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Henry Seidel Canby papers

Call Number: YCAL MSS 64

Scope and Contents

The Henry Seidel Canby Papers span the period 1825-1960, but the bulk of the papers date from 1900-1945.

The collection is arranged in five series. Series I, Professional Correspondence, (Boxes 1-6); Series II, Family Correspondence, (Boxes 7-12); Series III, Writings, (Boxes 13-31); Series IV, Lecture Notes and Related Course Materials, (Boxes 32-34); and Series V, Personal Papers, (Boxes 35-39). Oversize material is found at the end of the collection.

Series I, Professional Correspondence , contains alphabetically arranged correspondence between Henry Seidel Canby and educators, literary critics, publishers, writers and other public figures. Much of the correspondence concerns articles and reviews for The Literary Review and The Saturday Review of Literature, book candidates for the Book-of-the-Month Club, and Canby's publishing projects.

Letters from Sherwood Anderson contain Anderson's reflections on writing and a literary career. Mary Austin wrote extensively of her life in Santa Fe, New Mexico, women and reviews of her work. The letters of Stephen Vincent Benét include comments on Canby's work and remarks about reviews of Benét's own writing. Correspondence with T. S. Eliot concerns Eliot's contributions to The Saturday Review of Literature, including his refusal to review the poetry of Edward Arlington Robinson. In a letter dated Nov. 25, 1920, Robert Frost offers his opinion of the writing of Ezra Pound.

A series of letters to Canby from Ezra Pound begins with one from 1920 in which Pound requests information on the intellectual content of The Literary Review. Later letters contain Pound's commentary on various people, including Richard Aldington, Ford Madox Ford and T. S. Eliot, and complaints about "intellectual cowardice" in England. In an undated and, apparently, final letter, Pound comments angrily on an unidentified review.

Canby's long affiliation with Yale University is documented in letters from several University presidents, including James Rowland Angell, Arthur Twinning Hadley and Charles Seymour. Topics discussed include a range of faculty concerns and other University business. Among the letters from William Lyon Phelps are commentaries on Canby's writing projects and letters of introduction, including one to J. M. Barrie written for Canby's visit to England in 1918. A June 30, 1900 letter from Anson Phelps Stokes announces Canby's appointment as Assistant in English at the Sheffield Scientific School. Letters from Charles Scribner's Sons for the years 1910-1912 concern publication of an edition of the selected works of Robert Louis Stevenson for use by the freshmen English classes of the Sheffield Scientific School. The letters contain discussions of royalty payments to the Stevenson estate, as well as editorial details.

During World War I, Canby corresponded extensively with Robert Bridges about The Society for Pure English, which was formed at that time to promote mutual understanding between the United States and the Allies. Canby's correspondence details the formation of the society as well as its general operations.

Other correspondents of note in this series include Léonie Adams, Hermann Broch, James Branch Cabell, Willa Cather, Jerome Davis, Bernard Faÿ, Dorothy Fisher Canfield, Dudley Fitts, Kimball Flaccus, Alyse Gregory, Ernest Hemingway, Edward M. House, Aldous Huxley, Sinclair Lewis, Vachel Lindsay, H. L. Mencken, Christopher Morley, Constance Rourke, Llewelyn Powys, Edith Sitwell, H. M. Tomlinson, H. G. Wells, and Thornton Wilder.

Series II, Family Correspondence , contains correspondence between Henry Seidel Canby and members of his immediate family. These include his parents, Edward Tatnall and Ella Augusta Seidel Canby, (with the majority of the letters having been written by his mother), his sister, Marion (Kit) Canby, and his wife, Marion Ponsonby Canby (Lady). Most of the letters date from the period 1897-1918; there are a few additional letters from the years 1925-26, and several letters written by Canby from Australia in 1945. The series is arranged alphabetically by name of correspondent.

Much of the correspondence with his parents is from Canby's early years at Yale. Letters from his mother contain a predictable measure of family news, details of daily life, and parental advice. Canby's own letters describe life at Yale at the turn of the century, while a series of letters from his sister, Kit, describes her life as a student at Vassar College.

Canby's letters from his wife, Marion Ponsonby Canby, date primarily from March 1906-June 1907, the period just prior to their marriage. In them she discusses in detail plans for their upcoming wedding and news of mutual friends. A group of letters to his wife from 1918 chronicles his wartime visit to England. Others, written to Marion in 1945, record Canby's lecture tour in Australia under the auspices of the United States Office of War Information.

Series III, Writings , consists of typescripts, notes, research materials, proofs, royalty statements and other related material for works by Henry Seidel Canby and others. The series is divided into Books (arranged alphabetically by title); Shorter Works (arranged by literary genre); and Writings by Others (arranged alphabetically by author).

Although a number of Canby's books are represented in the series, there are actual drafts for only a few. Alma Mater, American Memoir, Anthony and Cleopatra, Family History, Memoir of a Writer Between Two Wars, Our House, Thoreau: a Biography, Turn West Turn East: Mark Twain and Henry James, and Walt Whitman: An American are represented by typescripts, proofs, and reviews. Others, including Better Writing, English Composition in Theory and Practice, and The Short Story in English, are represented only by reviews.

The Shorter Works section contains drafts and final versions of Canby's Articles, Essays, and Speeches as well as Book Reviews and Letters to the Editor. Among his articles and speeches one finds a typescript of "Friends (Quakers) in Prison Reform," three articles on William Congreve, "The Most Unforgettable Character I've Met" (an article done for the Reader's Digest), and four drafts of "Seeing America Last." There is also a draft of a speech Canby delivered in England in 1918 before an Anglo-Saxon Fellowship Meeting at Westminster. The Book Reviews section includes those he did of Connecticut Yankee: An Autobiography, by Wilbur L. Cross, Cross Creek, by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings and Saint Joan, by George Bernard Shaw. Letters to the Editor consist of holograph and typescript drafts and printed versions of letters, most of which were written between 1910 and 1918. In these, Canby comments on a range of topics, including education, culture, language and the First World War.

