Ann Yearsley, The Royal Captives (1795)

Royal Captives binding

The eighteenth-century writer Ann Yearsley (1753-1806) is mainly known for her poetry, but she also took advantage of a popular trend and wrote a four-volume Gothic novel.  Gothics were all the rage at the time (think Jane Austen’s spoof in Northanger Abbey, 1817).

Ann Yearsley by Wilson Lowry, after unknown artist. Line engraving, 1787. NPG D8852.
@ National Portrait Gallery, London

Yearsley was a complex woman; trained by her mother to be a milkwoman, but also to read and write, she was quite literate, and her volumes of poetry were taken up by Bluestocking writer Hannah More and members of the aristocracy.  After some disagreement, Yearsley separated from More but went on to a successful literary career that included a play performed in her hometown of Bristol, more poems, and this novel, The Royal Captives.  The subtitle promises “A Fragment of Secret History Copied from an Old Manuscript.”  In fact, the plot is an adaptation of a story from seventeenth-century French history about the man in the iron mask, which has thrilled audiences for a long time.

Royal Captives tp

No wonder such a book would be popular.  The copy seen here, held by The Second Shelf in London, is an American edition, published in Philadelphia in the same year that the London edition came out.  It prints four volumes in two, and both volumes contain the names of various owners including “Ann Brewster,” “Eunice,” “Katherine,” and “James.”

Royal Captive sigs.
RC Dimon sig v.1

The most prominent owner, who wrote her name numerous times in both volumes is Sally Dimon.  In the first volume she pens “Sally Dimon. — Fairfield” and beneath that “Sally Dimon read this Book the 20 of [July] 18002.”  

In the second volume, we can barely see another note in faded ink: “Miss Sally Dimons Book Presented by her Brother/ Fairfield March 8, 1799.”

RC Dimon sig v.2

Sally may well have been a descendant of the Dimon family who settled Fairfield, Connecticut in the seventeenth century.  In any case, we assume she enjoyed The Royal Captives, in which she would have found not only an exciting plot but also sympathy for women and the lower classes.

Source: book offered for sale by The Second Shelf, 9/2020. Images reproduced with permission.

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