Leaves of an Hour

The Harris Collection: The Original Collectors

Albert Gorton Greene

The Harris Collection began in the mid nineteenth century as the work of one man, Albert Gorton Greene, 1802-1868, and Brown University class of 1820. Greene was a lawyer, a poet, a reviewer, and a judge in the Rhode Island court system. "He was one of the founders of the Providence Athanaeum and of the Rhode Island Historical Society." (1) In his day, he was perhaps best known for his poem "Old Grimes is Dead," first published in the Providence Gazette on January 16, 1822.

He began collecting American poetry and went about in a way very different from the manner in which literature was generally collected in his day. Instead of acquiring finely bound editions of the works of prominent poets, "to Greene, the most inconspicuous pamphlet was worth attention, and American poetry encompassed American translations, plays, songsters, and hymnbooks as well as native verse...He was the first collector to specialize in American poetry, and, indeed, in any branch of American literature." (2)

In his memoir of Greene, written in 1869, George Washington Green observed:

"[in his collection] you would find curious editions of psalms & hymns over which the hymnologist would have hung with rapture: There college & anniversary poems bore dusty witness to the patience of literary societies in the olden time. There slept in oblivious tranquillity, [sic] scores of those unfelicitous verses which are still obtruded upon a thankless world by the 'request of friends.' The Conquest of Canaan stood there side by side with the Vision of Columbus & the Columbiad, rich in gilt & costly engravings cast its quarto shadow upon the humble duo- with a loving eye; for altho' ... the blind, the maimed & the halt were amongst the number, they had none the less a claim to a place in a complete collection." (3)

As an editor of the Literary Journal in 1833-34, "he acquired many review copies, which (unlike most editors) he kept. Eventually he became a well-known book-collector; and when, after his death, his books were sold (March 29, 1869), the sales catalogue stated: 'The special feature of his Library, and the one by which it was most widely known, is the department of American poetry, which is catalogued by itself. It is probably the largest collection existing of that department." (4)

Caleb Fiske Harris

Three-quarters of the American poetry offered for sale in that catalog was acquired by the Americanist and bibliographer Joseph Sabin, on behalf of the collector Caleb Fiske Harris. Harris, 1818-1881, a member of the Brown class of 1838, was a native Rhode Islander who had made his living for many years as a New York businessman. Harris collected extensively, and broadly. He acquired materials in English literature, Americana relating to slavery and the Civil War (this collection is now at the Providence Public Library), and American poetry and plays. "Harris began to specialize in American poetry about 1860, three years after his return to Providence. There is no letter or printed account to indicate that he was influenced by his distant cousin, Albert Gorton Greene, but it may be more than coincidental that the two collectors were related, attended the same university, and lived in the same city." (5)

"The crucial event in Harris's collecting career was the dispersal of the library of Albert Gorton Greene...Of about 1,850 lots of poetry Harris bought nearly 1,350...At a cost of about $750 Harris added over 1,600 titles to his collection." (6) The purchase included only a few rarities; "the greater virtue of Harris's purchases was bulk: quantities of early small-town imprints, ephemera, and minor rarities of the kind that will always go unrecognized. He added hundreds of songsters, many of them lotted up by the dozen, hundreds of plays, and - again in a single lot - over 1,500 slip ballads (which are small, nineteenth century broadside editions of the lyrics to popular songs). (7) Harris was also interested in acquiring the great American literary rarities, and with the help of the book dealers Joseph Sabin and Bernard Quaritch he began to do so.

