The major strength of the Speck Collection is its documentation of Goethe's literary reception in England and America in the nineteenth century. The literary manuscript component of the Collection, listed in detail in this finding aid, includes correspondence, documents, playscripts, and other writings. Among the better-known items to be mentioned in this connection are the full draft of Bayard Taylor's translation of Faust (folder 716), translations by George Borrow (folders 225-227), and John Greenleaf Whittier's manuscript for his translation of the poem "Erlkoenig" (folder 249). Translations, criticism, and correspondence about theater productions and the publication of Goethe's works, especially in Great Britain, include letters and manuscripts by such figures as Sarah Austin, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Margaret Fuller, Richard Graves, Anna Jameson, Charles Kean, and Edward George Bulwer-Lytton.
The manuscripts are arranged alphabetically by author or by title, if the author is unknown. Authors represented prominently include Goethe himself, Thomas Carlyle, Frank Claudy, the Faust collector Georg Ehrhardt, Walther Wolfgang von Goethe, August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben, University of Illinois professor Julius Goebel, Anna Jameson, Johann Caspar Lavater, Friedrich von Mueller, Henry Crabb Robinson, Friedrich Schiller, Carl Frederick Schreiber, Horatio Robinson Storer, Bayard Taylor, Marie (Hansen) Taylor, Karl August Ludwig Philipp Varnhagen von Ense, and Albert Wuensch. The Rilke manuscripts, chiefly letters to F. A. Huenich (folder 565) and Clotilde Sacharoff (folders 567-568), came into the collection by historical accident and are unrelated to Goethe.
Despite his persistence and the financial resources provided by Yale, Speck could not gather a large number of Goethe autographs, which were already in the great collections at Weimar and Frankfurt and in the Kippenberg Collection. The Speck Collection does, however, include some 25 letters and manuscripts in Goethe's hand, among them the poem "Den funfzehn englischen Freunden" (folder 254), sent in thanks to the group of British writers who, at the suggestion of Thomas Carlyle, had presented Goethe with a gold and enamel seal for his 81st birthday. Goethe's fair copy of the scene "Offene Gegend" from the second part of Faust is another treasure (folder 224). There are in addition many letters to Goethe, and letters from Goethe in secretarial hands. Among the other, related correspondence in the collection are many letters to Johann Peter Eckermann, including seven from Thomas Carlyle (folders 50-56).
The manuscript collection (both literary and music) is particularly strong in Faust-related materials, including two eighteenth-century Hoellenzwang manuscripts, bound, (folders 797-798) and a number of late nineteenth century handwritten copies of Faust puppet plays. There are also several manuscripts by the Swiss theologian Johann Kaspar Lavater, a branch of whose family migrated to Connecticut and became Yale benefactors.