The History of Special Collections at Brown University

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Manning Hall 
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Table of Contents:

arrowIntroduction

arrowColonial Period

arrowLate 18th Century

 Early 19th Century 

arrow Mid-19th Century

arrowLate 19th Century

arrowTurn of the Century

arrowWW I & the 1920's

arrowThe 1930's & WW II

arrow1950 to 1970

arrowThe 1970's

arrowThe 1980's

arrowGallery of Images


The Early Nineteenth Century

At the turn of the 19th century, the College Library contained between 2,000 and 2,500 volumes, while Harvard, having the largest library in the country, possessed only 12,000 volumes. The pattern for acquiring books that evolved during President Manning's administration - appropriations by the Corporation, subscriptions, student library fees and gifts - continued to predominate throughout the century. The major exception to this pattern was the establishment, in 1831, of the library's first acquisitions endowment.

As Walter C. Bronson, Class of 1887, described this endowment in his arrowHistory of Brown University (Providence, 1914), the Corporation resolved "That immediate measures be taken to raise by subscription, the sum of twenty-five thousand dollars, to be appropriated to the purchase of books for the Library. The proposal was magnificent for no such sum had ever been raised by subscription in the interests of education in Rhode Island. But a new day was dawning. Nicholas Brown promptly subscribed $10,000; Thomas Poynton Ives and John Bowen gave $1,000 each. A total of $19,437.50 was raised and put at interest until it had grown to $25,000. It then was invested as a permanent fund, the income to be devoted to the purchase of books and apparatus." The Library Fund, 1840, as it has long been called, was Brown's first library endowment. It still continues to provide income for the purchase of books.

For the first three decades of the century, the library of Brown University - the name of the college was changed in 1804 in gratitude for a gift of $5,000 from Nicholas Brown - remained in the College Edifice. During these years, many of the library's most important books continued to be acquired by gift. Isaac Backus, a Brown trustee from 1765 to 1799, renowned as one of the nation's leading Baptist preachers and a prominent advocate of religious freedom, bequeathed most of his library in 1806. Among the rare books in this collection was a copy of Roger Williams's Bloody Tenent yet More Bloody (London, 1652) inscribed by the author and presented to Dr. John Clarke, one of the founders of Rhode Island.

A second important collection was received in 1818, a gift from the Rev. Thomas Carlile, Class of 1809, of Salem, Massachusetts. The gift, as described in Guild's History, consisted of 103 volumes, "mostly in quarto, comprising the best editions of the works of the celebrated French mathematicians, Euler [who was Swiss rather than French], Lacroix, Lagrange, Laplace, etc., besides many valuable theological works, including the famous Wilson Bible."

By far the largest gift to the library during this period was Richards Legacy. The Rev. William Richards, a native of North Wales living in Lynn, England, was a man of considerable learning, a devout Baptist and author of various political, historical and philological works. Responding to a letter from President Manning in 1790, the Rev. Richards wrote, "I rejoice exceedingly in the prospect which your letter exhibits of the growing greatness and the increasing felicity and prosperity of America. I have long been partial to your country, and at a very early period of my life was on the point of removing from Britain thither [but] The War deterred me." Richards then consoled Manning on the small  size of the College Library and added, "I have myself near fifteen hundred volumes, some of them of value." Over the years, Richards and the College maintained cordial relations, with the College conferring upon him the degrees of A.M. in 1793 and Doctor of Laws in 1818. By coincidence, on the very day that the latter degree was conferred, Richards had drawn up a will bequeathing his library to Brown. He died before learning of his honor.

The Richards Legacy, as this collection is known, is rich in 17th and 18th century travel narratives, law, religion and Americana. Its greatest strength lies in the hundreds of titles that support study of the history, antiquities and language of England and Wales. Exemplary titles from the Legacy are Bacon's arrowEssayes, or Counsels, Civil and Morall (London, 1632), Thomas Parnall's Topographical Description of... North America (London, 1776), Walter Raleigh's arrow History of the World (London, 1614), Milton's arrowEikonoklastes (London, 1649) and the first edition in English of his arrowDefence of the People of England (Amsterdam? 1692), Pope's Dunciad (Dublin, 1729), Donne's arrowBiathanatos (London, 1700), William Camden's Britannia (London, 1695) plus other important works by Locke, Hobbes, and Sidney.

