Ancestral English and Scottish connections are among the influences Evelyn Tennyson Openhym '24 feels brought her to form a collection which, in her own words, "has helped bring a small corner of the United States into an enduring and sympathetic relationship with Great Britain." As a young girl, her imagination was captured by Tennyson's account of the Arthurian legend and she began to read widely in English literature. While she was a scholarship student at Alfred University, the writings of W. H. Hudson, and his nature books, especially, created an England that became part of her emotional geography.
A limited edition copy of Letters from W. H. Hudson to Edward Garnett, purchased during her wedding trip to Great Britain in 1924, is the nucleus of a collection that both in quantity and quality illustrates what Mrs. Openhym considers to be the "civilizing influence of British society on the western world." In her introduction to the bibliographical index for her collection, she explains: "The works amassed encompass 60 or so categories including architecture, art, cookery, education, history; also journalism, law, music, philosophy, religion, rural life, topography, transportation... Many of the authors are collected in full, for the most part in first editions."
Among the more than 7,000 books and pamphlets are the works of several Americans whose influence extended to Great Britain, e.g. Henry James, T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost.
Another part of this collection is in two sections: adjunct letters by British authors who are represented in the literature and social history division, and personal papers of the collector herself.
The former has more than 150 letters (from one to 21 each) from such representative literary figures as T.S. Eliot, Ivy Compton-Burnett, Lascelles Abercrombie, Alice Meynell, and Leonard Woolf.
Among the personal papers are family photographs from 1899; Alfred University photographs from the 1940's; correspondence with university presidents concerning various gifts, interests, or trustee concerns; copies of magazine and newspaper articles written by the donor in her other major fields of interest, music and gardening. Her correspondence regarding the British literature acquisitions provides added background for the collection - and for other bibliophiles.
Note: a 566-page volume, The Bibliography of the Openhym Collection of Modern British Literature and Social History, compiled and annotated by Evelyn Tennyson Openhym and Alan Littell, was printed by the Alfred University Press in 1980. Distributed to major university libraries throughout the country, it features an introduction by the donor and a section of photographs illustrating literary landmarks in Great Britain.