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Very Family Papers

Very Family Papers

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Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-948-6012
Creator:Very family
Title:Very Family Papers
Quantity:0.5 linear feet (1 box)
Abstract:The Very Family Papers contain the papers of Jones Very (1813-1880), a transcendentalist poet, and his sister, Lydia Very (1823-1901), an author and illustrator.
Collection Number:MSS 83

Series List

SERIES I. Jones Very Papers
SERIES II. Lydia Very Papers
SERIES III. Miscellaneous Very Family Papers

Scope and Content Note

The Very Family Papers contain the papers of Jones Very (1813-1880), a transcendentalist poet, and his sister, Lydia Very (1823-1901), an author and illustrator.

Series I. Jones Very Papers, 1836-1880, contain a miscellaneous group of his manuscripts. These include an early arithmetic book, his essay "What reasons are there for not expecting another epic poem", which won the Bowdoin prize at Harvard, his 1836 Harvard diploma, a letter from Ralph Waldo Emerson dated November 18, 1838, and an 1852 Almanac Diary. Also included are copies of letters about Jones Very which were solicited by Dr. Henry Wheatland for the Jones Very Memorial Meeting held at the Essex Institute in 1880.

Series II. Lydia Very Papers, 1840-1896, contain two sketchbooks, greeting cards, sketches, and manuscripts for two books by Lydia Very. The sketchbook contains engaging illustrations of children. The Painted Columbine contains five poems on the columbine by Jones Very illustrated by Lydia. The book has an original Jones Very manuscript of the Painted Columbine glued in the back.

Series III. Miscellaneous Very Family Papers includes receipts and correspondence.

Biographical Sketches

Jones Very, transcendentalist poet, was born in 1813 in Salem, Massachusetts, the oldest of the six children of Jones and Lydia (Very) Very. As a young boy, Jones sailed with his father, a ship captain, to Russia and New Orleans. After being tutored for four years by J.P. Worcester, Jones became an assistant in Henry Kemble Oliver's Fisk Latin School. There he was able to earn tuition expenses and entered Harvard in 1834 as a sophomore. After graduation in 1836, he was appointed a Greek tutor for freshmen, which allowed him to pursue studies at the Harvard Divinity School. In 1837, Very evidently had some sort of religious experience and, believing that he could directly communicate with the Holy Ghost, he wrote a series of religious sonnets. Elizabeth Palmer Peabody introduced Very to Ralph Waldo Emerson who admired Very's poems and essays. Emerson helped Very prepare a collection of his writing Essays and Poems, which was published in 1839. Very's religious fervor caused his Harvard colleagues to question his sanity and he was relieved of his teaching duties in 1838. After his dismissal, he entered McLean Asylum, then located in Somerville, for a month.

Very moved back to Salem in 1840, where he lived until his death. He never completed his divinity degree but was licensed to preach in 1843 by the Cambridge Association. Very held various temporary posts including one in Eastport, Maine, and North Beverly, Massachusetts. The years 1836 to1838 were Very's most productive and successful. After 1840, Very continued to write poetry sporadically, but none of his later work contained the inspirations and religious fervor of his earlier work. He died in 1880.

Lydia Louisa Ann Very, author and illustrator, was born in Salem in 1823, the youngest child of Jones and Lydia (Very) Very. She was educated in the Salem public school. Between 1846 and 1876, she taught primary grades at Henry Kemble Oliver's classical school in Salem. Lydia never married and lived with her mother, sister Frances, and brothers Jones and Washington at 154 Federal Street.

Lydia Very's poems and prose pieces appeared in various Salem and Boston newspapers. In 1856, her first small volume, Poems, was published. In 1890, it was reprinted with additional poems and essays added as Poems and Prose Writings. Her additional books include two nature books: An Old Fashioned Garden, and Walks and Musings Therein (1900), and Sayings and Doings Among Insects and Flowers (1897); three novels: The Better Patch or Sylph, the Organ Grinder's Daughter (1898), A Strange Disclosure (1898), and A Strange Recluse (1899). A self-taught artist, Lydia also illustrated and wrote the verse for an edition of Little Red Riding Hood, and three other children's books. She died in 1901.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materals about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 1803-1882
Very, Frank W. (Frank Washington), 1852-1927
Very, James
Very, Jonathan
Very, Jones, 1813-1880
Very, Lydia L. A. (Lydia Louisa Anna), 1823-1901
Very, Washington
Harvard University
Epic poetry
Illustration of books
Ship Rock (Peabody)
Transcendentalism (New England)
Women authors
Salem (Mass.)
Religious poetry


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Very Family Papers, MSS 83, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This collection constitutes a reorganization and integration of miscellaneous manuscripts, all of which are from an unknown source. One letter from Lydia Louise A. Very to Mrs. Nathan Dane Appleton (Box 1, Folder 21) was donated by Janet Appleton in 1991 (accession #90981). A letter from Henry David Thoreau to John Lewis Russell, dated January 6, 1858, was removed from this collection and is now MSS 0.323.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Caroline Preston, [1980s]. Updated by Catherine Robertson, November 2014. Updated by Hilary Streifer, June 2019

Related Material

Additional collections of Jones Very manuscripts are located at the Andover Theological Seminary, Harvard Archives, and Houghton Library.

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