MHS for the Media

Discovery of Early E.E. Cummings Works at the Massachusetts Historical Society

Early Childhood Writings and Sketches of E.E. Cummings Uncovered at the MHS while processing Cummings-Clarke Collection

EE CummingsThe MHS is delighted to announce the discovery of childhood correspondence and artwork by Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962), better known as poet E.E. Cummings. The writings and sketches, dating from 1900 to 1914, showcase the poet's early experiments with words and illustrations. Uncovered while processing a large collection of Cummings family papers with support from the Peck Stacpoole Foundation, these are likely some of the earliest works by E.E. Cummings.

Among the writings found is a story about life on Joy Farm, his family’s retreat in New Hampshire, a 1907 report on “Our Visit to the Public Library,” and the 1914 poem “From a Newspaper.”  A sketch of a rhinoceros and soldier drawn about 1902 also includes several lines of text. Cummings writes, “THIS. RHINOCEROUS. IS. YOUNG. MARCHING BY. A. SOLDIER. He TELLS-TALES TO-HIM”*. Keepsakes include a self-portrait entitled “Edward E. Cummings, the animal emperor, famous importer, trainer, and exhibitor of wild animals”* and three penmanship exercise books from about 1902.  Other drawings and paintings include ink blots, watercolors, and sketches in pen and pencil of cowboys and Indians, boats, the “world’s tallest tower,” wild west shows, hunting expeditions, locomotives, zoos, circuses, elephants, and house plans.

The papers of Edward Cummings, a Unitarian minister and champion of social justice in early 20th century Boston, and his family have now been fully organized and described in a collection guide that is available on the MHS website: www.masshist.org/findingaids/doc.cfm?fa=fa0367. The large collection consists not only of the papers of Edward Cummings, including his sermons, writings, and correspondence with family and his mentor Edward Everett Hale, but also those of his wife Rebecca (Clarke) Cummings, and their children, Edward and Elizabeth. The Society received the Cummings-Clarke collection as a gift from the estate of E.E. Cummings in October of 1969, and from the poet’s sister, Elizabeth Cummings Qualey, between 1969 and 1973.  Although the collection had previously been available for research, the project to describe the collection in more detail has highlighted the importance of these childhood poems and sketches. 

E.E. Cummings was born in Cambridge, Mass. in 1894. He attended the Cambridge Latin High School and received his B.A. from Harvard University in 1915, and his M.A. in 1916. Known for his poetry, Cummings was also an artist and author. He received a number of honors, including two Guggenheim Fellowships, an Academy of American Poets Fellowship, and a Ford Foundation Grant.

An exhibition highlighting some of these early writings and sketches will be on view in the Society’s Treasures Gallery 13 June through 30 August 2013.

*Used by permission of the Trustees for E. E. Cummings Trust.

Image: Charles Hopkins's 1898 pencil sketch of Edward Estlin Cummings