Leaves of an Hour

The Harris Collection: S. Foster Damon & Collecting

When Harry Lyman Koopman retired in 1930, S. Foster Damon was appointed Curator of the Harris Collection.

Damon "was born in Newton, Massachusetts, on February 12, 1893. In 1914 he graduated from Harvard, where he majored in music and was captain of the fencing team for two years. During the first World War, Damon worked in an airplane factory and gave bayonet instruction to student soldiers at Harvard. After the war he was an instructor in the English Department at Harvard and earned a master of arts degree in 1926. Two years earlier, his book, William Blake, His Philosophy and Symbols, had been published. . . Damon was to become one of the world’s leading authorities on Blake. . . He came to Brown in 1927, where he joined his cousin, Lindsay Todd Damon, in the English Department as assistant professer. He was promoted to associate professor in 1930, and professor in 1936." (1)

Damon "received an honorary Litt.D. degree from Brown in 1968, awarded with a citation which began:

'No citation can summarize adequately the variety of your accomplishments. Your pioneering book, published in 1924, is the foundation for all serious critical study of William Blake conducted since. Your work on Amy Lowell, Thomas Holley Chivers, James Joyce, and many other authors is distinguished. Poet, playwright, composer, pianist, choreographer, gourmet ? few men, even of the Renaissance, have shown your omnipresence in the creative arts, and your sensitivity to all of them.'" (2)

It is Damon's distinctive imprint, more than any other's, that characterizes the development of the Harris Collection in the twentieth century. The breadth of his interests was such that he was the ideal person to direct and develop so far-ranging a collection as Harris. Alvin H. Rosenfeld, writing in A Birthday Garland for S. Foster Damon, recalled:

"Damon's most illustrious work has been done on Blake, but his range has been enormous and has taken in much more. Joyce and Melville, Marie de France and Amy Lowell, Thomas Holley Chivers [as Bart St. Armand said, God only knows why], Punch and Judy, the History of Square Dancing, and Yankee Doodle - Damon has written definitively on all of these. There have been articles on alchemy and the occult, on genealogy and gastronomy, on Schoenberg and Stravinsky, on Scandinavian and Japanese literature, on popular music, Santa Claus, and the detective story. The author of major books on William Blake is also the author of an introduction to the Annisquam Village Cook Book, a Japanese Noh drama (his Kiri no Meijiyama), and a children's Christmas book (The Day after Christmas)." (3)

And Damon himself recognized the diversity of his interests and of his scholarly career:

"Academically I've always been sticking my neck out. I have worked on Blake, Amy Lowell, James Joyce, and many another who was then taboo in the colleges. . .Perhaps I should have concentrated my efforts on only two or three things. Who can say now? Everything has been so interesting - so many enchanting paths to follow. How could one turn one's back on any of them when one never knew to what they might lead?" (4)

In a sense, Foster Damon was writing not only about his own career, but about the philosophy that directed the Collection he had spent so much of his life building. It, too, is concerned not only with the writers who are fashionable today, but with those who have not and may never achieve fame; it, too, does not confine itself to a single, narrowly defined goal, but spreads itself out through the tangle of American literature, encompassing music, and drama, and poetry in all their forms.

Damon presided over the Collection when a long-standing defect in its holdings was definitively corrected: the acquisition of the Henry S. Saunders Collection of Walt Whitman. That collection, amassed by a Toronto "Whitmanite" consisted of 42 first editions of Whitman texts, 88 reprints, 92 translations, 111 biographies and critical works, 9 bound volumes of Whitman contributions to magazines, 61 bound volumes of articles about Whitman, containing 2,287 articles, 219 volumes of notes, clippings, and references to Whitman, called Whitmaniana, and over 1,100 other volumes of parodies, music, photographs, fiction, correspondence, association copies, and museum objects. Although the collection was extensive and extremely desirable, the Library experienced great difficulty in persuading the University to authorize the purchase.

