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John Godfrey Saxe papers

Identifier: C-26
The collection touches upon the many aspects of John Godfrey Saxe's life, work and family. There are many manuscript copies of his poems and lectures; business and personal letters, correspondence within the large family, documents of various kinds, including the deed to the family burial plot in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY; copyright contracts, typescripts of poems and copies of newspaper clippings, as well as three scrapbooks of clippings, obituaries, and reviews of Saxe's poetry. The material documents the life of a boy from very rural northern Vermont who worked hard to get through college, Phi Beta Kappa, and became famous by writing exactly what the public wanted.

The materials date from 1843 to 1932 and present a picture of a famous figure and his many family and other connections. The last years of his life are not much documented. There are four series of materials: Poems and Holograph materials, published and unpublished; Correspondence both business and family; Family Papers; Scrapbooks.


  • 1843 - 1932


Conditions Governing Access

Open for research without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

For permission to publish materials, contact: Special Collections & Archives Middlebury College Phone: (802) 443-2387 Email:


6 Boxes


The Saxe Papers are arranged in 4 series which include published and unpublished works, letters, family documents and scrap books. The letters especially tell the story of a tragic family life, but also reveal life in Vermont and New York in the 19th Century. Not exactly a poet, but a popular "versifier", Saxe was in fact a lawyer, a publisher, a journalist, a lecturer and ran for public office. He ended his life with his only surviving child, his son Charles, in Albany, where he died at the age of seventy-one, after ten years of depression and reclusion.

Biographical / Historical

John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887) was born at Highgate, Vermont on the 2nd of June 1816, the second son of Peter Saxe and Elizabeth Jewett. He was graduated at Middlebury College in 1839, and was admitted to the bar at St. Albans, Vermont in 1843. He practiced law for seven years in Northern Vermont, and gained fame through regular contributions to Knickerbocker, the leading magazine of the day. One of these was "Rhyme of the Rail," in which the sound admirably echoes the sense, and upon which rested his early fame. From 1850 to 1856 he edited the Burlington, VT Sentinel. In 1860 he sold the paper and thereafter trusted to literature for his living. In 1859 and 1860 he was the candidate of the Democratic Party for governor of Vermont.

Saxe was famous and highly regarded for his mainly satirical poetry: "Progress" (1846), "Captain Jones's Misadventure" (1847), "Proud Miss MacBride" (1848). He was extremely witty and cheerful, full of humor and clever puns. A newspaper review of a lost poem that he delivered at the Commencement of Henry Female College at Louisville, KY, rhapsodizes, "It is a sad mistake to fancy that Saxe is merely the wittiest of poets. He is among the most poetical of wits."

In 1860 he moved to Albany, New York. He was at the height of his fame at this time, making regular contributions to Harper's and Atlantic Monthly as late as 1874. He spent 23 consecutive summers in Saratoga, at that time the summit of fashion and luxury, where he wrote many of his best verses ("Song of Saratoga"). In 1872, Saxe moved to Brooklyn, NY. Here he expected to live out his days with his children. In 1874, however, the tragic series of family deaths began.

Saxe was a happy and devoted family man, delighting in his three daughters and two sons. He was given to occasional bouts of "melancholy" we learn from a fond biography by Russell W. Taft, "John Godfrey Saxe. A Biographical Sketch of Vermont's Lawyer, Journalist, Lecturer and Rhymster." With the deaths of his daughters, all three of tuberculosis, his wife of 40 years, and his eldest son and his wife in a period of seven years, the cheerful, punning, happy John Godfrey Saxe was plunged into an all pervading sadness, deep depression and hopelessness. This may have been aggravated by the head injury sustained in a train wreck in 1875, after which, though only 59, he began aging rapidly and obviously. He seems never to have been able to grasp the tragedies that overtook him and, in the last 3 years of his life residing in the home of his son, Charles, would not leave his rooms and accepted only the companionship of his valet. Asked if he would receive his favorite sister-in-law, (his wife's younger sister), replied, "Tell her I would like to see her, but--I cannot, I cannot bear to be reminded of what I once was--of the days of my hope and strength, when the world had charms that are now dead to me; before sickness had deprived me of my health, and death had robbed me of my loved ones." After years of prolific writing Saxe never wrote another line in the last ten years of his life.


The Saxe Papers are arranged in 4 Series. Series 1 consists of poems and holograph manuscripts, arranged alphabetically by title. Series 2 is made up of correspondence: 238 letters arranged by recipient or sender, in date order within each group. (1843-1880) and 118 letters of family correspondence arranged by name alphabetically and in chronological order within each group.(1868-1932). Series 3 consists of the family papers, there are in turn arranged by subject in alphabetical order. Series 4 consists of three scrapbooks started by J. G. Saxe and continued by family members until J. G. Saxe II.

Other Finding Aids

Immediate Source of Acquisition

A gift to Middlebury College by the Will of John Godfrey Saxe, (grandson of John Godfrey Saxe) from his estate dated Dec. 17, 1951.

Repository Details

Part of the Middlebury College Special Collections & Archives Repository

Middlebury College
Davis Family Library
110 Storrs Avenue
Middlebury Vermont 05753 United States