A strange photograph in Mary Millais's scrapbook

Mary Millais was the daughter of the famous Pre-Raphaelite painter Sir John Everett Millais and his wife Effie Gray (who had been previously married to the critic John Ruskin). This scrapbook, which was presented to Mary when she was 15, is a typical Victorian compilation of letters, photographs, and clipped signatures -- and just about everyone represented in it is (or was at the time) a famous public figure. She has pasted in letters to her father from Anthony Trollope, Robert Browning and Wilkie Collins, and the clipped signatures include a few of King George IV and novelist Henry James.

Dickens and his Shower-Bath: "I don't care for the possibility of a Tepid Shower"

On July 14, 1851, Charles Dickens expressed his interest in Tavistock House to his brother-in-Law Henry Austin. A mere 11 days later, he put down £1,542 for a 45-year lease of the grand 18-room mansion in the Bloomsbury section of London.

With Austin’s help, Dickens oversaw the remodeling of Tavistock, concerning himself with the most minute of details, down to the picture rods and pantry shelving. By early September he had "estimated every new thing in the way of furniture and fitting that will be wanted" and found that "the figures are rather stunning."

A Company of Adventurers at Plymouth Plantation

Some of the earliest surviving descriptions of Plymouth Plantation are in the letters of Emanuel Altham.

Captain of the Little James, Altham made two voyages to New England between 1623 and 1625, and his letters provide lengthy accounts of the "Company of Adventurers" and their rugged outpost. In this 1623 letter, Altham describes the plantation at Pautext: "It is well situated upon a high hill close unto the seaside ... In this plantation is about twenty houses, four or five of which are very fair and pleasant."

Coleridge reworks several poems in his 1796 notebook

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1796 notebook contains eight of his poems.

The opening lines of Coleridge’s “Lines on a Friend Who Died of a Frenzy Fever Induced by Calumnious Reports.” This is one of four extant manuscripts of the poem.

Extensive revisions and corrections throughout show that this was a working notebook, and Ernest Hartley Coleridge, the poet’s grandson, refers to it as the “MS quarto copy-book” in his 1912 The Complete Poetical Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The first portion of the copy-book contains two fragments and six complete poems, including “Songs of the Pixies,” “Lines to a Beautiful Spring in a Village,” and “Lines on a Friend Who Died of a Frenzy Fever Induced by Calumnious Reports.”

Marie Antoinette wishes to be back in the good graces of the French people

In this letter, dated September 28, 1791, Marie Antoinette writes to the Austrian diplomat Florimond Claude, comte de Mercy-Argenteau, about the need for the royal family to regain the trust of the French people. The comte de Mercy-Argenteau was instrumental in arranging the 1770 marriage of the young Marie Antoinette, then Archduchess of Austria, and Louis-Auguste, the Dauphin of France. When Louis became King Louis XVI in 1774, the comte de Mercy-Argenteau assumed a prominent role in the French court, and he was a frequent recipient of letters from Marie Antoinette.

Some terrible investment advice from Alexander Pope -- "Buy of South Sea Stock"

The South Sea Bubble of 1720 is one of the most memorable economic bubbles in Britain. Founded in 1711, the South Sea Company was a British joint-stock company that had exclusive trading rights in Spanish South America. Rumors about the potential value of its South American trade stoked rampant speculation, with shares in the company -- offered at just over £100 in January 1720 -- rising to more than £1000 by August. However by the end of September the bubble had popped. Shares fell to £150 and thousands of people were ruined.

"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."

"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."

It was a dark and stormy night... and Arbaces cogs his dice with pleasure

His novels were Victorian best-sellers, but Edward Bulwer Lytton is not one of those authors you could say has aged very well.

Admired by King George IV (who, it is rumored, kept a Lytton novel at all of his residences), his popularity was on the same scale as that of Charles Dickens. Now, however, his name is used as a "byword for aesthetic embarrassment and incompetence," and he is perhaps best remembered for the opening line to Paul Clifford : "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals..."

"... 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.