London: Whittingham and Rowland, 1816. First and only edition. 19th century half morocco over purple cloth with gilt to spine and boards. Top edge brightly gilt, and with marbled endpapers. Small numerical label to foot of spine, else unmarked externally and internally. Collates complete: [viii], 195 pages with errata on final page. Measuring 241 x 304mm, this large, wide-margined book is extra-illustrated with a total of 32 mezzotints, portraits, and beautifully hand-colored plates. With only 13 copies listed at institutions according to OCLC and no others on the market, the present work is a lovely example of a female educator bringing together literary and visual arts to honor her students and benefactors.
Miss Margaret Leech, a schoolmistress and resident of the Isle of Wight, privately published her miscellany poems and dedicated them to the ladies of her school, "having given to you the greater part of my life...my mind so truly devoted to your improvement and the general promotion of your happiness." Like so many women writers before her, her friends, family, and students become the justification for her appearance in print. According to tradition, she apologizes: "They were not, as you know, originally designed to appear in print, nor would my own desire have influenced me to encounter even that degree of publicity which the limited circulation of this unintending volume is likely to incur." Yet she does sign her name in full at the dedication's conclusion; and the resulting volume, its wide margins and size, suggest a certain pride in her own poetic accomplishments. Of the included works, the majority focus on traditionally feminine subjects so frequently appearing in the era's commonplace books and didactic manuals, such as Resignation, Charity, and Heroic Love. Yet others provide a glimpse into Leech's personal feelings and ideas -- some that would be familiar to other women of her time and beyond. In Memory of a Beloved Friend deals with the loss of her intimate Anna Holmes Skinner, and she grieves that she has watched a woman's movement from "youth's resplendent ray," to its "noontide radiance" and then tragically to "that fated hour, already come, when Health and Life before me fade; wilt thou precede me to the tomb, and darker make my evening shade?" Similarly, On the Death of my Mother expresses a level of loss that comes from close female communities where mother and daughter are firmly bonded and rely on each other throughout life. The Cottage Maid, meanwhile, seems to reveal a bit about how Leech hoped to be viewed, as a single woman living alone in Wight. An unexpectedly personal set of verses, Leech's Poems come from a woman who was dedicated through her life to girls' education; and the Sessional Papers of the House of Commons reveal that on her death she willed funds "in trust, to apply to the interest thereof in the maintenance, clothing, and instruction as so many female children as it would be efficient."
Romantic Poetry by Women 198. Sessional Papers Vol 62. Fine (Item #2784)