In March of 1875, Harris issued his Index to American Poetry and Plays in the Collection of C. Fiske Harris. He sent copies to a number of librarians, scholars, collectors, and poets, asking for "information 'relating to the authors, or to their several publications, or that may in any wise contribute toward the completeness of such a compilation' Most of the recipients and reviewers were startled to learn that over 4,000 volumes of poetry, plays, and songs had been written by Americans. William Cullen Bryant's reply, though a bit unkind was typical: 'Your work...has amazed me by showing me what multitudes of persons on our side of the Atlantic have wasted their time in writing verses in our language.' But few of Harris's contemporaries were competent to see that he had made one of the most significant achievements in American book collecting." (9) Harris continued collecting for the remainder of his life, acquiring materials at the Brinley sales of 1879-1881, and acquiring by trade "with John Russell Bartlett from the John Carter Brown Library...Marc Lescarbot's Les Muses de la Nouvelle France, 1609, which contains the first play to be written and performed north of the Rio Grande." (10)
Harris and his wife died in a canoeing accident while on vacation in Maine in 1881, and since he left no heirs, his collection came on the market and was dispersed. The American poetry was "sent to the shop of Sidney S. Rider of Providence, an eccentric bookseller whose ethics were inscrutable to his contemporaries" (11) in the words of Roger Stoddard, former Curator of the Harris Collection. Rider immediately sold Harris' copy of the "Bay Psalm Book to Mrs. John Carter Brown for the library of her late husband [and there it remains]. Then he let it be known that the remainder of the poetry could be purchased for $4,500." (12)

Henry Bowen Anthony

Henry Bowen Anthony, 1815-1884, a graduate of Brown in the class of 1833, was a cousin of Caleb Fiske Harris. Anthony had a distinguished career as a journalist and politician. He edited the Providence Journal from 1838 through the 1840's; "he was in charge of the paper - the most influential journal in the state - in 1842 during the Dorr Rebellion...During that time of turbulence and disorder, the newspaper office became the center and rallying-point of the conservative interests of the state and its editor rose to a position of exceptional authority. To Anthony the paper owed not only its political power but very largely also its excellent literary style." (13) In 1849 Anthony was elected Governor of Rhode Island, serving for two terms (one-year terms, at that point in our history), and in 1858 he was elected to the United States Senate, serving until 1884, when he declined to serve on the grounds of ill health. (14)

Anthony had been a collector of Americana, and asked his friend John Russell Bartlett to act as his agent in the purchase of the Harris Collection from Sidney Rider. At the end of 1882, "the collection had been delivered to Anthony at a price of $4,000 or less. Thereupon ensued an argument between Rider and Anthony, for Bartlett and Anthony discovered that many of the titles listed in Harris's own copy of the Index, which contained his manuscript additions, were not present. A few, such as Mrs. Whitman's Poe volume, slipped away in the ... auction sales; some, such as the [Jupiter] Hammon [Winter Piece, Hartford, 1782], accompanied the Rebellion collection to the Providence Public Library; but there has never been a satisfactory explanation of the disappearance of most of the missing books." (15)

Anthony died in 1884, and bequeathed the collection to Brown University. His will states:

"I give to the Library of Brown University the collection of American poetry which I have recently bought of the estate of my late cousin, Caleb F. Harris, and which, I am told, is the best collection extant. I request that it be kept together, and that over the alcove in which it is placed, there be an inscription in Latin by Professor Lincoln: 'The Harris Collection of American Poetry; commenced by Albert G. Greene, continued by Caleb Fiske Harris and Henry B. Anthony. By the latter presented to this Library.'"

The Library complied, and the Harris Room became the Library's first designated special collections and rare book room.

The Anthony Memorial

The Harris Collection has been kept together, but it has long since outgrown the "alcove"; the inscription, however, may still be seen over the fireplace in the Harris Room. John Russell Bartlett had been at work on a catalog of the collection, but when he fell ill, the Rev. John C. Stockbridge, a member of the Brown University library committee, continued the work. It was published as The Anthony Memorial in 1886. Unfortunately, as Roger Stoddard notes, "aside from general inaccuracy and the botching of titles beyond recognition, there was no cross-indexing, catch words were chosen in the most inconsistent manner, and, inconceivable as it may seem, one fifth of the Harris books that had come to Brown did not even appear in the catalogue...Even the enthusiastic Walt Whitman writing for The Critic referred to the catalogue 'such as it is.'" (16)

