News has travelled far and wide of the identification within our collection of an unknown letter by René Descartes and the decision to return it to its rightful owner, the Institut de France. On Friday, March 5, about a week after the initial press release Google picked up on the news from Haverford’s new Twitter account and re-tweeted the message to millions world-wide:
“Google searches help uncover stolen Descartes document in ‘rich trove’ at Haverford College.”
This “rich trove,” which has received increased attention since the announcement, is the Charles Roberts Autograph Letters Collection—CRALC, for short. The collection was amassed by alumnus Charles Roberts, Haverford class of 1864, over the course of his lifetime and was left to the College, along with the money for building Roberts Hall in 1902 by his widow Lucy Branson Roberts. When bequeathed to the College CRALC included over 12,000 individual letters and since that time has grown to over 20,000 documents. Like most autograph collections put together in the 19th century, this one centers on the correspondence of American and European gentlemen in areas such as literature, philosophy, politics, government, science, the arts and so on.
Over the course of the coming year Haverford Special Collections will feature on this blog selected letters from CRALC and will further explore the origins of the collection. To start, we begin where Charles Roberts began: the first letter he collected, written to him while still a student by President-elect Abraham Lincoln. The letter, a polite response to Roberts’ request for the politician’s autograph, is dated November 17, 1860, just 11 days after Lincoln won the presidential election. Roberts would go on to collect several more Lincoln letters, and today there are about a dozen Lincoln letters in the collection.