MERRILL, James (1926-1995). An important archive of manuscript and printed material, consisting of approximately 240 items, 1942-1988, including revised typescripts for Merrill's trilogy The Changing Light at Sandover; manuscripts and typescripts from his early years as a student at Amherst; Merrill's fascinating correspondence to William Burford, his co-editor at Amherst of The Medusa; drawings; photographs; revised proofs; and a collection of first and limited editions, many presentation copies.
THE SUPERB JONATHAN GOODWIN ARCHIVE OF JAMES MERRILL
James Merrill's verse was honored with nearly every major literary award, including the Bollingen and Pulitzer Prizes. Until his death in 1995, Merrill achieved great notoriety as both a master of traditional forms and as an innovator, easily able to manipulate his verse and create elegant tensions between closed and open forms. With David Jackson, his long-time companion and partner, Merrill explored the possibilities of using the Ouija board to channel spiritual energies and unlock a new world of poetic transmission. From their first dalliances with the board in 1955 to their directed use of it later, Merrill--and some would argue Jackson as co-conspirator--produced one of the epic masterpieces of modern verse. Its three sections were originally issued as The Book of Ephraim (final section of Divine Comedies, 1976), Mirabell: Books of Number (1978) and Scripts for the Pageant (1980) and later were collected with a coda as The Changing Light at Sandover (1982). The Goodwin archive contains complete typescripts for each section, revised by Merrill using a combination of "cut-and-tape" technique and traditional manuscript revision. Almost without exception, the taped sections are loosely inserted, allowing the undertext to remain visible. The manuscripts then become palimpsests, layering version on version. Also of significance are the warm contemporary inscriptions in each to Merrill's Greek lover Manos Karastefanis.
Leading up to his greatest achievement, Merrill honed his craft as a young poet. While attending the prep school Lawrenceville from 1939-1943 Merrill was encouraged to write by fellow student Frederick Buechner. His early verses were published privately as a surprise by his father as Jim's Book (1942). The copy here was given by Merrill to the Lawrenceville infirmary. After graduating from Lawrenceville, Merrill attended Amherst College. His studies were interrupted from 1944 to 1945 by service in the U.S. Army, but on his return he delved further into his literary interests. The correspondence in the Goodwin archive to William Burford dates from this period and provides an exceptional look into the burgeoning mind of the young poet. Burford co-founded and -edited The Medusa, a literary journal that would publish a close group of friends (including Anaïs Nin). Only one issue was published, but the fascinating correspondence reveals the importance of the journal as a vehicle for Merrill's early development. Further materials spanning Merrill's career include revised proofs, many inscribed to David Jackson or, later, to Peter Hooten--Merrill's last companion.
MERRILL MATERIALS ARE EXTREMELY SCARCE ON THE MARKET: In 1964, Washington University in St. Louis chose Merrill as one of fifteen poets for inclusion in their Modern Library Collection. The library aggressively collected Merrill's work and currently holds the majority of his extant manuscripts. Merrill served as visiting professor at Washington University several times and he presented the bulk of his manuscripts to them throughout his career and encouraged family and friends to do the same. Their collection comprises over 40 boxes of material, including thousands of pages of worksheets, early notebooks, galley proofs and ephemera. While they have worksheets of all sections of Merrill's trilogy and a late draft of Books 0-6 of Mirabell (exhibiting similar editorial techniques), the Goodwin typescripts of the trilogy are among the finest original Merrill materials imaginable. Unstudied and unpublished, the archive is an immensely fertile trove for scholarly research. References to "H&B" are to Jack W.C. Hagstrom and George Bixby, "James Merrill: A Bibliographical Checklist," in American Book Collector, Vol.4, no.6, Nov/Dec 1983.
