George Savile, The Lady’s New Year’s Gift, or Advice to a Daughter (multiple copies)

The 1688 advice book The Lady’s New Year’s Gift by George Savile, Marquess of Halifax (1633-1695) was popular, going through many editions over the years. It is a genre that would lead one to expect female ownership, containing advice on choosing a husband and what to do if you have married a drunkard, on how to arrange one’s domestic affairs, on raising children, and so on. A delightful copy of the eighth edition (1707) was offered for sale earlier this year. The book is marked on the title page by “Eliz[abeth] Noel.” It was evidently passed on to a female family member: a later page is inscribed by Hannah Noel, who also seems to have started writing her name on a second page. We cannot know which of the two owned the book first.

Although the name Noel is present in the English peerage and there are some women of this family named Elizabeth within this time period, I have not been able to find a Hannah among them, so identification of these signatures remains in question for now.

Savile, who was an influential Protestant politician in the turbulent years of the Exclusion Crisis and the Revolution of 1688, wrote the work for his daughter Elizabeth (c. 1677-1708), the only child from his second marriage, when she was around eleven years old. She would go on to marry Philip Stanhope, the third Earl of Chesterfield, becoming the Countess of Chesterfield. Her son Philip, the Fourth Earl of Chesterfield, became an important politician.

A search of copies on Google Books shows that The Lady’s New Year’s Gift had lasting appeal among women, as seen for instance in a copy of the fifth edition (1696), from the British Museum, which has evidence of multiple female owners. Ann Burleigh signed the book twice in 1772, and Charlotte Jenkins signed it in 1830, placing her name right underneath Burleigh’s as if she wanted to show a sequence of female ownership.

The copy also contains doodles, possibly by a young woman reader, made at the top of a serious section on religion. Was this particular reader bored by the content? On the right page, another reader seems to have practiced writing the word “religion” itself.

In addition, the final page of this copy contains further evidence of female ownership, with inscriptions by a Mary and an Elizabeth.

Other female signatures in copies on Google Books are undated. A first edition from the British Library is signed by someone named Jenny (her last name is difficult to read), showing clear signs of reading in marginal marks made to highlight passages throughout.

A 1716 edition of the book, also held by the British Library, was owned, as we can just about make out, by a woman named Anne Baldy.

Intriguing writing appears on an additional page but is difficult to read, although it looks as if the name Susan is at the top. Further research in the British Library may help decipher these inscriptions.

Some copies on Google Books show that the book was not just read by women. A copy of a fifteenth edition (1765), from the National Library of Naples, has been repeatedly signed by someone named Harry Newman.

A 1752 bilingual edition from the British Library, translated by Johann Heinrich Samuel Formey and dedicated to Princess Sophie-Dorothea of Prussia, was at some point given to a woman, as the inscription reads “For Miss Guy Dickens,” but it was also owned by Robert A. F[?], who dated his signature July 6, 1861.

The nineteenth-century male owner has written dates in the margins and added comments and quotations from a variety of sources, including the bible and Hamlet, showing that this book, which was so clearly written with a female reader in mind, was closely read and, it seems, enjoyed by a wider audience.

Source: variety of editions on Google Books, and a 1707 copy (now sold) was offered for sale on eBay by Wisdompedlars, 2/18/2020. Images reproduced with permission.


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