London: J. Murray and W. Creech, 1788. First edition. Contemporary sheep with red morocco spine labels, rebacked to style. Measuring 165 x 101mm (pages). Bookseller's ticket of R. D. Steedman and hand-colored owner's bookplate to each front pastedown. Collates [14, 371; xi, , 391; xi, , 503 pages: complete, including thirty four engravings and seventeen folding maps. Mild scattered foxing throughout; 3 inch closed tear to map of Turkey and small hole to map of North America. Overall, a neat and pleasing copy of this rare educational text designed to serve as a reference for women learning about the arts and sciences. Scarce in trade and at institutions, this is the only copy of The Lady's Encyclopedia on the market; it has never before sold at auction, and ESTC reports only 6 copies at U.S. universities.
The Reverend John Seally was educated at Oxford before taking orders and beginning a writing career focused on education. In addition to penning book-keeping and arithmetic guides for young men, Seally also produced works designed for the improvement of women's education (ODNB). "In this enlightened age, there is scarce a being so wretchedly ignorant but knows that a proper education is of the utmost importance to the welfare of society and the happiness of individuals," Seally begins, "Yet in our modern refinements, when both sexes are ambitious...it is really astonishing that the education of Young Ladies in particular should in a manner be almost universally neglected." The present work served as a corrective. Designed as a compendium of knowledge spanning the arts and sciences, from classical literature through geography and astronomy, Seally's text gave women a useful, accessible reference guide that also encouraging further study. While tables of contents, indexes, and chronologies could assist with the quick location of information, engravings and maps visually illustrated complex ideas. And among the great thinkers such as Cicero and Plato who deserve to be researched, Seally also makes it clear that women like Sappho contributed to human advancement. For his work, Seally was elected to a position with the Royal Society in 1791, three years after the publication of this work. (Item #2569)