Who IS Francis Howard Williams?


Much of the Francis Howard Williams papers consists of correspondence and manuscripts from a literary critic and writer in the late nineteenth century. There is extensive correspondence ranging from 1880 to 1909 between Williams and the “who’s who” of the nineteenth century literary world. These letters contain dialogue concerning poems and texts that Williams both sent and received. The members of the literary world offer endless and excessive praise for each one of these texts and the editors and publishers included in the correspondence often sent notes confirming the inclusion of Williams’s work in their publications.

In addition to this, the Francis Howard Williams correspondence and manuscripts include countless first draft manuscripts of Williams’s own work, both published and private. Among these works are A Field of Corn, A Midnight Phantasy, A Wild Lecture, And he Never Knew?, AVE AMERICA An Ode, Biographia Literaria Americana, The Clock that Struck Thirteen, The Sea, The Tragic Touch, Two Roses, and The Wanderers. This list is just a small selection of the titled and untitled works. Williams’s manuscripts are riddled with notes and sketches, adding a distinct personality to the works. The inter-workings of Williams’s mind are preserved on the sheets. His writing is preserved here, be it a great success or utter failure. His work ranges from the published masterpieces listed above to works such as the untitled poem that begins,

“There once was a girl with a bang

Who looked cross eyed whenever she sang…”

It is safe to say that that one was never meant to be published.

Despite the bulk of the collection being fairly predictable for a literary critic and aspiring writer, this collection contains several oddities that come together to shed some light on Francis Howard Williams the man. Researchers will find several pages of science notes, a typed copy of Williams’s AVE AMERICA An Ode, in invitation to the Informals Club and a newspaper clipping concerning the Informals Club, an envelope with “Yellow Wing Club” written on it, a Crawford Shoe miniature notebook containing the history of Johannes Kelpius and sketched of the Kelpius Cave, a photograph of a tennis match and a photograph of a man near a hedge sent to Mrs. F. H. Williams by a photographer named D. Hinkle, a photograph possibly of Louisa May Alcott, and a copy of “Two Friends and the Inn” by Edwin N. Benson addressed to Francis Howard Williams and Harrison S. Morris. Upon looking at the diverse elements of this collection I found myself thinking ‘Why save all of these things? What is the significance of this stuff? How do these items all relate and tell the story of Francis Howard Williams?’

crawford picThe Crawford Shoe miniature journal was made by a company called Bouvé, Crawford & Co., a Boston based company with a branch in Philadelphia that advertised “the Crawford handmade shoe, made on five different shaped lasts and sold by us at $4.00, has more value in it than any shoe made for that price.” The notebook came free with any purchase from Bouvé, Crawford and Co. Inside the notebook are details of the story of Johannes Kelpius, a mystic Pietist from Transylvania who led a group of men to Philadelphia seeking religious haven before his predicted end of the world in 1694. Williams wrote his story and the titles of several of Kelpius’s hymns in the notebook and also sketched the “Kelpius Cave” in modern day Fairmount Park, the location of Kelpius and his men’s meditation. This sketch is dated to May 7, 1893 at 5pm, evidence that Williams himself had hiked to see the place. In the manuscripts portion of the collection are several texts written by Williams about Kelpius, John Kelpius, pietist, Kelpius Hymns, and Hymn 1.

HinklepicThese quirky bits obviously increase my interest in Williams and I find myself wondering if the photograph of a tennis match and one of a man near a hedge that were sent to Mrs. Francis Howard Williams might be Mr. Williams himself?

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