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William K. Wimsatt, Jr. Papers 2

Identifier: GTM-GAMMS442

Collection-level Scope and Content Note

The William K. Wimsatt Papers 2 contain the correspondence, notes, and collected printed materials of William K. Wimsatt, a scholar, literary theorist, and Sterling Professor of English at Yale University. The bulk of the collection consists of offprints given to Wimsatt on a variety of topics, and provide a secondary source base for students of Alexander Pope, Samuel Johnson, James Boswell, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. His correspondence and collected printed materials also provide insight into the profession of academia and illuminate Wimsatt's extensive connections with the most prominent literary scholars of the mid-twentieth century.

Gift of Mrs. Wimsatt.


  • 1767 - 1975
  • Majority of material found within 1939 - 1975

Collection-level Access Restrictions

Most manuscripts collections at the Georgetown University Booth Family Center for Special Collections are open to researchers; however, restrictions may apply to some collections. Collections stored off site require a minimum of three days for retrieval. For use of all manuscripts collections, researchers are advised to contact the Booth Family Center for Special Collections in advance of any visit.

Biographical note

William Kurtz Wimsatt, Jr. was born on November 17, 1907 in Washington, D.C., the son of William Kurtz Wimsatt, a surgeon, and Bertha McSherry Wimsatt. He recieved his B.A. degree (summa cum laude) from Georgetown University in 1928, his M.A. degree from the Catholic University of America in 1929, and his Ph.D. in English Literature from Yale University in 1939. In 1944, he married Margaret Elizabeth Hecht, and they had two children, William Alexander and James Christopher. He served as head of the English Department at Portsmouth Priory School, in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, from 1930 to 1935. After he received his Ph.D., he became a member of the Yale faculty for thirty-five years. A specialist on 18th-century literature, Wimsatt wrote or edited a significant number of works on the period, including "The Prose Style of Samuel Johnson" (1941); "Selected Poetry and Prose of Alexander Pope" (1951); "Boswell for Defense" (1959); "Samuel Johnson on Shekespeare" (1960); "The Portraits of Alexander Pope" (1965); and "Samuel Johnson: Selected Poetry and Prose" (1978). But Wimsatt is best known for his work as a literary theorist. In collaboration with Monroe C. Beardsley, Wimsatt published a collection of essays, "The Verbal Icon", in 1954. One of these essays, "The Intentional Fallacy", maintained that a poem or book was a self-sustaining entity (verbal icon) that deserved to be evaluated on its own terms, regardless of the "man behind the book". This theory represented the height of reaction against romanticism in literary theory, and most especially, the biographical approach to literary criticism. Other works of literary criticism by William Wimsatt include "Literary Criticism, A Shorty History" (1957); "Explication as Criticism: Selected Papers from the English Institute" (1963); and "Day of the Leopards: Essays in Defense of Poems" (1976). Wimsatt also served on the board of editors at Yale in charge of the publication, "Boswell's Journals". He held a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1946 and 1947, and a fellowship from the Ford Foundation's Fund for the Advancement of Education in 1953 and 1954. Wimsatt was also a former president of the Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the executive committee of the Modern Language Association of America, and chairman of the English Institute. In his private life as in his scholarly life Wimsatt exhibited a breadth of interests: he enjoyed playing chess, he was an amateur painter, and he collected Native American artifacts. He died on December 17, 1975 at Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut. (Sources: P.M. Thody, "William Kurtz Wimsatt, Jr., 1907-1975", Biography Resource Center (Biographical File, Wimsatt Papers 2, Box 4); "William K. Wimsatt, 68, Dead; Yale Expert on 1700's Authors" from the "New York Times" (Biographical File, Wimsatt Papers 2, Box 4))


6 Linear Feet (4 boxes)

Language of Materials



Gift of Mrs. Wimsatt.

Acquisition Information

Status: Open. Provenance: Processed by Erin C. Stewart and Catherine S. Meyendorff, August 2008.

William K. Wimsatt, Jr. Papers 2
Georgetown University Library Booth Family Center for Special Collections
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Repository Details

Part of the Georgetown University Manuscripts Repository

Lauinger Library, 5th Floor
37th and O Streets, N.W.
Washington DC 20057