[England]: 1813. Comprised of 65 handwritten pages, including a 2 page index of content. Ownership signature on the verso of the front cover, "Mary Ann White October 20th 1813." A commonplace book all in one hand, recording short essays by White on topics including "On Economy," "On Benevolence," "On Education," "On Curiosity," and "On Reading." 34 essays in total. Red sheep over stitched card, measuring 7 x 8.5 inches, with light wear to covers and spine. Text block separating from spine but holding, with internal contents tight and clean. Throughout, an exceptionally organized and thoughtful commonplace book, designed to provide a young woman with guidance throughout her adult life.
Mary Ann White's notebook documents the thoughts and aspirations of a young, educated Englishwoman living at the tail end of the Regency era. Writing in the time of Jane Austen, Maria Edgeworth, and Fanny Burney, Mary Ann could have been the character in any of these women's novels, spending her spare time composing thoughtful essays that helped her to reflect on her current role as a daughter and her future roles as a wife and mother. In her neat, well-formed hand, Mary Ann draws on examples ranging from biblical books including Genesis and Paul's Epistles, to historical figures including Queen Elizabeth I and Lady Jane Grey, to authors including James Thomson and Sir Walter Raleigh. While her breadth of sources reveal her education, it is also telling that while topics such as "Fashion" and "Modesty" are typically limited to a half or single page, issues such as "Education," "Curiosity" and "Reading" tend to span 2-3 pages in length. Within these fields, she focuses on the knowledge and moral growth people can obtain as they expand their minds. She also writes enthusiastically: "In the numerous assembly of books you may choose what company you please, join any party without form or ceremony, and quit it whenever you have a mind." Suggesting that she herself is a reader whose library extends beyond philosophical and historical texts, Mary Ann posits that novels open a more equal social space, where one can participate without the fears, anxieties, and formalized etiquette that governed people's lives at the time. Notably, at a time when the slave trade was ongoing in the Empire, Mary Ann deals with race in at least one essay "On Humanity," suggesting tacitly that humanness supercedes and is not tied to whiteness or blackness.
A unique glimpse into an educated Englishwoman's thoughts, this commonplace book has research potential including but not limited to the history of women's education, Regency era etiquette and fashion, conduct and marriage manuals, Regency era reading practices, race and slavery predating the Slavery Abolition Act, and gender studies. (Item #2228)