Margaret Cavendish, The Life of …William Cavendish (1667)

By Mark Empey and Martine van Elk

So far, on this blog we have only featured one example of a female-owned copy of a work by Margaret Cavendish (1623-1673), her Poems and Fancies (1653), which has two female signatures in it. Thus far, we have been unable to identify those two with certainty. Today, we are presenting another example, one that not only offers a fascinating insight into women who read Cavendish but also reveals an intriguing connection between the book owner and the author.

The popularity of Cavendish as an author is well established. The findings of the European Research Council-funded project RECIRC: the Reception and Circulation of Early Modern Women’s Writing, 1550-1700 show that of the 1,878 female authors in the database, Cavendish is in the top three most popular women writers. Even more revealing, the project’s research shows that The Life of the Thrice Noble, High and Puissant Prince William Cavendish, Duke, Marquess, and Earl of Newcastle received the highest number of receptions (8, see here). By Liza Blake’s count, no fewer than 99 copies of this book survive in libraries and private collections (Digital Cavendish–Locating Margaret Cavendish). All of the receptions traced in RECIRC were, curiously, attributed to male book owners.

This particular copy of the book has an inscription by Henrietta Holles. It is noteworthy not only because it shows evidence of women reading a work by a female author but also because of the family connection between reader and writer.

‘Henrietta Holles her Book 1708’

Henrietta Holles was born on the 11 February 1694. Her parents were John Holles, Duke of Newcastle-on-Tyne (1662-1711), and Lady Margaret Cavendish (1661-1715/16). Her mother was the daughter of Henry Cavendish, second Duke of Newcastle-on-Tyne (1630-1691), who was the son of William Cavendish and his first wife, Elizabeth Howard. In other words, Henrietta was the great-granddaughter of William Cavendish and related to Margaret Cavendish the author through marriage.

Thus, her interest in The Life of William Cavendish at the age of fourteen may have had as much to do with a desire to learn about her family’s legacy as with the popularity of one of seventeenth-century England’s greatest female writers.

By the time Holles signed the book, Margaret Cavendish had been dead for 35 years; it seems likely the book was passed down to her by her mother, who was herself only twelve when Margaret Cavendish died.

We know that Holles was a keen reader. At the age of twelve, her mother gave her The Causes of the Decay of Christian Piety by Richard Allestree. Two years later–the same year she read The Life of William Cavendish–she was given Richard Parr’s The Life of the Most Reverend Father in God, James Usher (Goulding). 

As multiple posts on our blog show, Allestree was popular among women readers. However, Parr’s work is more striking in this particular context. An interest in the Irish archbishop’s distinguished career cannot be discounted. Yet it could also be suggested that Parr’s account was used as a manual to learn classical languages. Included in the book was correspondence to and from Ussher in English, Latin and Greek. In other words, Lady Cavendish seems to have used books to supervise and satisfy her daughter’s religious, linguistic and familial curiosities.

The personal relationship between the book and its book owner is not the only aspect of interest in this copy. As James Fitzmaurice has noted, in virtually all extant copies of the book corrections have been made, mostly in the form of inked out passages. In his essay on the hand-corrections Cavendish had carried out before giving away or selling her books, he notes that The Life of William features two main passages that are most frequently inked out. He found this to be true in 43 out of 44 volumes he consulted (the exception is in the Nottingham Central Public Library, 304). In highlighting both the Duke’s strategic capabilities and obedience to the Crown, Cavendish had originally included the observation that the king ordered her husband to command the royal troop “by none but himself.” To this she added “they remain’d upon duty without receiving any pay or allowance from His Majesty until His Majesty had reduced his Rebellious Subjects” (9). However, after having the book printed, Cavendish had the phrase “without receiving any pay or allowance from His Majesty” inked out.

Crossed out on the page: “without receiving any pay or allowance from His Majesty”

A second passage, on p. 26, accuses Lord Goring and Sir Francis Mackworth of “invigilancy and carelessness,” an accusation that is also usually inked out. Fitzmaurice speculates that on the one hand, the deletion may serve the purpose of fulfilling the promise Cavendish made to her husband, according to a prefatory letter, not to “disgrace” any particular person but also notes on the other that these deletions in fact draw more attention to what is underneath; in some copies he has seen, “the inked out words are supplied in contemporary hands” (302). This is not the case in this particular copy. Cavendish’s precise motive for these deletions will remain a matter of speculation.

Meanwhile, Henrietta Holles would marry Edward Harley, Second Earl of Oxford (1689-1741) a mere five years after she put her inscription in The Life of William.

Portrait of Lady Henrietta Harley, Countess of Oxford and Countess Mortimer by John Wootten, reproduced from Wikimedia Commons.

Edward Harley was an avid collector of manuscripts and a bibliophile, so he may well have had a keen interest in this book. Through his marriage to Henrietta, he also became the owner of Wellbeck Abbey, one of the two main homes in which Margaret and William Cavendish lived upon their return to England after the Civil War.

Like her husband, Henrietta collected books, in many of which she made careful note of when she read them. Richard Goulding provides a list of books given her by her husband, found in the Wellbeck Abbey library, which includes works by Shakespeare, Jonson, Katherine Philips, Spenser, Beaumont and Fletcher, and others. He also notes authors gave books to her. It is possible that many of these books are no longer at Wellbeck, given that portions of its collection were sold in the 1950s, which may well explain how her Life of William has ended up for sale. Henrietta corresponded with Lady Mary Wortley Montague, among others, and letters by her are part of the family papers, now housed at the University of Nottingham.

Henrietta had a bookplate made for her (seen here), which remains helpful in reestablishing her collection; the Folger has a copy show owned of a religious work entitled A Dissuasive from Revenge by Nicolas Stratford (1684), which contains with the inscription ‘Given me by my Lord Decr. 1731’ (Folger Catalog), and a copy of A Good Minister of Jesus Christ: A Funeral Sermon for the Reverend Mr. Richard Steel by George Hamond, with the same bookplate and “with manuscript note attributing the volume as a gift of ‘My Lord Sepr: 1739’ (Folger Catalog). After her husband’s death, Henrietta would sell his manuscript collection to the nation in 1753, creating the foundation of what was to become the British Museum, now known as the Harley Manuscripts.

