Category Archives: Letters

Proust and the Great War (Part 1)

Selected Letters at the University of Illinois

by François Proulx, Assistant Professor of French

See also Part 2 of the exhibition.

This online exhibition is part of The Great War: Experiences, Representations, Effects, a campus-wide initiative marking the centenary of World War I. (Read more about this exhibition)


At the outbreak of World War I in the summer of 1914, Marcel Proust (1871-1922) was experiencing professional success and private heartbreak. Swann’s Way, the first volume of his novel In Search of Lost Time, had appeared in November 1913, to largely positive reviews. Prestigious publishers who had previously turned down the novel now approached Proust to acquire the rights to its remaining volumes. Yet Proust found himself unable to work following the death of his driver Alfred Agostinelli, a man he “really loved” and “adored.” Meanwhile, the European powers were marching toward war.


Letter from Marcel Proust to Lionel Hauser, 2 August 1914


In a letter to his financial advisor Lionel Hauser written the night of August 2, 19141 – mere hours before Germany formally declared war on France – Proust foresees the atrocities to come:

Letter from Marcel Proust to Lionel Hauser, 2 August 1914 (excerpt 1)

In the terrible days we are going through, you have other things to do besides writing letters and bothering with my petty interests, which I assure you seem wholly unimportant when I think that millions of men are going to be massacred in a War of the Worlds comparable with that of Wells,2  because the Emperor of Austria thinks it advantageous to have an outlet onto the Black Sea.3

He fears that one of these victims will be his younger brother, the doctor Robert Proust, who was mobilized on August 2 along with over three million Frenchmen:

Letter from Marcel Proust to Lionel Hauser, 2 August 1914 (excerpt 2)

I have just seen off my brother who was leaving for Verdun at midnight. Alas he insisted on being posted to the actual border.

In closing, Proust reflects further on the impending war:

Letter from Marcel Proust to Lionel Hauser, 2 August 1914 (excerpt 3a)

I still hope, non-believer though I am, that some supreme miracle will prevent, at the last second, the launch of the omni-murdering machine.

Letter from Marcel Proust to Lionel Hauser, 2 August 1914 (excerpt 3)

But I wonder how a believer, a practicing Catholic like the Emperor Franz Joseph, convinced that after his impending death he will appear before his God, can face having to account to him for the millions of human lives whose sacrifice it was in his power to prevent.

With all my heart and very sadly yours

Marcel Proust

Robert Proust survived the war, and was decorated for his courage in caring for the wounded under enemy fire. Marcel Proust left for the coastal town of Cabourg in September 1914, but soon returned to Paris where he remained for the duration of the war, enduring air raids and seeing the city’s social and cultural life first halted, then transformed. Due to his ill health, he was exempted from military duties, but many of his friends enrolled and fought, some never to return.

The war provided Proust with an unforeseen opportunity to greatly expand his novel: the three volumes announced when Swann’s Way appeared in 1913 had grown to five when In the Shadow of Young Girls In Flower appeared in 1919. After Marcel’s death in 1922, Robert Proust oversaw the publication of posthumous volumes until 1927, bringing the total number of volumes to seven. The final volume, Time Regained, includes many scenes set during and after the war, which Proust could not have imagined when he first conceived the novel in 1908.


This online exhibition was designed in collaboration with graduate students enrolled in the seminar “French 574: Marcel Proust.” Students have selected and commented on the following letters:

October 1914: Proust to Reynaldo Hahn, and March 1915: Reynaldo Hahn to Proust (by Anne-Bénédicte Guillaud-Marlieu)

March 1915: Proust to Louis d’Albufera (by Nick Strole)

April 1915: Madeleine Lemaire to Proust, and February 1918: Jacques-Émile Blanche to Proust (by Malyoune Benoit)

May 1915: Proust to Madame d’Humières (by Paola Pruneddu)

July 1915: Proust to Robert de Montesquiou, and Robert de Montesquiou to Proust (by Peter Tarjanyi)

July 1918: Proust to Louis Brun (by Laura Furrer)


The Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Illinois houses over 1,100 letters to and from Marcel Proust, making it the largest collection of Proust’s letters in the world. This unique collection was built to support the remarkable work of Philip Kolb, who spent decades editing Proust’s vast correspondence. Today the collection continues to grow in collaboration with the Kolb-Proust Archive for Research: in 2013, sixteen new letters were acquired.


