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Charles Godfrey Leland letters to George Henry Boker


Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206

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Overview and metadata sections

Charles Godfrey Leland (1824-1903) was a humorist and folklorist from Philadelphia. Born August 15, 1824, Leland was the son of Henry and Charlotte Frost Leland in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was educated in private schools, at Princeton University, and in universities in Heidelberg and Munich, and in Paris, where he became involved in the Revolution of 1848. After returning to the United States, he worked briefly in the field of law before moving towards a career in journalism. He wrote for many newspapers and eventually served as editor for the Philadelphia Press. A strong supporter of the Union during the Civil War, Leland enlisted in the Union Army and served at the battle of Gettysburg.

Leland was interested in folklore, folk linguistics, gypsies, fairies, and witches; and he published books and articles on American and European languages and folk traditions. He achieved recognition as the author of the comic Breitmann's Ballads and Arcadia, or the Gospel of the Witches, a classic of neo-Paganism.

In 1869, Leland's father died and Leland traveled to Europe, in part to supervise an official English edition of Breitmann's Ballads in Great Britain where it had become a minor literary sensation. During the years 1869 to 1870, he wrote to his childhood friend, George Henry Boker. He returned to Philadelphia in 1879 and established the Industrial Art School. In 1888, he moved to Italy where he remained until his death on March 20, 1903.

In 1869, Charles Godfrey Leland took advantage of a small inheritance to resign his post as editor of the Philadelphia Press and go abroad. His health was poor, and on the verge of a nervous collapse, he set sail in May 1869.

According to Sculley Bradley:

It was only natural that he should correspond with George Henry Boker, who had been his bosom friend from boyhood, and who was now deeply concerned about his health. Boker had been instrumental in securing his appointment as editor of the Press and since Leland's return to Philadelphia, they had been much together. The depth of their friendship is reflected in the intimacy of these letters, so frankly revealing of the natures of both men. These letters were not available for the use of Leland's biographer, Mrs. Elizabeth Robins Pennell. They therefore shed new light upon the life and character of Hans Breitmann, who has recently been given increased attention both by critics of American poetry and by those interested in the development of American humor. Since Boker and Leland were intimately acquainted not only with the "Philadelphia Group," but with most of the literary circle in the East, the references, casual or extended, to other literary men, are to be regarded as authentic and revelatory. There are many such references among these letters. This correspondence also has value as being a typical reaction of a cultivated and highly civilized American of his day to the culture, literature and social life of the European countries which he visited. His attitudes are in strong and interesting contrast to those of Innocents Abroad. In this and in many other respects, the letters shed light on American social history. They are also of enormous interest in showing, in intimate correspondence, the attitudes and interests of two of the most cultivated Americans of that day. The points of view, the type of humor and the revelation of the personal lives of such men is reflected in a manner sometimes startling and always instructive. Another very interesting aspect of these letters lies in the intimate picture of various members of the London literary circle and literary people on the continent whom Leland met. The illustrations which Leland made for these letters are intrinsically valuable as works of art and derive additional value from Leland's important connection in the development of the teaching of the arts and crafts in America.

There is, of course, a very interesting revelation of the differences between publishing conditions in America and in England, together with much detail bearing upon Leland's own poetic work. The correspondence has a homogenous quality as the unified record of a single journey of the author over a period of one year. This journey is recorded as the last episode of Leland's Memoirs, but the record of the letters is very much more detailed and intimate. (The above taken in its entirety from "Uncollected Letters of Charles Godfrey Leland," an unpublished article by Sculley Bradley located in folder 5).

The collection consists of fourteen illustrated letters. The illustrations include beautiful and highly illuminated capital D's in the salutations as well as fourteen sketches in pen and ink, of which a good many show fine color work. The collection also contains a transcription of the letters, probably completed by Sculley Bradley and an article written by Bradley entitled, "Uncollected Letters of Charles Godfrey Leland," which had been submitted for publication sometime before 1937.

Gift of E. Sculley Bradley.

University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
Finding Aid Author
Clémence Scouten
Finding Aid Date
2015 May 6
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This collection is open for research use.

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1869 May-December.
Box 1 Folder 1
1870 February-April.
Box 1 Folder 2
May-October 1870, 1870 May-October.
Box 1 Folder 3

Transcription of Leland letters, circa 1937.
Box 1 Folder 4
"Uncollected letters of Charles Godfrey Leland," article written by Sculley Bradley about the Leland letters, circa 1937.
Box 1 Folder 5

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