Henrietta herself died in 1755 at the age of 61, perhaps leaving the book about her famous great grandfather to her daughter Margaret or her son Henry.

Source: Book offered for sale by Wisdompedlars, sold 9/27/2020. Images reproduced with permission.

Further Reading

James Fitzmaurice, “Margaret Cavendish on Her Own Writing: Evidence from Revision and Handmade Correction,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, vol. 85, no. 3 (1991), pp. 297-308.

Richard W. Goulding, “Henrietta Countess of Oxford,” Transactions of the Thoroton Society, 27 (1923).

Margaret Cavendish, Poems, and Fancies: Written by the Right Honourable, The Lady Newcastle (1653)

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.”[1] 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.[2]

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.”[3] 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.[4] 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.

[1] Letter 18. Letters from Dorothy Osborne to Sir William Temple (1652-1654), edited by Edward Abbott Parry (London: Dutton, 1888),

[2] On these editions see Liza Blake, Textual and Editorial Introduction to Margaret Cavendish’s Poems and Fancies: A digital critical edition.

[3] 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),


Robert Burton, Anatomy of Melancholy (1651)

Appearing in eight editions (plus additional issues) between 1621 and 1676, seven of them in folio, Robert Burton’s expansive and erudite Anatomy of Melancholy was a seventeenth-century publishing phenomenon. A copy of the 1651 edition of Burton’s Anatomy, held by the Redwood Library & Athenaeum in Newport, Rhode Island (shelfmark PR 2223.A1 1651), is the first to appear on the EMFBO site.[1] Furthermore, the evidence here of early modern female book ownership is but one of this book’s several interesting features—including the only known manuscript copy of Katherine Philips’ song “Pompey’s Ghost” in a seventeenth-century printed book or made by a seventeenth-century woman.

The Redwood copy is in a modern binding and lacks the frontispiece and title-page, but it retains two original flyleaves and the half-title that precedes the now missing frontispiece.[2] The earliest provenance appears on the recto of the second of the two flyleaves, where Pleasant Rawlins has enthusiastically inscribed her full name four times: “Pleasant Rawlins / Her Book”; “Pleasant Rawlins / Her Book Aprill the 1 day 16**” [second line of inscription obliterated and date trimmed]; “Pleasant Rawlins her book / Aprill ye 1 day 1672” [entire inscription obliterated]; and, at the bottom of the page, “Pleasant Rawlins her book.”

Second flyleaf recto (top)
Second flyleaf recto (middle)

She subsequently re-inscribed her name in an accomplished calligraphic hand on the recto of the first flyleaf, the inscription oriented vertically on the page: “Mrs Pleasant Biker / her booke / Aprill Idus Mensis pridie [the day before the Ides of April, i.e. April 12] Anno Domine 1676.”

First flyleaf recto

The obliterations of the two dated “Rawlins” entries look likely to be by Rawlins herself, possibly prompted by her addition of the re-dated inscription under her married name. The same hand has obliterated two instances of the name “John” on the “Rawlins” inscription page, in the same ink and probably at the same time as the other obliterations. On the top left of the “Biker” page, also oriented vertically, is another inscription, probably not by Rawlins/Biker but still early and possibly missing some text due to paper repairs. Difficult to decipher, it reads like a quotation but remains untraced: “[?Jan*** pa**] / I shall Endeavour for the future / To have \no/ constant indareance between us / by Letter.”

Pleasant Rawlins and Mrs Pleasant Biker are the same person: Pleasant Rawlins, daughter of William and Katherine Rawlins, was baptised in the parish of St Botolph Without Aldgate in London on February 1, 1652. She married Samuel Biker (d.1685) at some point between April 1672 (the date of her “Rawlins” inscription) and 1674, the year her daughter Pleasant Biker (d.1696) was baptised, also in St Botolph Without Aldgate, on August 30. Pleasant (Rawlins) Biker died in early 1685, the same year as her husband, and was buried in St Botolph Without Aldgate on January 12 of that year, at the age of thirty-two.[3]

Pleasant Rawlins was a young woman of twenty when she first inscribed her copy of Burton’s Anatomy. The Latin in her 1676 inscription as well as her practised use of Italic and calligraphic hands, not to mention her ownership of a work like Burton’s Anatomy, suggests a certain level of education. In addition, the thirty-line poem she has copied in the book, beginning on the “Rawlins” inscription page (in the same hand and ink as her signature at the bottom of the page) and continuing onto the facing verso of the preceding flyleaf, suggests a fashionably current literary sensibility. Beginning “From lasting and unclouded Day,” the poem is an extract, often known as “Pompey’s Ghost,” from Katherine Philips’s play Pompey, her translation of Pierre Corneille’s tragedy La mort de Pompeé. “Pompey’s Ghost” is one of the newly written songs Philips innovatively added to the translated play.

The version copied by Rawlins reads:[4]

[second flyleaf recto]

From lasting and unclouded Day,
From joys refin’d above allay
And from a Spring without decay.
I come by Cynthia’s borrow’d bems
To visit my Cornelia’s Drems,
And give them yet sublimer Thems.

