The Brewer-Leigh Hunt Collection at the State University of Iowa

Frank S. Hanlin

From Keats-Shelley Journal, 8 (1959), 91-94.

In 1920, Mr. Luther A. Brewer, the founder and for many years the head of The Torch Press of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and a well-known bibliophile, became interested in the life and works of Leigh Hunt. The Leigh Hunt library of books and manuscripts which he gathered during the remaining thirteen years of his life is now the property of the State University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, and forms part of the collections of the University Library.

Mr. Brewer’s interest probably became focused upon Leigh Hunt because of his acquaintance with and love for the literature of early nineteenth-century England. Mr. Brewer himself wrote in an introductory essay to the first volume of his Leigh Hunt bibliography:

“To collect the books, letters, and other manuscripts of Leigh Hunt is a liberal education in the history of that golden age of English literature, the first half of the nineteenth century.” [1]

Fortunately, Mr. Brewer’s resolve to form a Leigh Hunt collection was made before the dispersal of the final portion of the great Buxton Forman collection and he was able to make an ambitious beginning by obtaining a respectable share of the Leigh Hunt treasures at this sale. [2]  It was fortunate, too, that at this time Mr. Brewer had few if any competitors, as his means were modest and he could scarcely have afforded to buy books or manuscripts by such writers as Byron, Shelley, Keats, Lamb, or any of the other literary giants of the time. But in Leigh Hunt he had one who knew them all–and intimately.

Continuing his collecting activities quietly for several years, Mr. Brewer at the same time studied his materials eagerly and became increasingly enthusiastic about the subject of his collection. As early as 1920, he
communicated the results of his studies and of his collecting activities to his friends and fellow collectors in a series of booklets privately printed at the Torch Press and distributed at Christmas time each year.

After the first few years of collecting, Mr. Brewer’s chief activities became centered around his rapidly growing collection. He organized it, added to it, and studied it in detail, reading and transcribing every letter, manuscript, or fragment. The last four years of his life were devoted chiefly to the compilation of the bibliography, My Leigh Hunt Library, which was planned in three volumes. The first volume, My Leigh Hunt Library: The First Editions, appeared in 1932. The second volume, My Leigh Hunt Library: The Holograph Letters, was published posthumously by the State University of Iowa. The third volume, My Leigh Hunt Library: Huntiana and Association Books, was actually in galleys at the time of Mr. Brewer’s death but unfortunately the galleys were destroyed by the printers who had assumed that plans for its publication had automatically been abandoned. The typescript of the volume is preserved, however, although no plans have been made for its publication.

After Mr. Brewer’s death in 1933 the Executor of his estate was authorized to sell the Leigh Hunt collection as a whole, exactly as it was left by its collector. The State University of Iowa purchased the collection from the Brewer Estate in 1934 for $20,000, part of which fund was supplied by an anonymous donor.

The year 1959, then, is not only the year in which the one-hundredth anniversary of the death of Leigh Hunt is commemorated, but it also marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the acquisition, by the State University of Iowa, of Mr. Brewer’s remarkable collection.

The Brewer-Leigh Hunt Collection, as it is officially titled, was nearly complete in first and subsequent editions of Hunt’s works at the time it was purchased by the University Library. And in addition to these, there are numerous presentation copies, other association copies, and variant issues. Leigh Hunt’s periodicals are virtually complete in the collection, often in several copies. His various contributions to journals and periodicals and to collections of one sort or another are present in large numbers.

Brewer was able to gather approximately seventy-five titles which had been owned by Leigh Hunt and additions have been made to this collection by the University Library whenever possible. The latest supplements to this portion of the collection are Hunt’s copies of The Tatler, The Adventurer, The World, and The Mirror, containing his marginalia. Hunt’s addiction to making marginal notes in his own books and, it must be admitted, in those of his friends, offers interesting insights into his life and thought. In one title alone, Napier’s Florentine History in six volumes, there are some three thousand evidences of Hunt’s pen.

The writings of Hunt’s friends are also amply represented in the collection, particularly those with which Hunt had some personal connection. Thus a copy of the very rare first edition of Shelley’s Cenci, dedicated to Leigh Hunt, is present, with a letter from Shelley to the Olliers laid in. Mr. Brewer obtained Dickens’ Bleak House in the original parts and in other early editions because of Dickens’ alleged caricature of Leigh Hunt in the character of Skimpole. And in addition there are in the collection six autograph letters from Charles Dickens to Leigh Hunt and two from Dickens to Thornton Hunt bearing upon the unfortunate incident which Mr. Brewer made the subject of his 1930 Christmas book, Leigh Hunt and Charles Dickens: the Skimpole Caricature.