Whitman, like Bryant before him, professed amazement at the quantity of poetry that had been collected: "There have been collected in a cluster nearly five thousand big and little American poems - all that diligent and long continued research could lay hands on!...that there should be a good deal of wasteland and many sterile spots is doubtless an inherent necessity of the case - perhaps that the greater part of the rondure should be waste (at least until brought out, discovered.) Nature seems to sow countless seeds - makes incessant crude attempts - thankful to get now and then, even at rare and long intervals, something approximately good." (17)

Whitman's remarks are quite charitable, when one considers that the entry under his name in The Anthony Memorial listed at that date only three editions of Leaves of Grass, gave incorrect information for one of them and quoted Samuel Allibone's judgement that "public opinion says that any man in England who might issue such senseless trash as Walt Whitman's poems, would be considered a proper inmate for an asylum." (18)

The aims of the collectors who first built the Harris Collection were not always well understood at the time; it would not be until the turn of the century that collecting American literature on a broad scale - not simply collecting 17th and 18th century rarities, or finely printed editions of the "best poets" would be seen as anything other than an eccentricity. The Library was fortunate that these early collectors followed their own paths; had they not done so, we would have yet another collection of "high spots" - beautiful books, fascinating rarities, but would lack the great window on the development of American literature as a whole from its earliest days.

Samuel Coffin Eastman

The Library was fortunate, too, that shortly after the Harris Collection came to Brown University, Albert Gorton Greene's son-in-law, Samuel Coffin Eastman, 1837-1917, Brown class of 1857, "began his gifts, first of books, then of funds in memory of his father-in-law...which eventually amounted to $10,000, and finally, after his death, the Library, as residuary legatee, received over $60,000," which has served as an endowment for the Collection since that time.

The early collectors gave the Library not only a remarkable collection; their collecting patterns set the stage for the energetic and wide-ranging collecting in literature and popular culture that was to characterize the next hundred twenty-five years.


*Greene, Albert Gorton. Photograph.
Brown University Archives

*Buckley's Ethiopian melodies : published under the authority of James Buckley and Sons, proprietors and managers of Buckley's New Orleans Serenaders, containing the genuine Buckley's songs, as sung at their Opera House, 539 Broadway, New York. New York : P.J. Cozans, [c1853]
Harris Index no. 3206.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays

Harris, Caleb Fiske. Photograph
Brown University Archives

*Harris, Caleb Fiske. Index to American poetry and plays in the collection of C. Fiske Harris. Providence : Printed for private distribution, 1874 ([Providence] : Hammond, Angell & Co., printers).
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays

Anthony, Henry Bowen. Photograph
Brown University Archives

Brown University. Library. The Anthony memorial : a catalogue of the Harris Collection of American Poetry : with biographical and bibliographical notes by John C. Stockbridge. Providence : [s.n.], 1886.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays

*Whitman, Walt. Five thousand poems : essay, 1887, New York. AMsS. 3 numbered leaves. This essay was prompted by the Catalogue of the Harris Collection of American poetry, presented to Brown University by the Honorable Henry B. Anthony. First published in The Critic, April 16, 1887.
Manuscripts Collection

Eastman, Samuel Coffin. Photograph
Brown University Archives

Titles from the Collections:

*Greene, Albert Gorton. Old Grimes, by Albert G. Greene. Illustrated by Augustus Hoppin. Providence, S.S. Rider & Brother, 1867.
Bookplate of Henry B. Anthony
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*The Literary journal, and weekly register of science and the arts. Edited by Albert G. Greene. Providence, R.I. : Joseph Knowles and Co., [1833-34]
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*Dwight, Timothy. The conquest of Canaan; a poem in eleven books. By Timothy Dwight. Hartford: Printed by Elisha Babcock, 1785.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*Barlow, Joel. The vision of Columbus; a poem in nine books. By Joel Barlow, esquire. Hartford: Printed by Hudson and Goodwin, for the author, 1787.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*Barlow, Joel. The Columbiad : a poem. Philadelphia : Printed by Fry and Kammerer for C. and A. Conrad, Philadelphia; Conrad, Lucas and Co., Baltimore, 1807.
Bookplate of John Allan.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*Bangs & Co. Catalogue of the private library of the late Hon. Albert G. Greene. : To be sold by auction, at the Sales Rooms of Bangs, Merwin & Co., 694 and 696 Broadway, New York, March 29, 1869, and succeeding days. New York : Bangs, Merwin & Co., auctioneers, 1869.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*Whitman Walt. "Five thousand poems." The Critic, April 18, 1887.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*Lescarbot, Marc. Les muses de la Nouvelle France. A Monseigneur le chancellier ... Paris, Jean Millot, 1609.
Bookplates of John Carter Brown and Henry Bown Anthony; note by John Russell Bartlett, documenting exchange between John Carter Brown and Caleb Fiske Harris.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*Carey, Mathew. The Plagi-scurriliad: a Hudibrastic poem : Dedicated to Colonel Eleazer Oswald. by Mathew Carey. Second edition. Philadelphia : Printed and sold by the author, 1786.
Bookplate of Henry B. Anthony. Harris Index no. 566
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
Guest, Moses. Poems on several occasions. : To which are annexed, Extracts from a journal kept by the author while he followed the sea, and during a journey from New-Brunswick, in New-Jersey, to Montreal and Quebec. Second edition. Cincinnati: : Looker & Reynolds, Printers, 1824.
Bookplate of Henry B. Anthony. Harris Index no. 1514.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*Tippecanoe song book : a collection of log cabin and patriotic melodies. Philadelphia : Marshall, Williams, and Butler, 1840.
Bookplate of Henry B. Anthony. Harris Index no. 3282.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*The masonic vocal manual. Compiled by Robert Macoy. New York : Clark, Austin & Smith, 1854.
Bookplate of Henry B. Anthony. Harris Index no. 3194.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*Christy's plantation melodies, no. 3. Published under the authority of Edwin P. Christy. Philadelphia ; New York, [etc.] : Fisher & Brother, c1853.
Harris Index no. 3220.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*The Virginia warbler : a new collection of patriotic, national, naval, martial, professional, convivial, humourous, pathetic, sentimental, old, and new songs. Richmond : J.W. Randolph & Co., 1845.
Bookplate of Henry B. Anthony. Harris Index no. 3192.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*Christy's plantation melodies : published under the authority of E.P. Christy. Philadelphia : Fisher & Bro., [1851?]
Harris Index no. 3218.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*The Jack Morgan songster. Compiled by a captain in Gen. Lee's army. Raleigh : Branson & Farrar, 1864.
Bookplates of Caleb Fiske Harris and Henry B. Anthony. Harris Index no. 3360.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays
*The stars and stripes songster : original patriotic songs and marching choruses, written to popular operatic airs and well-known melodies. New York : R.M. De Witt, [1861?]
Bookplate of Henry B. Anthony. Harris Index no. 3388.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays


1. Harry Lyman Koopman. "Literary Men of Brown." Brown alumni monthly. Providence, Brown University [etc.] 1906. Oct, 1906. 4to. pp. 49-51.

2. Albert Gorton Greene. "Brown Alumni Monthly, Vol. VII, No. 3, October, 1906, p. 49-51.

3. Roger E. Stoddard. "C. Fiske Harris, Collector of American Poetry and Plays." Separate from the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, Vol. 57, First quarter, 1963. Providence, R.I.:" Brown University Library, 1963, p. 3.

4. George Washington Greene. Life of Albert Gorton Greene. East Greenwich, R.I., 1869. Typescript from the original manuscript in the Albert Gorton Greene Memorial in the Library of Brown University.

5. S. Foster Damon. "The Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays." Books at Brown, Vol. II, No. 4, June, 1940.

6 - 13. Stoddard.

14. Dictionary of American Biography, vol. 1, p. 316-7.

15. DAB, vol. 1, p. 317

16. Stoddard, p. 17

17. Stoddard, p. 17-18

18.Walt Whitman. "Five thousand poems." Manuscript in Brown University Library.

19. John C. Stockbridge. The Anthony Memorial. A catalogue of the Harris Collection of American poetry with biographical and bibliographical notes. Providence: Providence Press Company, 1886, p. 310.

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

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

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