Writings of Others includes a corrected typescript of Western Star, by Stephen Vincent Benét, "The Tune," a holograph by Edmund Blunden, a group of poems by Canby's brother-in-law, Lee Wilson Dodd, and poetry by Canby's wife, Marion Ponsonby Canby.

Series IV, Lecture Notes and Related Course Materials , contains holograph notes used by Canby in his classroom lectures, arranged alphabetically by subject. There are files on Joseph Addison, Robert Browning, Homer, Christopher Marlowe, and William Makepeace Thackerary, among others, as well as lectures on several Shakespeare plays, including Othello and Winter's Tale. In addition there are notes relating to courses in Freshman English and the Short Story in English.

Series V, Personal Papers , is divided into four subseries: Diaries, Other Papers, Subject/Interest Files, and Photographs. The diaries span the years 1893-1950; there are, however, gaps in the coverage and several undated volumes are filed at the end of the run. The Other Papers section includes financial records, Canby's obituary, papers concerning Canby's service in World War I, and various degrees and honors.

The Subject/Interest Files contain clippings and printed material on a range of topics, including information about the Quakers, and the obituaries of William Rose Benét and O. Henry. The Photographs consist chiefly of pictures of Canby taken throughout his life, including childhood pictures and several shots of Canby with professional associates.

Oversize contains material from Series III and V. It includes oversize articles, advertisements, degrees, and photographs.

The Restricted Fragile Papers in Box 40 consist of originals for which preservation photocopies have been made.


  • 1825 - 1960


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Box 40: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.

Conditions Governing Use

The Henry Seidel Canby Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The collection came to Yale between 1939 and 1964, first as gifts from Henry Seidel Canby, and after his death, as gifts from his wife, Marion Ponsonby Canby, and his son, Courtlandt Canby.


17.5 Linear Feet (41 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The Henry Seidel Canby Papers document many aspects of Canby's personal life and professional activities as a writer, editor, and educator. The collection includes correspondence, manuscripts, lecture notes and other course materials. Canby corresponded with educators, literary critics,publishers, writers and other public figures. Correspondents include Sherwood Anderson, Mary Hunter Austin, Stephen Vincent Benét, Robert Seymour Bridges, Willa Cather, Jerome Davis, Walter De La Mare, Bernard De Voto, Lee Wilson Dodd, T. S. Eliot, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, George Frisbee, Ernest Gruening, Ezra Pound, H. M. Tomlinson, and Louis Untermeyer. Manuscripts include drafts of many of Canby's books, articles, essays and speeches.

Canby's affiliation with Yale University as a student and later as a faculty member is documented by his correspondence and by lecture notes and related course materials. Canby's sister Kit attended Vassar College and the correspondence files include her letters written while she was a student in the 1890s.


Henry Seidel Canby, educator, literary critic and writer, was born in Wilmington, Delaware, on September 6, 1878, the son of Edward Tatnall and Ella Augusta Seidel Canby. He received his preparatory education at the Friends School in Wilmington, Delaware and entered Yale College in 1896. Canby graduated in 1899 with a Ph.B degree and a year later became an assistant in English at Yale's Sheffield Scientific School, where in 1903 he advanced to the rank of instructor. In 1905 Canby received his Ph.D from Yale University and was promoted to the position of assistant professor. Canby married Marion Ponsonby Gause ("Lady") in 1907; they had two sons, Edward Tatnall Canby and Courtlandt Canby.

During his early years at Yale, in addition to his teaching activities, Canby edited the Yale Review from 1911-1922 and served as an advisor in literary composition from 1916-1922. In that year, he was appointed lecturer in English with the rank of professor. His other teaching activities included appointments as a summer lecturer in English at Dartmouth College (1910-1911) and at the University of California (1923). In 1918, while engaged in liaison work for the British Ministry of Information, Canby also lectured at Cambridge University. In 1945, Canby conducted a series of lectures at the University of Melbourne and other Australian universities under the auspices of the United States Office of War Information.

Canby's first book, The Short Story, was published in 1902. His second book, The Short Story in English (1909), soon became the standard text in the field. Canby also published several literary biographies and works of literary criticism, including Education by Violence (1919), The Age of Confidence (1934); Walt Whitman: An American (1943), American Memoir (1947), and Turn West, Turn East: Mark Twain and Henry James (1951). He collaborated with Robert Spiller and others on The Literary History of the United States (1948).

In 1920, Canby founded The Literary Review, a critical literary supplement to The New York Post, which he also edited for a number of years. After The New York Post changed ownership in 1924, Canby and others established The Saturday Review of Literature. Canby was editor until 1936, when he was named chairman of the Board of Editors. He remained in this post until his retirement in 1958. In 1926, Canby became editor-in-chief for the newly formed Book-of-the-Month Club, holding that position until 1954. He also was active in many professional literary associations, including the Modern Language Association of America, the Century Association and P. E. N.

Henry Seidel Canby, who maintained a lifelong residence in Killingworth, Connecticut, died in Ossining, New York, on April 5, 1961.

Processing Information

Additional changes were made to this finding aid in 2021 to make the description compatible with current systems.

Guide to the Henry Seidel Canby Papers
by T. Michael Womack and Tina Evans
April 1994
Description rules
Beinecke Manuscript Unit Archival Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

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