Key Collecting Areas: Collecting Emerson

40.  Ralph Waldo Emerson.  Manuscript for the essay “Culture,” readied for publication in the Atlantic Monthly, [1860].

Culture, by Emerson
Page 49

Ink on paper.  From the Ralph Waldo Emerson Papers (part of the CFPL Vault Collection).  Gift of James T. Fields, 1873.

Boston publisher James T. Fields was among the dignitaries and literati invited to join Concord for the dedication of the Concord Free Public Library on October 1, 1873.  Fields was a partner in the firm of Ticknor and Fields (America’s most important literary publisher in the mid-nineteenth century) and, along with Emerson, a member of the Saturday Club in Boston.

Ticknor and Fields published a number of major American authors—Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau, Holmes, Longfellow, Lowell, Stowe, and Whittier—and some English authors, as well.  The firm attracted authors and maintained their loyalty by paying them well, issuing their works in attractive formats, and effectively publicizing and distributing them.  It also published the Atlantic Monthly.  James Russell Lowell was the first editor of the magazine.  Fields took over from him in 1861.

Fields was unable to attend the library dedication ceremonies in Concord.  On September 29, 1873, he wrote to William Munroe (founding benefactor of the Concord Free Public Library): “I have been confined to my room six weeks by a lame knee, and can’t be with you on Wednesday.  As I always intended to join the good day’s dedication, I feel greatly disappointed—more than I can express.  I send for the Library a gift of five autographs, which please present in my name.”

The autograph manuscripts presented by Fields were pieces by various authors prepared for publication in the Atlantic: Emerson’s essay “Culture”; Thoreau’s essay “Walking”; Holmes’s poem “Dorothy Q”; Lowell’s poem “The Cathedral”; and an address by John Lothrop Motley.  In 1875, Fields added the manuscript of the first chapter of Hawthorne’s unfinished Dolliver Romance to his dedication gift.

Emerson’s essay “Culture” first appeared in print in the September 1860 issue of the Atlantic Monthly.  It was subsequently included in the collection The Conduct of Life (first published December 1860).

An item like this manuscript offers information for more than one research topic—for example, the editorial practices of Ticknor and Fields as well as Emerson’s shaping of the text of the essay—and consequently, were it on the market, might attract collectors in multiple areas.


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