The Morgan's collection of literary and historical manuscripts includes complete manuscripts and working drafts of poetry and prose as well as correspondence, journals, and other documents of important British, European, and American authors, artists, scientists, and historical and political figures from the fifteenth through the twentieth centuries. The handwritten documents in the collection preserve the process of human thought and creativity—from mind to pen to paper—with an immediacy and power lacking in texts produced electronically.
The general pattern of the collection was established by Pierpont Morgan, who began to acquire literary and historical manuscripts on a large scale during the 1890s. He sought not to achieve comprehensiveness in any particular field but rather to assemble important documents related to events of historical significance, lives of notable individuals, and the creation of great literary works. By his death in 1913, he had gathered a number of exceptional documents handwritten or signed by influential figures in Western culture, including Elizabeth I, the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Napoléon, Sir Isaac Newton, and Voltaire. Morgan had a great interest in major British writers; a centerpiece of his collection was—and still is—the sole surviving manuscript of John Milton's Paradise Lost, transcribed and corrected under the direction of the blind poet. Other collection highlights are Charles Dickens's manuscript of A Christmas Carol, Henry David Thoreau's journals, Thomas Jefferson's letters to his daughter Martha, and manuscripts and letters of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Lord Byron, Wilkie Collins, Albert Einstein, John Keats, Abraham Lincoln, and John Steinbeck.
The Morgan's collection of literary and historical manuscripts has been enriched by many gifts and acquisitions, and twentieth-century holdings have increased significantly. The collection, particularly strong in artists' letters, was greatly enhanced by the Pierre Matisse Gallery Archives, the gift of the Pierre Matisse Foundation in 1997. These archives include more than fifteen hundred letters as well as records of the gallery installations of Balthus, Chagall, Dubuffet, Giacometti, Miró, and other twentieth-century artists. The Carter Burden Collection of American Literature includes important manuscripts and correspondence of John Cheever, Ezra Pound, and Tennessee Williams. The 1999 acquisition of The Paris Review Archive added correspondence, interviews, typescripts, and revised proofs of several hundred post-World War II writers, including Donald Hall, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer, Toni Morrison, George Plimpton, Philip Roth, and Anne Sexton. The Paris Review Archive also includes audio recordings of interviews with major twentieth-century authors.