In his A Bibliography of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1908), George Willis Cooke—Emerson’s first bibliographer—acknowledged the collection of William Taylor Newton. He wrote, “I am . . . under great obligations to Mr. William T. Newton of Boston for the use of his Emerson collection, the most extensive and complete I have found anywhere. It includes rare editions and many books about Emerson, as well as magazine and review articles and newspaper cuttings. He made extensive preparations for an Emerson bibliography, the results of which he has placed without reserve at my service. His collection has been of invaluable aid to me.”
Newton’s rich Emerson collection—donated to the Concord Free Public Library by Edward Waldo Emerson and Edith Emerson Forbes in September 1918—represents one of the earliest comprehensive efforts to gather printed works by and about Emerson. Although the personal William Taylor Newton remains elusive, his collection offers evidence of deep knowledge and some means. He acquired fine copies of first editions of Emerson’s works, sometimes inscribed by members of the Transcendental circle. He tracked down British editions and researched the first appearance of pieces by Emerson in periodical publications. He lavishly extra-illustrated copies of standard works (Cabot’s A Memoir of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Riverside Press edition of Emerson’s Complete Works) with letters, photographs, and engravings. In binding multiple pamphlet and periodical publications, he preserved original wrappers. He was partial to morocco leather and marbled paper, and used a gold-stamped monogram and a special printed label for his shelf-mark. His collection was and is handsome as well as valuable for research.
A son of Charles Worthington and Julia Loveland Bacon Newton, William Taylor Newton was born April 14, 1850, in Middletown, Connecticut. His father died in 1857. It is unclear whether or where Newton (“Willie” to members of his family) attended college. By the 1870s, he had settled in the Boston area. Papers at the Connecticut Historical Society include invitations to Newton in the late 1870s and early 1880s from John Fiske—another Connecticut native and a lecturer, instructor, and assistant librarian at Harvard.
In the 1880s and 1890s, Newton communicated with several early writers on Emerson and was actively collecting Emersoniana. In 1881, he wrote naturalist and author Wilson Flagg about the dates of Flagg’s articles on Emerson and Thoreau. In 1883, Oliver Wendell Holmes thanked Newton for an offer of assistance with the Emerson biography he was then preparing. In 1885, having consulted Newton’s collection, Holmes thanked him again and promised him a copy of the published memoir. In the same period, James Freeman Clarke wrote in response to Newton’s inquiry about a lecture and an article of his (Clarke’s) on Emerson, William Torrey Harris about a piece in The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, and George Willis Cooke about Emerson’s contributions to The Dial. Cooke also asked Newton whether he had assembled Emerson’s lectures as published in newspapers. Edward Waldo Emerson invited Newton to attend a reading of “my story of my Father’s life mainly as a citizen & householder” (apparently a selection from his Emerson in Concord) at 63 Marlborough Street in Boston. In 1894, Thoreau bibliographer Samuel Arthur Jones wrote his Concord contact Alfred Winslow Hosmer, “I am now engaged upon a bibliography of Emerson, which will be a much larger book than the Thoreau. A Boston gentleman [William Taylor Newton] has placed his immense collection at my service for that purpose; in fact, after seeing my Thoreau, he asked me to undertake the Emerson job.” (Jones did not complete his Emerson bibliography.)
William Taylor Newton never married. The 1880 federal census places him in Milton, Massachusetts, where he boarded with Elizabeth and Mary Swift, who lived on Adams Street, where Edith Emerson and William Hathaway Forbes (Emerson’s daughter and son-in-law) also lived. It seems likely that a personal connection between Newton and the Emerson family was formed or reinforced around this time. A letter from his mother Julia reveals that Newton was hospitalized in the Jackson Ward of the Massachusetts General Hospital in 1882 and suggests that he suffered from malaria. Other letters show recurring poor health. Newton became a member of the New England Historical Genealogical Society in 1892 but dropped his membership in 1903. In the 1900 federal census, he is listed as a resident of Brookline. An early twentieth-century Boston directory names him as treasurer and secretary of the American Shoe Tip Company in Boston—a position that would have provided expendable income for a collector. In 1918, he lived in Brighton.
How Edward Emerson and his sister Edith Forbes acquired Newton’s Emerson collection—whether through gift or purchase—is undiscovered. When they presented it to the Concord Free Public Library in 1918, Newton was still living. The Concord town report for 1918 indicates that he intended to add items to the collection over time. Documentation of the date of Newton’s death has yet to be located.
The Emerson descendants described Newton’s collection as “the result of years of research and loving labour.” A special bookcase was built for it by John Worthington Ames in the original octagonal room of the library (now the lobby). Although members of the Library Corporation felt that Newton’s name should be downplayed and Emerson’s emphasized in the bookplate printed for items in the collection at the time of its donation, the Emerson descendants insisted on giving prominence to the collector.
The Library Corporation accurately predicted in 1918: “The unique character of this Emerson library . . . may well make of it a nucleus for appropriate additions from other sources.” Later gifts and purchases of printed and manuscript Emerson material have built on its strength, consolidating the position of the Concord Free Public Library as a major Emerson repository. Although most of Emerson’s manuscripts were eventually deposited in the Houghton Library at Harvard, few printed Emerson collections are richer than those at the Concord Free Public Library. The William Taylor Newton Collection still serves as an important research resource, demonstrating the power of private collectors and benefactors to develop institutional collections.
21. Printed label and bookplate: William Taylor Newton’s shelf-mark, [undated]; Concord Free Public Library bookplate, .
22. Photograph of Ralph Waldo Emerson seated next to table, holding book, [185-].
23. The Dial: A Magazine for Literature, Philosophy, and Religion. Vol. 1, No. 1, July 1840 (Boston: Weeks, Jordan, and Company).
24. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nature . . . (Boston: James Munroe and Company, 1836).
25. Ralph Waldo Emerson. An Oration, Delivered Before the Phi Beta Kappa Society, at Cambridge, August 31, 1837 . . . (Boston: James Munroe and Company, 1837).
26. Ralph Waldo Emerson. An Address Delivered Before the Senior Class in Divinity College, Cambridge, Sunday Evening, 15 July, 1838 . . . (Boston: James Munroe and Company, 1838).
27. Portrait of Orestes A. Brownson, engraved by A. L. Dick from a daguerreotype miniature by Augustus Morand, Jr. (New York: J. & H. G. Langley, [undated]).
28. Portrait of Theodore Parker, engraved by S. A. Schoff from a daguerreotype by Allen & Horton (from Parker's Prayers, Boston: Walker, Wise & Co., 1862).
29. William Taylor Newton, compiler. Emersoniana: Being Criticisms of the Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Chiefly, from American and English Reviews . . . [an assemblage of pieces removed from periodicals and bound together as 16 volumes in 17, the title varying in some volumes], compiled 1887-1918.