My aunt is well acquainted with Mr. Champlin Burrage [1874-1951], an Oxford man, who is librarian of the John Carter Brown library at Brown. (I hope to meet him very soon.)” — Lovecraft letter to Rheinhart Kleiner, April 1917.
Burrage was a New England man of a good family, who had graduated from Brown University in the class of 1896.
Mr. Burrage spent two years [1899-1900] at the Universities of Berlin and Marburg [and there became] familiar with the book markets and booksellers of Europe” — Annual report of the president to the Corporation of Brown University, 1915.
He later published groundbreaking work on the history of early English puritan dissenters and he became the Librarian of Manchester College, Oxford. He had married while in England, so there can be no question of a circa 1917 romantic entanglement with Lovecraft’s aunt. Though an affection or expectation between them during the 1890s is not impossible.
An account of Burrage’s arrival as Librarian at Brown, specifically his giving an inuagural lecture to senior students in December 1915, suggests that he shared with Lovecraft a certain affinity for the idea of rare books lurking in the old libraries of Europe…
Dec. 16 , in the John Carter Brown Library. The Librarian, Champlin Burrage, was the host of the evening and spoke on “Historical Libraries of Europe.” … He gave several anecdotes concerning mendicant librarians and their services in collecting rare and valuable books. In closing, he explained the methods by which rare books are discovered and obtained. His talk was out of the ordinary and roused an especial interest in those students of classical literature who were present. … After the speech Mr. Burrage conducted the members … to the basement, where he showed them the photophat [photostat], a machine used for producing copies of rare manuscripts and out of-print books.” — Brown Alumni Monthly, Jan 1916.
I seem to recall that there has been some scholarly discussion about Lovecraft’s knowledge of photostats, in relation to their appearance in Dexter Ward. The fact that Lovecraft might have had photostat copies of books made for him in the basement at Brown, possibly even while researching Dexter Ward, may be of interest to some in this respect.
Lovecraft was almost a little out-of-date in his mention of Champlin Burrage’s tenure at Brown, if the Lovecraft letter has been correctly dated to April 1917. Burrage was in post from 1915 to some time in the 1916-17 term. He then “retired” (Annual report of the president to the Corporation of Brown University, 1917) as Librarian at Brown, seemingly toward the end of the academic year 1916-17. If the dating of Lovecraft’s letter is correct, however, we might then surmise that Burrage only left his post in the spring of 1917. This dating is confirmed by the Encyclopedia Brunoniana…
Champlin Burrage, who had been librarian of Manchester College in Oxford was appointed to succeed Winship. Burrage remained only until 1917, and the library was under the care of Worthington C. Ford, until the appointment of Lawrence C. Wroth in 1923.”
In 1918 Burrage published the book John Pory’s Lost Description of Plymouth Colony in the Earliest Days of the Pilgrim Fathers, together with contemporary accounts of English colonization elsewhere in New England and in the Bermudas. A book which might have interested Lovecraft, as a collection of first-hand descriptions of very early New England townscapes.
There is then a gap in the historical record, in which Burrage seems to have completly switched his research track from puritans to pagans. His years after Brown appear to have been absorbed by a “complet[e] a study of the hieroglyphic inscriptions of Minoan Crete”, on which he first published in 1921. At that time the American Journal of Archaeology noted that his 1921 article, “recently appeared in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, gives but a hint of the mass of material on old Aegean scripts which he hopes soon to publish in book form.” Sadly his decade of work resulted only in a slim 42-page book in 1928, The Ithaca of the Odyssey : a New Attempt to Show that Thiáki is the Ithaca of Homer and to Discover the Lost Sites of the Hut of Eumaeus, the Spring of Ithacus Neritus and Polyctor, the Farm & House of Laertes the City and Port of Ithaca, and the Palace of Odysseus.
1929 saw Burrage listed as “Historian, Archaeologist” in Living honorary graduates of Brown University. He described himself as “Deliberately choosing the life of historical research, discovery of lost manuscripts, author” and was living with his wife at 5 Park Vale, Brookline, which is a suburb on the outskirts of central Boston. Burrage appears to have produced no further publications, in his last two decades from 1929 to 1951.
One wonders if Lovecraft might ever have visited Burrage on the outskirts of central Boston, as he made his summer travels in the region? Perhaps on behalf of his aunt? Or did Burrage ever come to tea with his aunt while Lovecraft was there, perhaps as a parting visit in the early summer of 1917? Burrage was an expert on early Puritans, early New England townscapes, rare books in European libraries, and later on the lost scripts of then-mysterious Minoan Crete. Given this, he and Lovecraft might have had a fair bit to talk about.