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Thomas Raynesford Lounsbury papers

Call Number: MS 1231

Scope and Contents

The Thomas R. Lounsbury Papers were given to the Yale University Library by his son Walter, beginning in 1928. For many years the collection was divided: almost all of the correspondence was housed in the Beinecke Library, while Manuscripts and Archives had most of the other materials. In 1982 the papers were brought together and reprocessed.

While not every one of Lounsbury's projects is documented here, his main areas of interest, scholarly, popular, and personal, are all represented. The collection is particularly rich on the subjects of the Civil War, the teaching and critical study of English literature in America, the spelling reform movement, and the early history of the Sheffield Scientific School. The papers range over the period 1829 - (1856-1915).

The Lounsbury Papers are arranged in four series:


Series I, CORRESPONDENCE, is arranged in a single alphabetical sequence. Most of the letters reflect Lounsbury's professional interests as a teacher and scholar, and as the author of numerous books and articles on English and American literature. His long career as a professor at the Sheffield Scientific School is highlighted in the letters of George Jarvis Brush and William Lyon Phelps. In addition, there are many brief notes from students requesting help or thanking Lounsbury for his assistance and concern. The correspondence of his female graduate students is of particular interest, especially the extensive letters of Frances L. Howland and Mary Augusta Scott; they reveal the difficulties faced by women academics at the turn of the century, and their wit and humor about these situations suggest that Lounsbury was sympathetic.

The purely scholarly correspondence is less extensive, and mostly concerns Lounsbury's interests as a medievalist and a student of English philology. The letters of James Hadley, Lounsbury's former teacher, are filled with advice and encouragement concerning this work. Edward Arber's letters are detailed descriptions of the difficulties involved in preparing hisEnglish Garnerseries, and requests for information and advice. The correspondence of Frederick J. Furnivall, Walter W. Skeat, Francis James Child, and Albert S. Cook deals with questions of Chauceriana, and Lounsbury's theories concerning the single author-ship ofThe Romance of the Rose,and his criticisms of his contemporaries' methods of editing scholarly texts.

On a more general level, there is ample evidence of Lounsbury's ability to draw both professional and amateur scholars into literary discussions. His most popular publications were a series of articles forThe Atlantic Monthlyon questions of English usage; and perhaps one-fifth of all the letters are discussions of usage, philology, and etymology, or requests for "an expert opinion" from appreciative readers of these and other writings. There are letters from Theodore Roosevelt, Sidney Lanier, and J. J. Jusserand on the interpretation and rhythm of Chaucer, from Edmund Gosse, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, and Roosevelt on Browning, and from Higginson on Cooper; from James Russell Lowell on etymology, and from William James on the movement for an international language. William Dean Howells appears, in his letters, as both editor and writer. Dorothy Canfield, later Dorothy (Canfield) Fisher, wrote to Lounsbury for advice on her dissertation. Other literary or personal correspondents of note include Andrew Carnegie, Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain), Hanns Oertel, Thomas Nelson Page, Richard Henry Savage, Edmund Clarence Stedman, William Howard Taft, Charles Dudley Warner, and Woodrow Wilson.

Lounsbury was a prolific author despite his poor eyesight, and there is correspondence from practically every major publishing house of the time. Most of it consists of royalty statements, suggestions for articles, and repeated requests for late material. The major exception is Henry Holt, who became a close friend of Lounsbury's, and whose letters are often discussions of literary questions from the "practical publisher's" viewpoint.

Lounsbury was a founding member of the Simplified Spelling Board. The largest single group of letters concerning spelling reform is the correspondence of Charles P.G.Scott, the secretary of the S.S.B. In addition, many of the letters of Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps the best-known supporter of the movement, and those of Henry Cabot Lodge, concern this topic; and there are many single letters in the collection discussing "rational spelling."

The remainder of the professional material is a good sample of nineteenth-century academic "junk mail": announcements of meetings, advertisements for books, requests for endorsements, and notices of scholarly societies.

Although many of Lounsbury's friends were educators and literary figures, the personal letters reflect many other aspects of the life of the period. Lounsbury's Civil War experiences are recorded in letters, apparently love letters, to two women, Jennie Dungan Folwell, whom he later married, and another sweetheart Jennie McNeil. (Since Lounsbury wrote to both Jennies during this period and used the same nicknames for both of them, it is often difficult to know which one he is addressing; consequently, some of the early letters to Jennie Folwell may be filed under Jennie McNeil, and vice versa.) Jennie Folwell's sister Adelaide, a close confidant of both Jennie and Thomas, was a semi-invalid who lived abroad for several years; her letters are lively accounts of the life of an American in Europe, particularly in Switzerland and Italy. Further material on European travel appears in the letters of Lounsbury's wife Jennie, and in those of his brother Henry, who also wrote of San Francisco. Other letters concern Republican politics; the most interesting are those of William Howard Taft, which analyze Democrats Bryan and Wilson, and discuss the approach of World War I. The correspondence of old friends from Ovid, N.Y.- particularly Charles and Laura Joy, and Charles D. Vail- extends over forty years. Finally, a letter from Anson Phelps Stokes to Mrs. Lounsbury describes Lounsbury's death, which occurred suddenly in Stokes' house - a circumstance which he "counted a privilege."