An outstanding group of revised typescripts for each section of Merrill's masterpiece, each inscribed to his Greek lover Manos Karastefanis. Merrill's poem about Karastefanis was first published in Divine Comedies, 1976. As with the typescript for a late draft of Mirabell held at Washington University, these are assembled by "cut-and-tape" technique, and bear numerous pencilled revisions by Merrill. As also with the Washington University version, these three typescripts were produced on a typewriter that could yield both roman and italic type, but all the ampersands have been added by Merrill in pencil.
The Book of Ephraim. N.d. [but first published in Divine Comedies, New York, 1976]. 61 pp., 4to, paper binder. Mimeograph typescript with pencilled revisions and taped sections by Merrill. Inscribed by Merrill in Greek: "For Manos on his birthday. The big finished product at the well-painted office! With love always, Jimmy. Athens 12.vi.1975." A complete version of the first section of Merrill's trilogy. The corrections were incorporated into the first appearance of the work, which was the final section of Merrill's collection Divine Comedies. A witty inscription, pointing to the fact that Karastefanis had recently painted Merrill's study. See H&B A30.
Mirabell: Books of Number. N.d. [but published New York, 1978]. 127 pp., 4to, black cloth binder. Typescript with a number of pencilled revisions and many taped sections by Merrill. Inscribed by Merrill in Greek: "A second tome for my Manoli. You gave me the inspiration and joy to write it. With love always, Jimmy. 12.vi.78." A complete typescript for the entire second book of Merrill's trilogy, with a number of significant revisions and insertions. Merrill has written his addresses in Stonington and Greece on the inside cover of the binder. See H&B A35.
Scripts for the Pageant. N.d. [but published New York, 1980]. 156 pp., 4to, black cloth binder. Typescript with numerous pencilled revisions and taped sections by Merrill. Inscribed by Merrill in Greek: "For Manos with love. This tome nearly finishes my trilogy. My work made easier every day thanks to your friendship. Jimmy. Athens. 12.vi.79. (Happy Birthday!)" A complete typescript for the entire third section of Merrill's trilogy, with many significant revisions and insertions, including an 11-line manuscript insertion at the opening. The first leaf is filled entirely with manuscript notes in pencil relating to structure and layout of the book, including a breakdown of the number of asterisks in the three sections. See H&B A37.
OTHER MANUSCRIPTS AND TYPESCRIPTS:
"The eye, no longer blithe..." N.d. [ca 1946]. 2 pp., oblong 4to. Typescript poem, 24 lines, with 35-line manuscript additions in pencil and ink. A very early poem, most likely dating from his Amherst days. Merrill has marked the meter next to several of the lines.
"A True Story." N.d. [ca 1946]. 1p., 4to. Typescript, with manuscript title at head and with postscripts. A story of Mexico, probably sent to William Burford. Merrill has written at the foot: "From 'Life in Picturesque Mexico.'"
"Short Stories." 1953-1954. 10pp., 4to. Typescript for the complete book used by the printer, with four small corrections possibly by Merrill. [With:] Short Stories. Pawlet, Vt.: The Banyan Press, 1954. 8vo. Original wrappers. FIRST EDITION, number 103 of 210 copies. H&B A5.
"A woman while I slept stood by my bed..." N.d. [but ca 1950s?]. 1 p., 4to. Typescript poem, 15 lines, with 4-line pencilled manuscript addition (possibly in another hand?) and several ink revisions and an ink sketch of a woman's face. Headed "V" at top, this is most likely the final section of a longer poem.
"A Preface to the Memoirs." N.d. [published in The Fire Screen, 1969]. 1p., 4to. Typescript signed ("James Merrill"). On heavy rag paper.
"The Kimono." 1974 [published in Divine Comedies, 1976]. 8vo, 18 lines. Autograph fair copy. Inscribed: "For Sandy [J.D. McClatchy] from James. Stonington 1.iv.74." Framed with a black-and-white photograph of Merrill.
"The Pier: Under Pisces." N.d. [printer's date 20 December 1979; published in Late Settings, 1985]. 2pp., 4to. Mimeographed typescript (printer's copy) signed with address at head and with printer's pencilled notes. Possibly the copy used by The New Yorker where the poem first appeared.
