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Collection Description - Berg Collection

The Berg Collection contains some 35,000 printed volumes, pamphlets, and broadsides, and 2,000 linear feet of literary archives and manuscripts, representing the work of more than 400 authors. Printed books in English date from William Caxton’s 1480 edition of the Chronicles of England to the present day, and the manuscripts encompass an almost equally lengthy period. The collection’s earliest manuscript, dating from around 1605 and named for its early owners, the Dukes of Westmoreland, contains one of the most authoritative versions of John Donne’s Holy Sonnets, Paradoxes, and other works of prose and poetry, and is written in the hand of his close friend Rowland Woodward. Spanning the Age of Johnson, the Romantics, and the early Victorians are the papers of the novelist, diarist, and dramatist Frances (“Fanny”) Burney (1752–1840). The Romantics are represented by numerous manuscript materials (e.g., poems, notebooks, and correspondence) of Coleridge, Sir Walter Scott, Leigh Hunt, and Robert Southey, and less numerous but no less noteworthy manuscripts and letters by Burns, Wordsworth, Byron, Shelley, and Keats.

But the Berg’s most extensive manuscript holdings date from the period 1820–1970. Of the British and Irish, a short list would include Alfred Lord Tennyson, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Lewis Carroll, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Thomas Hardy, Robert Louis Stevenson, George Gissing, George Moore, Bernard Shaw, Joseph Conrad, Arnold Bennett, Rudyard Kipling, W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, A.E. (George William Russell), Sean O’Casey (comprising the remnants of his fire-ravaged papers), James Stephens, H.G. Wells, Sir Edward Marsh, John Masefield, Hugh Walpole, Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke, Isaac Rosenberg, Vita Sackville-West, Robert Graves, Christopher Isherwood, and Stephen Spender. The Berg also contains the world’s largest manuscript holdings of Virginia Woolf and W.H. Auden.

American authors represented by significant and/or extensive manuscript holdings include Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne and his family, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Twain, James Russell Lowell, Henry James, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot (including the typescript/manuscript of The Waste Land, with Pound’s emendations), Randall Jarrell, Marianne Moore, Muriel Rukeyser, Adrienne Rich, Louis Zukofsky, Allen Ginsberg, Saul Bellow, Julia Alvarez, Clark Coolidge, and Aï. Also present are the archives of Vladimir Nabokov, Jack Kerouac, May Sarton, Laura Riding Jackson, Alfred Kazin, Kenneth Koch, Paul Auster, Philip Levine, Terry Southern, and Bruce Jay Friedman.

Institutional papers found in the Berg include those of the Abbey Theatre, the publishers A.P. Watt & Son and James B. Pinker & Son, The Dial, and the Gotham Book Mart.

Of printed books, the Berg contains comprehensive collections of first and rare editions of nearly all of the canonical 19th- and early 20th-century authors, and extensive holdings from earlier centuries. A short list of English highlights would include the first edition of Thomas More's Utopia, in Latin (1516); Chapman's Homer (1616); the first four Shakespeare folios and Shakespeare's 1640 Poems; a first edition of Milton's Comus (1637) and Alexander Pope's signed copy of Milton's first edition of the Poems (1645), containing Pope's autograph transcription of Milton's Latin verse; five books written and printed by William Blake (four of which he hand-colored), including the Songs of Innocence (1789); the copy of Endymion (1818) inscribed by Keats to Leigh Hunt; the first edition, first issue, of Wordsworth and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads (Bristol, 1798), bound in muslin by Robert Southey, and the first edition, third issue, of the same work (London, 1798), with emendations in Coleridge's hand; six of Dickens's novels as they were first issued—in parts, as well as in their first separate editions (also present are all of Thackeray's and George Eliot's first separate editions, as well as several of their books-in-parts); the copy of Vanity Fair (1848) inscribed by Thackeray to Dickens, as well as the copy extra-illustrated with five of his watercolor sketches and inscribed to George Cruikshank; George Meredith's Poems (1851), with the text emended in his hand and interleaved with his autograph poems and notes; Alice Liddell's copy of the withdrawn first edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1866); Rudyard Kipling's The Smith Administration (Allahabad, 1891), one of six known copies, with a letter from Kipling and two from his wife laid-in; the  copy of The Ballad of Reading Gaol (1898) inscribed by Wilde to Major James Ormond Nelson, Reading's Governor; and Auden's Poems (1928), published by Stephen Spender at Oxford.

An equally abbreviated list of American printed highlights would include James Fenimore Cooper's copy of his novel The Spy (1827), interleaved with his manuscript emendations; two copies of Edgar Allan Poe's Tamerlane (1827), one of which is bound in its original wrappers; five copies of Henry David Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849), inscribed by the author to, respectively, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Cullen Bryant, Ellery Channing, James Anthony Froude, and Nathaniel Hawthorne; nine copies of the first edition of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter (1850) and eleven copies of the first edition of The House of the Seven Gables (1851); Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851), inscribed with affectionate sentiments to his brother-in-law, and The Piazza Tales (1856), inscribed by Melville with a presentation statement from his mother to his uncle, and later signed by his brother and annotated by Melville's wife; Walt Whitman's Franklin Evans; or, The Inebriate, in one of four surviving copies of its first publication in the November 1842 supplement to the journal The New World; Robert Frost's A Boy's Will (1913), in the first binding of bronze cloth; T.S. Eliot's Prufrock and Other Observations (1917) and the first edition of The Waste Land (Hogarth Press, 1920); William Faulkner's The Marble Faun (1924); and Eugene O'Neill's signed copy of The Emperor Jones (1928).

Among the literary movements and circles that can be studied in depth at the Berg, using both manuscript and printed materials, are the Age of Johnson; Romanticism; American Transcendentalism; the various facets of Victorian literature, especially the Medieval Revival and Aestheticism; the Irish Literary Renaissance; Georgian poetry; British poets of the First World War; early and late Modernism; Bloomsbury; the Black Mountain poets; the Beats; the confessional poets; the New York School; and the counter-cultural poets of New York’s Lower East Side (1960 to 1980).