Collection of Manuscript Essays on Self Culture, Art, and Books

(Item #5007) Collection of Manuscript Essays on Self Culture, Art, and Books. Women's Education, Emily Somerset.
Collection of Manuscript Essays on Self Culture, Art, and Books
Collection of Manuscript Essays on Self Culture, Art, and Books
Collection of Manuscript Essays on Self Culture, Art, and Books
Collection of Manuscript Essays on Self Culture, Art, and Books
Collection of Manuscript Essays on Self Culture, Art, and Books
A young woman defends poetry over painting and takes issue with critiques of novels and cheap books: "Now we have more books, can get them cheaper, and in many ways have a better chance at gaining knowledge"
Collection of Manuscript Essays on Self Culture, Art, and Books

[York]: 1867-1873. Manuscript comprised of 45 pages containing 12 essays with decorative calligraphic head and tail pieces, with an additional 3 pages of recipes to the rear. Bound in contemporary limp morocco with Essays of Emily Somerset embossed in gilt to front cover; a contemporary gift plate reading "E. Somerset from her cousin C. Somerset. 1867" adhered to front pastedown. Decorative endpapers. Later gift inscription in pencil to verso of front endpaper: "Annie Usher from her Uncle. November 28th 1923." Begun in 1867 at age 18, the notebook of Emily Somerset (1849-1921) documented some of her early thoughts on humanist subjects and reflected the serious scholarly approach that would shape her future as a Wesleyan schoolmistress.

While some essays, such as the opening piece On Self Culture, reflect popular trends in education regarding women's physical and mental health (including the importance of balancing classroom time with exercise), others suggest Emily's more individual interests or perceptions of the world. Her essay Art and Its Effect Upon Us (August 1867) reveals that while she perceives many people to value painting higher than poetry, she disagrees and believes "they may think nothing of poetry just because they do not give it that attention which is requisite for understanding its meaning, for we cannot do justice to the works of the poets unless when reading poetry we fully comprehend...how it lingers in the memory" by painting a picture in the mind or even functioning as music.

Emily's proclivity for literature becomes even more apparent in her essay On Books (February 17 1868). Here, she opens with general praise for the technology of the book and how it expands the human mind. But for her, books can serve a much more varied purpose; and she takes issue with those who deride the novel or other so-called feminine texts. "Some suppose that light books should never be read; now, this I think is a wrong impression, for a light book at times refreshes us, especially after a long study; and it is to some a better rest than doing nothing." The diversity of books, after all, serves us because "there are also different ways of reading" one can use in their approach to literature. In a world where access to books is expanding, this diversity is a wealth and not a detriment -- the range of and accessibility to books has a democratizing quality that benefits societies as well as individuals. "Now we have more books, can get them cheaper, and in many ways have a better chance at gaining knowledge than those a half a century ago...what a great and glorious thing it is to have books."

Emily Somerset would go on to become a Wesleyan schoolmistress before marrying schoolteacher William James Middleton in 1879. Further research could be done into her training and the schools where she taught in the Yorkshire region. Additionally, projects could follow up on how her attitudes within this manuscript aligned or conflicted with popular education movements in women's and men's schooling. Surrounding genealogy, the question also remains of whether Emily Somerset and the later owner, Annie Usher were related in some way, as Emily's death in 1921 is quite close to Annie's receipt of the manuscript as a gift in 1923.
(Item #5007)

Price: $1,650