When Francis Wayland became president of Brown in 1827, the library's quarters in University Hall were "crowded to excess, unsightly and wholly unsuited for the purpose to which of necessity [they] were devoted." Within the decade, Nicholas Brown, at his own expense, had Manning Hall erected to serve as a chapel and library. Manning Hall is an exact replica of the temple of Diana-Propylaea at Eleusis, except that it is precisely twice the size of its model. The first floor housed the library until 1878 when the Brown family provided land and funds for a separate library building. Although no special quarters were constructed for rare books in Manning Hall, the Laws of the Library provided ample safeguard. The regulations stated that "no person shall be allowed to enter the Library, unaccompanied by [the Librarian] or by his authorized agent." Further, books "which are valuable for their plates, or for their rarity or antiquity... shall not be lent; but may be freely consulted in the Library."

President Wayland, a leading American educational reformer who promoted higher education based on broad and extensive reading, was a great supporter of Brown's library. While raising money for the Library Fund, 1840, Wayland lamented that "our Colleges and Universities are known principally by the magnitude and number of their edifices" rather than by the strength of their curricula and libraries. He added that a university library could not "be collected in a single life-time. It must be the accumulated wisdom of past ages, added to the wisdom of our own. Such a library can only be procured by public munificence."

In addition to constructing a new building for the library and strengthening its capacity to buy books, Wayland also procured the services of Charles Coffin Jewett as Librarian. Jewett, Class of 1835, would go on to a distinguished career, first as Assistant Secretary and Librarian of the newly-established Smithsonian Institution and then as Superintendent of the Boston Public Library. His arrowNotices of Public Libraries in the United States of America, published by the Smithsonian in 1851, was the first major compilation of facts about American libraries.

While at Brown, Jewett compiled the first modern catalog of the holdings of any American library and greatly expanded the collections The 560 page catalog, published in 1843, was highly unusual for its time. It listed the library's 10,235 volumes alphabetically by author, gave biographical information on authors and bibliographical information on books, and contained a full, cross-referenced subject index. The Brown University Library catalog of 1843 became the model for other American library catalogs for years to come. Between 1842 and 1848, Jewett made many important purchases for the library. With funds provided by the Library Committee and "friends of the institution," in particular John Carter Brown, Jewett made several book-buying expeditions to Europe. In all, he acquired upward of 7,000 volumes in German, Italian, French and English, for the most part in the areas of history, art, literature and language. Among these were a set of the arrowMoniteur Universel (Paris, 1789 - 1826), Luigi Canina's arrowArchitettura Antica (Rome, 1834 - 1845), and the Museo Borbonico (Naples, 1844) which detailed the articles removed in recent excavations from Pompeii and Herculaneum. Jewett was particularly pleased to have bought at auction a copy of the arrowDescription de l'E'gypte (Paris, 1809 - 1828) in twenty six volumes and 500 plates; "one of the most magnificent and costly works ever published," according to his notes. 

Of all his purchases, Jewett was happiest with a collection of works by and about Shakespeare, which he described as "one of which any Library may well be proud." This collection, which cost 100 - the funds being provided by Moses Brown Ives - had been assembled over a 20 year period by Thomas Rodd, an eminent bookseller described by Jewett as "one of the most intelligent Booksellers, and probably the best Bibliographer in London." The collection, Jewett believed, was "almost perfect" and was "without doubt, by far the richest in this country, and perhaps the richest in the world" in works about Shakespeare. Some gaps in the collection were filled in 186o, when the University purchased - this time with funds provided by John Carter Brown - 150 volumes of Shakespeariana at the sale in New York of the collection of William E. Burton; all but 29 of the Burton volumes were editions of the complete works or single plays. The Brown Ives Shakespeare Collection remains an important resource for the study of early Shakespearean scholarship. 

Other important purchases of antiquarian books during Jewett's tenure included early editions of patristic literature bought in New York at the sale of the estate of the Rev. Matthias Bruen in 1847. The funds for this purchase were raised by public subscription through the efforts of several prominent Providence clergymen.

 Another major purchase was made possible by the Class of 1821 on the occasion of its 25th anniversary, the first of many instances when Brown classes have contributed generously to their library. The Class of 1821 gift made possible the purchase of over 500 volumes in history, literature and science, mostly from the library of the Hon. John Pickering of Boston. Among the rarest books purchased was the 1471 edition of Plutarch's Vitae, printed in Rome by Ulrich Han.

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Samuel A. Streit, Associate University Librarian for Special Collections
Excerpted from:  Special Collections at Brown University: A History and Guide
Providence, Rhode Island: The Friends of the Library of Brown University, 1988
Funding provided by Daniel G. Siegel (Class of 1957), and the Twenty-First Century Fund

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