"I Think Canada Has a Future": William Inglis Morse and the Canadian Collection at Yale University Library

By Little, Geoffrey | Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

"I Think Canada Has a Future": William Inglis Morse and the Canadian Collection at Yale University Library


Little, Geoffrey, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada


SOMMAIRE

La collection canadienne de la bibliotheque de l'universite Yale, consideree comme l'une des deux ou trois meilleures aux Etats-Unis, doit sa croissance durant les decennies 1940 et 50 a William Inglis Morse (1874-1952), un pasteur originaire de la NouvelleEcosse qui fut aussi historien et bibliophile. De 1939 a son deces, Morse fit d'importants dons de livres rares, cartes, manuscrits et autres documents ephemeres a Yale. Lui et son epouse ont toujours encourage cette institution a accroitre sa collection canadienne en affectant des fonds a cette fin. Meme si la generosite de Morse a l'egard des universites Dalhousie, Acadia et Harvard fut proverbiale, voire reconnue dans des catalogues imprimes publies par ces memes institutions ainsi que par un article ecrit par sa petite-fille, Susan Hilles Bush, et inclus dans The Book Disease: Atlantic Provinces Book Collectors (1996), son role dans la creation de cette collection n'a ete aborde que d'une facon superficielle. En procedant a l'examen de la correspondance de Morse avec les bibliothecaires de Yale, en particulier James Babb, cet article rappelle la contribution de Morse dans la formation d'une importante collection Canadiana a Yale, y compris celle de Harvard qu'il n'a jamais cesse pour autant d'enrichir. Il recense egalement quelques rares et uniques documents canadiens dont il a fait don a la bibliotheque de Yale.

The Canadian collection at Yale University Library is believed to be among the two or three best in the United States. (1) Housed in several departments across the library system including the Sterling Memorial Library, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, and the departments of Manuscripts and Archives and Maps, Yale's significant collection of Canadiana owes its rapid growth during the 1940s and 50s to William Inglis Morse (1874-1952), the Nova Scotia clergyman, historian, and bibliophile. From 1939 until his death, Morse made significant donations of rare printed books, maps, manuscripts, and ephemera to Yale, all the while cajoling and encouraging Yale to grow its Canadian collection using dedicated funds he and his wife provided for that purpose. While Morse's generosity towards Dalhousie, Acadia, and Harvard Universities is well-known and has been described in printed catalogues issued by those institutions, as well as in great length and detail by his granddaughter, Susan Hilles Bush, in "The Book Disease": Atlantic Provinces Book Collectors (1996), his role in shaping Yale's Canadian collection has received little examination. By reviewing Morse's archived correspondence with Yale librarians, particularly James Babb, this essay will describe how Morse, while simultaneously enriching Harvard's collection, helped to form an important collection of Canadiana at Yale. In doing so, and in the absence of a printed catalogue or open accession files, it will also identify some of the rare and unique Canadian materials he donated to Yale University Library.

William Inglis Morse was born in Paradise, Nova Scotia, on 4 June 1874. He claimed descent from Samuel Morse of Essex who landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in 1631, and whose descendants settled in Nova Scotia's Annapolis Valley in the 1760s. (2) Morse chronicled his early years in Autobiographical Records of William Inglis Morse, 1874-1905 (1943) and recalled that his "greatest adventure during youth--5 to 16 years of age--had to do with reading, which I have always accounted as one of my greatest blessings." (3) In 1891, at just seventeen, Morse taught school for a year in the fishing village of Port Lorne on the Bay of Fundy before a year of preparation at Horton Academy in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. He studied for his first degree at Acadia College (now University) between 1894 and 1897 and decided on a career in the ministry, having received a licence to preach from a Baptist church in 1895. (4) From 1897 to 1900 he attended the Episcopal Theological School (now the Episcopal Divinity School) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, during which time he began to frequent the bookstores of Boston. …

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