New Content: Claude Fredericks Collection of James Merrill

The Modern Literature Collection is proud to present the Claude Fredericks Collection of James Merrill, our latest resource in James Merrill scholarship. James Merrill and Claude Fredericks had a very close relationship that lasted throughout their lifetimes. Over the course of this long friendship, Claude Fredericks accumulated several of James Merrill’s personalized manuscripts and publications, as well as assorted ephemera and realia. All of these works are now available in this new collection. There are also snapshots from the 1980s, including some with Merrill and David Jackson, or Fredericks himself, such as in the following picture:

Claude Fredericks reading in his mother’s living room in Houston, May 1984

Claude Fredericks was born in Springfield, MO in 1923, but grew up dreaming of heading to New York City and beyond. He was always interested in reading, plays, writing in his journal, and symphony concerts. In his youth he frequently traveled to Europe, the Caribbean and Mexico.

At age 17, Fredericks started college at Harvard, but dropped out after a year and a half, admitting his time there was spent primarily writing for personal endeavors and attending concerts. After Harvard he moved to New York and resolved to develop his own press. In a butcher’s basement in 1947, the Banyan Press was born. Fredericks printed several mainly unpublished works by famous authors, including but not limited to Richard Eberhart, James Merrill, Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, and Charles Simic.

Fredericks describes his meeting of James Merrill at a party as though he had heard a voice “that was the first instrument of bewitching.” Merrill too, felt as if he had just met the love of his life, but eventually found it hard to love another writer. He started to slowly develop a somewhat competitive outlook on their relationship. Still, Merrill showed his commitment to Fredericks by giving him his mother’s gold signet ring, in the winter of 1950.

James Merrill’s signet gold ring and the rest of the contents from the ring box. The ring was engraved to Merrill from his mother “J.I.M. from H.I.M. 3-3-1944“.

After Fredericks and Merrill became lovers, they traveled around Europe together. They spent their time writing and coping with their anxiety about a potential WWIII, as the escalating Cold War spread tension across the continent. They escaped to an island retreat, which at first glance seemed like they had reached the end-goal of their creative lives. Before long, however, Merrill began to feel isolated. He moved to Rome seeking health treatment, and Fredericks, wary about the treatment, followed Merrill to Rome. Ultimately they grew apart in Rome and Fredericks fell in love with another man. However, Fredericks and Merrill remained close friends for the rest of their lives.

Merrill gave Fredericks inscribed copies of many of his publications and manuscripts. These included Merrill’s inscribed typescript copy of First Poems, published by Knopf in 1951. Inserted in the copy was a postcard containing Merrill’s handwritten notes on mistakes in the book.

Merrill’s postcard annotations for First Poems

A fine press, limited edition, chapbook style broadside called Violent Pastoral, also included in the collection, contains the interesting inscription, “for Claude – il miglia tipografo.”

Violent Pastoral title page, inscribed to Fredericks

See what else is included by exploring the Claude Fredericks Collection of James Merrill finding aid and find links to our other James Merrill resources here. The acquisition of the Claude Fredericks Collection of James Merrill was made possible by the continuing generosity of the Hellen Ingram Plummer Charitable Foundation Inc.

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