Then there are many other volumes pertaining to or involving Hunt and his circle, such as biographies, critical works, collected works, and collected letters.

The manuscript materials in the collection probably offer to scholars the greatest resources on Leigh Hunt, his life, his writings, and his friends. Mr. Brewer collected Hunt’s manuscripts whenever it was possible to do so at the prices he could afford. And the University Library has continued to add to the manuscript collection as opportunity and means have become available.

There are now in the collection well over a hundred manuscripts of Leigh Hunt’s works. Among them are the following:

a. The Town. Two hundred and fifty-three quarto pages wholly in Hunt’s s autograph, comprising a large part of Volume One and a generous portion of Volume Two. In addition are ninety pages, mostly in Hunt’s
autograph, of notes evidently intended for The Town or Streets of London.

b. Autobiography of Leigh Hunt. Fifty-five folio pages of this work, entirely in Hunt’s autograph, including generous portions of the first three chapters and scattered parts of the remainder of the work, which differ substantially from the published text.

c. Religion of the Heart. Eighty-eight quarto pages in Hunt’s autograph, comprising all of the Preface and pages 1-28 of the 1853 edition.

d. Old Court Suburb. One hundred and eighty-two pages of the original manuscript.

e. Legend of Florence. One hundred and eight quarto pages of which seventy-seven are in Hunt’s hand and thirty-one are in another hand with Hunt’s corrections and alterations. This manuscript contains the dramatis personae, a goodly portion of the first part of the play and a few later passages.

In addition to the Hunt manuscripts, there are a number of manuscripts of friends and contemporaries, among them Thomas Carlyle, the Cowden CIarkes, Richard Henry Horne, the Shelleys, and Robert Southey.

The collection of autograph letters is voluminous. There are more than 650 from Hunt alone, written from the age of five years until shortly before his death.

The rest of the correspondence collection, comprising about 1000 additional letters, contains letters to and about Hunt and his family. Represented are autograph letters of Ainsworth, the Brownings, the Carlyles, the Cowden Clarkes, Cruikshank, Dickens, Godwin, Hallam, Haydon, Hogg, Horne, Lamb, Landor, James Russell Lowell, Macaulay, Vincent Novello, the Olliers, William Rossetti, Mary Shelley, Swinburne, and Thackeray, to name but a few.

The University library, upon purchasing the Brewer-Leigh Hunt Collection, assumed the responsibility for maintaining the collection in first-class condition. Special bookcases were purchased for the entire collection. Repairs are made and protective measures are taken when necessary.

The Library has also felt a responsibility towards the growth of the collection and has attempted to fill the lacunae existing among the Hunt publications in the collection as well as to purchase the critical and other apparatus necessary to the collection.

The library’s responsibility towards the scholarly use of the collection has always followed the lead of Mr. Brewer who, in addition to the publication of his own research, was most generous in welcoming scholars to use his manuscripts and books. Almost immediately upon obtaining Mr. Brewer’s collection, the University library assigned a cataloguer to the task of classifying and cataloguing each book and manuscript, including the autograph letters. A complete card catalogue of the collection is available in the Department of Special Collections of the library. Qualified scholars are welcome to use the collection for any period of time which they may require and inquiries by mail are also invited. Microfilm or photostatic copies of manuscripts and books are made at a nominal charge if it is possible to undertake the photographic process without causing any damage
or deterioration to the piece. [3]

The Brewer-Leigh Hunt collection is probably as nearly perfect as any collection can be. Its conception, early growth, and maturing under the sympathetic and closely attentive ministrations of one man would seem to provide the ideal conditions and preparation for its eventual lodgment in a great institutional library where it will be of inestimable use to scholars. It is probably owing to this collection that the importance of Leigh Hunt to the
literary lights of his age has been increasingly realized. One hundred years after his death there are still to be examined and explored many facets of Hunt and his relationship to the golden age in which he lived and wrote and to the vast circle of greater and lesser people who touched and were touched by him.

This note might be ended in no better way than by quoting A. Edward Newton: “There is Leigh Hunt…. How pleased he would be to think of himself as ‘collected.’” [4]

[1] Luther A., Brewer, My Leigh Hunt Library: The First Editions (Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 1932), p. xxxi.

[2] Anderson Galleries, New York, 4-7 Oct. 1920.

[3] {Ed. note, 2007}: The previous three sentences remain accurate in spirit — but photocopies and digital scans are now more frequently requested and supplied.

[4] A. Edward Newton, A Magnificent Farce (Boston, 1921), pp. 214-215.