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History of the Berg Collection

Dr. Berg's gift to the Library was announced in 1940, and until his death in 1950 he maintained a lively interest in the expansion of the Collection which he assured by the establishment of a trust fund for its-future growth, care, and administration. Provision for the publication of manuscripts in the Collection was made by Dr. Berg's sister and brother- in-law, Judge and Mrs. Samuel D. Levy.

The original collection, which numbered 3,500 items, was enriched in 1940 by the collection of W. T. H. Howe of Cincinnati, president of the American Book Company, who had spent forty years assembling his library before it was acquired by the Berg Collection.

In 1941, the internationally renowned collection of rare books and manuscripts of Owen D. Young, Chairman of the Board of the General Electric Company, was presented to the Library by Dr. Berg and Mr. Young. It was described at the time of the gift as "the largest and most important single collection ever presented to the Library.

Among the 20,000 printed items and 50,000 manuscripts, covering the entire range of English and American literature, there can be found rarities considered museum pieces by the book world. Irving, Hawthorne, Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman are represented in first editions as well as in manuscripts. There are two copies of Poe's first edition of Tamerlane. Mark Twain can be studied in depth by scholars who have not only correspondence but also the original manuscripts of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and Following the Equator, besides many others, to consult. It is a source of great pride to own Emerson's copy of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, inscribed to him by the author, Henry David Thoreau. This is one of five presentation copies of this title; the others were received by William Cullen Bryant, Ellery Channing, James Anthony Froude and Nathaniel Hawthorne. The wealth of multiple copies can be emphasized by noting the presence of nine copies of Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and eleven copies of his House of the Seven Gables. When confronted with numerous copies, bibliographers repeatedly discover that books described as first editions contain variant readings of the text and are in fact later states or issues.

It has been the policy of the Collection to acquire works of contemporaries. Next to the collection of James Russell Lowell's manuscripts and letters there are manuscript poems by Robert Lowell. A massive collection of Gertrude Stein's printed works is followed by those of John Steinbeck. The early history of the Provincetown Playhouse is reflected in the archive of two writers closely connected with its founding: George Cram Cook and Susan Glaspell. Typescripts of plays and original correspondence by Eugene O'Neill are available to students of the theatre, a field in which the Collection's strength lies in English and Irish authors.

In owning the manuscripts of T. S. Eiiot's early poems and The Waste Land, the Berg Collection holds masterpieces by the poet who in the twentieth century first combined the English and American vision. For the following twentieth century authors, the Collection is justly famous: Arnold Bennett, Joseph Conrad, George Gissing, Thomas Hardy, John Masefield, Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf. In all phases of their manifold literary activities these authors' manuscripts are consulted by students of the literary scene as well as for the work of the authors themselves. In acquiring archives the Collection has been fortunate in being able to buy the personal papers Sir Edward Marsh, the popular "Eddie" of Churchill's England.

The Irish Literary Renaissance survives in the papers of Lady Gregory, moving spirit of the Dublin Abbey Theatre and guardian of W. B. Yeats's poetic talent. Letters written to her and her own letters in copies or drafts have been kept by the hundreds together with her journals, diaries and memoirs. Fire destroyed much of the literary archive of Sean O'Casey, fugitive from Ireland and the Abbey Theatre, but the remainder, now in the Berg Collection, will help students in expanding the Anglo- Irish horizon.

The nineteenth century was first represented in Dr. Berg's collection by Dickens and Thackeray. These were further strengthened by notable manuscripts in the Howe Collection. Owen D. Young's library included Lewis Carroll and Rudyard Kipling in impressive numbers and condition, and both collectors contributed important Browning manuscripts. The collections of books by the principal authors of the century are almost complete and include such rarities as the Bristol edition of Wordsworth and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads and Browning'sPauline.

As one proceeds backward in time, the Collection diminishes in strength. Even so, the Burney archive with Fanny Burney's Evelina, Cecilia and Camilla in manuscripts and her Diary and Letters, as prepared for the press, form a unique source for the study of the Burneys and their wide circle. First editions of the works of Dr. Johnson, Sterne, Smollett, Sheridan, Burns, Blake, together with Defoe, Swift, Addison and Steele, Richardson, and Fielding are well represented. The earliest manuscript in the Collection is a contemporary transcript of John Donne's poems, dating from 1619, and the two earliest books are chronicles printed by William Caxton in 1480.

 

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