Series II, DIARIES AND PERSONAL PAPERS, contains diaries and miscellaneous volumes, legal and financial papers, memorabilia, and a few photographs and printed illustrations. The diaries range from 1856 to Lounsbury's death in 1915. In addition to routine diary entries, most of them contain addresses of friends, and Lounsbury's records of letters sent and received; a few also contain accounts, notes, or drafts. The contents of the miscellaneous volumes include commonplace jottings, copies of letters, notes, accounts, and records of books ordered by Lounsbury for the Sheffield Scientific School library.

Series III, WRITINGS, contains both manuscripts and typescripts. Wilbur L. Cross, who edited Lounsbury's unfinished work,The Life and Times of Tennyson from 1809 to 1850,described the professor's writing methods in the introduction to that volume:

While engaged upon this book, Professor Lounsbury's eyes, never very good, failed him for close and prolonged work. At best he could depend upon them for no more than two or three hours a day. Sometimes he could not depend upon them at all. That he might not subject them to undue strain, he acquired the habit of writing in the dark. Night after night, using a pencil on coarse paper, he would sketch a series of paragraphs for consideration in the morning. This was almost invariably his custom in later years. Needless to say, these rough drafts are difficult reading for an outsider. Though the lines could be kept reasonably straight, it was impossible for a man enveloped in darkness to dot an i or to cross a t. Moreover, many words were abbreviated, and numerous sentences were left half written out.

Lounsbury's manuscripts are, indeed, mostly pencilled drafts on deteriorating paper, difficult to decipher or even to identify. Many are written; on the backs of student papers. No attempt has been made to identify them all, or to match them with Lounsbury's published works. However, they have been separated according to type and subject matter, and arranged under the broad headingsFiction, Poetry, English Language, English Literature,andMiscellaneous. Many of the novels and stories in theFictionsection were written under the pseudonym "Henry Axtell."

Apparently none were published. ThePoetrywhich seems to have been written by Lounsbury, and not merely copied out by him, occupies a single folder.

The other sections in this series include popular as well as scholarly works, speeches as well as books and articles. Many of these materials were published in some form. Those grouped asEnglish Languageconcern etymology, particularly the Anglo-Saxon origins of English words; and the development of the language, with a special interest in "Americanisms"; and spelling, particularly the need for an easier system. Most of the writings classified asEnglish Literatureconcern individual writers and have been placed in a roughly chronological order, with separate folders for those few writers for whom there is a large amount of material. There are also a few subject headings in this section. Finally, theMiscellaneouswritings include papers and speeches on education, the Sheffield Scientific School, the Civil War, politics, and travel, as well as fragments which have not been identified. In addition, there are Lounsbury's presidential addresses to the Simplified Spelling Board, and a scrapbook containing clippings of published reviews and articles.

Series IV, NOTES AND PRINTED MATTER, is similar to Series III in type and arrangement. The sections areEnglish Language, English Literature, andMiscellaneous, and the materials include notebooks, of various sorts, scraps of paper, note cards, scrapbooks of newspaper clippings, and call slips documenting Lounsbury's research at the British Museum. Among the notes are an alphabetical file, kept by Lounsbury, on literary figures and subjects, and a collection of small slips of paper with witticisms and remarks, perhaps intended for use in speeches or writings. The printed matter includes publications of The Shelley Society and of various spelling reform organizations. In addition, the series contains samples of Lounsbury's examination questions, and his grades for a number of students (including Wallace Notestein, 1903 M.A.), and examination papers of Henry W. Farnam (1894 Sheffield) and Vance C. McCormick (1893 Sheffield). Lounsbury seems to have kept such old student essays and examination papers for use as scrap paper. Many of the writings in Series III are on the backs of similar sheets.


  • 1829-1915


Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Walter Lounsbury, 1928.


The collection is arranged in four series: I. Correspondence. II. Diaries and personal papers. III. Writings. IV. Notes and printed matter.


20 Linear Feet (51 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence, diaries, writings, research, notes, scrapbooks, and other materials documenting Lounsbury's personal life and professional career as an author and educator of English literature at Yale University. Correspondence with Yale colleagues, students, authors, and officials details his academic and literary interests, and activity in the areas of international language and simplified spelling. Personal materials include letters relating to Lounsbury's Civil War experiences and diaries containing brief entries from 1856-1915.

Biographical / Historical

Thomas R. Lounsbury was born in Ovid, New York on January 1, 1838. He graduated from Yale (B.A., 1859) and served in the Civil War (1862-1865). He taught in New York and returned to teach at Yale's Sheffield Scientific School in 1870. He served as professor of English (1871-1906) and librarian of the Sheffield Scientific School (1873-1896). Lounsbury also published several works on American and English literature. He died in New Haven, Connecticut on April 9, 1915.

Guide to the Thomas Raynesford Lounsbury Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Diane Ducharme and John Espy
February 1983
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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