Scope and arrangement
The papers document Smith's literary career as poet, playwright, journalist, and novelist; her interest and participation in various reform movements; her career as a lyceum lecturer during the 1850s; her writings and activities in support of woman suffrage and women's rights; and her friendship with prominent authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Edgar Allen Poe, Horace Greeley, and William Cullen Bryant.
The Papers consist of Smith's manuscript autobiography (ca. 1885); diary for 1887; manuscripts (some incomplete and most unpublished) for several works, including: a life of George Washington, "Ralph Waldo Emerson: Or Recollections of Him", "A Calendar of the Foot-prints of Time", "Messiniello" (a play), sonnets and other poems, "Thomas Anderson: The Exile of Fayal" (a novel); clippings of her newspaper and periodical contributions; published reviews of her work; two scrapbooks of her published and unpublished writings; and a small quantity of correspondence.
The Papers of Elizabeth Oakes Smith consist of letters, manuscripts writings, clippings and a few miscellaneous items. The collection is a small and uneven one which cannot in and of itself illuminate any aspect of Smith's life in much detail. However, individual pieces in the collection offer important biographical information, insights into Smith's literary career, and information on her activities as lyceum lecturer and early women's rights advocate.
The papers contain virtually no documentation on Smith's life prior to ca. 1850, save for a valuable manuscript autobiography. Smith's lengthy account, written during the 1880s, essentially ends in the mid-1850s. Smith did not conceive of her autobiography as a straightforward narrative retelling of her life, and researchers seeking such factual information will be disappointed. Rather, in keeping with her profession as writer and novelist, Smith fashioned her autobiography out of a series of many short, thematic sections—especially profiles of people she had known. Hence its value lies, not only in the richness of its anecdotal material, but in insights it provides into Smith's personality, inner feelings, and intellectual development. The autobiography is most helpful for its coverage of Smith's childhood and life in Portland, Me. but considerably less so for her New York City years, where comments on her own literary activities, lecturing, and women's rights advocacy are few. It suffers somewhat from having been written long after the events described: Smith displays a pronounced tendency to discuss what she thinks a late-19th century audience would expect to hear rather than what she may personally have considered most significant in her life, and to write journalistically, keeping her comments brief. Smith's manuscript recollections of Ralph Waldo Emerson, written at the same time as her autobiography, are much richer in detail and suggest how much Smith failed to record about her life. The autobiography was published in 1924 in a heavily condensed and partially rewritten version which should be used with caution.
Apart from a passing mention in her autobiography, Smith's early literary career prior to her move to New York in 1839 is completely undocumented in the papers. Also slighted is Smith's emergence during the 1840s as a popular poet, essayist, and editor. The retained clippings of Smith's writings which date from this period represent only a fraction of her total output; and there is virtually nothing pertaining to Smith's editing of gift books, The Sinless Child and other long poems, or her lengthier prose works. Smith's literary activities during the 1850s are somewhat better documented. There are some interesting materials, including an incomplete draft of an unpublished play, relating to Smith's brief career as a dramatist. Several manuscript chapters of her unfinished Life of Washington show Smith's engaging in installment publication during the late 1850s, a time when she and her husband were struggling to keep their literary magazine afloat.
Most of the manuscripts, though, date from the last 30 years of her life. And because most are incomplete and unpublished, they are not necessarily representative of her "oeuvre". One exception is the incomplete draft of an unpublished novel, Thomas Anderson, which may date from the 1860s, when Smith was writing "dime novels": Smith's prose outline and polished draft show how she may have composed these novels. Other manuscripts and clippings show how Smith continued to write up to the time of her death, earning money by contributing poems and short prose pieces to newspaper and magazines. Smith has annotated many of the later clippings as to source, thus easing the work of any bibliographer seeking to locate Smith's many periodical contributions.
Documentation of Smith's career as an early advocate of women's rights, lyceum lecturer, and reformer during the late 1840s and 1850s is weak but helpful. Particularly useful are the clippings Smith mounted in the bound "Miscellanies" scrapbook. Many document Smith's own views on women's issues, her interest in the plight of poor women, her analyses of female characters in the works of Shakespeare and other authors, and her use of journalism to promote reformist views. The clippings, many of which have been annotated by Smith, also provide some notion of the extent of her public speaking career and popular reactions to her lectures. Also of considerable interest are Smith's manuscript recollections of her lectures in Concord, Massachusetts and subsequent several weeks' stay in Ralph Waldo Emerson's household in 1852, which give some sense of life on the lyceum circuit. Smith's autobiography slights her own activities but provides perceptive sketches of several prominent women authors and reformers.
