“Read with much fun in 1911, LMY”. Whether this was meant as a sincere expression – or not – of her appreciation of the “indifferent verse” written by Maria Eleanor Vere Cust, her husband’s cousin-once-removed, Louisa Yorke clearly left one of her trademark comments after reading the volume. “Indifferent verse” is how Maria Cust’s biographer describes the poetry presented in Lucem sequor and other poems (1906), and to judge from an earlier privately printed publication, Songs of sunshine and shadow (1903), the comment is fairly apt. Both works at Erddig are inscribed to Maria’s father, the orientalist Robert Needham Cust, for whom she worked as a secretary. Although the name “Cust” appears infrequently in the Erddig book collections outside the Library, it highlights the continuing connections between the two families. Continue reading
Category Archives: Female authors
As I mentioned the last time, I had not come across a Mills & Boon to catalogue before, although if it were ever to be found in a historic library, it would have to be in Calke Abbey’s weird and wonderful collection of about 10,000[!] volumes.
Gerald Mills (1877-1928) and Charles Boon (1877-1943) met at Methuen, and set up their own publishing house in 1908. Although Mills & Boon is associated today with romantic fiction of a formulaic nature, the firm initially established itself as publishers of high-quality fiction and non-fiction. Mills had a background in education and focused on signing authors who could write text-books to be used in schools (and so ensure a wide distribution). Until the start of World War I, Mills and Boon were hugely successful in this field.
Joan Sutherland’s romantic fiction set in India may be an indication of the reversal of fortune for the firm in the 1920s. Because of its size, it was unable to compete in the field of literary fiction with larger power houses, such as Methuen and Macmillan, and in fact, Desborough also seems to have been published by Hodder and Stoughton. From the mid-1920s onwards, the firm focused more and more on romantic, escapist, fiction for women, issuing between two and four new titles every fortnight in the 1930s.
- Joseph McAleer, ‘Mills, Gerald Rusgrove (1877–1928)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/73895, accessed 3 Jan 2014]
- Joseph McAleer, ‘Boon, Charles (1877–1943)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/73896, accessed 3 Jan 2014]
In an earlier post, I talked about a small quarto volume in the Library at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire. This book, an abbreviation of John Jackson’s Chronological antiquities, I believe was written by Mary Assheton, Lady Curzon (1695-1776). Mother of Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Baron Scarsdale (who built the existing mansion), she has never received much attention beyond the fact that she created a rococo garden on the edge of Kedleston estate. However, Mary is gradually emerging as an intriguing character in her own right (Here she is posing as a shepherdess in an Arcadian landscape); I will get back to her in a future post in more detail.
Today, I want to reflect a bit more on the contents of the Chronological collections itself. It is one of those slightly ironic twists of historical research that the copy of Jackson’s Chronological antiquities which was at Kedleston in 1765, was sold at auction in June 1888, as part of a ‘tidying up’ exercise of the book collection. Neither do we have a record of the purchase of the book. Without further research (or more serendipity!), it is therefore impossible to know whether Mary or her husband, Nathaniel Curzon, 4th Baronet (died 1758), purchased the Kedleston copy of the Chronological antiquities, and whether Mary annotated it in preparation for her abbreviation.
What is so fascinating about her project, if we can assume the comment in the Leicester University copy of Chronological collections is correct, is that she wrote it ‘for the use of her sons’. Both Nathaniel and Assheton, his younger brother, were adults in 1755, and Nathaniel had been married for five years. So, Mary could not have written it for their personal education. However, both men (not untypically for their time) were keen to present themselves as well-educated connoisseurs of art, good taste, and fashions, in order to advance themselves in society. Since so much of eighteenth-century British culture relied on a knowledge of ancient history (Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Hebrew), but also showed an interest in the exotic (that is, the Far East), Mary’s abbreviation can be read as a quick reference guide to the main civilisations of the past. We are beginning to see that she was a driving force behind the social aspirations of her sons, and that she took an active interest in her son Nathaniel’s building activities at Kedleston from late 1758 onwards.
Although there were two copies of her abbreviation in the Kedleston Library in the nineteenth century, when the National Trust took over ownership in the mid-1980s, only Caroline Curzon’s copy remained. It is possible that the second of the two copies was similarly the victim of the late nineteenth-century auction sales.
This little volume can be found on the shelves in the Library at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire, owned by the National Trust. The Hall was built by Nathaniel Curzon, 1st Lord Scarsdale,between 1759 and circa 1790, and it contains some of the most complete, unaltered, and stunning, Robert Adam interiors in the world. The book was actually catalogued by my colleague James Fishwick a few years ago, and because it does not have a title page or anything else obvious to identify it, he added the title from the spine to the catalogue record.
I came across it a couple of years ago, when I was preparing for a Library Open Day at Kedleston and doing some research into the 1st Lord Scarsdale’s family. Looking through the catalogue for provenance information, I found this book, Chronological collections. It had the following inscription on the back of the front flyleaf: “Carolina Curzon, June the 28th, 1756”.
Carolina, or Caroline, married Nathaniel Curzon in 1750 when she was sixteen years old. She was the daughter of Charles Colyear, the earl of Portmore, one of Nathaniel’s horse racing friends.
Since my initial interest was in Caroline’s education (Robert Adam designed a wonderful bookcase for her private apartment at Kedleston, which was unfortunately sold by the Curzon family in 2002), I decided to investigate this book a bit further. Almost by chance (which is why I love historical research!), I happened to find another copy of the same work in the Special Collections held at the University of Leicester’s David Wilson Library. The Leicester copy similarly lacked a title page, but had the same binding as the item in Kedleston’s library. It also had an inscription, which helped me to identify the contents of the book, as well as the possible author:
The gift of Lady Curzon, widow of Sir Nathaniel Curzon, who abridged Mr. Jackson’s chronology for the use of her sons. Twenty copies only were printed.
Therefore, Chronological collections would appear to be an abridgement of John Jackson’s Chronological antiquities, which was published in 1752 in three volumes (ESTC T136688). The name Curzon does not show in the subscribers’ list, but a copy was in the family’s possession soon after it was published, if the provenance information in the Kedleston copy is correct. It was certainly in the library at Kedleston by 1765.
According to his dedication, Jackson aimed to bring together the histories of all major civilisations in antiquity and to reconcile recorded events with the story of the Old Testament – a very ambitious project, which came in for some criticism the year after it was published.
The author of the abridgement, named as “Lady Curzon, widow of Sir Nathaniel Curzon” in the Leicester copy, could only have been Mary Assheton, Lady Curzon (1695-1776). The item itself looks to be a piece of vanity publishing with a very limited print-run, for distribution among members of the family and perhaps close friends.
Future posts will talk in more detail about Chronological collections and about Mary Assheton.