Second flyleaf recto

[first flyleaf verso, oriented vertically]

Behold the Man thou love’dst before
Pure streams have wash’d away his Gore
And Pompey now shall bleed no more.
By Death my Glory I resume,
For ’twould have been a harsher doom
T’ outlive the Liberty of Rome.
By me her doubtfull fortune try’d
Falling, bequeaths my Fame this Pride
I for it lived and with it Dy’d.
Nor shall my Vengeance bee withstood
Nor unattempted, with a Flood
off Roman and Egitptian blood.
Cesar himselfe it shall pursue
his days shall troubled bee & few
And hee shall dye by treason too.
hee by severity Divine
shallbee an offring att my shrine
As I was his hee must bee mine
Thy stormy life Ile regrett noe more
For Fate shall waft the soone ashore
[And to thy Pompey the restore]
There none a Guilty Crowne shall weare
nor Cesar bee Dictator there
nor shall Cornelia shed one teare

First flyleaf verso

Rawlins has omitted from Philips’ original the penultimate three-line stanza, probably for reasons of space: working around some pen trials already on the page, she changed hands halfway through the first line of the sixth stanza from her elegant italic to a more cramped secretary, squeezing stanzas six and seven onto the lower half of the left side, then squeezing stanzas eight and nine onto the lower half of the right side (in stanza nine, the final line has been trimmed in rebinding and the final words of the first two lines are covered by a paper repair), then adding the final stanza in an empty space above, breaking up lines to make it fit. The omitted stanza reads, in Philips’ original, “Where past the fears of sad removes / We’l entertain our spotless Loves, / In beauteous, and Immortal Groves.” Rawlins has bracketed stanzas eight and nine, adding an unfortunately illegible (and possibly trimmed) word in the margin (?*eib*).

Pleasant (Rawlins) Biker and her husband Samuel both died in 1685, in London: Samuel was buried in St Botolph Without Aldgate on February 21, about six weeks after his wife. At some point that same year, the next owner of this copy of Burton’s Anatomy bought it in a location a world away: an inscription across the top of the book’s half-title reads, “Benjamin Newberry Ejus Liber Bought att / Port Royall In Jamaica 1685.” This is probably Benjamin Newberry (c.1653-1711), of Newport, Rhode Island.


The Newberrys were a prominent merchant family in Newport and would likely have had trade dealings in Jamaica; the Newport connection could also explain the current presence of the book in the Redwood Library & Athenaeum. The same page features one additional later signature, the (untraced) “Robert Morton / 1828.” If this copy of Burton remained in the possession of the Rawlins/Biker family until the deaths of Pleasant and then Samuel in early 1685, it soon made its way into the hands of somebody with an entrepreneurial sense of the potential transatlantic market for used books. While other copies of Burton’s Anatomy are documented in America in the seventeenth century, including at least one owned by a woman,[8] this book may represent the earliest text by Katherine Philips to make its way across the Atlantic.

Source: Redwood Library & Athenaeum, call number PR 2223.A1 1651. Photos reproduced with permission.

[1] I would like to thank Michelle Farias, Archivist & Special Collections Librarian at the Redwood Library and Athenaeum, for drawing this book to my attention during a visit there in January 2022, and Victoria Burke and Elizabeth Hageman for their comments on early versions of this note.

[2] Because the title-page is missing, the holding library has catalogued the copy on the basis of its colophon, dated 1651 (sig. 4A4r). The same colophon appears in the 1652 re-issue, which differs only in its re-dated title-page: the copy may therefore represent the 1652 re-issue (Wing B6182) rather than the 1651 edition (Wing B6181).

[3] The genealogical data presented here all derives from records found in This Pleasant Rawlins is not to be confused with her niece, also Pleasant Rawlins (b.1684), who was the teenaged victim of a notorious 1702 case of heiress abduction and forced marriage regarded as a source for Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa: see Beth Swan, “Clarissa Harlowe, Pleasant Rawlins, and Eighteenth-Century Discourses of Law,” Eighteenth-Century Novel 1 (2001), 71-93.

[4] Long ‘s’ and initial ‘ff’ regularized, abbreviations silently expanded, and a false start on one stanza omitted.

[5] Paul Salzman, Reading Early Modern Women’s Writing (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2006), 182.

[6] Salzman, 187-90; Catalogue of English Literary Manuscripts 1450-1700 (CELM), PsK 575-77; John Cunningham, “Songs Lost and Found: Katherine Philips’s ‘Pompey’s Ghost’,” Music and Letters, advance article 20 May 2022.

[7] The Folger Union First Line Index of English Verse lists five manuscript copies; CELM adds two, one now lost (PsK 578-80); Cunningham, incorporating ongoing research by Nathan Tinker, adds seven more, all copied in the USA in the eighteenth century (20-23). For a study of manuscript copying of other work by Philips by early modern women, see Victoria E. Burke, “The Couplet and the Poem: Late Seventeenth-Century Women Reading Katherine Philips,” Women’s Writing 24.3 (2017), 280-97.

[8] Charles Heventhal Jr., “Robert Burton’s ‘Anatomy of Melancholy’ in Early America,” PBSA 63.3 (1969), 157-75.  Heventhal notes that a copy of the 1632 edition is described in the 1870 catalogue of the Thomas Prince library as signed “Sarah Standish” (159-60). Prince bequeathed his library to Boston’s Old South Church in 1758, and this could be any one of several Sarah Standishes who lived in the New England settlements between the mid-seventeenth century and the date of Prince’s death. The Prince library is currently held by the Boston Public Library, but this copy of Burton’s Anatomy seems no longer to be present in the collection.

Lady Dorothy Long’s Library

While most of our posts involve single books or evidence of book ownership in the form of marginalia and signatures, another key area of provenance research is in the form of inventories and book lists. The fascinating database and journal series Private Libraries of Renaissance England have showcased a number of key women for whom the content of larger libraries are known. These lists, whether they are based on inventories or wills, help us determine not only what women read, but also, as Edith Snook notes, how they wanted to present themselves. Indeed, in her essay on the private library of Elizabeth Isham, Snook calls the booklist a form of life writing or “ego document,” a source that can tell us something about women’s senses of identity, particularly for noble women whose profile was of necessity at least to some degree public.

In his chapter in the collection Women’s Bookscapes, Joseph Black predicted that “Unpublished early modern booklists will … continue to turn up” (219). A few months ago, I was delighted to receive a message from Tim Couzens, who offered to share with us and our readers two lists of books that he has found in the papers of Lady Dorothy Long housed at the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre. Though he will be editing and publishing these lists more fully soon, we get here an advance look at the contents. The lists were evidently drawn up to facilitate their placement in the household, as they are books to be put on “the high shelf,” some of them grouped among the “little books to be put on the high shelf.” Whether the “high shelf” indicates that they needed to be placed out of reach or were stored where they were not readily accessible is unclear.

