Memoirs of Harry Rowe: Constructed from Materials in an old Box, after his Decease...and The Sham Doctor, A Musical Farce
York: Wilson & Spence, [N.D.].
York: Wilson & Spence, [N.D.]. First edition. Contemporary quarter roan over marbled boards. Measuring 170 x 100mm and collating complete in 144 pages, including half title, frontis, and subscriber's list. Loss to crown of spine and bumping to corners; archival strengthening to front joint. Early ownership signatures to front pastedown; rear endpaper neatly excised. Some toning and light scattered foxing, but overall an internally clean example. While OCLC lists this title under several dates ranging from 1799-1806, all copies match in collation, measurement, subscriber's list, and 5 shilling price on the undated title page, suggesting that they are all of the same print run with the dates being estimates or conjecture. Across these entries, OCLC records 11 hardcopies at institutions. It has appeared once at auction, in 1927, with the present being the only example on the market.
Despite his educated father's "hope of seeing him, one day or other, in holy orders," Harry Rowe struggled at "attending to the morals of the scholars" and instead pursued less traditional career paths. Long a trumpeter in the Duke of Kingston's light horse brigade and for the sheriffs of Yorkshire, then later an itinerant puppeteer, the showman Rowe eventually ran a matchmaking business with his wife under the names Thomas and Mary Tack. The present "memoir" released after his death is largely focused on this portion of his life -- beginning with the advertisement announcing the business's opening and including a series of letters allegedly submitted to the Tacks for consideration. The collection is humorous and heartbreaking in turn. Tracking the goals of various parents in seeking to match their children, as well as the aims of a range of men and women pursuing partnership, the letters offer a sociological study of marriage in a moment when companionship and romance were promoted as ideals despite the serious real-world economic and legal necessities that underpinned the majority of unions. And they reveal that women of certain classes were resisting being "restricted in their choices to those men who made advances to them" and looking for new method of making their own selections (Norton Anthology of English Literature).
For Thomas and Mary Tack -- and matchmakers like them -- all of these factors made marriage a lucrative business. In a letter to a critic asking whether his business model was a "wicked and immoral undertaking" that ran counter to tradition, Rowe responded that "the matches made under my direction are more likely to prove happy than those made in the common way...I pay a strict attention to the temper and moral characters of all those who want to honour me with their confidence, a thing not to be sufficiently attended to by parents and guardians in general." Yet this contradicted the promises made within the business' initial advert, which emphasized not only the speed at which matches could be made, but also the financial benefits to all men involved. "A gentleman may be fitted with a wife as soon as his tailor can take his measure for suit of clothes...They have to dispose of many ladies of rare accomplishments, with small fortunes; many ladies of rare accomplishments, with large fortunes; widows well jointured; and a large assortment of old maids with large fortunes." Ultimately, anyone desirous of such a match could "consult Mr. Tack's private book for two guineas." In this way, Thomas and Mary Tack's matchmaking ledger resembled pimp's lists or even the famed Harris' List -- exposing the extent to which marriage remained a form of so-called 'honorable' prostitution. (Item #5636)