Biography and History

R. P. (Richard Palmer) Blackmur (1904-1965) was one of America's foremost literary critics and one of Princeton's most distinguished professors. In the years following his graduation from the High and Latin School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he worked in a Cambridge bookstore and sat in on lectures at Harvard. Blackmur did not enroll at Harvard, however, preferring to attend, in fellow critic Leon Edel's words, “the school of his own bold intelligence.” He began his literary career as a regular contributor to The Hound and Horn , one of the earliest and most influential of America's “little magazines.” In 1935 the publication of his first volume of essays, The Double Agent , marked the beginning of what was to become known as the New Criticism - a school of criticism that revolutionized the teaching of literature in American universities by directing the student's attention to a close analysis of the language of literary works.

The independence that permitted Blackmur to develop his talents outside the framework of a formal college education was also at the center of his writing, with its “avoidance of academic stereotypes” - one of the virtues singled out for mention by his colleague Allen Tate, whose recommendation brought Blackmur to Princeton in 1940 to help conduct Dean Christian Gauss' Creative Arts Program. The same independence characterized his twenty-five year teaching career at Princeton.

He was appointed the first Hodder Fellow in 1943, and the next year became a member of the Institute for Advanced Study. From 1946 to 1948 he was a Resident Fellow in Creative Writing at the University, and became Professor of English in 1951. Blackmur conceived and founded the Christian Gauss Seminars in Criticism in 1949, later directing them from 1957 until his death in 1965.

His literary reputation was based on his poetry as well as his criticism. The first of his three books of poetry, From Jordan's Delight , was praised by Allen Tate as “one of the most distinguished volumes of verse in the first half of the century,” and his six collections of criticism, in the estimate of the Kenyon Review , made him one of the two or three contemporary critics “likely to endure.”

Blackmur was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, vice-president of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and a Fellow in American Letters at the Library of Congress.

During his early years in Princeton he lived at 43 Linden Lane. In 1943 he moved to 12 Princeton Avenue - a house with apartments occupied by him and various writers, such as Saul Bellow. In 1959 Blackmur commissioned a new home to be built at 53 McCosh Circle. In his quarter century at Princeton, Blackmur played a great part in promoting the writing profession and mentoring a future generation of writers.

Source: From the finding aid for C0227


  • Critics -- United States -- 20th century..
  • Louise Bogan Papers. 1936-1954 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0109

    Consists primarily of drafts, notes, fragments and final copies of American poet Louise Bogan's critical essays on modern literature, published in prestigious American journals. There are a few poetry manuscripts and even fewer pieces of correspondence.

  • R. P. Blackmur Papers. 1864-1965 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C0227

    Richard Palmer Blackmur was a notable literary critic, poet, and Princeton University professor. This collection documents Blackmur’s creative and academic efforts, and includes his critical essays, reviews, poetry, short stories, plays, and unpublished novels. In addition to his writings, Blackmur's papers contain significant correspondence with major literary figures of the twentieth century.

  • Russell A. Fraser Correspondence. 1949-1982 (inclusive), 1976-1978 (bulk).

    Call Number: C0574

    Consists of correspondence of Russell A. Fraser with friends, family, and associates of R. P. Blackmur used in preparation of his biography A Mingled Yarn: The Life of R.P. Blackmur (1981).