Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Literary Collections

Title in blue and white three-dimensional letters above a red and white striped planet with a blue and white ring, all against a yellow background.
Detail of the cover of Amazing Stories, volume 1, number 1, April 1926. Call Number: ASF Curr D3.

The Department holds several collections pertaining to 19th and 20th century literary production in Britain, Ireland, and the United States.

These collections include the Children's Books Collection; the Irish Collections (including the James F. Spoerri Collection of James Joyce, the W. B. Yeats Collection and the P. S. O'Hegarty Collection); The William Doremus Paden Collection of Tennyson; the Elizabeth Morrison Snyder Collection of H. L. Mencken; the New American Poetry Collection; the Rainer Maria Rilke Collection; and the Science Fiction Collections.

Children's Books Collections

A collection of seven thousand children's books, dating from the late 18th to the early 20th century.

Among the more interesting and significant keys to social history is the literature produced for children, with its obviously stated rules for conduct. The more than seven thousand volumes of late 18th to early 20th century children's books in the Department may not tell us how our ancestors acted but they reveal clearly how they wished their children to act and what they wished their children to believe. Relatively few of these are textbooks but many of them are educational, the enlightening works to be read at home after school. Cautionary tales far less amusing than Belloc's Cautionary Verses were read (and scribbled in) by early 19th century children, and examples of piety to rival the medieval saints were offered as models of conduct — one poor wight lived a life of sin and expired in affecting repentance at the tender age of four. Fortunately for the children the passage of time brought them more entertaining fare: George MacDonald, the rousing adventures of G. A. Henty, E. Nesbit's unsurpassable fancies, and Arthur Ransome's tales of what must be the most fortunate children who ever lived.

The collection (founded in 1953, and built almost entirely through gifts) does not attempt to furnish the reader with the great classics of children's literature although it does include most of the Kate Greenaway books and about half of Beatrix Potter; it presents the common fare and offers great scope for research in the history of education as well as in literature and social history.

James F. Spoerri Collection of James Joyce

A collection of over 900 James Joyce items. The collection is unusually complete in printed material in both book and periodical form, including all first editions of Joyce's works except five minor items printed for copyright purposes which exist in only one, two, or three copies.

In 1953 the Library acquired from the Chicago attorney and book collector James F. Spoerri his collection of James Joyce, commencing what has proved to be a continuing interest in the literature and history of Ireland. This collection of over 900 items is unusually complete in printed material in both book and periodical form, including all first editions of Joyce's works except five minor items printed for copyright purposes which exist in only one, two, or three copies. It contains nearly all the books and pamphlets devoted entirely to the author and his works and over two hundred books and periodicals containing critical and biographical material.

Particularly uncommon items in the Joyce collection are copies of the two broadsides, The Holy Office (1904 or 1905) and Gas from a Burner (1912), the latter bearing in holograph the author's story of the destruction of the first (Dublin) edition of Dubliners. Also present are all three states of the first edition of Ulysses (1922), as well as a copy of the first edition of Ulysses in French, signed by Stuart Gilbert, who oversaw the translation, and inscribed by Joyce to his daughter Lucia on the date of issue; this copy has the novelty of bearing the strange post-mortem bookplate of the author. There is also a copy of the elusive Pomes Penyeach (Cleveland, 1931).

For additional information on searching Spencer's Irish collections and for a listing of our Irish manuscript holdings, please consult our Irish Collections LibGuide.

Elizabeth Morrison Snyder Collection of H. L. Mencken

A collection of writer and editor H. L. Mencken containing books, periodicals, ephemera, and approximately 250 Mencken letters.

Elizabeth Morrison Snyder became a Mencken collector in 1951 when she acquired a substantial collection of letters from critic, editor, and essayist H.L. Mencken to Charles Driscoll and a group of inscribed editions of his books. In the two decades which followed, she built a collection of remarkable balance and completeness, with some 250 Mencken letters, seventy-five inscribed editions of his books, files of The Smart Set and The American Mercury, and an extensive collection of ephemera written and published by Mencken.

Presented to the Library in 1971 and increased since by further gifts from Mrs. Snyder, the collection includes the rare Ventures into Verse of 1903 (two of the thirty-seven known copies, one inscribed to the illustrator, Charles Gordon, and later to Frank Hogan), George Bernard Shaw: His Plays (1905), A Little Book in C Major (1916), and extensive files of Mencken's newspaper columns.

