Boston: Samuel T. Armstrong, 1815. First edition. Quarter reversed calf over drab boards retaining paper label to spine. Boards rubbed and shelfworn, but textblock remaining tight and square. Measuring 140 x 85mm, and collating viii, 288: complete. Internally unmarked and clean, with just a closed tear to the center of the rear endpaper and the usual uniform toning of the era. A fully unsophisticated copy of a scarce book, OCLC reports 4 first editions at libraries (with the remaining listings being the second edition of the same year), and the present is the only first edition on the market.
A scarce work, in a genre underappreciated in American literature and history. Coterie publications of intimate mourning were uncommon for the time, particularly for a woman; and Fanny Woodbury's is among the earliest examples we've located in the U.S. Woodbury's has the added distinction of being produced not only for the sake of family remembrance, but to support a philanthropic cause that reflected her own values. A printed note on the verso of the title page informs readers: "The avails of this edition, after defraying expenses, will be given to the Education Society, which has been recently formed in Boston, for the purpose of assisting pious and indigent youths in procuring an education."
Fanny Woodbury thus gained a legacy few young, unmarried women of her time accomplished: author and educational philanthropist. Her ability to do so was based, notably, in dying and leaving behind not only a body of writing that could be edited and published, but also a story of resilience that could be narrated and potentially co-opted by her community to meet its needs. What remains of her life exists within this volume -- the story of a woman "possessed of a slender constitution, she rarely knew what it was to enjoy health; and was often brought apparently to the very gates of death," but who "made a profession of religion...and highly estimated the importance of improving the female mind." The opening describes her as an ideal. She was an unmarried woman who bore her own sufferings with patience, a modest person committed to Christian obedience, and an individual who busied herself with chaste reading and writing.
Beneath the narration of this memorial, readers can find signs that Woodbury was a more multi-dimensional figure. Suffering ill health throughout her life, she was also a deaf person who "was in general rather reserved, yet to a few intimate friends...was remarkably open and communicative." With these people she corresponded profusely, in addition to keeping her own journal. And these expressions form the majority of the text. What emerges from her own words is the portrait of a loving woman, present and wise in her advice to friends as well as continually in doubt about her own contributions and value. A strong woman, and resilient despite her own loneliness and struggles with self worth.
National Cyclopedia of American Biography 148. (Item #4199)