Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays -- S. Foster Damon

S. Foster DamonS. Foster Damon was born in Newton, Massachusetts, on February 12, 1893. In 1914 he graduated from Harvard, where he majored in music and was captain of the fencing team for two years. During the first World War, Damon worked in an airplane factory and gave bayonet instruction to student soldiers at Harvard. After the war he was an instructor in the English Department at Harvard and earned a master of arts degree in 1926. Two years earlier, his book, William Blake, His Philosophy and Symbols, had been published and reviewed by Richard LeGallienne, who noted that Damon, with his interest in alchemy and spiritualism, was especially qualified to expound "the esoteric side of Blake's genius," and placed Blake "in his historical earthly setting with true biographical art." Damon was to become one of the world's leading authorities on Blake, publishing several influential books during the course of his career.

He came to Brown in 1927, where he joined his cousin, Lindsay Todd Damon, in the English Department as assistant professor. He was promoted to associate professor in 1930 and professor in 1936. He was curator of the Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays in the University Library, and was particularly interested in building up its extensive collection of sheet music. He built up the Collection's holdings of printings of A Visit of St. Nicholas, and shared his knowledge in a television presentation, Styles in Santa Claus on the Evening on College Hill series. He was also interested in the history of square dancing and actively participated in a square dancing group consisting of library employees and others.

His talents and interests ranged far and wide. He wrote an annual Punch and Judy show for the Sea Fair at Annisquam, Massachusetts, where he spent his summers. His play, The Witch of Dogtown, which won the Russell Crouse award, was produced in Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1955. He was a founder of the Harvard Musical Review. He also wrote a biography of Amy Lowell, a book on the history of Punch and Judy, and works on square dancing , "Yankee Doodle", and witchcraft. He was one of the poets whose verse was published in Eight Harvard Poets. Under the pseudonym "Samuel Nomad" he published in 1964 a book of 66 sonnets (from beyond the grave ) entitled Nightmare Cemetery. He also published in 1971 The Moulton Tragedy, a heroic poem with lyrics, which he had been writing since 1928 and of which a number of excerpts had been printed since the 1930s in Poetry magazine and other periodicals.

S. Foster Damon woodcutIn 1968 the University published William Blake: Essays for S. Foster Damon, and celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday with a two-day festival, during which Damon read from his poems, a music professor played Damon's compositions, and students performed parts of Damon's play, The Witch of Dogtown, and a seminar on Blake was held. Two hundred copies were printed of A Birthday Garl and for S. Foster Damon: tributes collected in honor of his seventy-fifth birthday. He also received an honorary Litt.D. degree from Brown in 1968, awarded with a citation which began:

"No citation can summarize adequately the variety of your accomplishments. Your pioneering book, published in 1925, is the foundation for all serious critical study of William Blake conducted since. Your work on Amy Lowell, Thomas Holley Chivers, James Joyce, and many other authors is distinguished. Poet, playwright, composer, pianist, choreographer, gourmet -- few men, even of the Renaissance, have shown your omnipresence in the creative arts, and your sensitivity to all of them."

Damon died on December 25, 1971, in Smithfield, Rhode Island.


Woodcut of S. Foster Damon copyright © Ilse Nesbitt. Used by permission of the artist.

Source: Martha Mitchell. Encyclopedia Brunoniana (Providence, Rhode Island: Brown University Library, 1993).


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