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Collection Overview

Blackmur, R. P. (Richard P.), 1904-1965
R. P. Blackmur Papers
Manuscripts Division
Permanent URL:
52 boxes
Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Boxes 1-51; B-001222


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Blackmur's creative and academic efforts, and includes his critical essays, reviews, poetry, short stories, plays, and unpublished novels.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.

Collection Description & Creator Information

Scope and Contents

This collection highlights Blackmur's career as both a prominent literary critic and a professor of English and Creative Writing at Princeton University. The first part of the collection is composed mainly of Blackmur's writings, including the literary and cultural criticism he was well-known for. Blackmur's other writings includes his poetry - most of which was written during the early half of his career - as well as novels, short stories, and plays. Manuscripts of full-length book work can also be found here, including thirty years' worth of work on an unpublished biography of Henry Adams. The second section of the collection features Blackmur's voluminous correspondence with notable literary and art figures of the twentieth century, including Conrad Aiken, Theodore Holmes, Lincoln Kirstein, Waldo Peirce, John Crowe Ransom, Delmore Schwartz, Wallace Stevens, Allen Tate, William Carlos Williams, and Yvor Winters. The nature of the correspondence ranges from the formal to the informal, and covers such topics as publishing and the creative process. The remainder of the collection is composed of Blackmur's personal and professional information, and includes teaching materials like lectures and class syllabi. Blackmur's personal papers include photographs, diaries, and reviews of his work.


The material is organized into the following series:

Collection Creator Biography:


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.

Collection History


The bulk of the collection was the gift of Betty Bredemeier Davison on behalf of R.P. Blackmur's estate in 1966, AM 21403. Additional Blackmur materials were donated to the Library primarily by the estate, Blackmur's literary custodian, Joseph Frank, and by friends and affiliates of Blackmur, in 1966, 1975, 1978, 1983, 1984, 1995, 2005, and 2018.

The materials in this collection are from accession AM 21403 unless otherwise indicated. Additional accession numbers include AM 2019-22 (gift of Edmund Keeley), AM 2005-127 (gift of Emory University), AM 1996-36 (gift of W. Philips Davison), AM 83-161 and AM 85-36 (gifts of Philip C. Horton), AM 83-115 (gift of Ms. E. Blackmur), AM 78-23 (gift of Gladys Fornell), and AM 21577 (gift of Joseph Frank), AM 18880 (gift of Waldo Peirce).

Some materials (items tipped in books) were also transferred from Princeton University Library Rare Books: AM 90-66, AM 89-52, and AM 22049.


Personal checks for routine domestic payments were discarded.

Processing Information

Processed by Jenna Marrone in 2012.

Pages 30-91 of the 91-page transcription of Blackmur's notes on Erich Auerbach's seminars 1-5 (1949) that had been mixed with materials relating to seminar 6 were filed with the rest of the transcript (pages 1-29) in 2018.

Access & Use

Conditions Governing Access

The majority of the collection is open for research.

Student papers in Boxes 39-43 are restricted in compliance with FERPA regulations until 75 years following the date of creation.

For preservation reasons, physical access to original audio and visual media in a variety of magnetic and optic formats is restricted. The Special Collections does not have playback equipment and facilities, and all original media, especially in obsolete formats, must be digitally remastered or converted in accordance with prevailing preservation standards in order to be safely accessed. Subject to staffial approval, patrons may request duplicates of such original media, but will be responsible for both the cost of digital conversion and the cost of the duplicate, payable in advance. Public Services staff handles all such requests. Turn-around time for such requests will depend on the size and scope of the project.

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media, but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Patrons may request digital copies of original analog media, but will be responsible for the cost of digital conversion, payable in advance. Turn-around time for such requests will depend on the size and scope of the project. Requests should be directed to Public Services staff.

Conditions Governing Use

Blackmur's literary rights in the papers were transferred to the Trustees of Princeton University by Blackmur's residual legatee in 1985. Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, any copyright vested in the donor has passed to The Trustees of Princeton University and researchers do not need to obtain permission, complete any forms, or receive a letter to move forward with use of donor-created materials within the collection. For materials in the collection not created by the donor, or where the material is not an original, the copyright is likely not held by the University. In these instances, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have a question about who owns the copyright for an item, you may request clarification by contacting us through the Ask Us! form.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

Credit this material:

R. P. Blackmur Papers; Manuscripts Division, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

Permanent URL:
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Storage Note:
  • Firestone Library (scamss): Boxes 1-51; B-001222