London: Printed for J. Watts and Sold by B. Dod, 1743. First edition in English. Contemporary calf with red morocco label and gilt to spine. Some rubbing to extremities; front hinge cracked and rear tender but both holding well. Front endpaper replaced, rear endpaper lacking. Contemporary ownership signature of E. Chambers and later bookplate of Robert J. Hayhurst to front pastedown; ownership signature of Hannah to rear pastedown. Some offsetting to preliminaries and mild scattered foxing thoughout; occasionally marginal annotations in light pencil. In all a neat and pleasing copy measuring 190 x 127mm. Collates [viii], 69, 3: complete. This interesting conduct manual mystery by an unknown author is quite scarce. ESTC reports only 19 copies (8 being in the U.S.) and it appears but once in the modern auction record.
The authorship of this slim conduct manual remains mysterious; for while it claims to have been translated and adapted "from the French of Abbé D'Ancourt" by "a Gentleman of Cambridge," no records to date have been located either for D'Ancourt or for a French version of this title. It is possible that D'Ancourt and the Gentleman of Cambridge were merely pseudonyms for a male or female writer (as etiquette and rhetoric books by women including Mary Wollstonecraft were sometimes published under men's names). The book's dedication to the then-six-year-old English princess Augusta further grounds the work in Britain. Origin stories aside, the present work quickly and concisely covers a broad territory deemed relevant to the social education of girls and women -- ranging from the virtues of politeness and devotion, to avoidance of the vices of gossiping and insincerity; from courtship and friendship duties, to maternity; from what to read to how to dress. Most of these categories, for the author, are entwined. In the section on Politeness, for example, links the virtue to education and maternal duty. "The sad lack of politeness among girls is, in the main, put down to the neglect of their mothers. What is the meaning we frequently find so little true Education in young Ladies of Great Families...I should be apt to conjecture that it sprang from their Mammas being too enamoured of the world...or from their not caring to lie under that Restraint in their own Conduct which was necessary toward setting a proper example for their Daughters." A woman must have some knowledge of the world to be socially graceful, but those skills should be applied within a fairly narrow sphere. She must recognize that "Conversation is the Cement and Soul of Society," and that she must balance within her social circumstance "talking little but never appearing speechless." To this end, cultural engagement and reading are useful within certain parameters. Plays are considered a waste of time if attended but not if read; and moral fables are to be preferred over novels. Again, the writer urges constraint -- education, but not too much. "As to History, madam, a competent Knowledge in that of your own Country...is quite sufficient for a young Lady" and "Philosophy, I think, is a study without a Lady's sphere" though basic natural sciences are not. A fascinating, swift compendium of advice for women in an increasingly modern world, who were demanding greater access to education. This copy has, notably, been occasionally annotated in the margins by an active reader who decries some passages "Nonsense!" and marks others with emphatic "!" and "?" (Item #2855)