New American Poetry Collection

A collection of post-World War II poetry consisting of several thousand volumes and broadsides, over 500 separate little magazines, and manuscripts and correspondence.

The New American Poetry collection (then named the Literary Ephemera collection) was founded in 1963 with the goal of preserving the ephemeral productions of local anti-establishment poets. The collection has evolved to document a particular set of movements in post-World War II American poetry. These publications appear sometimes in fugitive and fragile forms and at others in fashionable limited editions and stem mainly from four schools:

  • the Black Mountain group
  • the poets of the San Francisco Renaissance
  • the New York "Beats"
  • the Kansas Connection

The several thousand items of the collection include issues of over 500 separate little magazines and the productions of many small presses. While attempting to provide as broad and representative a selection as possible, we place special emphasis on poets who have had some connection with the local scene — Kansas poets such as Michael McClure, Charles Plymell, Ken Irby, William Stafford, Ronald Johnson, Denise Low, and the adopted Kansan, William Burroughs, and frequent visitors such as Allen Ginsberg (and others of his circle) and Jonathan Williams, The Jargon Society publisher.

The New American Poetry Collection includes the library of Max Douglas, a promising young KU poet who died in 1970 at the age of 21. The Douglas Collection, presented to the Library by the poet's father in 1982, is strong in the Black Mountain and San Francisco poets, and includes Douglas's own posthumously published poems.

Manuscript Holdings

In addition to printed items (books, periodicals, broadsides and ephemera), the Spencer Research Library also holds significant manuscript materials for several post-World War II poets and/or associated countercultural writers.

Figures for whom the library holds more than five manuscript boxes worth of material include the following (call numbers in parentheses are linked to online finding aids):

  • William S. Burroughs (MS 63MS 319)
  • Kirby Congdon (contact curator for more information)
  • Larry Eigner (MS 39MS 257MS 122)
  • Ian Hamilton Finlay (MS 48)
  • Kenneth Irby (contact curator for more information)
  • Ronald Johnson (MS 66MS 336MS D214MS 289)
  • Denise Low (MS 334)
  • Robert Peters (contact curator for more information)
  • Philip Kimball (MS 243)

Guides to many of these collections are available in the Kenneth Spencer Research Library online finding aids. For those without online finding aids, please contact the curator for additional information.

In addition to the writers' papers mentioned above, the Spencer Research Library holds a series of smaller manuscript collections for post-WWII poets. These collections contain correspondence, manuscript drafts, and notebooks, and the writers represented include Tom Clark, Gregory Corso, Diane di Prima, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jim McCrary, and Charles Plymell (represented by a much smaller amount of material: Paul Blackburn, Robert Branaman, Robert Creeley, Edward Dorn, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Jeff Nuttall, Charles Olson, Tom Raworth, Ed Sanders, and Jonathan Williams). Online finding aids exist for some of these collections, while others are inventoried through paper guides available in the Spencer Research Library's Reading Room.

P. S. O'Hegarty Collection

A collection of 25,000 items from the library of P. S. O'Hegarty, with incredible depth in Irish literature, history, and politics, including periodicals and ephemera.

In 1959 the University of Kansas acquired the remainder of the library of P. S. O'Hegarty, former Secretary of the Irish Post Office and an avid book collector, from whom the Yeats Collection had already been acquired. The 25,000 items of this purchase, the greater part of which is now housed as a group in the Department of Special Collections, immeasurably strengthened our resources in Anglo-Irish literature and history, giving rise to new interests and new courses.

The Irish literary renaissance figures other than Yeats are here in profusion: the Abbey Theatre plays; an extensive group of Abbey Theatre programs, more than 160 of them ranging from 1904 to 1922; the plays of Lady Gregory and of Synge; the complete output of the Dun Emer and Cuala presses, including the broadsides and other ephemera; books and periodicals reflecting this national literary movement.

Irish history, from the 17th century to the revolutionary movements of the 20th century, is extraordinarily well-represented, with newspapers, propaganda pamphlets, broadsheets, local history publications, songs, and scholarly works. Indeed the Irish holdings of the O'Hegarty library, taken together with the Joyce collection, the Sean O'Casey publications given to the Library by Franklin D. Murphy, former Chancellor of the University, and the earlier Irish writers already in the collections, give Kansas outstandingly strong Hibernian resources.

In addition to its Irish riches, the O'Hegarty Library contains excellent holdings in 19th and early 20th century English literature, and children's literature, especially 19th century boys' books and magazines.

