Leaves of an Hour

Early Literary Collections: the Williams Table Collection and the 1793 Catalog

Literary collections, today held in great strength by Brown University Library and its Special Collections, were relatively late in appearing in the Library. Classical authors, to be sure, were represented, but holdings of literature from the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries were notably sparse. Librarian Henry Van Hoesen suggests several reasons for this apparent gap:

"One suggested explanation of these most obvious lacks is that, as [Brown's first President James] Manning said, the Library consisted of books 'such as our friends could best spare,' and that poetry, plays, novels, recent history and the economic and political questions of the day were not such as our friends could best spare. . . Another explanation is that, as in case of text books which the studens owned themselves, the reading material was readily available elsewhere. Firstly, there was the newspaper, the Providence Gazette..."

There was also the public library, the Providence Library Company, established in 1753, and including many titles not in Brown's Library. In addition there were the private collections of prominent citizens, many connected with the College, whose libraries were frequently made available to College students and faculty. A third reason may relate to the literary tastes of the times. Van Hoesen points to the presence in the early holdings of the Library of collections of sermons by "outstanding dissenters, non-conformists and Baptists."

"The importance of these famous sermon writers was more than doctrinal; for as religious topics were political, so the sermon was literary. The 17th century was 'the classic age of the English pulpit,' and sermons play a leading role in American literature in the 18th century. What we now call literature was more or less out of fashion.'Imagine. . . the literature of the early eighteenth century and all that went before to be regarded as pedantic and obsolete' (Stephen). As men ceased to accept their religion by royal decree, they carried thier free thinking also into poltics and into literature. As their sermons must be intelligible so, under the influence of sermons, the essay, 'Grub Street' journalism, the Spectator developed. Stephen describes the century not 'as its enemies used to say, of coarse utilitarian aims, of religious indifference and political corruption' but ' the century of sound common sense and growing toleration, and of steady social and industrial development.'"

" So it need surprise us little to find English literature left our of the curriculum and pretty much out of the Library. In prose, Bunyan and the Spectator - the preacher turned novelist and the wit turned sermonizer. In poetry, Milton, Thomson, Ossian, George Herbert, Abraham Cowley, the last two in their Latin poems only. Thomson and his Seasons, however, represent a novelty - te voice of the country heard in hymns as against the prose essay of the town 'wits'; and Ossian, together with a couple of books on mythology, illustrates the 18th century development of historical and antiquarian interests. We miss Defoe and have to count John Oldmixon our chief representative of 'Grub Street.' We miss Goldsmith, Johnson, Chesterfield, Walpole, Young's Night Thoughts. The age of 'Pope and Dryden' is represented by neither one (except Dryden's translations from Latin); and we had not recovered from the bad odor of the restoration drama enough to admit any English plays - not even Shakespeare. Plays in French, yes - a few, along with grammars and dictionaries, and presumably for the study of the language - and in the Classics, the plays of Sophocles and Euripides."

The 1793 Catalogue, listing 2173 volumes, indicates that many of the omissions noted by Van Hoesen had been repaired in the intervening twenty years. The1,400 volume acquisition President Manning and Chancellor Stephen Hopkins made with the "1784 Fund" included a good representation of English literature. There is a series of "The Beauties of..." Fielding, Goldsmith, Johnson, Milton, Pope, Shakespeare, and Swift. Also represented are Colley Cibber, Congreve, Dryden, John Gay, Sidney, DeFoe, among others.While literature at this date still represents only a small fraction of the holdings, the presence of poetry, novels, and plays - even Restoration plays - suggests that the groundwork is being laid for the major acquisitions of the next century.


The Williams Table. The College Library, stored by William Williams in Wrentham, Massachusetts during the American Revolution, returned to Providence in 1782. Shown here is Williams' library table, in which he playfully said the entire collection could be kept, and a part of the Williams Table Collection, as reconstructed by University Librarian Henry B. Van Hoesen in 1938.

