MHS for the Media

Recent Discovery of Early Writings and Drawings by E. E. Cummings on Display at the Massachusetts Historical Society

Early childhood writings and sketches of poet E. E. Cummings uncovered at the MHS while organizing Cummings-Clarke Collection

E.E. Cummings Rhinocerous drawingBOSTON, JUNE 2013—Long before Edward Estlin Cummings became known as E. E. Cummings, one of 20th-century America’s most popular poets, he experimented with words and sketches that reveal a delightful childhood imagination. The Massachusetts Historical Society is delighted to display a selection of these writings and drawings in "Estlin Cummings Wild West Show" from June 13 through August 30. The items on display, dating from 1900 to 1902, showcase the poet's early experiments with words and illustrations. Uncovered while organizing and describing a large collection of Cummings family papers with support from the Peck Stacpoole Foundation, these are likely some of the earliest works by Cummings.

In a sketch of a rhinoceros and soldier completed about 1900, Cummings writes, "THIS. RHINOCEROUS. IS. YOUNG. MARCHING BY. A. SOLDIER. He TELLS-TALES TO-HIM". This youthful work displays one of the poet’s earliest uses of capitalization and punctuation, which would later become one of his trademarks. Fanciful drawings and writings, from when Cummings was about seven years old, illustrate his early fascination with the circus, wild west shows, and animals of all varieties. Those on display include a self-portrait entitled "Edward E. Cummings, the animal emperor, famous importer, trainer, and exhibitor of wild animals" as well as ink blots, watercolors, and sketches in pen and pencil of cowboys and Indians, wild west shows, locomotives, zoos, circuses, lions, and elephants. Among the writings is a November 1902 letter to his mother about life on Joy Farm, his family’s retreat in New Hampshire and a letter to his father from written in January 1900. 

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. 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 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.

 

Artwork and text: Artwork by E.E. Cummings. Used by permission of the Trustees for the E. E. Cummings Trust.