Edinburgh: Neill & Co, 1838. First edition. Contemporary full morocco presentation binding stamped ornately in gilt to spine and boards. Floral gilt turn-ins. All edges brightly gilt. Pale yellow endpapers. Bookplate of J.O. Edwards to front pastedown. Just about Fine, with light foxing to the title and a small ink mark to the header of page 14, else bright and clean. Though misattributed to Viscountess Henrietta Dundas on OCLC, due to her ownership inscription in one institutional copy, the writer of these posthumously published poems remains unknown. According to notes on OCLC, the 6 known institutional copies appear to bear the same morocco presentation binding. It is currently the only copy on the market.
Largely devotional in nature, the 103 pages of original poetry presented here are a stirring reminder of women's desire to commit ideas to paper even when discouraged due to class or gender. The young lady's manuscripts were collected and stored by a friend, who also appears to be a woman; and the young woman's Preface participates in the commonplace apology that the lady's poems "were never intended for publication, and indeed their existence was almost entirely unknown." This young editor herself explains that the author kept the manuscripts "in her possession from the time they were written, and they were kept more as remembrances than with any view to their being printed." In a similar spirit, she claims, she is releasing this volume "for circulation among a few friends and family who truly loved and valued their Author, and to whom her short history is well known."
It is possible that the composition of these poems by one woman and their publication by another was truly an attempt at private expression -- in the case of one, creativity and devotion, in the case of the other, loss and love. Yet just as male authors of earlier centuries participated in the etiquette of apology for their publications, so too may these women. Committing poetry to paper, whether in manuscript or print, allows the women to make their words more widely heard and longer lasting. It also gives them an opportunity to shape public perceptions of themselves, at least within whatever small community accesses the book. As if aware of possible readership, the author herself left lengthy footnote explaining herself in The Captive. And the opening stanza of the opening poem expresses concern over disappearing into death without leaving something lasting behind ("Thy laurels all lie withering, What aught remains of thee?").
A beautiful example of 19th century women's poetry and its circulation among women, deserving of further research and reading. Fine (Item #3344)