When this book was first published in 1653, Dorothy Osborne wrote to her sweetheart William Temple: “a book of poems newly come out, made by my Lady Newcastle … they say ’tis ten times more Extravagant than her dress.” This rather “catty” remark concerned Margaret Lucas Cavendish, wife of William Cavendish, marquess of Newcastle. Margaret had married her much older husband in Paris in 1645 where she was serving as a maid of honor at the court of exiled Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. As part of the company of royalist exiles, the Cavendishes lived mainly in Antwerp where Margaret had time to write (and presumably to experiment with her wardrobe creations). In 1651 when she traveled back to London to try to recoup some of her husband’s estates, she took her poems with her and arranged to have them published. This was her first book in print.
For Margaret, poetry was a continuing process, and seeing her works in print often led to further corrections–some of which she made herself in copies of her own books before giving them as gifts and others made by herself or the printers in subsequent editions. This 1653 edition of Poems, and Fancies was the first of three, appearing in 1664 and 1668. But the 1653 edition itself occurs with variations, and the particular copy here belongs to the third variant, where her ‘royalist’ title on the title page has been reduced from “Countess” to simply “Lady,” a nod to the times under Cromwell’s Protectorate.
The first owner of this copy to sign her name on the title page was Elizabeth Pain, inscribing the date as “13th January 16[?]3.” It’s tantalizing that an ink blot prevents us from knowing the exact year. We do know that the book was published early in 1653, but was Elizabeth one of its first owners, or did she acquire it ten or twenty years after the book was published? And who was Elizabeth Pain? There are many Pain, Pains, Paynes, etc. in seventeenth-century England and some in America. Was she the wife of William Payne of Essex, clergyman, ultimately prebendary of Westminster, who married Elisabeth Squire in 1675? There is no indication that they had any children, but the substantial library came up for auction in 1698 and 1699. More likely she was from a family that spelled their name “Pain” or “Paine,” since the subsequent owners, “Elias Harry Paine and Mary Paine, their book 1747” use that spelling. The family might have been in New England, since the proceeds of this sale are to benefit Historic Deerfield, and the book may just have stayed on this side of the Atlantic.
Whatever the case, Elizabeth Pain staked out her ownership right below “The Lady Newcastle” on the title page, a practice followed by other women book owners who sometimes seem to make a point of attaching their name to that of another woman associated with a book. For example, several copies of Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia have women’s inscriptions on the page dedicating the book to his sister, Lady Mary Sidney.
The later inscription by Harry and Mary Paine suggests that the book came down in the family, a frequent occurrence, making them more than books but objects that carry an accrued genealogy. Joint ownership marks by husband and wife are not uncommon in seventeenth-century books, and extend into the eighteenth century as well, but the particular inscription here “thair book” suggests, as Katharine Acheson has written about another book, “not only their shared investment in the content of the book, but a quality of their relationship which enables them to share possessions within the marriage.” In other words, the inscription suggests a companionate marriage in which husband and wife might have enjoyed reading aloud to each other. Margaret herself had such a relationship with William who was also an author.
This particular copy of Cavendish’s Poems holds yet another layer of meaning, since it was sold by “a Lady”–a designation that sounds vaguely quaint since it was used frequently in bygone book auctions and is obviously still used to protect the privacy of an owner. (Sometimes, “property of a Gentleman” is also found.) Women have collected books for a very long time–recorded in Europe since at least the fourteenth century–but they often found it difficult to enter the predominantly white, male society of bibliophiles with the ambiance of a gentleman’s club. That began to change with major collectors such as Lisa Unger Baskin (books and ephemera by and about women and their work); Mary P. Massey (herbals); Caroline Schimmel (women in America), and many, many others, including young women who are now being encouraged to take up collecting by the Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize. No doubt Margaret would have been pleased to find another one of her books in the company of women.
The beautiful binding is a modern creation by skilled American binder Philip Dusel who specializes in re-creating seventeenth- and eighteenth-century styles.
Source: Book offered for sale by Christies on December 7, 2022. Images reproduced with permission.
 Letter 18. Letters from Dorothy Osborne to Sir William Temple (1652-1654), edited by Edward Abbott Parry (London: Dutton, 1888), https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/osborne/letters/letters.html.
 On these editions see Liza Blake, Textual and Editorial Introduction to Margaret Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies: A digital critical edition. http://library2.utm.utoronto.ca/poemsandfancies/textual-and-editorial-introduction/.
 Katherine Acheson, “The Occupation of the Margins: Writing, Space, and Early Modern Women,” in Acheson, ed. Early Modern English Marginalia (New York and London: Routledge, 2019),
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