Saturday, August 23, 2014

Stephen H. Wakeman: American Literature Enthusiast

Stephen H. Wakeman

“If you can get that,” said Mr. Wakeman, “all right.  But remember that the collection is to be offered to no one but Mr. Morgan. . . “
          Surprises await even the most assiduous of biblio-readers.  I encountered this passage in George S. Hellman’s largely forgotten book, Lanes of Memory (1927), a collection of autobiographical essays.  Hellman (1878-1958) was a prolific writer and editor.  He was also a dealer and collector of rare autographs, manuscripts, books and art.   In the early 20th century, Hellman sold exceptional literary material to J. Pierpont Morgan and other prominent collectors.  His discursive essays rambled down many literary bypaths and gems of manuscript and book hunting surfaced irregularly.  None read better than his chapter on selling material to J. Pierpont Morgan.  It was Hellman who facilitated the sale of collector Stephen H. Wakeman’s exceptional gathering of American literary manuscripts to Morgan.  That episode, a portion of which is dangled above as a prelude, is reproduced in its entirety below.  Hellman’s account is an unusually candid insider’s view of a blockbuster transaction.  Hellman had an advantage in his retelling.  He originally supplied Wakeman much of the manuscript material including the famous Thoreau journals.