Beinecke Top Tens: Daily Themes

December 1, 2013

By Nancy Kuhl

Daily Themes (now English 450), is a Yale Classic. Its disciples write a 250-500 word “theme” five days a week for every week of the semester—a practice that encourages odes to childhood and puppy love, eavesdropping at street corners for inspiration, and, eventually, an addiction to writing. Daily Themes has been in existence since about 1901, and its list of famous graduates is long. While none of the following objects were written for Daily Themes specifically, we can, perhaps, assume that they are all indebted to the discipline that the course instills.
July 1995 letter from Calvin Trillin, B.A. ‘57 and author of 1966 New Yorker article about the class, enclosing a copy of his novel, Runestruck.
YCAL MSS MISC Group 431, folder F-1
Correspondence, including unpublished lyrics, between Cole Porter, B.A. 1913, and Sara and Gerald Murphy.
YCAL MSS 468, Box 8, folders 136-137
Emily Dickinson: A Collection of Critical Essays by Richard Sewall, P.h.D ’33, who taught Daily Themes from 1941 until his retirement in 1976.
Za D562 S963S.
William Lyon Phelps, B.A. 1887, M.A. 1891, was the legendary first professor of Daily Themes. The William Lyon Phelps Collection (YCAL MSS 678) includes correspondence with some of the first Daily Themes students and future literary lights Sinclair Lewis, B.A. 1908 (Box 6), Thornton Wilder, B.A. ’20 (Box 9), and Stephen Vincent Benet, B.A. ’17 (Box 11).
Sinclair Lewis’ diary from his Yale years, some of which is in code.
YCAL MSS 268, Box 59, folders 846-847
God and Man at Yale: the Superstitions of Academic Freedom by William F. Buckley, B.A. ’50; Beinecke’s copy is inscribed to Walter L. Pforzheimer from the author, dated 29 April, 1952.
Zab B856 951G
First issue of The Paris Review, April 1953. The magazine was co-founded by Peter Matthiessen, B.A. ’50.
Za Zp218 v1:no1
Gertrude Stein went to Radcliffe, where she took that college’s version of Daily Themes; several of her assigments can be found in her literary archive (a detail from from one of Stein’s themes can be seen above).
YCAL MSS 76, Box 10, Folder 239

Complied by Charlotte Parker Y’13.

Beinecke Top Tens gather (approximately) ten related items to give an at-a-glance look at some of the Library’s interesting, important, strange, compelling, beautiful holdings. To see more lists, click here: Beinecke Top Tens. To suggest a list subject, contact us: Top Ten Ideas.