MERRILL'S CORRESPONDENCE TO WILLIAM BURFORD:
5 autograph letters signed, 16 typed letters signed (many with autograph postcripts, corrections and additions) and 12 autograph postcards signed ("J.," "Jim" and "James"), New Canaan, CT; New York, NY; Southampton, NY; Brownsville, TX; Oaxaca, Mexico; Norman, OK; Palm Beach, FL, 10 June 1946-12 September 1975. Together 36 pages, 12mo-folio, various paper stocks, 17 original envelopes; with three notes from Burford from the 1970s to various correspondents. With: a single-leaf typescript with manuscript corrections by Merrill of the Notes of Contributors from The Medusa. And with: two copies of The Medusa, 1946.
A very rich group of unpublished letters, the majority written during the summer break from Amherst in 1946. By the time of the earliest letter, Merrill had already published Jim's Book and would soon publish The Black Swan. The present series of letters to Burford, his co-editor at The Medusa, show the poet developing his creative skills, thinking critically about his and other people's writing. Many of the typed letters are densely written, single-spaced discussions of the production and printing of the journal, art, poetry, analyses of their work and family. Perhaps most remarkable are the personal revelations, written in an unguarded, probing and explorative style by a young poet breaking ground, both technically and personally.
The letter of 13 June 1946 provides remarkable personal detail: "I agree to a large extent with what you say about my mother and myself. Of course, I am terribly afraid of breaking with her, for many reasons, and if she is less afraid it is because she has a life of rich moral assurance behind her. It is of this assurance that I am most afraid, I think, of her mind, of her unimpeachable morality which she has somehow in her own thoughts projected around me. I simply can't write about it now, it angers me, involves me so. I am, however, at her suggestion going to an analyst this summer, which, the way I feel now, can be nothing but a relief. Perhaps it is foolish, but the situation is not exaggerated, and this seems to be the only way of introducing an authority more objective than hers or mine." The July 30th letter includes a 30-line typed poem, "The matriarch with eyes like arrowheads..." August 5: "It is not inconceivable that one day we shall find in ourselves that all the contradictions and desires and angers have through their quarreling created a way of life, a way of thought, an element as lucid, revealing as many wonders as we had always imagined existing outside ourselves. We will have created our own commonplace, and whether we drown from love of it like Narcissus or find that it is an atmosphere accessible to the entire world it will be the achievement, of all others, that is most perfect, personal and liberating. That (in case I die in a plane crash) is what I believe, what I honestly believe I believe; it explains, now, what I must do with my poem and with all poems." Other subjects include somewhat extensive discussions of Proust (a major influence) and Henry James. Throughout the letters are references to Anaïs Nin, whom they both knew as students at Amherst.
Autograph letter signed ("James Merrill"), to Mr. Cohen, Stonington, Ct., n.d. [ca 1960]. 1p., 8vo. A very interesting curriculum vitae: "I was born in New York City in 1926. I am tempted to give my present occupation as 'housekeeper and cook'. But no. Books published--all by Alfred Knopf: 'First Poems' (1951) 'The Seraglio' (a novel 1957) 'The Country of a Thousand Years of Peace' (1959). Should Mr. Pack be reprinting anything from the original New Poets I hope he will take care to reinstate the last section of a poem of mine, omitted in that volume."
Typed postcard signed ("James Merrill") to Andrea Brown, Athens, 20 October 1979. A fine reminiscence: "I began writing so young--and boyish vanity being what it is--that I'm afraid I always 'wrote for publication.' It didn't come immediately of course but it was the mode I'd chosen. The problem was then: how, given that choice, to project more and more of myself into a poem. The companion-dilemma to your own."
5 postcards signed to Jonathan Goodwin, 1977-1983.