Lady Dorothy Long, née Leche (c. 1620-1710) was married in around 1640 to Sir James Long, second Baronet (1617-1692), a politician. The couple lived in their estate at Draycot, Wiltshire. Sir James had fought on the side of the royalists in the Civil Wars, but nonetheless, according to biographer John Aubrey, befriended Oliver Cromwell through his interests in hawking, a lifelong passion. Aubrey lists James Long under “amici” (friends) in his Brief Lives.

Sir James Long, by an anonymous painter. Oil on canvas, feigned oval. © National Portrait Gallery, NPG 4638.

In their edition of Elizabeth Isham’s autobiographical writings, Elizabeth Clarke and Erica Longfellow mention Lady Long (“Dolly”)’s correspondence with Isham’s brother and contrast her style with that of the more sober Isham: “[Long’s] letters employ the banter of a royalist coterie, complete with nicknames and a (mocking) reference to their ‘Academy’, in a style reminiscent of the more familiar and accomplished works of Margaret Cavendish and Katherine Philips. Lady Long does display an interest in literature, particularly the salacious Ovid, but she mocks the Countess of Dysart’s serious study of Donne.” Long donated to the Ashmolean, and their Book of Benefactors describes her in much different terms, as “the pride and joy of her family and her sex … [She] showed a deep interest in primitive religions and antiquities. Her piety and great good will to this University led her to give a carved ivory crosier [head] which had belonged to Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, to this museum to be placed with the other treasures.”

Given these contrasting descriptions, it is fascinating to think, with Snook, of the two lists of books that belonged to Long as a form of life writing to counter the narratives of royalist eccentricity and piety.

Here is Tim Couzen’s transcription, along with his preliminary identifications of the books in brackets:

Little books to put ith highe Shelf. [15 July 1704, from content]

Narrative oth Fire at London [An Historical narrative of the Great and Terrible Fire of London, Sept 2nd1666. Gideon Harvey. This may be an original of the book published more generally by W. Nicoll in 1769.]

Epitome of Husbandry [The Epitome of the Art of Husbandry: comprising all necessary directions for the Improvement of it. Etc, by J.B. Gent (Joseph Blagrave), 1675.]

Flatmans Poems [Dr. Thomas Flatman (1635–1688) Fellow of the Royal Society, Poet and miniature painter. Probably Poems and Songs (1674).]

Counr Manners Legacy tos Son. [Counsellor Manners, His Last legacy to His Son: etc. Probably the first edition, published in 1673, by Josiah Dare.]

Dr Gouge Domestick dutys [Of Domesticall Duties, eight treatises etc. by William Gouge, 1622.]

Pasquin risen from ye Dead [London, 1674.]

Nat: Culverwel on ye Light of Nature [Nathaniel Culverwell (1619–1651), An elegant and learned discourse of the Light of Nature, 1652.]

The History of Joseph &c: [Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews. Probably the 1700 edition.]

Theopanila Broms Poems [William Sales’s Theophania (London, 1655) and Alexander Brome’s Poems.]

G [Gaius] Velleius Paterculus [Roman Historian (c 19BC – c AD31). There are several early editions.]

Evagoros. [Evagoros. [Two possible identifications: Paul Salzman has suggested this is Evagoras, a Romance by L.L. Gent (London, 1677). A second possibility is the Greek oration by Isocrates on the King of Salamis (Unknown edition). Given the mixture of romances, for Dorothy Long’s own use, and text books from her grandson, James, it is not possible to be certain, but the former seems much more likely.]

Bookes to put into ye High Shelfe ye 15o July 1704. 

The Countise Montgomerys Urania [romance by Mary Wroth (1587–1653), dedicated to Countess of Montgomery; the book was first published in 1621.]

Orlando Furiosa: Abraham Cowleys workes [Two separate books. The first is Orlando Furioso, an Italian epic poem of Ludovico Ariosto (1516–1532), presumably in an early, but un-named translation.  Abraham Cowley (1618–1667), was an English poet, with 14 printings of his works published between 1668 and 1721.]

Mrs Phillipes’s Verses. orinda. [Katherine Philips (1631/32–1664), known as “The Matchless Orinda,” was an Anglo-Welsh royalist poet, translator, and woman of letters. After her death, in 1667, an authorized edition of her poetry was printed entitled Poems by the Most Deservedly admired Mrs Katherine Philips, the Matchless Orinda, which included her translations of Pompee and Horace.]

Scarrons Comicall Romance [Paul Scarron (1610–1660) was a French dramatist and novelist. The Roman Comique was reworked by a number of English authors.]

The Lusiad. or Portingales His: a Poem [The Lusiads is a Portuguese epic poem written by Luis vaz de Camoes (c1524/5–1580) and first published in 1572. The date and author of the early translation is not stated.]

The warres of Justinian [The history of the warres of the Emperour Justinian in eight books: etc. Written in Greek by Procopius etc. Englished by Sir Henry Holcroft (1586–1650). Published in 1653.]

Micrographia. By Rob: Hooke [Likely to be a first edition (1665) directly from the author. The book is listed in the 1846 Draycot House contents catalogue.]

The Civell warrs of Spain [Joseph Black has identified this as Prudencio de Sandoval, The Civil Wars of Spain (published in multiple editions from 1652 to 1662) This book is also listed in the 1795 Draycot House Inventory.]

Phillipe De Comines. [An early translation from French of the Memoirs of Philippe de Commines. The usual publication date for Volume 2 is 1712.]

Cornelius Tacitus Tacitus Arriana. [The Annales of Cornelius Tacitus: The description of Germanie. Translated by Richard Greenway and Sir Henry Savile (1549–1622). Published London, 1640; Ariana is a romance by Jean Desmarets, Sieur de Saint Sorlin, originally translated in 1636.]

