SUMMARY OF THE JAMES FAMILY COLLECTION
2016 Summer Research Assistant, Rose Nelson ‘16
The James Family collection at Colby is a collection of correspondences, manuscripts, and published materials from the family of Henry and William James as well as biographies and writings about its members. The James collection offers insight into the personal lives and relations of a Victorian family gifted with literary talent and plagued by mental and physical ailments.
The main family collection is housed in four boxes, with two more boxes listed under ‘Prince’ and two more under ‘Seelye’. Though many letters in the collection have been included in other works, a great part of it remains unpublished and available only through Special Collections here at Colby.
Key figures in the James Family collection include:
William James of Albany (1771-1832) Born in Ireland, came to Albany NY in 1793 and became a wealthy merchant. Father of Rev. William James (b.1797) by his 1st marriage and of Henry James (b.1811) by his 3rd.
At Colby: two wooden cabinets in the Special Collections entrance room, donated by his great-great-grandson Julius Seelye Bixler, former president of Colby.
Rev. William James (1797-1868) author of Grace for Grace, Presbyterian pastor. Half-brother to Henry James (b.1811), husband of Marcia L. A. James, father of Anna James Edwards (b.1826), Elizabeth James Seelye (b.1833), and Katharine James Prince (b.1834). Patriarch of what became the Seelye-Bixler part of the James family tree. His letters reveal family conflicts and his own struggle to mediate between his embedded values and his daughters’ wishes. A sickly man, he often talks about travelling to water cures and doctors for his head troubles.
At Colby: more than 70 letters, mostly to family, and an anonymous transcript of his last words.
Marcia Lucretia Ames James (1797-1886) daughter of artist Ezra Ames, wife of Rev. William James, mother of Anna James Edwards (b.1826), Elizabeth James Seelye (b.1833), and Katharine James Prince (b.1834). Deeply religious in her letters, Marcia often wrote to her daughters reminding them to look to God. Her letters show the worry and uncertainty of a mother with children far from home, and often focus on her worries for Katharine in particular.
At Colby: more than 80 letters, many to Elizabeth James Seelye.
Henry James Sr. (1811-1882) author of Substance and Shadow, The Secret of Swedenborg. Father of William James (the philosopher b.1842), Henry James (the novelist b.1843), Alice James (author of several journals b.1848), Garth James, and Robertson James. In a letter to his niece he describes a theological conflict between himself and his half-brother William, and regrets that he had not kept William’s letters, pointing to a divide between the two branches of the family.
At Colby: 7 letters to various recipients.
William James (1842-1910) philosopher, author of Principles of Pschyology, The Will to Believe, and Pragmatism. Brother to Henry James (b.1843) and father of Henry James Jr. (b.1879), William James Jr. (b.1882), Margaret Mary James (b.1887) and Alexander Robertson James (b.1890). Married to Alice Howe Gibbons (b.1849). In many of the letters contained in the Colby collection, James writes to his family- sharing things like his personal views on death and immortality with his sister after her breast cancer diagnosis, his uncertainty in choosing a profession, and his disappointment at his son for not writing.
At Colby: 63 letters, 40 to Katharine B.J. Prince.
Henry James (1843-1916) novelist and critic, author of The Turn of the Screw, Portrait of a Lady etc. Son of Henry James (b.1811), brother to William James (b.1842), unmarried, no children. The bulk of his correspondence housed at Colby is to his friend Thomas Sergeant Perry, to whom he describes his feelings about recent books, social scandals, the deaths of people close to him, and his numerous ailments and depressions. Colby also houses his letters to Vernon Lee that chronicle one half of their ‘international incident’.
At Colby: numerous small portraits; more than 150 letters including 12 letters to Violet Paget (a.k.a. Vernon Lee), approx. 90 to Thomas Sergeant Perry, 16 to Lilla Cabot Perry; several manuscripts of published works, published works, and autographed books.
Elizabeth Tillman James Seelye (1833-1881) Called ‘Libby’ or ‘Libbie’ in many letters. Daughter of Marcia L.A. James, cousin to William (b.1842) and Henry (b.1843), sister and close confidant of Katharine B.J. Prince (b.1834), wife of Julius H. Seelye (b.1824). Mother of William James Seelye (b.1857), Elizabeth James Seelye (b.1862), Anna Hawley Seelye (b.1866), and Mabel Seelye (b. 1871)
At Colby: Listed under ‘James’: recipient of a large body of letters from Marcia (b.1797) and Katharine (b.1834) Listed under ‘Seelye’: two boxes of correspondence to family and friends, Diary 1851-53.
Katharine Barber James Prince (1834-1890) Called ‘Kitty’ or ‘Kittie’ in many letters. Daughter of Marcia L.A. James, sister to Anna (b.1826) and Elizabeth (b.1833), cousin to Henry (b.1843) and William (b.1842). Kitty James was the unexpected hub of James family correspondence for many years. Institutionalized for her mental health and a prodigious writer, Kitty was the recipient of letters from all over the James family. More of her correspondence can be found under ‘Prince’ in the MS collections at Colby
At Colby: Listed under ‘James’: recipient of large body of letters from many James family members. Family photograph album. Listed under ‘Prince’: two boxes of correspondence, several pages of a diary, notebooks, story and journal fragments, one photograph- there are more than 500 letters to and from Kitty in the Colby collections.