6 pen-and-ink sketches, apparently from his student days, one on a sheet with a manuscript sonnet ("If to begin without a word..."), mainly of faces, some on sheets with Merrill practicing his signature, one on verso of sheet with various translations from Dante, two on sheets with writing in Italian. -- And a pencil sketch on the outside of a manila folder.
11 early black-and-white snapshots of Merrill, some captioned in another hand on verso, most from a trip to the Caribbean in 1948. -- 2 later black-and-white portraits of Merrill inscribed to Jonathan Goodwin.
Mirabell: Books of Number. New York: Atheneum, 1978. 5 loose printed gatherings, unbound proof copy laid loose in cloth trial binding and dust jacket. Inscribed: "DJ's [David Jackson's] very own MIRABELL KIT -- get out the thread and glue! Love from JM." H&B A35.
Scripts for the Pageant. New York: Atheneum, 1980. 78 pp., long folio. Galley proofs. Corrected by Merrill throughout in pencil and inscribed : "Dearest D[avid Jackson] -- as the hour approaches! xx JM." H&B A37.
Santorini: Stopping the Leak. Worcester: Metacom Press, 1982. 4to. Printed proofs. With typed note from the publisher discussing the signing of the colophon on inside of plain outside wrapper. Inscribed: "D [David Jackson] --See how elegant this is going to look?" H&B A40.
Marbled Paper. Riverside, Cal.: Rara Avis Press, 1982. 4to and folio. Galley, mock-up of title and printed page proofs. Signed on the colophon by Merrill. -- With another copy of the colophon, 1p., inscribed to David Jackson. H&B A43.
Peter. Deerfield: Gallery Press, 1982. 8vo. Proof of title and colophon (conjugate leaves) with note by the publisher to Merrill in pencil and signed by Merrill above the colophon. H&B A44.
Plays of Light. [N.p.: Laurence Scott, 1984]. 3pp., long folio. Galley proofs. Corrected by Merrill in pencil and ink and inscribed on the first page: "Happy Birthday-- DJ [David Jackson] from JM 1983 (in lieu of a card)."
And 10 others: 3 inscribed to David Jackson, 7 inscribed to Peter Hooten. Complete list available on request.
6 pieces, including an inscribed copy of Tom Ingle's exhibition catalogue; 2 programs of Poetry magazine events signed; a mimeograph of Metamorphosis of 741 with letters by the publisher Claude Fredericks identifying the revisions throughout; Bernard Zoghe's Phaedra, n.d., libretto and recording, 2 LP records. (Merrill wrote the introduction); and Poetry Pilot, December 1979, inscribed to Margie Cohn.
"Angel." Stonington, 1959. 1p., 12mo. Inscribed: "1977 Mary Johnsen from James Merrill." One of 180 copies. H&B A11. -- Another copy is glued to the inner front wrapper of a copy of Water Street. -- "16.ix.65." 1968. Folio. One of 90 signed by Merrill. H&B A22a. -- Another issue. Oblong folio. One of 10 signed by Merrill. H&B A22b. -- "Hellen Plummer's brush with fame." N.d. [ca 1977]. 1p., oblong 12o. One of 100 copies. H&B A34. -- Northern Lights. Winston-Salem, NC: Palaemon Press, [1983?]. 2o. 15 broadsides by American poets, each signed; laid loose in portfolio. Number 23 of 75 sets. Includes the only appearance to date of Merrill's "Sentimental Colloquy." Also includes Ciardi, Davie, Merwin, Snodgrass and Updike. -- Fifty Years of American Poetry: A Tribute to Marie Bullock. Winston-Salem, NC: Palaemon Press, 1984. 2o. 22 broadsides by American poets, each signed; laid loose in portfolio. Includes Merrill's "Orfeo" (see inscribed proof above). Also includes Ashbery, Hollander, Merwin, Nemerov, Schuyler, Strand, Warren and Wilbur.-- And 6 others, folio, signed, including H&B A21, A29, A33 and A35.