Of Goverment of obeydiense by Jo: Hall. [Of Government and obedience as the stand directed and determined in Scripture and reason, four books by John Hall of Richmond. London, 1654.]

Cass[andra?] Sanders on Memory &c. [The title is obscured by the fold; the first book is Cassandra the fam’d romance: the whole work: in five parts / written originally in French: now elegantly rendred into English by a person of quality. Cassandra is a translation of a romance novel by Gaultier de Coste La Calprenède, translated in 1652. Possible second work is unidentified.]

Pasquil risen from ye Dead to put higher [see above.]

Standly’s 7: wise Men &c. [Thomas Stanley (1625–1678) was an English Author and translator. The History of Philosophy, 3 volumes published in 1655, 1656, and 1660, includes the seven wise men (sages) of Greece.]

A larg print of Cardinall Richeleis House [Probably the Chateau de Richelieu, south of Chinon, Touraine, rather than the Palais Royal in Paris.]

Nero Ceazar. & ye warr of Jugurth &c: [Two separate books. The first title is possibly Nero Caesar, or Monarchy Depraved. An Historical Work, by Edmund Bolton (published 1627). The second is an early English translation of Sallust (Gaius Sallustius Crispus). The Warre of Jugurth is by Thomas Heywood, 1608.]

The collection of books is, as Tim Couzens notes in his email to me, largely associated with her schooling of her grandsons, Sir Giles and Sir James Long (later 5th Baronet), before they went on to tutors and governors and to Oxford. But many women’s collections included works of history and politics, whether or not they used them to educate their children.

Poems by the Most Deservedly Admired Mrs Katherine Philips, Folger Shakespeare Library, P2035.

Readers of this blog will be particularly interested to see both Mary Wroth’s Urania and Katherine Philips’s Poems in the listing, and, compared with other such inventories, there are surprisingly few devotional books. Though Margaret Cavendish is missing, the presence of Philips certainly shows, much like the romance texts, an affiliation with royalist culture. Links between different books are evident: Thomas Flatman, author of a book of poems listed here, had written a dedicatory poem for Philip’s collection, and as it happens, another copy of Philips’s poems we have featured on this site (housed by the Folger Shakespeare library) was owned by Hannah Flatman, Thomas Flatman’s wife.

Generally, Long’s inventories reveal her political affiliations, her investment in learning (or teaching the boys in her family), and a wide range of interests in romance, history, philosophy, and poetry, with only minor concerns with household management and domestic advice so commonly found in women’s inventories and little in books of devotion that normally dominate such libraries. Perhaps those books were placed on the lower shelves.

We want to thank Tim for providing us with transcriptions and pictures of the two lists of books owned by Lady Dorothy Long and Sara Morrison and Anabel Loyd for permission to reproduce both the transcription and images.

Source: Wiltshire and Swindon History Center 2943B/1/35. Draft letters and notes by Lady Dorothy Long [No description] (1686-1704). 35 documents.

Further Reading

Joseph L. Black, “Women’s Libraries in the Private Libraries in Renaissance England Project.” Bookscapes in Early Modern Britain: Reading, Ownership, Circulation. Edited by Leah Knight, Micheline White, and Elizabeth Saur. University of Michigan Press, 2018. 214–229.

Elizabeth Clarke and Erica Longfellow, “Introduction to the Online Edition.” Elizabeth Isham’s Autobiographical Writings. Center for the Study of the Renaissance, University of Warwick, 2015.

Tim Couzens, Hand of Fate: The History of the Longs, Wellesleys and the Draycot Estate in Wiltshire. ELSP, 2001.

PLRE.Folger: Private Libraries in Renaissance England. Ed. Joseph L. Black et al. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Private Libraries in Renaissance England vols. 8-9 (2014–16).

Thomas Seccombe (rev. Henry Lancaster), “Long, Sir James, second baronet (bap. 1617, d. 1692), politician.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Date of access 23 Jan. 2022, <>.

Edith Snook, “Elizabeth Isham’s ‘own Bookes’: Property, Propriety, and the Self as Library.” Women.’’ Bookscapes in Early Modern Britain: Reading, Ownership, Circulation. Edited by Leah Knight, Micheline White, and Elizabeth Saur. University of Michigan Press, 2018. 77–93.

Poems By the Most Deservedly Admired Mrs Katherine Philips (1667)

By V.M. Braganza

The digital search for early modern women’s reading leaves one black and blue: the blue of an unclicked hyperlink, a potential lead that tantalizes with symbolic hope; more often, the black of unclickable plaintext—a definitive, de-legitimizing dead end. As an archival historian in the digital age, I find myself charting these errant paths like a manic cross between a Spenserian knight and one of Pavlov’s dogs. Armor dented but valor intact, salivating over every crumb of evidence that offers a clue to the burning question: Who was she?

I recently emerged, bruised if technically victorious, from another such adventure. The volume is a copy of the 1667 posthumous edition of Katherine Philips’ poetry in the Special Collections at Carnegie Mellon. It bears two competing ownership inscriptions on the opening flyleaf: the first, browned and bleeding with age, proclaims the book “Ex Libris | Henrici: Goughe”; a second, just below, rejoins, in a darker, sharper italic, that it is “Mrs Mary Gough. | Her Book. | 1700.” The binding is unremarkable, unadorned contemporary calf.

These squabbling signatures are reconciled by a marital union about which little information survives. While a variety of internet searches for “Mary Gough” prove fruitless on their own, a single search for “Henry Gough” produces a hit immediately. It details not only the arc of Gough’s political career from Staffordshire High Sheriff to a Tory Member of the House of Commons, but that he “married Mary Littleton, the daughter of Sir Edward Littleton, 2nd Bt. [likewise hyperlinked], of Pillaton Hall, Staffordshire in 1668” (Wikipedia). Gough must have bought the book sometime between 1667, when it was published, and 1700, when he either gave it to his wife or she claimed it for her own.