1. Marcel Proust, Lettres. Edited by Françoise Leriche. Paris: Plon, 2004. 696-698. The date of this letter was established by Philip Kolb.
2. The War of the Worlds (1897), a novel by H. G. Wells. The manuscript of this novel is part of the University of Illinois’s extensive archive of H. G. Wells papers.
3. Marcel Proust, Selected Letters. Volume III. Edited by Philip Kolb. Translated by Terence Kilmartin. 274-275. (Translation modified)


Filed under Letters, Marcel Proust, War

Victorian Scrapbooks Rediscovered

Here at The Rare Book & Manuscript Library, seemingly simple reference questions often turn into much deeper discoveries.That was the case when a patron enquired about our material concerning one Martin F. Tupper. If you aren’t familiar with Martin F. Tupper (1810-1889), then you probably didn’t live in the mid-19th century; if you did, you likely would have ranked him alongside Wordsworth and Tennyson as one of the most brilliant contemporary English poets. Tupper originally rose to fame on the strength of his third book, Proverbial Philosophy (1838), a collection of poetry expressed as quotable wisdom consisting of such gems as “a good book is the best of friends, the same to-day and for ever”(“Of Reading”) and “A wise man in a crowded street winneth his way with gentleness” (“Of Tolerance”).

One of Martin F. Tupper’s voluminous scrapbooks (v. 58). His monogram is visible on the cover.

He was a prolific writer, full of patriotism and religious fervor, and he was always ready with a choice verse for every occasion, such as his paean to the Crystal Palace in 1851 (“Hurrah for honest Industry ! hurrah for handy Skill !”). Part self-help guru and part religious revivalist, he might be considered the Victorian version of Mitch Albom, and he appealed immensely to middlebrow Victorian readers, who devoured his maxims. Alongside his poetry, Tupper also wrote novels and plays, as well as curious fare such as An Author’s Mind: The Book of Title-Pages (1841), sketching out fifty possible books that Tupper envisioned but lacked the time to write. By mid-century, however, Tupper’s star had begun to wane, as critics took him to task for his “empty vanities” and derided his “tea table literature.” By the 1860s, “Tupperism” and other variations on his name had become bywords for overwrought sentimentality and insipid moralization, and continued to be used critically for decades. Today, if Tupper is remembered at all, he is regarded only as an emblematic representation of Victorian culture and morality. What, then, does Tupper have to do with the University of Illinois?

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A Christmas Carol and Its Corresponding Collector

Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present, by Solomon Eytinge, junior, and engraved by A.V.S. Anthony.

Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present, by Solomon Eytinge, junior, and engraved by A.V.S. Anthony.

While updating the catalogue record for an 1869 edition of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, I came across a letter inside the front cover. Dated 3 April 1867, it was written from Andrew Varick Stout Anthony (1835-1906) to Alexander Farnum (1830-1884) regarding William James Linton (1812-1897), an English engraver who had recently immigrated to the United States. Farnum was a Providence, Rhode Island, book collector and engraving aficionado, whose library has been described as one of “extraordinary excellence, sumptuous character and superb condition.”

The illustrations in the book were drawn by Solomon Eytinge, junior (1833-1905), and engraved by A.V.S. Anthony himself. As a book collector ever aware of matters of provenance and association, no doubt Farnum, upon acquiring the volume and remembering his correspondence with Anthony, pasted the letter into the book so as to preserve this connection.

