Remembering Stephen Parks

On July 22, 2021, Stephen Parks died.  Few people have shaped the Club and its collections more than Steve.  In addition to his service as Club president and as a member (and chair of) the Board of Incorporators, his lasting legacy is his 44 years of service as Librarian.  Generations of members have fond memories of time spent with Steve at tea, wine tastings at his elegant home (surrounded by his remarkable collections of medals, gothic revival furniture, and books), and his profound dedication to both the history of the book and the value of social interaction centered around the arts and letters.  Earle Havens offers the following remembrance:

There are scarcely any members of the Elizabethan Club who will not have known or benefitted in some way from the bibliophilic bonhommie, fine connoisseurship, and curatorial instincts of Stephen Parks over the past half century. Born in Columbus, Ohio on July 18, 1940, Steve (as he was known by all) was a proud 1961 graduate of Yale College having majored in art history. It was there that he developed a particular affection for English Gothic architecture, a passion that guided him throughout his life as a book collector. Eventually Steve built the most comprehensive private rare book, manuscript, and works on paper collections of its kind, the Stephen R. Parks Collection of Augustus Welby Pugin and the Gothic Revival, now preserved at Johns Hopkins University.

Steve cultivated his abiding affection for all things British while a graduate student at King’s College, Cambridge, where he studied bibliography under the legendary book historian A.N.L. Munby. This was followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Edinburgh, which forged a deep and lifelong love of the people and culture of Scotland, which Steve would visit every year without fail. His early scholarship focused on the London bookseller John Dunton, publisher of the first popular periodical miscellany the Athenian Mercury (1690-97), which was the subject of Steve’s first book, John Dunton and the English Book Trade (1976). In 1967, Steve was appointed inaugural Curator of the James Marshall and Marie-Louise Osborn Collection of the Beinecke Library at Yale, where until 2004 he helped develop one of the most significant collections in the world of early modern British literary and historical manuscripts.

Among Steve’s many scholarly achievements during his Beinecke years was his long editorship of the Yale University Library Gazette—a scholarly journal dedicated to explorations of the rare book and manuscript collections at Beinecke and at Yale in general. He oversaw the production of a vast, nearly 1200-page first-line index of all the manuscript poetry in the Osborn Collection (2005), as well as The Luttrell File (1999), a comprehensive bibliography of rare or unique ephemera printed, collected, and annotated in manuscript by the London bibliophile, Narcissus Luttrell (1657-1732) around whom Jim Osborn had formed an early collecting interest. Steve also edited and oversaw the production of a magnificently illustrated book celebrating the first 40 years of the Beinecke Library and its collections, the first publication of its kind. By the time of his retirement, Steve he had taken under his wing dozens of Yale students, undergraduates and graduates alike, involving them in most of these projects and many more besides, helping to launch several successful academic and curatorial careers in the process. A resident of New Haven, Connecticut for nearly of all his adult life, Steve also enjoyed writing for many years as wine critic for the New Haven Register.

In addition to the Lizzie, Steve Parks was an active and enthusiastic member of several bibliophilic societies and clubs, including the Athenaeum in London, the Century Association and the Grolier Club in New York, the Club of Odd Volumes in Boston, and the Johnsonians. Though a member of the Yale senior society Manuscript since his undergraduate days, Steve’s most cherished personal contribution to his alma mater came from his service as Librarian of the Elizabethan Club at Yale over a breathtaking span of 44 years. In that role, he energetically developed the Vault’s peerless collection of Tudor and Stuart rare books and manuscripts, publishing two extensive catalogues of the collection through the Yale University Press, as well as the first book-length history of the Elizabethan Club to mark its centenary in 2011. Steve also served for 35 years on the Elizabethan Club’s Board of Incorporators, and as its Chair from 2009-16, in addition to being club President (1994-96). His long decades of tireless service were acknowledged with the award of one of the inaugural Elizabethan Club Medals for Distinguished Service.

No memorial of Steve Parks can be complete without at least a few references to some his greatest coups for the Lizzie Club’s library. He was extremely proud of several, perhaps most of all the 1591 “Mock Charter”: an impossibly rare “stage prop” passed around at a court performance before the Queen involving her leading ministers Lord Burghley, Sir Christopher Hatton, and a small host of hired players. While that was acquired in 1985 to mark the 75th anniversary of the Elizabethan Club, a similar milestone was reached with the purchase in 2010 of the Elizabethan school boy play, Oedipus (c. 1596-1603), one of but a handful of surviving exemplars of that genre in manuscript. A life-long collector of historical medals, Steve was also thrilled to acquire for the club all three of the major medals struck during the crisis years surrounding the Spanish Armada, all of them in silver. It seems fitting that the Lizzie Club Library recently received the gift of the very rare first medal ever struck in honor of William Shakespeare (1733), presented to the Club by Steve’s friends in memory of all that he gave to Yale, to the Club and its collections, and to all the students whose lives he touched.