Hyatt Waggoner described the episode in his article "The last stand of the Genteel Tradition":

"The Genteel Tradition [and its tendency to judge literary works on moral grounds] was still so strong among the gentlemen who were governing Brown during the late 1920's and early 1930's that it required a hard fight carried on for some four years by two librarians [Damon and Koopman] and several scholars who recognized Whitman;'s worth to persuade the Administration ...that Whitman was worth spending a little money to collect." (5) Finally, in February, 1931, largely owing to the persuasions of Foster Damon, and with funds provided by longtime library benefactor C. Webster Knight, the University did "what simple intelligent self-interest dictated:...it snap[ped] up the Saunders offer and congratulated itself on its luck." (6)

At about the same time, the one major gap in the Saunders Collections was filled: Saunders, and Brown University Library, had owned no copy of the first edition of Whitman's Leaves of Grass. The Library acquired Whitman's own personal desk copy of the 1855 first issue, which included tipped-in galley proofs of reviews of the book (anonymously written by Whitman) and a rare broadside printing of Ralph Waldo Emerson's letter on the publication of Leaves of Grass.

Damon's interest in music led to the great expansion of the Sheet Music Collection, now the fourth largest in the country, with over a half million items. Sheet Music began as a department of Harris, of interest for its musical settings of poetry and its theatrical music. Damon is most vividly remembered standing in the John Hay, sorting stacks of sheet music, separating the 19th century Afro-Americana from the twentieth-century Broadway show music, building collections of Confederate imprints or early American secular music, gathering the lovely colored lithographs of the 1840's and 1850's. Still to be found are numerous pieces of sheet music with notes attached, in Damon's unmistakable hand, calling attention to the fact that this piece is the first issued by a well-known publisher, or that another is the scarce first edition of a well-known title, or that this composer often published under that pseudonym.

In addition to building the Collection by clearing dusty attics and basements, Damon made four large and significant acquisitions. The American Antiquarian Society, in another "duplicate exchange program" sent the Library many thousands of titles post-dating 1876, the year at which the Society closes its collections of primary materials. The New York Public Library also sent Brown its duplicates, many of which are of theatrical music of the late 19th and 20th centuries. A third large collection was the orchestra library of CBS Boston radio station WEEI, consisting of several thousand band arrangements, dating from the late 19th century to the mid-1950s. Damon also persuaded F. Monroe Endicott to donate a collection of over 350 pieces of sheet music with lithographed covers, published by Endicott & Co., New York, between 1830 and 1850.

During Damon's time, other significant additions to the literary and popular culture holdings were made. Particularly noteworthy was "a gift from William Chauncey Langdon, received in 1957, of books, broadsides, pamphlets, posters and original manuscripts for historical pageants he had staged between 1908 and 1928. The Langdon Pageant Collection now comprises one of the largest resources for the study of pageant literature and memorabilia in the United States."(7)

The Library ventured decisively into collecting popular and genre fiction with the acquisition of the H. P. Lovecraft Collection.

"The papers of Howard Phillips Lovecraft were deposited in the library a few months after his death in 1937. This eccentric Providence author of fantasy and horror tales for the pulp magazines of the 1920's is now recognized as one of the seminal figures in the development of the science fiction genre. The present comprehensive collection includes more than 1,000 books and magazines, in 13 languages, containing material by or about Lovecraft plus over 2,000 original letters and manuscripts of his essays, fiction and poetry."(8)

In the late 1960s the Harris Collection, "supported by Richard Salomon, Class of 1932, and a group of donors gathered by Rabbi William Braude of Temple Beth-El in Providence, acquired over 1,000 works of Yiddish-American poetry and drama, along with 700 pieces of sheet music and 53 plays and operettas in manuscript from Menache Vaxer, a bookseller in New York. This single purchase provided the library with a collection of Yiddish literature and theatre that can be matched by few institutions."(9)

Damon's own papers and collections came to the Library at his death in 1972.

