Boston: Robert Hodge for William Green, 1783. First American edition. Two volumes bound in one, with full titles for each. Contemporary full sheep binding with title in ink on spine. Some light rubbing but in all pleasing and square. Early ownership signature to the front endpaper, as a testament to women passing along knowledge to girls: "Mary E. Denison's, a present from her mother." Tears to first four leaves extending from the fore-edge but not affecting legibility of text. Small paper loss to outer margin of title page, with some loss to the quotation. Collates , [1, blank], 14-254, [2, blank]. Internally complete, with light scattered foxing throughout, as is expected of an American imprint from this period. ESTC reports copies at 14 institutions, this being the only first (British or American) on the market. Scarce in both forms, the first British has appeared only three times at auction, while the present has appeared only four.
Initially released anonymously and in a small quantity, Letters on the Improvement of the Mind was written by famed Bluestocking Hester Chapone, whose name appeared in all later editions. Compiled in the volumes are Chapone's advice to her 15 year old niece, encouraging the girl's education across the fields of scripture, economy, geography, literature, and history. "Hitherto you have 'thought as a child and understood as a child,' but it is time to 'put childish things away.' You are now in your fifteenth year, and must soon act for yourself; therefore it is high time to store your mind with those principles which must direct your conduct and fix your character." Chapone explains that this best occurs when a young women has an understanding of history and the world around her; and that this knowledge will improve her character by teaching her how to govern herself and navigate all situations public and private. For Chapone, the rise to womanhood is an emergence into independent selfhood. As an educational and conduct manual for young women, Letters became a sensation in its own time, with 28 new editions being rapidly released beginning that same year. An important, forward-thinking treatise on the education of young women, here printed and distributed in America for the first time with the intention of "promoting the best interests of society" through the education of girls.
Feminist Companion to Literature 195. Bristol B5694. ESTC W30629. (Item #3341)