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Joel Myerson collection of nineteenth century American manuscripts and iconography

Identifier: SCU-RBSC-2016-2

Professor Joel Myerson, former chair of the English Department at the University of South Carolina, is one of the leading scholars in the area of nineteenth-century American literature, particularly in the area of Transcendentalism. He has spent the past 30 years building this collection of Ralph Waldo Emerson and other transcendentalists, along with its accompanying Collection of Nineteenth-Century American Literature.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), was a significant figure in the Transcendentalist movement. A talented speaker and writer, Emerson espoused the idea that the soul is intimately connected to the world around us and stressed the importance of freedom, individualism, and the ability of every person to interpret his or her own relationship to the spiritual world. Emerson also served as mentor to many other major figures in the Transcendentalist movement, providing both intellectual guidance as well as occasional financial support. His book, Nature, is considered to be a seminal work in the area of American intellectualism. He lived with his family in Concord, Massachusetts, though he spent much of his time traveling around the United States on the lyceum circuit as well as to Great Britain where he visited with Scottish philosopher and historian Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881). Emerson continued to speak and write well into his later life, though as his memory began to falter in his final years, he began to limit both his travels and his correspondence. The Emerson materials include letters from Emerson as well as correspondence from the Emerson Family, including those by his father, William Emerson, and children, Edward and Ellen Emerson. Also included is a selection of ephemera including signed items by Emerson, personal possessions, brochures and pamphlets related to Emerson’s speaking engagements and unique items including the bill for Emerson’s father’s funerary expenses.

Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892), born on Long Island and resident of Brooklyn and Camden, New Jersey, is considered to be one of the United States’ first great poets. His work captured both the enthusiasm and pitfalls of America’s dynamic growth and conflicts throughout the mid to late nineteenth century. An enthusiastic supporter of the Union during the Civil War, Whitman published one of his poems, “Beat! Beat! Drums!” as a call to arms. He also traveled to battlefields where his brother, George, served. A typesetter by trade, Whitman preferred to draft his poems on a printing press and a number of proofs resulting from this process are included in this collection. Though his strength was greatly diminished in later life by a number of ailments, Whitman continued to speak on occasion while making constant revisions to his work, particularly his most famous volume, Leaves of Grass. The Whitman materials include manuscripts, printed proofs, correspondence, and many pieces of promotional ephemera related to Whitman’s role as both popular figure in late nineteenth and early twentieth century American culture.

The collection also includes correspondence to and from other major figures in the Transcendentalist movement including A. Bronson (1799-1888) and Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888), Theodore Parker (1810-1860), Franklin Benjamin Sanborn (1831-1917), and Margaret Fuller (1810-1850). The manuscripts by other authors section includes multiple drafts of poems by Christopher Pearse Cranch (1813-1892), some presented in the context of letters to Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The Iconography section contains materials including engravings, photogravure, glass color slides, and photographs. It also contains a selection of Cabinet Cards and Cartes de Visite consistent with the time period, including authors as well as popular locations including Alcott’s home and School of Philosophy and Emerson’s home and grave site at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.

The Framed Material collection includes a number of photos and illustrations, most interestingly those caricatures drawn by Christopher Pearse Cranch in reaction to his reading of Emerson’s works.


  • 1787-1931
  • Majority of material found within 1820-1890



8 boxes

Related Materials

High resolution scans of many of the items included in this collection can be found in the Joel Myerson Collection of Nineteenth-Century American Manuscripts and Images located online at:

The Joel Myerson Collection of Nineteenth-Century American Literature contains over 11,000 volumes and is the result of over 30 years’ work. This collection can be accessed via the online catalog and includes first editions, annotated editions, correspondence, proofs, and revised editions. The collection can be accessed online at:

Digital Collection

Repository Details

Part of the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections Repository

Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library
1322 Greene Street
Columbia SC 29208 USA
(803) 777-3847

William Mancke
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