Here, the archival impulse bruises itself by repeatedly bumping up against the digital dead end of Lady Mary Littleton Gough (1651-1722). A renewed search for leads, revised to include the maiden name obtained via her husband’s Wikipedia page, yields nothing but a portrait and an incomplete genealogy.

Lady Mary, like so many early modern women, is unlinked. Meanwhile, her husband, a minor figure in Parliament, and her father, recipient of a title ranked below the peerage, are amply documented. What does this disparity mean? The experience of informational paucity in relation to early modern women in the context of today’s technologies makes a staggering impression upon the historian: it reduces so many women’s lives to unmoored names and biographical dates adrift in a sea of information, sometimes towed along by the reputational freight of a male relative, often a husband or father.

Although the world wide web is neither all-inclusive nor infallible, the slippage of many women’s histories through its titanic net conveys the vestiges and consequences of a social infrastructure which yokes women primarily to domestic roles and men. This infrastructure, of course, prevails across periods. The historic devaluation of women’s lives echoes loudest in the information age—a silence in the midst of a cacophony of data. Men’s lives, including those that are not particularly of note, are often well-documented by contrast—and, more fundamentally, presumed to be worthy of documentation. While we can recover Henry’s Parliamentary career in considerable detail, we know only that Mary bore sixteen children (Mimardière).

A counter-narrative to this digital pattern emanates from the object itself. This book’s unfinished dedication offers the most promising link between Mary Gough’s name and untold history, but it is a broken one. The dangling preposition “To,” evidently in her hand and smudged diagonally downward to the left (perhaps she was left-handed?) invites speculations that she may have stopped in the act of gifting the book to someone else. (One might alternatively entertain the idea that “To” is the first word of an unfinished epigraph or quotation, but the neatness of the entire inscription and the lack of stray marks elsewhere in the book advocate against it being an idle doodle.) The fragmentary inscription is evidently contemporaneous with Mary Gough’s ownership mark above, and the question of why she would mark the book as hers and simultaneously inscribe it to another recipient is answered by the need to identify herself explicitly as the giver, given her husband’s foregoing ownership mark. The lack of an ex dono formulation might be explained by supposing that she was not Latin-literate, consistent with her use of an English ownership inscription in contrast to her husband’s ex libris.

This speculative fantasy of gift-giving is catalyzed by the book itself. Katherine Philips’ poetry focuses heavily on bonds of friendship generally, and female friendship in particular—might the intended recipient have been a woman? Why did Gough leave the inscription incomplete? Was she interrupted, or did she change her mind? This volume is not only evidence of a woman reading a woman writer, but an emblem of women’s links to the wider world: their creation, loss, preservation, and attempted recovery.

It has been over a decade since William H. Sherman optatively coined the term “matriarchive” (53-67). Since then, passionate and innovative projects like the Early Modern Female Book Ownership Blog, the Perdita Project, RECIRC, and, for later periods, the Women in Book History Bibliography and Alison Booth’s tremendous Collective Biographies of Women, have gotten underway the project of uncovering and curating an impressive breadth of material. Also noteworthy is the Twitter hashtag #fembib, which has provided a means to link researchers studying women in the archive. This wave of groundbreaking work puts us in a position to re-evaluate the contours and meanings of such an archive. It circumscribes, as Sherman anticipates, presence and absence. The matriarchive today is a space where empty spaces are eloquent. It is defined by—and encodes—a view of the consequences of social choices regarding women’s lives: that is, how centuries of these choices and attitudes shape not only what we see of the past, but how we see it. This is true of how we imagine not only women, but non-white subjects, in British history.

On the one hand, there is enormous scope to “liberate … [many women] from their long period of textual house arrest” (Sherman 67). On the other, British societies from the early modern to the modern periods have colluded in creating an equally formidable graveyard, an elusive space which presides over the metamorphosis of women from participating (albeit second-class) members and potential archival subjects, into evacuated names appended to men’s histories. This haunted space now curates the present’s link with the past.

I owe a debt of gratitude to curator and colleague Samuel Lemley for his generosity in drawing my attention to this volume.

Source: Special Collections, Carnegie Mellon University Libraries, PR3619.P4 O637. Images reproduced with permission.

Further Reading

A. M. Mimardière. “Gough, Sir Henry (1649-1724), of Perry Hall, Staffs.,” in The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning (Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 1983); also accessible at

William H. Sherman, “Reading the Matriarchive,” in Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), 53-67

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.

Elizabeth Raffald, The Experienced English Housekeeper (1776 and 1789)

“When I reflect upon the number of books already in print upon this subject, and with what contempt they are read, I cannot but be apprehensive, that this may meet the same fate from some, who will censure it before they either see it or try its value.”

Thus begins Elizabeth Raffald in her dedication of The Experienced English Housekeeper, “To the Reader.”

Title page, 1776 edition. Courtesy The Second Shelf.

Mrs. Raffald need not have worried. First published in 1769 in Manchester, the book went through six more editions published in London during her lifetime, and many more pirated ones. Later it influenced the ever-popular nineteenth-century household book by Isabella Beeton.

Frontispiece from the 1782 edition of her book. Wikimedia Commons.

Elizabeth Raffald – born Whitaker – in 1733 in Yorkshire tells us that she “spent fifteen years in great and worthy Families, in the capacity of a Housekeeper, and had the opportunity of travelling with them.” One of these families was that of Lady Elizabeth Warburton of Arley Hall in Cheshire to whom the book is dedicated. Elizabeth Whitaker married the Warburton’s gardener, John Raffald, and they moved to Manchester in 1763. There she ran a sweet shop, taught cooking, created a Directory of Manchester (streets and merchants), and in her “spare time” had nine daughters. She vouches for the accuracy of her work by saying that “every sheet [was] carefully perused as it came from the Press, having an opportunity of having it printed by a Neighbour, whom I can rely on doing it the strictest Justice.” By the second edition, her copyright was purchased by Robert Baldwin of London, who continued to publish the book.

First page of text from 1776 edition. Courtesy The Second Shelf.

