New York: 1824-1845. Manuscript notebook comprised of 99 pages in a variety of hands in ink and pencil, including a hand-drawn title page. Bound in brown leather embossed with gilt, with green endpapers, measuring 8 x 5 inches. The compilation of poems is largely copied by women, making this manuscript an important recording of what literary works attracted women readers during the period, and how those verses assisted women in expressing themselves within their coteries.
The nearly 100 pages of poetry recorded in Mrs. Beehee's book provide a rich opportunity for learning about what, how, and when 19th century women were reading as well as how they engaged with those works. While several men do contribute to the notebook, the majority of the well-copied works are penned and signed by women; and these women's tastes run the gamut from scripture to romance to the erotic. Among the numerous complex italic and secretary style hands -- a testament to the women's level of education in this time and place -- there are works by canonical writers like Byron and Thomas Moore. Several of the poems come from serials and magazines of the time. Mrs. Smith's opening poem, for example, hails from the 1819 Ladies' Literary Cabinet; not content to simply replicate its sentiments, she swaps the name of the original poet's "Anna" for her own friend's: "Just as the moon advances in her orb...So may My Beehee..." The piece Woman, with its lovely embellished title, originated in the Ladies' Repository of 1846. A sonnet copied by Hermione Pillet was originally Samuel Rodgers' Imitation of an Italian Sonnet from 1849. And a poem by someone identified only as JEB first appeared in the North American Review of 1826 with a note that even this was transmitted from further away, as a contribution to "The European Magazine." Hermione Pillet, not to be outdone on exoticism, shows her skill again by copying out verses in French. Not all of the works in the book come from other sources, however. Mrs. De Peyster's The Air appears to be original, and across its two pages it lifts memorable images and makes reference to works by Milton, Moore, Hazlitt, and even Sarah Josepha Buell Hale. A running reference that ties a number of the contributions together are titles or lines regarding Sophronia -- a Greek name that means "prudent or discreet." Whether the classical reference is one preferred by Mrs. Beehee herself, or one which ties the women together as a coterie, it is unclear. What does stand out is that this book was shared among an educated, curious, and humorous community of women across at least two decades. Not passive readers, they engaged with the literature they were reading, used it to convey rememberance, good humor, family connections, and shared joys.
An exceptional and research rich piece with appeal to scholars in fields including but not limited to trans-Atlantic and North American literary transmission, the history of reading and writing, paleography, women's education, women's communities and gift exchange, and poetry. (Item #2691)