[Milton-L] Wickenheiser collection moves to South Carolina

Roy Flannagan Roy at gwm.sc.edu
Fri Aug 25 10:35:37 EDT 2006


     The University of South Carolina's Thomas Cooper Library is displaying its newest major treasure, the Robert J. Wickenheiser Collection of the seventeenth-century English poet and prose writer John Milton (1608-1674).  The first exhibition from the collection, acquired with leading support from William L. Richter and the William L,. Richter Family Foundation, opens on Thursday September 21, with a lecture by the distinguished Milton scholar John T. Shawcross at 4PM.  The exhibition in the library's mezzanine exhibit gallery is open regular library hours from September 21 through November 1.

     The Wickenheiser Collection, acquired over a 35-year span,  has more than 6,000 volumes.  Its holdings of first and other seventeenth-century editions of Milton's own writings put USC  among  the top ten Milton collections in North America.  Its special focus on illustrated editions make it perhaps the most comprehensive collection ever of Milton illustration, from the first illustrated edition of Paradise Lost (1688) through all the major illustrators that follow, with original drawings by several of the artists, particularly John Martin (1789-1854) and Gustave Doré (1832-1883).  The collection's 18th, 19th, and 20th-century Milton editions preserve a comprehensive record of Milton's continuing impact, while holdings of Milton biography, scholarship, and criticism document knowledge of Milton's writings and influence.

     "The Wickenheiser Collection brings the library its first major seventeenth-century research collection, to join our earlier acquisition of great collections in succeeding centuries," said Paul Willis, Dean of Libraries.  "It is a collection that will draw faculty and scholars to South Carolina, to the continuing benefit of the academic community here."  

     "The breadth of Milton's own interests make this a collection that will stimulate an equally broad range of research projects, across a variety of disciplines, both  by established researchers and by students at the graduate and undergraduate level," said Dr. Patrick Scott, Director of Special Collections.  

     Prof. Roy Flannagan, Founding Editor of the Milton Quarterly and editor of the Houghton Mifflin Riverside edition of Milton, USC-Beaufort, commented: "Being in the same rooms as Dr. Wickenheiser's collection is like being in a Paradise for a scholar of seventeenth-century English literature.."

     John Milton (1608-1674), author of the epic poem Paradise Lost (1667), is the most important English-language poet of the seventeenth century.   He was active in politics, as author of the first major text on the freedom of the press, Areopagitica (1644) and as Latin secretary to Britain's revolutionary government in the late 1640's and 1650's.  He was also deeply involved in the same religious debates as the Pilgrim Fathers, and a pioneer in his writings on education and on marriage law.  For centuries after it was written, his poetry drew responses from poets, learned scholars, ordinary readers, musicians, artists and illustrators.  Milton was as influential in America as in Europe, and the Wickenheiser Collection includes not only the first American editions of Milton's poetry, but also rare printings of political pamphlets influential in debates on the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

     Dr. Robert J. Wickenheiser started collecting Milton and other seventeenth-century poets as a graduate student student at the University of Minnesota in the late 1960's.  As a young professor at Princeton in the early seventies, he began focusing on the history of Milton illustration, and with his wife Pat and the late Robert H. Taylor, past president of the Grolier Club, he visited and established friendships with many of the best-known antiquarian bookdealers on both sides of the Atlantic.  Since retiring, Dr. Wickenheiser has completed a full-scale illustrated catalogue of the collection, scheduled for publication by the University of South Carolina Press for the 400th anniversary of the poet's birth in 2008.

     The Robert J. Wickenheiser Collection has been purchased for the University with the leading support of Mr. William L. Richter and the William L. Richter Family Foundation.  Mr. Richter is President of Richter Investment Corporation and Senior Managing Director of Cerberus Capital Management.  In recognition and appreciation of this generous gift, the University's Board of Trustees has approved naming a room in the library's new Special Collections library. 


  "Dr. Robert Wickenheiser is the uncontested premier collector of Milton and Miltonianas in the world . . . There is, to the best of my knowledge, no other privately-held collection in the world that even remotely begins to approach the Wickenheiser Milton Collection in scope, range, or importance. . . . the purchase of this collection would immediately catapult the purchaser into world-class status." 

  G. W. Stuart, Jr., Ravenstree Books


  " . . . one of the major collections of materials related to John Milton, editions and studies and artworks, in the world . . . indicating the breadth and nature of Milton's position in the literary, political, religious, and sociological world over the nearly three and a half centuries since his death."

  John T. Shawcross, Emeritus, U Kentucky


  " . . . a magnificent collection, in mint condition, preserved under ideal circumstances, broad in scope, and unique in some of its items . . . . what has to be one of the best private collections of Milton and Miltoniana in existence."

  John Mulryan, St. Bonaventure University


  "Dr. Wickenheiser's collection is . . . a paradise for a scholar of seventeenth-century English literature."

  Roy Flannagan, Emeritus, Ohio University; Scholar-in-Residence, University of South Carolina, Beaufort


  " . . . breathtaking in its reach--Milton is here but also Miltoniana, the latter in abundance.  This is a collection that, unlike any other I have seen, represents Milton on an international scene and as an important token of his culture." 

  Joseph Wittreich, Graduate College, CUNY

Patrick Scott
Director of Special Collections, 
Thomas Cooper Library,
& Professor of English,
University of South Carolina,
Columbia, SC 29208, USA.
Tel: 803-777-1275
Fax: 803-777-4661, attn Dr Scott
E-mail: scottp at gwm.sc.edu 

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