London: Vernor and Hood in the Poultry, 1798. First Edition. Finely bound by Birdsall & Son of Northampton in red straight-grain morocco stamped with gilt to spine and boards. All edged brightly gilt. Marbled endpapers. Booksellers ticket of W&G Foyle to front pastedown; previous owners' bookplates of The Bewick Collection of the Rev. Thomas Hugo and William Edward Kelly to front pastedown and endpaper respectively. Early ownership signature of Elizabeth Evans, Sept. 24, 1804 to verso of title page, above later women's ownership signatures from 1928, 1973, and 1978; the later signatures causing some bleed-through to the title page. The remainder of the text is unmarked and complete, collating: xxiv, 226. An attractive and neat copy of this rare conduct book. The only copy on the market, ESTC lists 12 copies at US institutions; the most recent copies to appear at auction came up in 1938 and 1914.
A prolific author, Mary Pilkington drew on her firsthand experiences as an orphan and a governess to create her most important work. While the majority of her writing centered on fiction (she produced over 40 novels leading up to 1825), A Mirror for the Female Sex emphasized the importance of education and socialization in the lives of girls and young women. Dedicating the book "To Superiors of Female Seminaries," she asserts that "The Historical Beauties has a natural claim on some share of your patronage: It aims at the same objects with you, cooperates with all your labours in improving and polishing our sex...It makes an humble tender of assistance, in disclosing for the benefit of your charming pupils, the purest sources of whatever is best calculated for informing their understandings and bettering their hearts." Indeed, Pilkington created a work that aimed to entertain and educate, encouraging its female readers to appreciate and enjoy their studies from childhood and into adulthood. More important than anything, in Pilkington's view, was a broad understanding of human behavior that extended beyond a young woman's domestic space. "A thorough knowledge of history is certainly one of the most essential parts of a girl's education, and I confess myself very anxious to inspire you with a relish for the study of it...a young woman totally unacquainted with history must of course have her ideas bounded to the spot where she resides, and be incapable of deriving any advantage from a knowledge of the manners and customs of people who inhabit different parts of the globe." A rare and exceptionally pleasing copy of this guide book on female education, which emphasized both historical knowledge and the enjoyment of learning. Near Fine (Item #3884)