Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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John Grier Varner:

An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Varner, John Grier, 1905-1978
Title: John Grier Varner Papers
Dates: 1798-1978
Extent: 12 document boxes (5.04 linear feet)
Abstract: These papers document the literary research and life of the American educator and scholar. They consist mostly of transcriptions and photocopies of manuscript material created by nineteenth-century literary figures, including Sarah Helen Whitman and Edgar Allan Poe. Also present are printed materials, scrapbooks, and correspondence.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-4338
Language: English
Access: Open for research. Part or all of this collection is housed off-site and may require up to three business days' notice for access in the Ransom Center's Reading and Viewing Room. Please contact the Center before requesting this material: reference@hrc.utexas.edu.

Acquisition: Gift, 1979 (G227, G246, G288, G596)
Processed by: Jennifer B. Patterson, 1992, updated by Hagan Barber, 2012

The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center

John Grier Varner was born March 30, 1905, in Mount Pleasant, Texas. He grew up in Denton, and received his B.A. from Austin College in 1926. After teaching in Mississippi and Tennessee for four years, Varner entered the University of Virginia as a graduate student. He received an M.A. and finished his Ph.D. coursework before accepting a position as Assistant Professor of English and Director of Musical Activities at Washington and Lee University in 1938. Two years later, he completed his dissertation, a biography of the poet and spiritualist Sarah Helen Whitman, and received his Ph.D.
Varner's earliest scholarly interest was Edgar Allan Poe. His first contribution to the literary community was Edgar Allan Poe and The Philadelphia Saturday Courier, published in 1933. Varner edited five of Poe's earliest published short stories in this book. The women associated with Poe, like Sarah Helen Whitman, Frances Sargent Osgood, and Maria Gowen Brooks, also intrigued Varner, and he studied them as well.
World War II cut short Varner's research of 19th-century literature. In 1943, he joined the State Department and was sent to Latin America because of his proficiency in Spanish. Based in Venezuela, Varner and his wife Jeannette travelled and lectured all over the area for the next 3 years. In 1947, the U.S. embassy offered him a position as cultural attach, and he also joined the staff of the University of Texas as Visiting Associated Professor of English and Director of English for Foreign Students.
Returning to Austin a few years later, Varner and his wife began to publish books about Latin America. The first of these was The Florida of the Inca (1951), which translated and edited Garcilaso de la Vega's account of the DeSoto expedition. The book received scholarly and popular acclaim.
Three years later, Varner and his wife travelled to Spain to begin work on a biography of de la Vega. Varner continued to work on this massive project for the next 14 years, completing and publishing El Inca: The Life and Times of Garcilaso de Vega in 1968. Poor health soon forced him to retire, but Varner continued to find new projects, and was finishing the draft of another book, The Dogs of Conquest, when he died on September 13, 1978.

Twelve boxes of correspondence, printed material, creative works, and scrapbook material, 1798-1978 (bulk 1931-39), document the literary research and life of John Grier Varner (1905-1978). The material is arranged in two series -- the first, entitled General (five folders, 1936-78) includes materials relating to Varner's activities and interests, and the second, entitled Research and Works (eleven boxes and eleven folders, 1798-1972, bulk 1931-39) represents Varner's research of Sarah Helen Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, and other nineteenth-century literary figures. Varner's original arrangement has been maintained where possible, especially in the second series.
The vast majority of the materials in the Varner Papers are transcriptions and photostats of manuscript material created by nineteenth-century literary figures, and used by Varner in his research. These copies include the works and correspondence of Sarah Helen Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, George Washington Eveleth, and John H. Ingram, among others. Especially well documented is Varner's research of Sarah Helen Whitman (1803-78), the Providence poet and spiritualist who was briefly engaged to Edgar Allan Poe. Also found in the collection are Varner's research notes, as well as correspondence, published and unpublished creative works, and printed materials he accumulated about the subjects he studied.
Varner's life and activities are less well documented. There are only five folders of records, and they consist mainly of printed materials accumulated by Varner. Significantly absent from the collection is Varner's later research on Latin American topics, as well as any personal papers.
A strength of the Varner Papers derives from the opportunity it offers users to learn about the research process, especially in the early twentieth-century. For example, Varner's correspondence about Sarah Helen Whitman illustrates how a researcher tracks down information and follows up on sources. Another potential area of research is that of nineteenth-century literary figures, and especially Sarah Helen Whitman, since Varner gathered his transcriptions and photostats from many different repositories and private collections.


Anthony, Katherine Susan, 1877-1965.
James, Edward T.
James, Janet Wilson, 1918- .
O'Sullivan, Vincent, 1872-1940.
Power, Minerva Lester.
Spofford, Dorothy.
Sugden, Avis.
Van Male, John.
Wilson, James Southall, 1880-1963.
Wyllie, John Cook, 1908-1968.


Authors, American.
Bacon, Delia Salter, 1811-1859.
Brooks, Maria Gowen, 1795-1845.
Eveleth, George Washington.
Ingram, John Henry, 1849-1916.
McCrea, Jane, 1753-1777.
Osgood, Frances Sargent Locke, 1811-1850.
Poe, Edgar Allan, 1809-1849.
Russell, Irving.
Whitman, John Winslow, 1798-1833.
Whitman, Sarah Helen Power, 1803-1878.

Document Types

Christmas cards.
Galley proofs.