Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Henry Charles Lea Papers - Scope and Content


According to the Lea's biographer, Sculley Bradley, Lea destroyed his early correspondence (prior to 1860). There is some significant correspondence during the Civil War, but the bulk of correspondence in these files dates from 1868 to 1909. Very little material in these papers is revealing of Lea's personal life or family relations. One very early letter (undated, ca. 1837) was written by Lea to his parents while he and his brother Carey were staying with relatives; there also is a single page from a letter that appears to be from his mother, Frances Anne Carey Lea, to Lea in 1853. An interesting group of ten items from his father, Isaac, to Henry C. Lea were written while Henry was sailing on his yacht through New England waters during the summer of 1881; these letters describe the assassination of President Garfield.

For the most part the correspondence consists of Henry C. Lea's academic, political, and philanthropic correspondence from 1860 until his death in 1909. Most of Lea's personal wealth was in real estate in Philadelphia. There are a few scattered items related to Lea's ownership of properties in Philadelphia and Cape May, New Jersey, but no business or accounting records. Lea worked in his family's publishing firm, later managing the business by himself. During this period he shifted the firm away from general and literary publishing into the field of medical publishing, which is still the major focus of the publishing business in Philadelphia. Related collections in the Department of Special Collections include Ms. Coll. 11--Henry Charles Lea Family Letters--which comprises correspondence between Henry, his wife Anna, their daughter Nina, and a few other family members. There are a few previously catalogued items of Lea correspondence in "Miscellaneous Manuscripts" and in the papers of individuals who corresponded with Lea, for example, Horace Howard Furness. The business records of the Mathew Carey publishing house and its descendants, dating from its founding by Mathew Carey, are at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Presidents Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield, and Theodore Roosevelt were among Lea's correspondents, and there is a letter from Woodrow Wilson addressed to Arthur H. Lea, written when Wilson was president of Princeton University. Other United States officials to whom Lea wrote include James M. Beck (1861-1936), solicitor general of the United States; Dorman B. Eaton (1823-1899) of the U.S. Civil Service Commission, who drafted the Pendleton Act of 1883; and Noah H. Swayne of the United States Supreme Court.

Henry C. Lea corresponded with many United States senators and representatives, including Robert Adams (1849-1906); William Bourke Cockran (1854-1923); Alexander G. Cattell (1816-1894); Eugene Hale (1836-1918); Anthony Higgins (1840-1912); Henry Cabot Lodge (1850-1924); Charles Brown Lore (1831-1911); George Perkins Marsh (1801- 1882); John Inscho Mitchell (1838-1907); Charles O'Neill (1821-1893); William Walter Phelps (1839-1894); Matthew Stanley Quay (1833-1904); Samuel J. Randall (1828-1890); John Edgar Reyburn (1845-1914); John Scott (1824-1896); William Joyce Sewall (1835- 1901); William Edgar Simonds (1841?-1903); William M. Springer (1836-1903); and Richard Vaux (1816-1895). On the issue of copyright legislation Lea carried on correspondence with William Dorsheimer (1832-1888) and Orville Hitchcock Platt (1827-1905). Lea's extensive correspondence with Senator Jonathan Chace (1829-1917) of Rhode Island shows that Chace's 1891 copyright bill was drafted by Lea.

Lea corresponded with the following who were or later became mayors of Philadelphia: Rudolph Blankenburg (1843-1918); Edwin H. Fitler; Daniel M. Fox; Alexander Henry (1823-1883); W. S. Stokely, and John Weaver. Other prominent Philadelphians among his correspondents are: John J. Ridgway, Jr.; Joseph Wharton (1826-1909); William Sellers (1824-1905); Horace Howard Furness (1833-1912); and his father, the Rev. William H. Furness (1802-1896). Lea's papers are a source of information about the Wistar Association, open only to members of the American Philosophical Society, and the Wistar Party, of which Lea was dean for many years.

John G. Johnson (1841-1917), a major correspondent on political matters, was Henry Charles Lea's attorney and drew up wills for Lea and his wife. Lea's long-term friend in politics and scholarly pursuits was J. G. Rosengarten (1835-1921).

