University of Rochester Library Bulletin: The Henry James Collection

Volume XI · Spring 1956 · Number 3
The Henry James Collection

The Library has recently received as a gift from Mrs. Charles Hoeing her Henry James Collection, consisting of 165 volumes and 12 original notes and letters. The collection includes practically all the first editions of Henry James's books, and in most instances of simultaneous or nearly simultaneous publication in England and the United States, both the English and American editions are present. Later editions are also included, and add greatly to the usefulness of the collection, since James often made extensive revisions of his works when they were republished. There are also copies of some of the periodicals in which his work appeared before it was issued in book form.

Those who have read a few of Henry James's books will probably first recall Daisy Miller, his most popular novelette. The first edition, following its publication in the Cornhill Magazine in 1878, was in "Harper's Half Hour Series" in 1879, and the collection includes a copy of this, perhaps the rarest of Henry James first editions, in excellent condition and well protected by an attractive slipcase. Several later editions are also present, as well as the first edition of the dramatized version which was published in 1883, but which was never produced on the stage. The Turn of the Screw rivals Daisy Miller in popularity, for it is the best-known ghost story he wrote. Its first appearance in book form was in a collection of three stories entitled The Two MagicsThe Turn of the ScrewCovering End, which was published in 1898. The collection includes this first edition, as well as a very beautiful limited edition published by the Hand and Flower Press in England in 1940, attractively illustrated by Manette Lydis.

Those who have read more of Henry James's work will find first editions of all their favorites in the collection—The American (1877), The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Awkward Age (1899), The Wings of the Dove (1902), and The Ambassadors (1903). His first collection of stories, A Passionate Pilgrim (1875), his first descriptive articles, Transatlantic Sketches (1875), and his first novel, Roderick Hudson (1876) are all present in first-edition form. Also included in first editions are A Small Boy and Others (1913), Notes of a Son and Brother(1914), and The Middle Years ( 1917), which have just recently been republished in one volume as hisAutobiography.

Some of the most interesting books in the collection are those with autographs and presentation notes. A copy of The Heir of Redclyffe, the novel that brought Charlotte M. Yonge her first popular success, bears the bookplate of Sir George W. Prothero on the inside cover, and a note in Henry James's hand on a fiyleaf: "To dear George Prothero in memory of dear little Rye dawdles: Henry James August 18th 1909." Prothero was one of James's good English friends, a professor of modern history at Edinburgh, editor of the Quarterly Review, and co-editor of the Cambridge Modern History. Why Henry James selected this novel to present to his friend will always intrigue the literary historian. The question is echoed by one that appears on the bookplate of Carolyn Wells, the American novelist, which reads "Carolyn Wells—Her Book—I Wonder Why." This bookplate is on the inside front cover of French Traits by the American author W. C. Brownell. On the same cover is the label of Henry James, whose autograph appears on the half-title page with the date "Mar. 18th 1889." Two more bookplates will complete the history of this book, for Mrs. Hoeing's own attractive bookplate and the Library's will be added, and then one will see that this copy of an American book about the French became the property of one of America's most serious and dedicated writers, then passed into the hands of an American writer of lighter fiction and verse, and then became the property of a devoted collector, through whose generosity it will always be available in the Treasure Room of Rush Rhees Library.

It seems very fitting that this collection includes a copy of Borrowed Plumes by Owen Seamon with the autograph of Mrs. Hoeing's very good friend Harriet C. S. Rhees, whose husband's name was appropriately given to this Library. There is also a copy of The Real Thing, and Other Tales by Henry James with the autograph of the English poet Coventry Patmore, and a copy of James's Confidence bearing the presentation note: "Mrs. Sturgis from her friend Mr. Childs." The handwriting is that of George William Childs, well-known American publisher and philanthropist, who published the Philadelphia Public Ledger for thirty years. On the flyleaf of a copy of Saracinesca by the American novelist F. Marion Crawford one finds the following note: "To Henry James, in memory of a short preface to a long visit in the near future—his old friend F. Marion Crawford. June 16, 1899." Crawford spent his later years in Italy and James had been his guest at Sorrento shortly before receiving the book that is now part of the Henry James Collection.

If the autographs and notes in some of the books provoke speculation, then the original letters which are an important part of the collection give even more material for reflection. There are six notes and letters by Henry James himself, dating from 1887 to 1915, two letters of his brother William James, and letters and notes by Percy Lubbock, George Meredith, and Coventry Patmore. They make significant additions to our knowledge of James and his circle, and will be of real value to scholars using the collection. Because they provide material for a much longer study, a detailed description of them will be given in a future issue of thisBulletin.

This brief account of the Henry James Collection will serve to indicate its scope and importance to scholars. It has another aspect which deserves mention. To anyone considering the formation of a book collection it stands as an example of what a collector can accomplish. Her keen interest in Henry James gave Mrs. Hoeing the impetus to begin forming a collection of his books many years ago. Her interest grew as the collection grew. She sought books about James, she searched for the compilations containing his stories and articles, those that satirized or imitated him, and those that criticised him. She saved articles from magazines, clippings from newspapers, and pictures of James and his home. Everything in the collection is meaningful because she knew his writings so thoroughly herself. This is the best way to collect books, and her collection is a model of its kind. We are proud to have the Henry James Collection in the Treasure Room and we are deeply grateful to Mrs. Hoeing for providing it.