Skip to main content

Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis Papers

 Collection
Call Number: LWL MSS 20

Scope and Contents

The Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis Papers consists of correspondence, writings, financial records, and other papers documenting the personal and professional activities and interests of the American author, editor, and collector Wilmarth Lewis and his wife Annie Burr Lewis. At their home in Farmington, Connecticut, the Lewises created a world-renowned collection of eighteenth-century print, graphic, and manuscript material related to the English author, connoisseur, and collector Horace Walpole (1717-1797), and his circle. Most of Lewis's papers are related to his work on Walpole, his involvement with organizations including Yale University, the Thacher School, Historic Deerfield, and the National Portrait Gallery, and to the Lewises' social and intellectual lives in England, New England, and Washington, D.C.

Lewis’s correspondence files comprise over half of the papers. Like Horace Walpole, Lewis built a network of colleagues and friends over his lifetime, making connections based on his interests and travels. His network was begun when he enrolled at the Thacher School in Ojai, California, and expanded greatly when he moved on to Yale University in 1914. The friends he made at school stayed with him for life as borne out through the correspondence files: many of the over 2,000 names listed are notable figures in twentieth-century culture as leaders in the arts, education, literature, government, business, and medicine, and a good subset of those were classmates in New Haven. To hundreds of others Lewis wrote looking for information or Walpole material, or advice on a Walpole matter, and scholars wrote to him for the same purpose. He was loyal to many organizations, and the files document how he gave his time and expertise as a trustee and select committee member at his two schools, as well as to museums, libraries, and historical organizations stretching from Newport to Washington, and out to California.

As an author, Lewis was prolific. In addition to his autobiographies Collector's Progress (1951) and One Man's Education (1967), he turned out dozens of essays, chapters, and books on Horace Walpole over a forty-year period, while he was also overseeing the production of forty-six of the forty-eight volumes of the Yale Edition of Horace Walpole’s Correspondence (1937-1983). A popular speaker, he regularly gave academic, commencement, after-dinner, and library lectures; the files document well over one hundred presentations, many of which were published afterward. Lewis was awarded eleven honorary degrees between 1937 and 1972, from universities in the United States, Ireland, England, and Australia, in addition to several medals for service and accomplishments from American universities, clubs, and the Royal Society of Arts. His eight scrapbooks and folders of clippings cover well the publicity he garnered for his honors earned, appearances made, and publications issued between 1932 and 1978. The collection ends with documentation of Wilmarth and Annie Lewis’s homes in Farmington, Newport, and Washington, D.C., the guests who enjoyed their gracious hospitality, and the finances that underwrote their life and adventures together.

In a December 23, 1963, letter to his colleagues Julian P. Boyd and Catherine Drinker Bowen, serving with him on the National Portrait Gallery Commission, Lewis wrote, “Isn’t it delightful being Doorkeepers to Posterity?” The Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis Papers present evidence of a remarkable man, a doorkeeper who led a life of collecting books, manuscripts, art, information, honors, and friends in service to eighteenth-century scholarship and to his chosen communities.

Dates

  • 1800 - 1980
  • Majority of material found within 1926 - 1979

Creator

Language of Materials

In English.

Conditions Governing Access

This material is open for research.

Boxes 183-185: Restricted. For further information consult the director.

Boxes 343-355: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the director.

Conditions Governing Use

The Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis Papers is the physical property of the Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the W. S. Lewis Librarian/Executive Director.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Bequest of Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis (Yale 1918), 1979.

Arrangement

Organized into seven series: I. Correspondence, 1901-1979. II. Service and Affiliations, 1931-1979. III. Writings, 1915-1980. IV. Personal Papers, 1800-1980. V. Subject Files, 1903-1979. VI. Real Estate Records, 1926-1980. VII. Financial Records, 1926-1980.

Related Materials

Associated material: Annie Burr Lewis Papers (LWL MSS 21), The Lewis Walpole Library.

Associated material: Annie Burr Lewis and Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis Photographs (LWL MSS 22), The Lewis Walpole Library.

Associated material: Yale Edition of Horace Walpole's Correspondence Editorial Project Records (LWL MSS 23), The Lewis Walpole Library.

Extent

169.07 Linear Feet (355 boxes + 5 broadsides)

Catalog Record

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

Persistent URL

http://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/lwl.mss.020

Overview

The Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis Papers consists of correspondence, writings, financial records, and other papers documenting the personal and professional activities and interests of the American author, editor, and collector Wilmarth Lewis and his wife Annie Burr Lewis. At their home in Farmington, Connecticut, the Lewises created a world-renowned collection of eighteenth-century print, graphic, and manuscript material related to the English author, connoisseur, and collector Horace Walpole (1717-1797), and his circle. Lewis's papers are predominantly related to his work on Walpole, his involvement with organizations including Yale University, the Thacher School, Historic Deerfield, and the National Portrait Gallery, and the Lewises' social and intellectual lives in England, New England, and Washington, D.C.

Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis (1895-1979)

Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis was born in Alameda, California, on November 14, 1895, the son of Miranda Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis and Azro Nathaniel Lewis. He attended the Thacher School in Ojai, California, and Yale University (Class of 1918). He met Annie Burr Auchincloss (1902-1959) in Farmington, Connecticut, in 1923, and the couple were married in 1928. Together they spent three decades building a collection of books, prints, paintings, manuscripts, and decorative arts related to Horace Walpole, his circle, and his time, and formed a research library at their home in Farmington. Wilmarth Lewis, the author of two autobiographies—Collector's Progress (1951) and One Man's Education (1967)—died in Hartford on October 7, 1979; he left his home and collections to Yale University by bequest.

Annie Burr Lewis (1902-1959)

Annie Burr Auchincloss Lewis was born in Newport, Rhode Island, on July 22, 1902, the daughter of Emma Jennings Auchincloss and Hugh Dudley Auchincloss. She attended Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut, and married Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis (1895-1979) in New York in 1928. The Lewises resided in Farmington and at Hammersmith Farm in Newport. Annie Lewis died in Hartford, Connecticut, on May 9, 1959.

Separated Materials

Printed material found within the collection was removed for separate cataloging and can be accessed by searching the library's online catalog.

Processing Information

Prior to the Lewis Walpole Library's addition of climate-controlled collections storage in 2007, Wilmarth Lewis's papers were kept in several areas of his home in Farmington, though primarily in his library office and the secure “Muniment Room” that had been constructed in the basement of the Cowles House. Lewis always had secretarial help at home, but it is unclear who maintained his files during his lifetime, and what arranging or rearranging was done between 1980, when the University took possession of the Cowles House and Lewis's collections, and 1982.

During the summers of 1982-1984, students Cheryl Davis and Cheryl Paul organized the correspondence files by creating “general folders” and “individual folders.” The general folders (i.e., Aa-Az) preceded files titled by individual names; all wives were filed under their husbands’ names, and a card file was created to record each correspondent. In 1984, the Yale University Librarian placed an access restriction on the correspondence until twenty-five years after Lewis's death due to the number of his correspondents—and those who were subjects in the correspondence—still being alive. The files were opened for access in 2004.

In 2007 Lewis's correspondence files were moved from the Muniment Room to the Library's new collections storage area, leaving behind in the Muniment Room most of the material that comprises Series II through VII. In 2016-2018, as part of the Cowles House renovation project, all of Lewis's papers were processed by archivist Sandra Markham and summer assistants Michelle Sigiel, Canaan Suitt, Alex Sowinski, and Annie MacPherson. The work accomplished included listing and rehousing the correspondence, preservation photocopying, and checking the names of all individually foldered correspondents against the Library of Congress authorities database to normalize names according to current standards. In general, little reorganization of the files was done, but the latter step resulted in many people, business firms, and institutions being moved within the alphabetical order. As examples, the folder formerly titled “Cholmondeley, Lady” is now filed under “Sassoon, Sybil, 1894-1989,” the folder “Fleming, R. B.” is now “R. B. Fleming & Co.,” and “Chicago, University of” is now under “University of Chicago.” Often, Lewis or his assistants filed institutional correspondence under the name of a single staff member Lewis had written to or had formed a relationship with, and only a few of these files were moved. Again, for example, all letters from or to anyone at the University of San Francisco and its Gleeson Library Associates group were filed under “Monihan, William J.,” the school's rare book librarian; they are now under “University of San Francisco.”

Readers should think creatively when searching the correspondence files and remember that Wilmarth Lewis's personal and professional lives often ran in one stream. With just a few exceptions, his extensive files were not closely examined or read through comprehensively for chronological arrangement or for the purpose of being reorganized to meet current archival standards. In particular within the world of museums and libraries, the folders under names of directors, curators, and librarians likely hold corporate communications sent from wherever the writer was working at the time, meaning that one man's folder might have letterhead from two or three different institutions if he had changed jobs over the years: Julian P. Boyd's folders hold letters written from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Princeton University Library, and the Thomas Jefferson Papers Editorial Project. Conversely, correspondence with Yale University Library remains as it had been filed under Yale and under the personal names of librarians such as James Babb, Bernhard Knollenberg, and Herman (“Fritz”) Liebert, with whom Lewis built a relationship. In addition, there is extensive correspondence between Lewis and Yale, as well as the many other organizations with which he was closely affiliated, filed in Series II, so readers will need to consult both series.

Many of the personal letters in the collection dating from before Annie Lewis's death in 1959 were addressed to both of the Lewises, and there are often draft replies in the files written by Annie Lewis on the couple's behalf.
Title
Guide to the Wilmarth Sheldon Lewis Papers
Status
Completed
Author
by Lewis Walpole Library Staff
Date
2018
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the The Lewis Walpole Library Repository

Contact:
154 Main Street
P.O. Box 1408
Farmington CT 06034-1408 US
860-677-2140
860-677-6369 (Fax)

Opening Hours