Anthony letter 1

Anthony letter 2

694 Broadway Room 11
N.Y.  April 3d 1867

A. Farnum Esq.

Dear Sir:

W.J. Linton, the eminent English engraver – in fact the best engraver of the past or present, is in New York now, and contemplates getting up a “History of Wood Engraving,” sketching its rise and progress, but giving the larger portions of his volume to modern engraving and Engravers.

I mentioned your collection of rare old engravings to him and he is very anxious to look over them.

Would it be agreeable to you to have him drop in upon you when on his way to Boston?

He is an accomplished gentleman and has some little reputation on the other side as Poet and Journalist, and probably knows more about engraving than any other living man.

I hope to go on to Boston with him, but should I fail to make my business suit, may I give him a note to you?

Very truly yours

A.V.S. Anthony.

In 1882, Linton’s A History of Wood-Engraving in America was published in Boston and London.

Upon Farnum’s death, his collection was auctioned off by George A. Leavitt & Co. from the 9th to the 11th of June 1884. The sale was held at their headquarters at Clinton Hall (formerly the Astor Opera House) on Astor Place in Manhattan, also home to the New York Mercantile Library. Interestingly, Astor Place is only a few blocks from the location on Broadway where Anthony had written to Farnum 17 years earlier. Something of the atmosphere of this auction is surely conveyed in Spanish painter Ignacio de León y Escosura’s canvas, “Auction Sale in Clinton Hall, New York, 1876.” The building was razed in 1890 and replaced by an 11-story construction also called Clinton Hall, which stands to this day.

The catalogue of the Farnum sale naturally spoke very highly of its offerings: “Of such a class are the lots in this catalogue that the compiler honestly believes that instead of the necessity of American bibliopolists […] going to Europe of purchase from the English booksellers with whom they deal, all would find it in their best interests this Summer to buy from the Farnum Library, in Clinton Hall – books which, although printed in this century, are daily becoming of greater rarity in the old country over the sea.”

The volume was given to the Library by Mrs. Charles B. Watkins (Lucile A. Booker), class of 1899, in 1938. TB

Update (29 March 2017) — Transcription corrected thanks to Nigel Tattersfield’s observation.



Filed under Charles Dickens, Engravings & Etchings, Letters, Provenance, TB

A Collection of Letters to Barnard Gregory

“Satire’s my weapon. I was born a critic and a satirist; and my nurse remarked that I hissed as soon as I saw light.”

In the vault of the Rare Book & Manuscript Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, we recently rediscovered a correspondence collection of the London actor and journalist Barnard Gregory (1796-1852). Gregory edited and owned The Satirist; or, Censor of The Times, a London weekly paper and scandal sheet which was first published in 1831 and ran until 1849. Gregory committed libel and frequently blackmailed the subjects of his publications by sending them manuscript copies of the scandals he intended to print and threatening to publish them if not paid by their maligned subjects.  As G.C. Boase so elegantly states, “The weak yielded and were plundered, the strong resisted and were libeled, when, owing to the uncertain state of the law and the expenses attending a trial, it was not easy to obtain any redress.” Gregory was involved in several court cases related to his nefarious practices and was imprisoned on several occasions during his lifetime. Gregory was also fascinated by the theater and performed as an amateur actor. His reputation as a scandal monger, however, made public performances a bit of a spectacle. Twice in his career as an actor, Gregory’s performances were disrupted by riotous mobs.

Many of the letters contained in the collection are anonymous praise and contributions of content from enthusiastic patrons of the paper. One fascinating element of this correspondence collection, and a potential source of research, is the glimpse into Victorian hypocrisy: a thirst for scandal, paired with a prudishness and obsessive fear of blemishing one’s reputation. Papers such as Gregory’s The Satirist found a captive audience, as did the penny dreadful serials with their gruesome tales of murder and villainy. The submissions to The Satirist, while generally not grisly, do tend toward the bawdy. In an undated letter, the correspondent Lynx asks Gregory to use his powers as an editor to publicly admonish an exhibitionist. Another submission, again undated, is a nuptial poem for Victoria and Albert, with a very explicit note written in another hand (perhaps Gregory’s?) in the top margin.