His "files were so vast and his interests so diverse that this legacy became four separate collections. The Damon Papers contain manuscripts and typescripts for articles, verse, plays, musical compositions, lectures plus his private diaries and correspondence with prominent literary figures of the 20th century. The Damon Collection of Occult and Visionary Literature reflects a fascination with alchemy, mysticism, symbolism and theosophy. These themes are echoed in the Damon Blake Collection of secondary sources and critical studies plus original and facsimile examples, especially those from the Trianon Press, of Blake's work. Finally, a series of American Tales of Imagination, featuring most of L. Frank Baum's Oz stories, completes this quartet of collections from the Damon bequest. To these should be added a copy of Royall Tyler's The Contrast (Philadelphia, 1790), the second play and first comedy written by an American, donated in Damon's memory by friends and colleagues." (10)

Meanwhile, acquisitions for the Harris Collection proceeded steadily. Individual purchases, solicited individual gifts, subscriptions, collecting plans and arrangements increased the holdings from the 60,000 in 1930 to, in 1972, 150,000. The introduction to the Dictionary Catalog of the Harris Collection, issued in thirteen volumes by G. K. Hall of Boston shortly after Damon's death, describes the variety of its holdings:

"There are Anthologies of Poetry, Plays and Songs; Gift Books and Annuals, which were the parlor-table books of the pre-Civil War era; Ballads; College Literary Magzines, many of which contain the earliest efforts of American poets; Folk Music; Hymnals with and without music which include many German-American imprints of the eighteenth century; Literary Magazines; Minstrels; Operas; Pageants; Phi Beta Kappa Poems; Plays; Psalm Books and Songsters" (11)


Woodcut of S. Foster Damon copyright © Ilse Nesbitt.
Used by permission of the artist.

*Damon, S. Foster. The history of square dancing. Barre, Mass., Barre gazette, 1957.
With a photograph of Damon and Brown Librarian Jeannette Black square dancing at (conjecture) Pembroke Field House.
Brown University Archives

*Whitmaniana. Compiled by Henry S. Saunders.
Selections from the vast compendium of notes, clippings, and letters related to Walt Whitman.
Henry S. Saunders Walt Whitman Collection
Manuscripts Division

Titles from the Collections:

*Damon, S. Foster. A Blake Dictionary. Typescript, with mss. corrections.
Manuscripts Division

Damon, S. Foster. Amy Lowell, a chronicle, with extracts from her correspondence by S. Foster Damon. Boston, New York, Houghton Mifflin co., 1935.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays

*Cummings, E. E. Collected poems [of] E.E. Cummings. New York, Harcourt, Brace [c1938]
Author's autographed presentation copy to S. Foster Damon.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*Eight Harvard poets, E. Estlin Cummings, S. Foster Damon, J. R. Dos Passos, Robert Hillyer, R. S. Mitchell, William A. Norris, Dudley Poore, Cuthbert Wright. New York, L. J. Gomme, 1917.
Autographed by S. Foster Damon and Robert Hillyer, with mss. notes and corrections in text.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*Whitman, Walt. Leaves of grass. Brooklyn, New York, 1855.
Whitman's "desk copy" of the first edition, first issue, with pasted-in galley proofs of reviews of Leaves of grass (written by Whitman!), and the broadside printing of Emerson's letter to Whitman on the publication of the volume.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*Series of old American songs, reproduced in facsimile from original or early editions in the Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays, Brown University. With brief annotations by S. Foster Damon, curator. Providence, R. I., Brown University Library, 1936
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*Tyler, Royall. The contrast, a comedy; in five acts: written by a Citizen of the United States; performed with applause at the theatres in New-York, Philadelphia, and Maryland; and published (under an assignment of the copy-right) by Thomas Wignell .. Philadelphia: From the press of Prichard & Hall, in Market Street, between Second and Front Streets, 1790.
Includes list of contributors to the acquisition, and a facsimile frontispiece plate made by Willman Spawn of Philadelphia.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays

*Brown University. Library. Dictionary catalog of the Harris collection of American poetry and plays. Brown University Library, Providence, Rhode Island. Boston, G. K. Hall, 1972
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays

*Styles in Santa Claus. Script for the December 14, 1954 television program An Evening on College Hill, in which Foster Damon discussed the Harris Collection's holdings of Clement Clarke Moore's The Night Before Christmas. With (as called for in the script) a photograph of Damon receiving a surprise visit from Santa Claus.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
Brown University Archives
*Moore, Clement Clarke. Twas the night before Christmas; a visit from St. Nicholas, by Clement C. Moore; with pictures by Jessie Willcox Smith. Boston, New York, Houghton Mifflin Company [c1912]
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*Cowley, Malcolm. Blue Juniata; collected poems. New York, Viking Press [1968]
Author's autographed presentation copy to S. F. Damon. Damon bequest.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
Des imagistes, an anthology. New York, A. and C. Boni, 1914.
S. Foster Damon's autographed copy, with mss. notes. Damon bequest.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*Ficke, Arthur Davison. Spectra, a book of poetic experiments, by Anne Knish and Emanuel Morgan [pseud.] New York, Mitchell Kennerley, 1916.
Bequest of S. Foster Damon, with his manuscript notes; Damon wrote some of the poems.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays

