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MS Am 1179-1179.18

Parsons, Thomas William, 1819-1892. Thomas William Parsons papers, 1836-1942: Guide.

Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University


Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 USA

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Location: b, f
Call No.: MS Am 1179-1179.18
Repository: Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University
Creator: Parsons, Thomas William, 1819-1892.
Title: Thomas William Parsons papers,
Date(s): 1836-1942.
Quantity: 1 collection (3 linear feet (4 boxes, 9 volumes)
Language of materials: Collection materials are in English and Italian.
Abstract: Correspondence, manuscripts of poems, translations of Dante's works, and other materials by and about American poet and translator Thomas William Parsons.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

41-3500 - 41-3883 (only some numbers). Gift of Charles E. Goodspeed; received: 1942 March 30.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

55M-98. Gift of George T. Goodspeed, Goodspeed's Book shop, 18 Beacon Street, Boston, Mass.; received: 1956 January 13.

Conditions Governing Access:

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.

Preferred Citation for Publication:

Thomas William Parsons Papers, 1836-1942 (MS Am 1179-1179.18). Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Separated Materials

See also oil portrait of Parsons, pfMS Am 2883.

Biographical / Historical

Thomas William Parsons (1819-1892) was a dentist, a poet, and translator of Dante's works. His early education was at the Boston Latin School though he did not graduate. In 1836 he visited Italy where he studied Italian literature and translated the first ten cantos of Dante's Inferno. He returned to Boston in 1837 and studied dentistry at the Harvard Medical School (though he did not receive a degree) and then practiced dentistry in Boston. In 1853 Harvard College granted him an honorary A.M. degree. In 1857 he married Anna (or Hannah) M. Allen (1821-1881). After 1872 he engaged in only literary pursuits chiefly in Boston, Scituate, and Wayland.
Parsons is known especially for his translation of Dante. In 1843 he printed anonymously the earliest published American translation of any considerable portion of Dante: The first ten cantos of the Inferno of Dante Alighieri: Newly translated into English verse. Boston: W.D. Ticknor (private printing), 1843. In later years he published the entire Inferno (1867), about two-thirds of the Purgatorio, and others. His most frequently quoted poem is "On a bust of Dante." It is said that Parsons served as the model for Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "the Poet" in his Tales of a Wayside Inn.


Arranged in call number order. Includes index of first lines at end of finding aid.

Scope and Contents

Contains correspondence, manuscripts of poems, translations of Dante's Divine Comedy, and related writings. Correspondence (including letters to, from, and about Parsons) pertains mainly to literary and social matters. Manuscripts include both published and unpublished poems written by Parsons to commemorate public occasions. Parsons' notebooks contain his translation of the Divine Comedy and notes. Other material includes bibliographies, notes, and catalogs of Parsons' poems compiled by C. B. Goodspeed and A. H. Bent. Also newspaper clippings, photographs, scrapbooks, and other biographical material about Parsons.

Container List

Index of first lines found in bMS Am 1179