*Bunyan, John. The works of that eminent servant of Christ, Mr. John Bunyan, minister of the gospel, and formerly pastor of a congregation at Bedford. With copper-plates, adapted to the Pilgrim's Progress, the Holy War, etc. 4th edition. Edinburgh, Printed by Sands, Murray, and Cochran. For W. Bisset, and D. Ogilvy, 1767-1768.
Williams Table Collection

Titles from the Collections:

*Brown University. Library. Catalogue of Books Belonging to the Library of Rhode-Island College. Providence: Printed by J. Carter, 1793.
Moses Brown's autographed copy.
Rare Book Collection.
Addison, Joseph. The miscellaneous works in verse and prose of the Right Honourable Joseph Addison, Esq.With some account of the life and writings of the author by Mr. Tickell. 4 volumes. London: Printed for J. and R. Tonson, 1765
John Hay Library
Macpherson, James. Fingal, an ancient epic poem, : in six books: together with several other poems, / composed by Ossian the son of Fingal. ; Translated from the Galic language, by James Macpherson. 2nd edition. London: : T. Becket and P.A. De Hondt, 1762
Williams Table Collection
Dillingham, William. Poemata varii argumenti, partim e Georgio Herberto latin¶ (utcunque) reddita, partim conscripta, a Wilh. Dillingham ... Adscitis etiam aliis aliorum.. Londini, prostant apud R. Royston, 1678
Williams Table Collection
Cowley, Abraham. Poemata latina: in Quibus Continentur Sex Libri Plantarum. 2nd ed. Londini: 1678.
Williams Table Collection
*Thomson, James. Works. London, 1773. Volumes 2-4.
Williams Table Collection
Beattie, James. Essays: on poetry and music, as they affect the mind; on laughter, and ludicrous composition; on the usefulness of classical learning. By James Beattie. 3rd ed. corr. London, Printed for E. and C. Dilly; and W. Creech, Edinburgh, 1779
Starred Book Collection
Fitch, Elijah. The beauties of religion. A poem. Addressed to youth. In five books. By Elijah Fitch. Providence: Printed by John Carter, 1789
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
Gay, John. Fables; with a life of the author and embellished with seventy plate. 2 vols. London : Printed for John Stockdale, Piccadilly, 1793.
Starred Book Collection
Sidney, Philip, Sir. The works of the Honourable Sr. Philip Sidney, Kt., in prose and verse : in three volumes : containing, I. The Countess of Pembroke's Arcadia.--II. The defense of poesy.---III. Astrophel and Stella.--IV. The remedy of love; sonnets, &c.--V. The Lady of May : a masque.--VI. The life of the author. 3 vols. 14th edition. London : Printed for E. Taylor, A. Bettesworth, E. Curll, W. Mears, and R. Gosling, 1725.
Starred Book Collection
Pratt, Mr. (Samuel Jackson). Emma Corbett. 5th ed. London: Printed for R. Baldwin, 1783.
Starred Book Collection
Denham, John. Poems and translations : with The sophy, a tragedy / written by the Honourable Sir John Denham, Knight of the Bath. 6th ed. London : Printed for Jacob Tonson, at Shakespear's Head, over-against Katharine-Street in the Strand, 1719
Starred Book Collection
Otway, Thomas. The works of Mr. Thomas Otway; : in three volumes. Consisting of his plays, poems, and letters. London: : Printed for C. Hitch and L. Hawes, D. Browne, H. Lintot, J. and R. Tonson, J. Hodges, C. Bathurst, J. Brindley, C. Corbet, T. Waller, A. Strahan, and T. Longman., MDCCLVII. [1757]
Starred Book Collection
Le Bossu, Rene. Monsieur Bossu's Treatise of the epick poem: containing many curious reflexions, very useful and necessary for the right understanding and judging of the excellencies of Homer and Virgil. Done into English from the French, with a new original preface upon the same subject, by W.J. To which are added, an Essay upon satyr, by Monsieur D'Acier; and a Treatise upon pastorals, by Monsieur Fontanelle. London, Printed for Tho. Bennet at the Half-moon in St. Paul's churchyard, 1695
Starred Book Collection
The Spectator. London, Printed for J. and R. Tonson, and S. Draper, 1747. 8 v.
Williams Table Collection


Henry Bartlett Van Hoesen. Brown University Library. The Library of the College or University in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England in America. 1767-1782. Providence: Privately Printed, [1938]

Leslie Stephen. English Literature and Society in the Eighteenth Century. London: Duckworth and Company, [1931]

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: Thursday, 05-Jul-2001 15:53:01 EDT.
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