Many of the letters are also from readers asking Gregory to print corrections to previous publications, and these show very well the extent of Victorian prudery. One letter, dated February 26, 1833, from John Thompson, asks Gregory to clear his daughters’ reputations which were endangered by an article printed by The Satirist on incidents in Brighton stating that the Misses Thompsons “Frightened Byshe by each in turn asking him to dance” (The Satirist February 17, 1833). Thompson states that he enclosed £5 in the letter for the printing of a correction.


The correspondence collection also contains many wonderful examples of Victorian letter-writing culture, including wax seals, stamps, and cross-writing. These items are of interest both to scholars and to anyone curious about this period of history.

Some issues of The Satirist can be found at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library and it can be read online via the University of Illinois’ subscription to 19th Century UK Periodicals. For more information on Gregory, see G. C. Boase’s article in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. LK


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Letter Reveals Lord North’s Apprehension Over British Defeat at Trenton, 1777

***This post was previously posted at the RBML Discoveries from the Vault website***

On the night of Monday, February 10, 1777, Lord North the British prime minister sat at his desk at 10 Downing Street and wrote a quick note to his friend and chief intelligence official, William Eden. In addition to forwarding to Eden a letter intercepted by the spy John Vardill, North revealed his concern about the American victory at Trenton, New Jersey some six weeks earlier: I am sorry to tell you that I am more apprehensive than I was that there is some truth in the article of news concerning the engagement at Trenton.


North had reason to be concerned. Before Washington’s victory at Trenton in late December 1776, the fate of the American Revolution hung in doubt and the colonists’ morale had reached its lowest point. Forced to retreat from New York City through New Jersey, Washington found himself and his army encamped in Pennsylvania as the campaign season drew to a close for the winter. Thomas Paine, visiting Philadelphia, discovered the American cause to be in such a perilous state that he endeavored to revive it with a series of pamphlets. The first began: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sun-shine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country: but he that stands it now, deserves the thanks of man and woman.”

Washington believed that a victory at this nadir would go far in rousing the spirits of the troops and the American colonists in general. On the morning of December 26, 1776, Washington led his troops across the nearly-frozen Delaware River and through a snowstorm to seize some 900 Hessian mercenaries at Trenton. The Continental Army went on to defeat the British at Princeton a few days later. In the words of David McCullough, “[I]t was Trenton that meant the most, Trenton and the night crossing of the Delaware that were rightly seen as a great turning point. With the victory at Trenton came the realization that Americans had bested the enemy, bested the fearsome Hessians, the King’s detested hirelings, outsmarted them and outfought them, and so might well again.”

Indeed, Washington’s victory at Trenton boosted morale throughout the colonies and rekindled the drive that would lead to victory and American independence half a decade later. North’s apprehensions would prove to be well-founded.

Acquired by The Rare Book & Manuscript Library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in June 2008, Lord North’s letter documents the prime minister’s realization that perhaps the empire which he led could be humbled by defeat at the hands of the Americans. CDC

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Lost Letter from Leopold von Ranke Found!

***This post was previously posted at the RBML Discoveries from the Vault website***

The German historian Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886) is today often regarded as the founder of the science of history as a discipline involving the use of a wide range of documents in historical research. At one time, a very interesting letter from Ranke to his publisher, George Reimer, was displayed in the History Seminar room in the library here, but since 1960 it’s been believed to have been lost.

(see Guy Stanton Ford, “A Ranke Letter,” The Journal of Modern History, 32 [1960] pp. 142-144)

In the letter Ranke offers some suggestions for printing his first work, Geschichten der romanischen und germanischen Völker von 1494 bis 1535, 1. Bd. (Leipzig u. Berlin, 1824), including how to cite passages quoted in his work.

Recently, the letter was re–discovered in the collection of The Rare Book & Manuscript Library, a victim of a too-brief catalog entry. Now, fully cataloged, the letter makes its 21st–Century debut here, for all to see. BS

A full transcription in German and an English translation:


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