Secrets From The Vault

"... Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew / And I was unaware."

British poet and novelist Thomas Hardy stopped writing novels after Jude the Obscure (1895) and focused his attention on poetry. Shown below is a draft of one of his more famous poems, here entitled "By the Century's Deathbed" but better known as "The Darkling Thrush." In this draft, probably written ca. 1899-1900, Hardy's choice of words differs considerably from the final published version of the poem, especially in the first and third stanzas. For the text of the published poem, see this version from the Academy of American Poets.

"Clarissa" explains it all

Over 250 years after its publication, Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa still has the honor of being the longest novel in the English language. This melodramatic epistolary novel clocks in at over 950,000 words, and was initially published in seven volumes. It follows the beautiful and virtuous Clarissa as she resists her family’s attempts to arrange a "suitable" (i.e., well-connected) marriage. She is then tricked into running away with the villain Lovelace, who, in his attempts to force Clarissa to marry him, imprisons and finally rapes her. She continues to resist his proposals, and finally escapes -- but she becomes very ill and eventually dies. Clarissa’s family, realizing the misery they caused, is devastated at the news of her death.

"He ought to do better."

Before publishing The Ambassadors serially in The North American Review, Henry James submitted a summary of the novel to Harper & Brothers. This typed outline of The Ambassadors is the only surviving outline of any of James's novels (James burned many of his papers). In 90 typed pages James discusses how he got the idea for the novel, describes his characters, and lays out the novel's plot and themes. The first page and the last page of the outline are shown below – both are signed by James, and the final page is dated Sept. 1, 1900.

"Nevermore – ah, nevermore!"

This letter contains the earliest surviving portion of "The Raven" in Edgar Allan Poe's hand, and it is the only surviving manuscript of the poem made for use of a printer.

"The Raven" was first published under the pseudonym Quarles in the New York Evening Mirror on 29 January 1845. Less than a week later, it appeared with significant changes in Horace Greeley’s New-York Daily Tribune -- amid advertisements for "cheap table cutlery" and "sheet rubber overshoes."

"Punchification" Keeps Richard Doyle From his "Christmas Things"

Just a week before Christmas in 1843, the 19-year-old artist Richard Doyle wrote this illustrated letter to his father, playfully, but apologetically, putting off work that he had promised to finish before Christmas. He is in the midst of preparing his first contributions to the magazine Punch and wants to let his father know that "the nearer it becomes to Christmas the more awful does my situation, with regard to certain annual productions called "Christmas things" appear." Punch is seen here, somewhat maniacally bursting through the page.

"The wreck of talent, the ruin of promise..."

In 1848-49, three of the four famous Brontë siblings died within an eight month period. Branwell, the only brother, was the first to die, succumbing to chronic bronchitis on Sept. 24, 1848 at the age of 31. Branwell’s health was also depleted by years of alcohol and opiate abuse. Emily and Anne both died of pulmonary tuberculosis (in December 1848 and May 1849, respectively).

In this letter, dated Oct. 2, 1848, Charlotte Brontë writes to her London publisher, W.S. Williams, about her brother's death. She is more upset about the "emptiness" of Branwell’s life than about his untimely death, which she refers to as a "mercy [rather] than a chastisement."

"This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison": Coleridge in Isolation

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, “This Lime-tree Bower my Prison,” is an extended meditation on immobility. Lamed for a few days in a household accident, Coleridge took the opportunity to write about what it is like to stay in one place and to think about your friends traveling through the world.

"What female heart can gold despise? What cat's averse to fish?"

Horace Walpole once asked his friend Thomas Gray to write an epitaph for his cat Selima, who had recently drowned in a large Goldfish Tub. Gray responded by composing a Horatian ode, noting in a letter that it was "rather too long for an epitaph."

This autograph fair copy of his "Ode on the Death of a Favourite Cat, Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes" dates to ca. 1757, the same year that Gray was offered (but declined) the Poet Laureateship. The poem tells the story of "the hapless nymph" who "stretched in vain to reach the prize" of two goldfishes, and drowned as a consequence. The poem first appeared anonymously, and is one of only 14 poems that Gray published during his lifetime.