Henry Charles Lea's European correspondents on historical research are numerous and are listed at the conclusion of this guide. Lea often used diplomatic connections to establish contacts in European libraries. Among these individuals were: William Henry Bishop (1847-1928), American consul at Genoa and Palermo, Italy; Porter Cornelius Bliss (1838-1885), United States legation in Mexico; Viscount James Bryce (1838-1922), England's ambassador to the United States; J. L. M. Curry (1825-1903) of the Legation of the United States in Madrid, and Edward H. Strobel (1855-1908). European scholars Paul Fredericq (1850-1920), Salomon Reinach (1858-1932), and W. E. H. Lecky (1838-1903) each corresponded with Lea over a period of many years. American scholars with whom Lea corresponded include: George Lincoln Burr (1857-1938); Edward Potts Cheyney (1861-1947); Charles William Eliot (1834-1926), president of Harvard University; Daniel Coit Gilman (1831-1908), president of Johns Hopkins University and president of the National Civil Service Reform League; Charles Homer Haskins (1870-1937) of Harvard University and the American Historical Association; and Charles Eliot Norton (1827-1908) of Harvard.

Lea had many friends among editors, publishers, and journalists. The most important of these were George William Curtis (1824-1892), editor of Harper's Weekly; George William Childs (1829-1894) of the Philadelphia Public Ledger; George Haven Putnam (1844-1930) of the American Publishers' Copyright League, who corresponded with Lea regarding copyright legislation; Joseph W. Harper, Jr. of Harper Brothers; Walter H. Page of the Forum and Atlantic Monthly; and H.O. Houghton (1823-1895) of Houghton Mifflin. Lea's extensive correspondence with Wendell Phillips Garrison (1840-1907), editor of The Nation, is of particular interest. There are very few women numbered among Lea's correspondents. Those who merit special mention are Mary Francis Cusack (1829-1899) who, like Lea, published articles on the Catholic church in the Independent; the author Margaret Wade Campbell Deland (1857-1945); and Catharine Ann Janvier (1841-1923) who sent Lea her bibliography on Mexican history.


Most of Lea's drafts and revisions of his historical writings have been preserved. In most cases Lea's procedure was to take extensive notes on his readings from published and manuscript sources. He then composed his draft from these notes, crossing out items as he used them. Finally, he wrote out the final copy for the printer by hand. There are typescripts of Lea's work on witchcraft, which was edited and published posthumously.

Political statements, tracts, and clippings

A large number of pamphlets, political tracts, newspapers, memorials, and petitions form part of the Henry Charles Lea Papers beginning with the pamphlets Lea wrote for the Union League of Philadelphia during the Civil War.

One of the best examples of Lea's habitual and careful preservation of newspaper clippings can be found in his scrapbooks of clippings related to the Civil War. Lea compiled one scrapbook consisting of Civil War maps of strategic harbors, battlefields, and battle plans. Lea also clipped all items from the papers relating to his political reform interests. At times he even clipped items (usually quotations) from his clippings to use in his own writing of political tracts and memorials. Lea frequently wrote letters to the press, both signed and unsigned, and copies of these items are among the extensive clip- ping files. Lea also clipped items that were related to his interest in celibacy in the Catholic church; on parochial schools; the Pope; faith healing; contemporary accounts of witchcraft and unorthodox religious beliefs and movements; and a number of other topics related to religion and belief.

The clipping services employed by Lea sent him copies of all the reviews of his published works, as well as all clippings in which Lea's name was mentioned--many of these document his political activities regarding municipal reform, civil service reform, and his efforts to change the copyright laws. The family of Henry Charles Lea continued the use of clipping services after his death--there are a large number of clippings related to the obituary and memorials for Henry Charles Lea.

Memorabilia and juvenilia

Items from Lea's childhood and young adulthood include a sketchbook (1831); four boxes of notebooks, most containing school-work exercises (1832-1845); his work on fossil shells (1842-1843); translations of poetry (1840-1845); and later sketches and drawings. The youthful diary written by Lea between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, mentioned by Lea's biographer Sculley Bradley, is not among these papers and may have been reclaimed years ago by a family member. Two of Lea's earlier journals are included in these Papers. There are multiple copies of one photographic portrait made of Lea, plus material related to erecting monuments in his honor after his death. A complete list of the photographs in this collection can be found at the end of this register.

Lea Home Container List

Last update: Friday, 31-Jan-2003 20:47:42 EST
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