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  • The Burgunder Collection at Cornell
  • James Tyler (bio)

I am now involved in the most interesting and absorbing project of my whole life,” Bernard F. Burgunder wrote on 13 November 1958 to his friend the London bookseller Harry Mushlin. This project, nothing less than the building of a first-rate Shaw research collection at Cornell University, was in fact begun some forty years earlier, soon after Burgunder’s graduation from Cornell in 1918; and its origins can be traced even further back, when as a boy in Wilkes-Barre he had first seen a play by the controversial, iconoclastic Bernard Shaw, The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnet, staged by Dublin’s Abbey Players on their first American tour, in the theater of which Burgunder’s father was managing director.

Fascinated with Shaw, Burgunder wanted as a Cornell student to sign up for a course on the playwright, but there wasn’t one. “Go to the Library,” his English professor Martin Sampson advised him. He did, and read, but was not satisfied. The Cornell University Library, at that time already one of the best in the country, was poorly supplied with Shaw. An understanding of the value of a comprehensive collection focused on a single author began to take shape in the thoughtful student’s mind.

Burgunder was never a millionaire. “Not a tycoon,” he would say. He shopped thriftily and chose his purchases cautiously, sometimes following an item for years in auction rooms and dealers’ catalogues before deciding to buy. But persistence was in his blood. By 1930 he had put together a collection of some four hundred items, both printed and manuscript, which included first editions of Cashel Byron’s Profession (1886) and Widowers’ Houses (1893); rough proofs of Androcles and the Lion (1913) and O’Flaherty V.C. (1916), the latter a copy given by Shaw to Lady Gregory and by her to John Quinn, at the sale of whose library Burgunder bought [End Page 129] it in 1924; periodical publications of The Irrational Knot (in Our Corner, 1885–87) and Pygmalion (in Everybody’s Magazine, 1914). But he also cast his net far beyond the usual “firsts.” Early on, he bought galleys of Pygmalion, corrected in Shaw’s hand; the original typescript (twenty-eight leaves, heavily revised by Shaw) of On Going to Church; and the original manuscript of two chapters of Shaw’s third novel, Love among the Artists, hand dated “London 1881 [.]” As early as 1921 he bought the unpublished Max Beerbohm caricature “The Iconoclast’s One Friend” (c. 1902), representing Shaw accosted by “A Member of Mrs. Warren’s Profession.”

After 1930 Burgunder acquired very little Shaw for twenty-five years. In 1955, thinking that perhaps the time had come to sell, he decided to contact his alma mater. An enthusiastic response from Stephen A. McCarthy, Director of Libraries, and George H. Healey, Curator of Rare Books, put other thoughts out of his mind. Not only did he present his collection to Cornell in 1956 (one week before the centenary of Shaw’s birth), but he was inspired to renew his collecting efforts and to establish a library fund for buying more Shaw. Burgunder soon became known at Cornell as “the ideal donor,” unlike those who made only a single gift and then walked away. Through consultation and collaboration, gifts of funds and gifts in kind, he participated actively in the building of the collection for nearly thirty years, until his death on 3 March 1986. Communicating frequently with scholars (notably Dan H. Laurence), with dealers (notably Harry Mushlin), and with librarians (notably George Healey), he gradually refined the collecting criteria already evident in his choice of purchases in the 1920s.

As a theater manager’s son, and as stage manager for many years in a semi-professional theater group, Burgunder took a special interest in the composition, production, and publication of Shaw’s plays. His often-stated objective, however, was from the start much larger: to assemble as complete a picture as possible of Bernard Shaw in all his varied aspects in order to bring the scholar as close as possible to his subject. When considering a purchase Burgunder’s question was always...

Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1480
Print ISSN
0741-5842
Pages
pp. 129-135
Launched on MUSE
2001-09-01
Open Access
No
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