Jim's Book. New York: Privately Printed, 1942. 8vo. Original cloth-backed boards. Provenance: Lawrenceville School Infirmary (ownership inscription on front free endpaper). FIRST EDITION OF MERRILL'S FIRST BOOK. A wonderful association copy of this rarity, presumably presented by Merrill to his boarding school on its publication. H&B A1.
Poems... April 1944. [Amherst: Prepared and distributed by the author, 1944]. 4to, 10pp. Carbon typescript, plain green wrapper. FIRST EDITION. A very early Merrill collection, written when only 18 years old. Inscribed by Merrill to his Amherst roommate in French on the inside of the wrapper: "À M. Edouard Kronvall qui avec sa patience et vontè tranquille m'a donné un peu de confiance à faire je ne sais quoi -- Vive les 4F! James Ingram Merrill. 24 Avril, 1944." Includes "Elegy for the Dying," "Theory of Vision" and "Love Takes the Shape of a Camellia." Extremely rare, hand-produced book, one of only 3 or 4 copies for family and friends. Not in H&B.
The Black Swan and Other Poems. Athens: Icaros, 1946. 8vo. Original printed wrappers. FIRST EDITION, number 65 of 100 copies. H&B A2.
A dinner for Marilyn & Irving of the fifth anniversary. [Pawlet, Vt.: The Banyan Press, 1957]. 12mo, 1p. FIRST EDITION. Contains Merrill's poem "Five years, five senses, now their discipline..." One of only 5 or 6 copies printed for the guests at the dinner. H&B A9.
The Thousand and Second Night. Athens: Christos Christou Press, 1963. 8vo. Wrappers. FIRST EDITION, one of only approximately 20 copies (from an edition of 50) in which Merrill has added two small watercolors. Inscribed by Merrill to Barnard Jackson: "With love to Bernie from Jimmy. Athens 1963." H&B A15.
Violent Pastoral. [Cambridge, Mass.]: Adams House and Lowell House, 1965. 4to. Wrappers. FIRST EDITION, number 48 of 100 copies, signed by Merrill and inscribed to Mary Johnsen. H&B A19.
The Yellow Pages. [St. Louis, 1971]. 38pp., 4to. Mimeograph typescript. Wrappers. THE EXTREMELY RARE TRUE FIRST EDITION, one of only 25 copies for friends. Inscribed by Merrill: "For OR32497 with love from 535-0492. vi.73." The recipient was Howard Moss (1922-1987), poet, critic, dramatist; he was the poetry editor at The New Yorker for over three decades. Merrill uses their respective telephone numbers in his inscription. (See Phoenix Bookshop, Catalog 209). H&B A25.
Occasions & Inscriptions. N.p.: Jordan Davies, 1984. 8vo. Wrappers. FIRST EDITION, number 55 of 58 copies.
And 56 others, 21 inscribed. Many of the inscribed copies were presented to Mary Johnsen (bibliographer who did not complete her work on Merrill) or Jonathan Goodwin. Includes first, limited and proof editions. Including: H&B A4 (2, one inscr.); A8a (2, both inscr.); A8b; A10a (inscr.); A10b (inscr.); A13 (inscr.); A15 (5, 2 in cloth (one inscr.) 3 in wrappers (one inscr.)); A15; A17a (inscr.); A20a (inscr.); A20b (proof); A23a (2, one inscr.); A23b; A25b (2, one inscr.) A25c; A26a (2, both inscr.); A26b (inscr.); A28; A30a; A36a (4, 2 inscr.); A37a (3, one a proof and one inscr.); A38; A39; A40a; A40b; A41 (2, one wrappers and one cloth); A42 (2, one in wrappers and one in cloth); A44.
CONTRIBUTIONS AND BOOKS ABOUT MERRILL:
Collection of approximately 50 books and journals with contributions by Merrill, and several about his life and art.
Christie's gratefully acknowledges J.D. McClatchy, one of James Merrill's literary executors, for his help in preparing the cataloguing of this lot. (240)