San Marino, CA —The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens announced today that it has acquired the largest trove of writing by American novelist F. Marion Crawford (1854-1909) in existence. Crawford was admired in his day by Robert Louis Stevenson for his vivid portrayals of foreign lands and envied by Henry James for his ability to churn out bestsellers. He was a prolific author, publishing 44 novels and scores of short stories, essays, and plays. In addition, Crawford may be the first author to portray Sicily's mafia in an English-language novel, Corleone. The collection includes complete autograph manuscripts for seven novels and two plays, partial manuscripts for five works, and outlines and notes for several novels and essays.
The works were purchased recently at The Huntington’s 22nd annual Library Collectors’ Council meeting. The Council also purchased two large, rare, and detailed maps, created in 1900, that depict the foreign legation (or diplomatic) quarter in Beijing during China’s Boxer Rebellion. Among the first and most important maps ever created to illustrate the dramatic course of events during the siege of the Legation Quarter, they also offer invaluable clues about a fire at an adjacent library from which The Huntington’s single volume from the Yongle dadian, a rare 15th-century Chinese encyclopedia, was rescued.
In addition, The Huntington acquired a collection of 142 letters by Warren D. Chase (1827-1875), a white soldier in the Civil War who wrote vivid, candid, and often heart-rending accounts of his experiences in the Union Army, which included a stint in the newly organized 14th Colored Infantry Regiment. As a former Shaker—a religious sect that separated itself from the secular world—Chase provided an outsider’s perspective on the grim realities of African-American service and the war’s horrors.
Further treasures acquired include a prayer book with a black silk velvet cover and gleaming heraldic device (produced around 1590 for Gilbert and Mary Talbot, the 7th Earl and Countess of Shrewsbury) that includes Catholic prayers at a time when England was officially Protestant; and a single bound volume containing four rare first editions of books by Paracelsus (d. 1541), one of the most influential medical authors of the 16th century.
The Library Collectors’ Council is a group of 45 households that assist in the development of the collections by supporting the purchase of important works that the Library would not otherwise be able to afford.
“These new acquisitions will help researchers push out the boundaries of human knowledge in numerous directions—in the history of the Pacific Rim and the literature and history of 19th-century America, to name just a few,” said Sandra Brooke, Avery Director of the Library at The Huntington. “We are forever grateful to the Collectors’ Council for its generous support in helping us continue to build The Huntington’s dynamic library collections.”
Highlights of the newly purchased materials include:
Papers of F. Marion Crawford (1854-1909)
“In the early 20th century, it would have been unthinkable that F. Marion Crawford’s name would fade from public view,” said Karla Nielsen, curator of literary collections at The Huntington.
A hugely popular writer on both sides of the Atlantic, Crawford was born to expatriate parents in Italy, where he lived for most of his life.
He was a master storyteller in an astonishing array of modes: historical romances, tales of the strange and uncanny, society dramas. His horror and fantasy stories are still frequently anthologized. “The Upper Berth,” a maritime ghost story, is the most commonly reprinted, followed by the vampire tale “For the Blood is the Life,” which features a female vampire.
The Huntington’s newly acquired archive includes drafts of novels set in Gilded Age New York City; one of his histories of Rome, Ave Roma Immortalis; one of his longer supernatural novels, The Witch of Prague; and two unpublished plays, Marion Darche and By the Waters of Babylon. Also represented are manuscript drafts for two in a series of Italian historical romances, including Saracinesca (1887), which has been considered his most accomplished work. Another book in that series, Corleone, focuses on the maffeosos in Sicily.
“Academics working in book history and publishing studies will be interested in Crawford’s outlines and the markups in his manuscript drafts,” said Karla Nielsen, curator of literary collections at The Huntington. “They reveal an author deftly plotting his novels within market constraints, thinking about the word count and pacing limitations of serial publication.”