The copy of Raffald’s book at The Second Shelf bookshop shows the signature of “Eliz. Raffald” at the beginning of Chapter 1. A clue to this signature is provided at the bottom of the title page. The 1769 first edition published in Manchester reads on the title page: “The Book to be signed by the Author’s own Hand-writing, and entered at Stationers Hall.” Her signature appears at Chapter 1. Beginning in 1771, the copies published by Baldwin in London read “N.B. No Book is genuine but what is signed by the Author.” Sure enough, the copies with the imprint London, dated 1771, 1773, 1775, 1776, 1778, 1780, 1782, 1784, and 1786 all have this signature at Chapter 1. The only problem is that Mrs. Raffald died in 1781. The 1782 edition dropped the “No Book is genuine” line from the title page, but someone else went on signing until 1786! By the 1788 edition, the signature is also gone. (I looked at copies on ECCO, all from the British Library except the 1778 edition from the University of Kansas library.)

Front flyleaf from the 1789 edition. Courtesy the Mad Librarian.

Another copy of the book, dated London 1789, was recently offered on eBay by the “Mad Librarian.” This copy has the signature of a former owner, Anne Beard, on the front flyleaf. It’s fun to think that she might have been an ancestor of cooking maven James Beard, but we’ll probably never know.

Source: Book offered for sale by The Second Shelf, 9/2020, and by the Mad Librarian on eBay, 9/2020. Images reproduced with permission.

Hannah Woolley’s The Queen-like Closet (1681)

One of the more interesting considerations as this blogging site progresses will be tracing the regularity of specific books that bear female inscriptions. Tentative research findings have found that religious works, particularly bibles but also prayer books, psalters, and sermons, feature prominently among female book collections [1]. In a world where faith and religious convictions were a central component of early modern life this is hardly surprising. Consequently books that are neither religious nor theological usually spike our interests because they offer different perspectives of women’s individual reading habits and preferences. When female-authored works come to light it raises equally fascinating questions about gendered reading practices and the reputation of women writers. (On this, a search through the RECIRC database is well worth your time!)

‘Ann Webb hur book’
‘Elizab Webb her book’

Of the female-authored works we might expect to find women’s ownership inscriptions are books by the noted English writer Hannah Woolley, who published on household topics such as recipes and domestic advice [2]. Sure enough, she is no stranger to this website featuring on two occasions already. Her Gentlewoman’s Companion; or, a Guide to the Female Sex – a hugely popular work published in 1673 that outlined how women should behave – was owned by Ann Starkey (you can access the post here). Another favourite among female readers was Woolley’s The Queen-like Closet, Or, Rich Cabinet; the sole illustration depicting six scenes of women in the kitchen serving as a clear reminder of its target audience. It recorded an impressive five editions between 1670 and 1685. A recent post (click here) has uncovered a copy of the first edition being in the possession of Thomasin Francklyn from Hampshire. But now we can reveal a third (and fourth!) female admirer of Woolley’s works.

The six scenes include a woman adding mixture into a three-legged pot over an open fire, distilling medicine, making bread, and cooking dinner using pots on a spit over a fire

Ann and Elizabeth Webb’s ownership of the fourth edition of The Queen-like Closet (1681) is striking for a number of reasons. First, it reaffirms the continued appeal for Woolley’s work on household management among women. The Webbs’ desire for a copy eleven years on from when it first went to press highlights Woolley’s increasing influence and the significant contribution she had on matters concerning domestic life.

Th fourth edition of Woolley’s The Queen-like Closet, published in 1681, owned by Ann and Elizabeth Webb

Second, the inscription marks left by Ann and Elizabeth leave tantalising questions about who owned the book. Do they indicate single or dual ownership? Could it be that it was initially purchased by Ann and subsequently handed down to Elizabeth? What might their relationship say about reading practices? If they were mother and daughter, or sisters, does this add to our understanding of the influence senior female figures had on the reading habits of younger kinswomen?

Third, while female ownership of The Queen-like Closet is unsurprising, the fact that Ann and Elizabeth stamped their names on their copy suggests they greatly valued the book. Furthermore, it builds on our expanding knowledge about how texts by women were circulated. Most important of all, it sheds further light on the reputation of early modern women writers [3].

Source: Huntington Library, Rare Books 424744. Photographs by Martine van Elk, reproduced with permission.

Further Reading:

[1] Marie-Louise Coolahan and Mark Empey, “Women’s Book Ownership and the Reception of Early Modern Women’s Texts, 1545–1700,” Women’s Bookscapes in Early Modern Britain: Ownership, Circulation, Reading, ed. Leah Knight, Elizabeth Sauer and Micheline White (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2018).

[2] Wendy Wall, Recipes for Thought: Knowledge and Taste in the Early Modern English Kitchen, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015).

[3] For more on this visit RECIRC: The Reception and Circulation of Early Modern Women’s Writing, 1550-1700:

Sara Maria van der Wilp, Gedichten (1772)

By Lieke van Deinsen

The publication of Sara Maria van der Wilp’s volume of collected poems, Gedichten (1772), led to one of the juiciest controversies in Dutch literary history. The author portrait Van der Wilp initially included in the book (left) produced a torrent of criticism and resulted in a fierce argument in the public press between its painter and the poetess. After several contemporaries reached out to the Amsterdam poetess and told her she “looked like a shrew; a dragon of a wife, […] an impertinent Whore, with Breasts like the udders of a cow,” Van der Wilp decided to commission a new portrait from a competing artist (right) and urged her readers to destroy the first portrait. 