Smith, William Jay. The Spectra hoax. By William Jay Smith. 1st ed. Middletown, Conn. : Wesleyan University Press, c1961.
For [Library Business Manager] Ernie [Costa] from Foster [Damon]"; Damon and Cowley poems identified by marginal initials.
Starred Book Collection

*Lowell, Amy. Can Grande's castle. By Amy Lowell. New York : Macmillan, 1918.
Author's autographed presentation copy dated "June 1919" to S.F. Damon. Gift of S. Foster Damon.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*Wheelwright, John. Rock and shell : poems 1923-1933 / by John Wheelwright. Boston : Bruce Humphries, Inc., Publishers, c1933.
Author's presentation copy to S. Foster Damon, inscribed: "Thanks to Foster [Damon] Jack." Damon was married to Wheelwright's sister Louise.
Bequest of S. Foster Damon
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*Cabell, James Branch. The cream of the jest; a comedy of evasions, by James Branch Cabell, with an introd. by Harold Ward. New York, R. M. McBride, 1917.
Author's autographed letter to S. Foster Damon inserted; autograph of S. Foster Damon.
Starred Book Collection
*Langdon, William Chauncy. The pageant of Cape Cod. [1914]
Author's corrected typescript.
William Chauncey Langdon Collection of Pageants
Manuscripts Division

*Langdon, William Chauncy. The pageant of Cape Cod [by] William Chauncy Langdon, master of the pageant. On the banks of the Cape Cod canal near the village of Bourne, Massachusetts, August 15, 17, 18, 19, 1914. [Boston, Blanchard Printing Co., c1914]
Signed by the organizers of the pageant.
William Chauncey Langdon Collection of Pageants
Manuscripts Division

*Langdon, William Chauncy. The pageant of Cape Cod. [1914] Photograph album.
William Chauncey Langdon Collection of Pageants
Manuscripts Division


1. Encyclopedia Brunoniana Online

2. Encyclopedia Brunoniana Online

3. Alvin H. Rosenfeld, "A lot he knew." A Birthday Garland for S. Foster Damon. Tributes collected in honor of his seventy-fifth birthday, February 22, 1968. Edited by Alvin Hirsch Rosenfeld and Barton Levi St. Armand. Providence: Brown University, 1968, p. 9-10.

4. Barton Levi St. Armand. "Eulogy for S. Foster Damon, Delivered January 7, 1972, at Manning Chapel." Xerox of typescript, Brown University Archives.

5. Hyatt H. Waggoner. "The last stand of the Genteel Tradition; or, how Brown acquired the Saunders Whitman collection: a short story with several morals." Copyright 1967 Hyatt H. Waggoner. Used by permission of Veronica Johnson and Jane LoMonaco.

6. Waggoner, p. 4.

7. Special Collections at Brown University : a history and guide.[ Leslie T. Wendel, editor] Providence, R.I. : Friends of the Library of Brown University, 1988.

8. Special Collections at Brown University : a history and guide.

9. Special Collections at Brown University : a history and guide.

11. Dictionary Catalog of the Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1972. p. v.

Early Literary Collections:
The Williams Table & the 1973 Catalog
Early 19th Century Collections:
The 1826 Catalog
Mid 19th Century Collections:
Charles Coffin Jewett & the Catalogue of 1843
The Harris Collection:
The Original Collectors
The Harris Collection &
Late 19th Century Literary Collecting
The Harris Collection:
Harry Lyman Koopman
The Harris Collection:
S. Foster Damon
Contemporary Collecting:
Building on the Past
Leaves of an Hour

Last Updated: Friday, 06-Jul-2001 16:38:23 EDT.
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