Lilly Library Manuscript Collections


The Brunn mss., 1879-1921, are the letters and poems of James Whitcomb Riley, 1849-1916, poet, sent to Elizabeth D. Kahle, 1861?- , of New Brighton, Pennsylvania. She first met Riley when she was seventeen at a literary society meeting in Springfield, Ohio, where he was reading some of his poems. A correspondence ensued between them and sometime in 1882 Riley called upon her. During this time Miss Kahle moved to Pittsburgh where she was engaged in painting china for the Fort Pitt Glass House. In 1884 she was married to Harry Brunn, a salesman, and continued to live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Thereafter the letter writing ceased except for a letter of January 7, 1889, from Elizabeth D. (Kahle) Brunn, found in the Riley mss. Twenty-four other letters, 1879-1884, from Elizabeth D. (Kahle) Brunn to Riley are also located in the Riley mss. Elizabeth D. (Kahle) Brunn was still living in August of 1921.

The letters from Riley, written for the most part in pencil but gradually changing to ink, are often personal in nature. In the letter of January 29, 1879, he apologized for writing in pencil. They were written chiefly from Greenfield and Indianapolis with one from Kokomo, Indiana. He spoke with admiration of Dulcina (Mason) Jordan, poet of Richmond, Indiana, and reported on his growing lecture engagements with the bureau of Robert J. Burdette. He noted that Charles Anderson Dana of the New York Sun and Eliza Anna Farman (Mrs. Charles Stuart Pratt) of Wide Awake, a child's magazine, were printing some of his poems. On one occasion he compared himself rather unfavorably with his brother, John Andrew Riley, who was also a poet. He commented briefly on his political views in a letter of October 6, 1880, when he acknowledged himself as "among the Garfield guards."

One letter of Riley to Elizabeth Kahle appears with minor variations in Riley's own hand in the Brunn mss. and also in the Riley mss., that of September 18, 1879, both appended to the poem Hope.

Scattered throughout the letters are several poems, all of which have appeared in published form in the six volume set of the Biographical Edition of Riley's Works in 1913 (Lilly PS2700 .E98 1913): Baby's dying (II:358), Dream (I:232), Hope II:130), June (I:168), The Little Tiny Kickshaw (II:131), Of the Whole World Mine (I:141), An Outworn Sappho (II:238), Sleep (II:167), or appeared in The Youth of James Whitcomb Riley by John Marcus Dickey in 1919 (Lilly PS2706 .D542): Lines in a Letter enclosing a picture (page 296).

Concluding the material is a poem attributed to Riley, entitled Fair spirit - mate mine, produced by spirit writing in May of 1921. This event is recorded in Love Letters of the Bachelor Poet, James Whitcomb Riley, published by the Bibliophile Society of Boston in 1922 with the edition limited to 475 copies (Lilly PS2706 .A6 1922). This volume contains all of the above letters of Riley to Miss Kahle with the exception of two undated fragments. Several are reproduced in facsimile. The photograph of Riley enclosed in the letter of February 29, 1880, is published on page 104. Three poems by Riley, Leonainie on pages 42-43, Old-Fashioned Roses on page 59, Mirage on page 63, the Alice Cary poem on pages 87-89, are not included in this collection.

The four page leaflet entitled "New Year's Greeting of the Carriers of the Indianapolis Daily Journal 1881" which the Russo Bibliography of Riley (Lilly PS2706 .A4 R9) cites on page 151 as having been seen only in facsimile in the Love Letters of the Bachelor Poet was transferred to the Book Department of the Lilly Library (Lilly PS2704 .N533).

Collection size: 46 items

For more information about this collection and any related materials contact the Public Services Department, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405. Call (812) 855-2452 or send an email using our Ask a Question form.