> I spoke at the Governor Sprague mansion (http://www.cranstonhistoricalsociety.org/) today about the Harris collection. Here are the essentials of my talk about the collection:
In his maturity, Caleb Fiske Harris collected in three areas: the literature of England, American poetry and plays, and the literature of slavery and the Rebellion (that is, the Civil War). His English literature collection was dispersed at auction in 2,500 lots after his death. His second collection, on American poetry and plays, is considered his greatest collecting achievement. Those books went to Brown University, and has grown to the extent that it is now considered the greatest collection of American poetry and plays in the world, numbering over 250,000 volumes, and dating from 1609 to the present.
It is his third collection, however, about which I am speaking today. It began with an interest in the history of slavery, which was obviously the great topic of his age. No shy and retiring bibliophile, Harris was aggressive in his collecting, and demanded that his agents obey his instructions to the letter. Those instructions were specific, detailed, and assured. He knew what he wanted, and he knew what he wanted to pay for it. Harris was a collector of the kind that modern antiquarian book dealers sorely miss—when he collected a subject, he wanted everything.
In the course of collecting the history of slavery, he bought works on African races, slavery in the American colonies, anti-slavery societies, negro riots, pro-slavery and anti-slavery rhetoric, propaganda, and debate, works related to slavery and abolition in the British Empire, biographies and narratives of slaves, sermons for and against slavery, and fiction and poetry related to or based on American slavery. A natural extension of this collection was his interest in the Civil War, or as he termed it, the literature of the Rebellion. Harris collected the political and economic literature related to both subjects, purchasing hundreds of speeches, works on the constitution, states’ rights, John Brown and Dredd Scott, secession, the Emancipation Proclamation, Supreme Court decisions, privateering and blockade. He also collected official publications of both the Union and the Confederacy, as well as general histories of the war, battle and campaign narratives, regimental histories, official rolls, works on prison life, naval armament, military tactics, and poetry, fiction, and drama based upon it (in fact, I ran across a fun little book entitled ). Harris used agents in the south to collect confederate works, and abroad to gather foreign books an pamphlets on his subjects.