English literature is one of Houghton’s fortes; it is hard even to begin shortlisting items for undergraduate students to use in research projects within their concentration because of the library archive’s incredible variety and extent. Below is a very small sample of all that Houghton has to offer to the Harvard English student, from Shakespeare to Joyce.
Beginning with the Bard, the library owns a copy of the 1623 First Folio, considered the first compendium of Shakespeare’s works (HEW 7.11.1 F, 003723123). Though maybe not the ultimate research item because of its extreme relevance and, thus, saturated academic history, it is a sight to behold and perhaps one of the most important objects in the history of the English language. However, the library does offer more unorthodox material on Shakespeare, especially through its huge theater collection, which should also prove a treasure trove for the English concentrator. That portion of the archive holds, for instance, a 1896 adaptation of Henry IV joining the first and second parts of the play (DAL 1117.7.35*, 003773965) and an American Tempest-based masque titled Choruses of Caliban (DAL 24184.108.40.206, 005428367).
Other highlights of European English literature present at Houghton include the typescript of Rudyard Kipling’s From Sea to Sea (MS Eng 838, 009678452), the British explorer’s account of his travels in the East; the original serial issues of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield (21463.17.6*, 008770032), which gives students an opportunity to familiarize themselves with the author’s novels’ original publication format and with Victorian material culture; and a series of items related to James Joyce’s Ulysses, including the modern epic’s Shakespeare and Company’s 1922 first edition (EC9.J8531.922u, 005820070) and the Irish novel’s 1921 galley proofs (MS Eng 160.4, 008139021), which provide fascinating insights into Joyce’s revision process.
American literature is also well-represented in Houghton’s archive, especially because of Harvard’s role as the United States’ intellectual headquarters for most, if not all, of the country’s history. The library holds Ralph Waldo Emerson’s journals, including one focused on literature (MS Am 1280H , 008290191); countless material related to Henry David Thoreau, including his college essays, one of them about Milton’s Paradise Lost (MS Am 278.5.5, 009065351), fragments of journals related to Walden (MS Am 278.5 , 009065351), and papers linked to Civil Disobedience (MS Am 278.5 , 009065351); and even a Walt Whitman manuscript (MS Lowell 15, 009517249). Houghton also owns Louisa May Alcott’s (MS Am 800.23, MS Am 1130.13, MS Am 1817, MS Am 2114) and Herman Melville’s (MS Am 188-188.6, 000602212) papers.
Emily Dickinson, one of the United States’ most beloved poets, is very well-represented at Houghton; the library, in fact, has a room dedicated to the poet that contains the very table in which she produced her work. Besides that, students can find many of her letters (MS Am 1118-1118.2, MS Am 1118.4-1118.5, MS Am 1118.17), manuscripts of her poems (MS Am 1118.3, 009590417), and even her herbarium (MS Am 1118.11-1118.12) and family photographs (MS Am 1118.99b, 008100110) in the archives.
Houghton also possesses a wealth of American modernist material—including plenty of items personally connected to figures such as T. S. Eliot and Allen Ginsberg, such as Ginsberg’s annotated copy of Eliot’s Collected Poems (AC95.G4351.Zz936e, 001418786). It also owns the papers of E. E. Cummings (MS Am 1823-1823.10, 000602049), Gore Vidal (MS Am 2350, 010474168), John Updike (MS Am 1793, 000601839), and letters from Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard professor Elizabeth Bishop, one of the most important poets of the twentieth century (MS Am 2001, 000601975).
The size and prominence of Houghton’s English collection also means that the library holds many curious items related to the language’s culture and literature. Two of these are a nineteenth-century English translation of Goethe’s Faust that attempts to rhyme despite the hardship of such an enterprise (*GC8 G5548F Eg835t, 003088850) and The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (*EC75.St455T.1759 v.6 [A], 008831253) an eighteenth-century work that is, in many ways, a precursor of the modernist novel, going so far as to make use of illustration to add color (in a very literal way) to the narrative.
Houghton also holds the archives of major publishing houses, which include their correspondence with a myriad celebrated authors. The parts of the collection dedicated to New Directions, for example, include the publisher’s records (MS Am 2077, 008510344), which cover most of the twentieth century and contain correspondence with luminaries such as Ezra Pound and Tennessee Williams, as well as manuscripts and proofs for books (MS Am 2077.1, 008373116). The archives also includes the Little, Brown and Company (89M-59, 012636803) and the Houghton, Mifflin and Company records (93M-231, 012588907).
Houghton also oversees the Lamont Woodberry Poetry Room, whose collection of recordings of authors and poets such as Sylvia Plath and James Baldwin is enviable. Creative writers in the English Department should know that Houghton Library is also the publisher of Harvard Review, Harvard’s only professional literary journal. Harvard Review (which has offices in Lamont Library and a historical connection to the Woodberry Poetry room) publishes fiction, essays, poetry, book reviews, and translations, both online and in print. Contributors include everyone from Nobel laureates like Seamus Heaney and Pulitzer Prize winners like Paul Harding, John Updike, and Jhumpa Lahiri, to recent Harvard College graduates like Mark Chiusano, Hannah Hindley, and Nandhini Sundaresan. Harvard Review also offers both paying jobs and internships for undergraduates. Interested students can learn more about the review at www.harvardreview.org.