Many of her readers, however, seem to have ignored the poetess’s explicit request. Most surviving copies of the edition contain both portraits. Interestingly several readers added handwritten notes, taking a position in the controversy. On the whole, their judgement did not favor Van der Wilp, and only a few seemed pleased with the volume. A noteworthy exception  appeared to have been Wobbegien Smit (b. 1767). Born in Meppel, Wobbegien married the local merchant Egbert van Veen (1767-1815) in 1788. In 1818, a few years of her husband’s passing, Wobbegien wrote multiple inscriptions of her name in her copy of Van der Wilp’s Gedichten: ‘Wobbegien Smit haar boek in jaar achttien honderd en achttien’ (Wobbegien Smit her book in the year 1818) and ‘Wobbeggien Smit zijn Boek’ (Wobbegien Smit his Book). In addition, she included two inscriptions with the surname of her late husband (‘Wobbegien van Veen’). Apparently, Wobbegien used Van der Wilp’s controversial book to practice her writing  and try to establish her own distinctive signature. 

Fig. 6

Source: Atria, Institute on gender equality and women’s history (Amsterdam), NED 54 1772-B. Photographs by Lieke van Deinsen, reproduced with permission. 

Further Reading

Lieke van Deinsen, “Visualising Female Authorship. Author Portraits and the Representation of Female Literary Authority in the Eighteenth Century,” Quærendo 49:4 (2019), pp. 283-314. 

Elizabeth Grey, Countess of Kent, A Choice Manual, or, Rare and Select Secrets in Physick and Chirurgery (1682)

By Michael Powell-Davies

A Choice Manual, or, Rare and Select Secrets in Physick and Chirurgery was a hugely popular collection of medical and culinary recipes, ‘collected and practised by the Right Honourable the Countess of Kent’, Elizabeth Grey (1581-1651). First published by the compiler ‘W. J.’ in 1653, two years after Grey’s death, the book was repeatedly updated and republished throughout the latter half of the seventeenth century, with a final 22nd edition published in 1726. Although published as a single work, the volumes are divided into two parts, the first containing the manual of medical recipes, and the second containing ‘A True Gentlewoman’s Delight’, which contained the culinary recipes and was preceded by its own title page.

This copy of the eighteenth edition of the book, published in 1682, contains evidence of female ownership in the form of two inscriptions made by Anne Howe and Maria Burton.

Anne Howe’s inscription appears on the back of the title page and reads: ‘Anne Howe her booke given her by the Right hon[oura]ble Lady Howe her mother Aprile the 17 1617’. As this book was first published in 1653, Howe perhaps received this book in 1716 or 1717.

The recto of the copy’s second flyleaf bears the inscription: ‘Maria Burton July the 8: 1835’.

Source: British Library, 7462.a.31. Photographs by Michael Powell-Davies, reproduced with permission.

Aphra Behn (?), The Counterfeit Bridegroom (1677)

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We have only showcased a few books on this website so far that were both owned and written by a woman, and as we have seen in the case of Hannah Woolley, attribution can be problematic. Here is another instance of problematic attribution: a play that has been attributed to Aphra Behn. The Counterfeit Bridegroom, published  in 1677, is an adaptation of No Wit, No Help Like a Woman’s (1613) by Thomas Middleton. However, the play was published anonymously and Behn’s authorship has been questioned, and we cannot know if this particular female reader even knew this was perhaps a play by Behn. A woman named Millisent Smith wrote her name twice on a page, once at the very top and once upside down next to the text. The handwriting looks as if it may be that of a young person. The positioning of the writing next to the prologue and the double presence of her name suggests she may have been practicing her signature, a way of claiming ownership that disregards the actual content of the book. It is difficult to date the handwriting, which may well be later than the seventeenth century.

Credit: book in the Boston Public Library collection. Images taken from Early English Playbooks, 1594-1799, reproduced with permission.

Hester Chapone, Miscellanies in Prose and Verse (1777)



by Eileen A. Horansky

The Lewis Walpole Library (LWL) copy of Hester Chapone’s Miscellanies in Prose and Verse (LWL 53 C365 775c) features unique evidence of book ownership and reading practices in the late eighteenth century. Hester Chapone was known as an author of conduct books, a genre that grew increasingly popular as instructional material for the edification of young women in the latter half of the eighteenth century. Following the death of her husband in 1760, Chapone had turned to writing to support herself. With the encouragement of her friend and fellow Bluestocking Elizabeth Montague, as Rhoda Zuk writes in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Chapone went on to publish Letters on the Improvement of the Mind in 1773, a series of letters to her niece on the subject of education, followed by Miscellanies in Prose and Verse, a collection of essays and other writings, in 1775.

The LWL copy is the third edition of Miscellanies, published with the newly appended A Letter to a New-Married Lady in 1777. It is inscribed “Catherine Tollet, her book, bought with her own money” on the front free endpaper. This brief inscription offers few clues as to the identity of Catherine Tollet. My preliminary research uncovered a woman named Catherine Craddock who married Charles Tollet of Betley Hall in Staffordshire around 1760, had two children (a son, Charles, and a daughter, Catherine, both of whom died young), and died around 1808. However, with no evidence other than a common name linking the Catherine Tollet of Betley Hall to the woman who inscribed this book, the actual identity of Catherine Tollet is merely speculation. Regardless of her identity, the Catherine who owned this book was clearly in possession of some financial means, whether through generational wealth or her own industry, and thus had some agency in her reading choices and the books she could acquire.

The LWL copy of Miscellanies in Prose and Verse also contains unique physical evidence of how the text was read. Besides Catherine Tollet’s inscription, there is evidence of the use of pins as markers throughout the text itself. Although the original pins are not present, the holes created by the pins are still quite distinct. The use of pins as aids in the reading, editing, and even repairing of books and manuscripts is a well-documented practice throughout the early modern period.

Although Chapone was known for her (at the time) unconventional attitudes towards the education of women and female relationships, the ownership marks and other evidence present in this volume provide interesting and important context for how female readers interacted with books in the late eighteenth century.


Hester Chapone, Miscellanies in prose and verse (1777). Held at Yale University, Lewis Walpole Library.

“Chapone [née Mulso], Hester (1727–1801),” by Rhoda Zuk, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,

A History of the County of Staffordshire: Volume XI: Audley, Keele and Trentham. Edited by Nigel J. Trigham,  Boydell and Brewer, 2013.

Photos by Eileen A. Horansky, reproduced with permission.