John Luther Long:
An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
John Luther Long was born in Hanover, Pennsylvania, in 1861. He was admitted to the bar in Philadelphia on October 29, 1881, and became a practicing lawyer. Though his profession was law, he enjoyed literature and throughout his life, he wrote many short stories, plays, poetry, and a few librettos.
On January 17, 1882, he married Mary Jane Sprenkle. The first year of their marriage, Long kept a diary primarily focusing on his work as a lawyer, though he does disclose more personal information here than in most of his correspondence. Bayard, their only child, was born by the summer of 1886.
Mr. Long spent most summer months writing at Spray Beach, New Jersey, going into the city only when necessary. By 1895, his efforts paid off with his first published work, Miss Cherry Blossom of Tokyo. Fascinated with Japanese culture, he wrote several stories set to this theme. According to the Dictionary of American Biography IV, "...he had never been in Japan. His story and atmosphere were based on the observations of his sister, Mrs. Irwin Correll, the wife of a missionary. The details were carefully verified from her experience." Unfortunately, very little of her correspondence exists in this collection.
Over one hundred stories and plays are represented in the collection, and some illustrate Long's own interpretation of himself as "a sentimentalist, and a feminist and proud of it" ( New York Times, November 1, 1927). Much of his writing focuses on romantic relationships between men and women. This theme pervades his writing whether the story is set in America or the Orient. The most famous of his oriental stories was Madame Butterfly David Belasco worked with Mr. Long to produce a very elaborate play from this story. This was the impetus of Long's career as a writer. He worked on several other projects with Belasco, including The Darling of the Gods and Andrea. He also worked with other writers, as well as with actresses Leslie Carter ( Kassa) and Minnie Maddern Fiske ( Dolice). None of Long's writings had the success of Madame Butterfly, which was first produced by David Belasco at the Herald Square Theatre in New York on March 5, 1900. Giacomo Puccini was inspired by this production and chose it for the libretto of his popular opera Madame Butterfly, which premiered in English in New York on November 12, 1906.
Mr. Long chose not to allow the media or public responses of his work to interfere with his desire for a quiet private life. He spent the last two months of his life at a sanatorium in Clifton Springs, New York. He died on October 31, 1927, following an operation.
The papers of John Luther Long consist mainly of correspondence and literary manuscripts documenting his career from 1881 to 1927 (bulk 1898-1920). The papers are arranged in three series: Correspondence, 1870-1944, Literary Works, 1893-1927, and Miscellaneous, 1873-1958.
The Correspondence series (boxes 1-8) is subdivided into family and literary correspondence. Arrangement within these subseries is chronological. Family correspondence is fairly extensive between 1885 and 1920, but then drops off considerably. Most of the letters from 1870-1887 are to John from his wife, Mary, and to Mary from her mother. The majority of letters from John to his wife are from 1904 to 1911, during the summer months while he was at Spray Beach, NJ. Long's letters consist primarily of personal and family business matters such as getting the car battery charged or sending him more clean shirts. The remainder of correspondence is dominated by letters from Long's son, Bayard, to his mother and to his friend, Janet B. Walter. Bayard's correspondence with Janet began after high school in 1909, and can be characterized as two friends discussing current thoughts and ideas, though occasionally Bayard mentions his feelings about his father. His letters to her continue through his scholastic endeavors and travels as a young botanist. They remained friends for many years, though the correspondence in the collection ends in the 1940s. There is very little correspondence from Janet to Bayard.
The literary correspondence subseries comprises general correspondence (1893-1922 and n.d.), and correspondence from Alice Kauser (1902-1914), and David Belasco (1902-1919 and n.d.). In the general correspondence folder, there are three items from Leslie Carter, four items from Harrison Grey Fiske, and two items from Minnie Maddern Fiske along with other letters concerning the publication of his works. The correspondence of Long's agent, Alice Kauser, is concerned primarily with contracts between Long and Carter over Kassa, and Long and Mrs. Fiske. Some of the other matters discussed are notes on Hatasu and an offer to buy Darling of the Gods.
David Belasco's correspondence discusses various stages of the following works: Kitsu, Darling of the Gods, Jane and Me, and Madame Butterfly (including a potential sequel). Belasco is friendly in his letters; however, business is the focal point of his correspondence.
Literary Works (boxes 9-17) contain some published titles (1895-1917), though most titles appear to be unpublished versions of Long's short stories, plays, poetry, and librettos. There are versions of Madame Butterfly and a potential sequel, as well as a copy of Madame Glory (perhaps the original title to Madame Butterfly). Several versions of Where Did She Go? appear throughout this series in various stages and in bits and pieces. Long did not date his works, nor did he identify versions. There are some minor title variations, such as Shall He Have a Monument and Shall We Have a Monument. Other works have alternative titles, like The Swordsman, which also has five other titles. Long made holographic notations on many of his typed works, while other titles have few additional comments or changes from the original typed copy.
The literary works are arranged by the size of the material and then alphabetically by title. The four sizes of materials are: oversize, galley proofs, letter size, and half letter size (Long typed many of his stories on small, 4 x 7 inch sheets. Most of these sheets are quite brittle, and required tuxedo boxes to protect them and keep them in order. Hereafter, this material will be referred to as tuxedo box material). Both the letter size materials and the tuxedo boxes contain groups of writings that came to the Ransom Center bundled together. These groupings, called combined works, have been maintained to preserve original order. Many of the works in these groups are not complete and titles are not always apparent. Some works have several titles, all of which are indicated in the folder list using a slash to distinguish one title from another. There are six groups of combined works housed in the letter size section and three groups in the tuxedo box section. The combined works are housed at the end of the alphabetical portion of each section and are listed similarly in the folder list. The letter size, oversize, and galley proofs are in a single alphabetical listing in the folder list, with indications for oversize and galley housing.
The Miscellaneous Series (boxes 18-20) consists of clippings of reviews for books by Long and various theatrical shows, arranged chronologically under each title. Photographs comprise a significant portion of this series, and there are several copies of Mr. Long's promotional photograph. The photographs were removed from the two family albums to preserve the images; unfortunately most of them are not identified. The order in which they appeared in the albums has been maintained.
Bayard Long's school materials from 1895-1909 constitute the next largest section of this series, with various classes represented including math and biology. The remainder of this series are miscellaneous materials such as John Luther Long's diary, address books, receipts, and the Long family seal and arms.
Open for research
Deborah Shelby, 1993