Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Sorrows of Werter (1780)

This two-volume second edition of the famous epistolary novel by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, was published in translation in London and contains particularly interesting provenance. As a small inscription on the title page shows, the book was owned by Henrietta Masterman (1766–1813).

Henrietta Masterman, the daughter of Henry Masterman, lost her father at age five and became an heiress of Settrington. In 1795, she married Sir Mark Sykes (1771–1823), a baronet, MP for York, and book collector, whose magnificent collection was auctioned in 1824, as shown in this catalogue.

Portrait of Sir Mark Sykes, Lady Henrietta Masterman Sykes, and Sir Tatton Sykes (1808) by Sir Thomas Lawrence. York Museums Trust.

We don’t know when Masterman acquired Goethe’s book or to what extent its style and subject matter influenced her writing, but given her use of her maiden name in the inscription, we can speculate that she had it in her possession before 1795.

Henrietta was herself an author. She wrote a collection of stories, a book of poems, and two Gothic novels, the most successful of which was Margiana, or Widdrington Tower (1808), published anonymously and set in the fifteenth century. Its dark narrative of murder, love, and deceit was much enjoyed by Jane Austen, who wrote in a 1809 letter:

“We are now in Margiana, & like it very well indeed. – We are just going to set off for Northumberland to be shut up in Widdrington Tower, where there must be two or three sets of Victims already immured under a very fine Villain.”

A bookplate shows the book was later owned by Barbara Hylton-Madge, the mother of poet Charles Madge.

Source: book offered for sale in September 2020 by Simon Beattie, described in detail in his Goethe catalog. Images reproduced with permission.

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