For additional information on searching Spencer's Irish collections and for a listing of our Irish manuscript holdings, please consult our Irish Collections LibGuide.

Rainer Maria Rilke Collection

A collection of nearly 1600 items pertaining to German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), compiled by collector Dr. Henry Sagan.

The late Dr. Henry Sagan was an indefatigable collector of the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke and in 1963 the Library acquired his entire collection. The nearly 1,600 items are first editions of all of Rilke's works in an astonishing number of issues and states including such rarities as the Zwei Prager Geschichten (Stuttgart, 1899), and two copies of Die Letzten (Berlin, 1902); later editions, both text and critical; translations; bibliographies; criticisms of Rilke's work; the works of authors who influenced Rilke and the works of his disciples. A particularly interesting portion of the collection, the acquisition of which must have taxed all of Sagan's collecting energies and ingenuity, is the large number of fugitive publications: periodicals in which Rilke was published or reviewed, newspaper articles, offprints, photographs, and ephemeral material. The collection has given rise to an international Rilke conference and a number of publications.

Science Fiction Collections

An extensive collection (with particular strength in the "Golden Age" of Science Fiction) consisting of books, periodicals, and the papers of writers including Theodore Sturgeon, Cordwainer Smith, Donald A. Wollheim, and Lloyd Biggle. This collection has been built almost entirely by gift.

See the main Science Fiction Collections page for more information about these materials.

William Doremus Paden Collection of Tennyson

A bibliographically rich collection of editions of the poet Alfred Tennyson (1809-1892) compiled by Professor W. D. Paden of the University of Kansas Department of English.

In 1979, the Department was bequeathed the library of Prof. W. D. Paden of the KU English Department, completing a gift begun in 1972. Particularly important in the Paden gift are his remarkable Tennyson collection with its rich resources for the bibliographical history of Tennyson's publications, and his strong holdings in the Pre-Raphaelites and A. W. E. O'Shaughnessy.

The Tennyson collection begins with his earliest published work, Poems by Two Brothers (1827). It includes a complete run of In Memoriam in all its numbered editions (1-20) and many subsequent unnumbered ones as well, many in multiple copies. It also contains an impressive array — beginning with the first state of the first edition — of the various transmogrifications of the Idylls of the King, nicely illustrating both the literary and the bibliographical evolution of this monumental sequence of poems. Seven variant issues of the first edition of Enoch Arden provide examples of the fine distinctions of binding stamps, broken letters, sewers' marks and publishers' catalogues bound-in which are the raw material of the descriptive bibliographer's craft. Accompanying these is what the eminent bibliographer T. J. Wise called the "prepublication state," entitled Idylls of the Hearth, now known to be a Wise forgery.

This collection is an excellent example of a scholar's working library translated into a collection for the benefit of others who will continue the work.

W. B. Yeats Collection

A premier W. B. Yeats collection containing all but two of his works in first edition, numerous periodical publications, and several score of books from his personal library (including copies of his own works with his annotations) or having close association in one way or another with the Yeats family.

In 1955 the Library purchased from P. S. O'Hegarty, former Secretary of the Irish Post Office, one of the premier collections of William Butler Yeats. O'Hegarty, a one-time member of several revolutionary groups, bookseller, historian, bibliographer and editor, was well-acquainted with most of the legendary figures of the Irish literary renaissance, Yeats and his family, Synge, Lady Gregory, and the Abbey Theatre group, and this acquaintance produced a matchless opportunity for the collection of their works as they appeared.

The William Butler Yeats collection is a remarkably rich one: all of Yeats' works in first edition except the very scarce Mosada (1886) and The Hour-Glass (1903), with many later and variant editions and printings; books edited or containing contributions by Yeats; several score of books from his personal library (including copies of his own works with his annotations) or having close association in one way or another with the Yeats family; runs of periodicals with which he was associated, such as SamhainThe ArrowShanachie, and Dana; many single issues of periodicals in which material by or about Yeats appeared, including particularly elusive journals such as the Kilkenny Monitor and the Irish Home Reading Magazine; even the published Debates of the Irish Parliament in which Yeats was a Senator from the beginning.

For additional information on searching Spencer's Irish collections and for a listing of our Irish manuscript holdings, please consult our Irish Collections LibGuide.

Special Collections Contact

Elspeth Healey

Special Collections Curator for post-1700 materials (except the areas listed below)


Eve Wolynes

Special Collections Curator for pre-1700 materials, Asian collections, history of science, maps/cartography