.

Einstein had many friends in Princeton. Among the closest was Hanna Fantova (1901-81), a refugee from Czechoslovakia who served as curator of the Historic Maps Collection at the Princeton University Lbrary. The Hanna Fantova Collection of Albert Einstein (C0701) includes Gespräche mit Einstein, Fantova’s telephone log of her conversations with Einstein between 14 October 1953 and 12 April 1955–the last 18 months of his life. An English translation of these conversations, filled with details about everything from Einstein’s health to his opinions on Cold War politics, is available in Alice Calaprice, ed., The New Quotable Einstein (2005). The Fantova collection also includes 28 Einstein letters and 15 poems (all in German), 57 undated (mostly black-and-white) informal photographs of Einstein, and other materials. Einstein letters and photos can also be found in the papers of other local friends and acquaintances, such as Saxe Commins, Erich von Kahler, and Immanuel Velikovsky, as well as items pertaining to his stepdaughter Margot Einstein, secretary Helen Dukas, and friend Otto Nathan. The latter two were co-trustees of Einstein’s literary estate.

Reference queries about Einstein are among the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. All archival materials can be identified in the Finding Aids website. For information about doing research at Princeton, contact Public Services, at

Roman Vishniac, Albert Einstein in his office, 1941.
COPYRIGHT © Mara Vishniac Kohn, courtesy
International Center of Photography.

Royal Portraits in Wax

Thanks to two decades of careful collecting and generous gifts by Bruce C. Willsie (Class of 1986), the Manuscripts Division now has the finest North American collection on British sigillography (an auxiliary science of history devoted to the study of seals used with historical documents). The Bruce C. Willsie Collection of British Sigillography (C0953) contains over a hundred boxes of seals, matrices, seal impressions, and other items from Roman Britain almost to the present. Most important are royal charters on parchment, issued under the Great Seal of the Realm, from the reigns of King John to Queen Victoria. The collection also includes a significant array of private seal matrices in copper alloys and lead, which were used to mold the wax impressions for use on documents. These date from Romano-British of the 2nd-3rd centuries CE until the end of the 15th century. There are also a few papal bullae and some examples from the 16th-18th centuries.

Then as now, seals served to authenticate genuine documents and prevent forgeries and fabrications. The legal authority of documents could also be attested by prescribed forms of Latin legal expression and physical presentation, royal portraits and regalian imagery, inclusion of witness names and signatures, and conformance of the texts of engrossed documents to archival file copies, whether centrally maintained on rolls or in registers. Most medieval and early modern charters have two-sided pendant seals, generally attached to the document by means of a braided silk cord or parchment tag. Medieval English kings are depicted in stylized portraits as enthroned monarchs on the obverse and as mounted knights (counter-seal) on the reverse. Still intact, these royal charters and seals bear silent witness to ancient legal transactions and provide evidence of documentary practices and of royal government at work.

Among several dozen recent donations by Willsie is a historically important charter of Henry III (r. 1216-72), prepared by Chancery clerks at Canterbury, on 25 October 1265 (see below). It is a grant to Sir John de Vaux (ca. 1220-87) of Lincolnshire, who later was appointed High Sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk. The charter relates to a major English constitutional crisis, when Simon de Montfort (ca. 1208-65), sixth earl of Leicester, led the Rebel Barons against Henry III during the Second Barons War (1263-65). Simon de Montfort attained quasi-royal power and twice convened Parliament, until Montfortian forces were defeated decisively at the Battle of Evesham (4 October 1265), where Simon de Montfort was killed and dismembered. Henry III summarily confiscated property of the Rebel Barons for their treasonous acts and awarded them to royalist supporters. In the present charter, issued just three weeks after the Battle of Evesham, Henry III reallocated particular confiscated manors to Sir John de Vaux, including the manor of Benefield, Northhamptonshire; and the manors of Holt and Cley, Norfolk.

Among the charter’s high-ranking witnesses were other royalists, including Walter Giffard (d. 1279), bishop of Bath and Wells, subsequently archbishop of York; Hugh Bigod (ca. 1221-66), Justiciar of England, 1258-60; Philip Basset (ca. 1185-1271), Justiciar of England, 1261-63; Roger de Leybourne (1216-71), and Sir Robert Aguillon (d. 1286). The Great Seal of the Realm (in green wax) was attached to the charter by means of a green-and-tan braided silk cord. The latter was laced into the lower fold (plica) of the charter at and embedded in the green wax seal. The completed charter was then folded down several times in each direction, probably for secure storage in a muniments chest with other family archives. In later centuries, endorsements (listing manors granted) were added on a blank verso panel of the folded charter as part of a filing system for family archives, and Henry III’s Great Seal was inserted into a protective red silk cover because wax becomes brittle with age. A descendant of Sir John de Vaux eventually sold off old family documents, and this charter entered the antiquarian book trade, where it was acquired by the American attorney and bibliophile Robert S. Pirie (1934-2015). In December 2015, Willsie acquired the charter at the Pirie sale, at Sotheby’s, New York.

The Willsie collection is being conserved, properly housed, and described in a finding aid. Royal charters with seals, from the 12th to 16th centuries, are being conserved, flattened, and specially mounted by Ted Stanley, Special Collections Paper Conservator in the Library’s Preservation Office, for safe storage, consultation, and display. Among the Willsie collection’s many high spots are royal charters and seals of Elizabeth I, Oliver and Richard Cromwell, and Queen Victoria, whose massive royal seals are protected by tin skippets. Concerning Middle English charters and seal matrices, see Don C. Skemer, “Cover Note,” Princeton University Library Chronicle, vol. 75, no. 3 (2014), pp. 437-42. For more information about the Willsie Collection, contact Don C. Skemer, Curator of Manuscripts.

Henry III, Folded charter and red silk cover.

Henry III, Great Seal of the Realm.

Henry III, Charter (after conservation treatment).