The papers offer interesting glimpses into Smith's lifelong fascination with spiritualism and the adult lives of her children. Due to her engaging personality and prominence in New York social and literary circles, Smith made the acquaintance of many prominent writers. Her autobiography and clippings contain interesting profiles and anecdotal accounts of Emerson, Edgar Allan Poe, Horace Greeley, and William Cullen Bryant, among others.
Very little correspondence is included in the papers. What is included offers insight into the planning of Smith's lecture tours. There is also very little material pertaining to Smith's husband Seba Smith. (The Manuscripts Section, however, owns material relating to Seba Smith which may have been separated from this collection.) In her autobiography, Smith is reticent in discussing her husband's own literary career and their relationship, though she does provide a valuable account of their financial difficulties and bankruptcy during the late 1830s.
The Elizabeth Oakes Prince Smith papers are arranged in five series:
The correspondence is arranged alphabetically by correspondent. It includes four letters (1883-1884) from Helen Stuart (Weeks) Campbell (1839-1918), literary and household editor of "The Continent", requesting Smith to write her reminiscences of Ralph Waldo Emerson; a clipping of a letter from Lucretia (Coffin) Mott (1793-1880) concerning Smith's proposed visit to Philadelphia in March 1852 to lecture on women's rights; four letters (1888-1892) from Mrs. C.A. Munson recalling their earlier experiments in spiritualism and a recent séance she attended; a letter (1849) from her son Sidney describing his visit to a horse race; and seven letters (1865-1866) from her attorney, John R. Reid, concerning preparations for defending Smith against a lawsuit.
A few other letters to Smith are found elsewhere in her papers:
Rouquette, Adrian—Two letters (1867-1868) concerning his poetry and missionary work among Cherokee Indians are tipped into Smith's manuscript "Autobiography", pp. 584,586-589 (clamshell box).
Sigourney, Lydia Howard Huntley (1791-1865)—one printed letter (1848) relating literary gossip is mounted in Smith's "Scrapbook" (Box 3 f.1).
Clippings of a few of Smith's published letters to editors of various newspapers are located elsewhere in her Papers:
Writings: Prose: Clippings of Published Writings (Box 2 f.8).
Scrapbooks (Bound volume, and Box 3 f.1).
Smith's writings are arranged by genre, and alphabetically by title within each genre. The writings include an autobiography, a diary, a play, journalistic contributions, poetry, and fragments of two novels and a biography. All but one of the manuscripts are in Smith's hand. Most are incomplete and unpublished, though two significant manuscripts—Smith's autobiography and her recollections of Ralph Waldo Emerson—have been published in part. There are no manuscripts for prose works published during Smith's lifetime, and most of the poetry manuscripts appear to be fair copies. In date they range from the 1850s up to Smith's death in 1893. Supplementing the manuscripts are dozens of clippings of Smith's published newspaper and periodical contributions: poems, stories, sketches, letters to the editors, book reviews, etc. These range in date from ca.1843 to 1891, though a few may possibly be earlier. The majority have been mounted by Smith in two scrapbooks. Also included are some clippings of reviews of Smith's lectures and writings.
This series contains several items illuminating Smith's interest in one aspect of spiritualism; psychometry, or the determination of a person's character through handwriting analysis. Included is a one-page manuscript "psychometrical reading" of Smith's character by Mrs. J.R. Mettler, "Psycho-Magnetic Physician" of Hartford, Conn., dated 9 October 1852; a two-page manuscript note (19 May 1869) by Smith explaining the circumstances behind Mettler's reading; and an article from an unidentified journal (May 1852) reviewing Smith's recent lectures in Cincinnati and appending two pyschometrical readings of Smith's character.
Miscellaneous clippings concerning three of Smith's five sons—Alvin, Appleton, and Sidney Oaksmith—and an inscribed copy of Appleton Oaksmith's pamphlet, Southern States Debts and the National Currency: their Evils and Their Remedy: A Financial Essay (Baltimore: Turnbull Brothers ).
A small portrait in pencil captioned "Sinless Child/Eva/By H. Jenks"; a small unsigned landscape drawing in pencil; and an unidentified photo of a woman's head in profile, trimmed and mounted on card.