Finding Jane Austen’s ‘Dear Dr. Johnson’ at the Godmersham Park Library

One of the more famous quotes giving us some insight into Jane Austen was by her brother Henry Austen in his “Biographical Notice of the Author” (1817), which prefaced the posthumous publication of Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in 1818:

“Her reading was very extensive in history and belles lettres; and her memory extremely tenacious. Her favourite moral writers were [Samuel] Johnson in prose, and [William] Cowper in verse. It is difficult to say at what age she was not intimately acquainted with the merits and defects of the best essays and novels in the English language.” [Biographical Notice, 1817]

And ever since, much has been made of both these writers, scholars mining Austen’s works to find any possible allusion to either.

Samuel Johnson

Today I am going to deal with Samuel Johnson (see here for the Cowper volume we are hoping to return to Chawton). It is interesting to see which of his works or works about him are in the 1818 catalogue of Edward Austen’s Godmersham Park Library [GPL], and interesting to see the many that are not, Rasselas for example.

If we look at Austen’s letters, we find several references to Johnson: in November of 1798 she writes to Cassandra: “We have got Boswell’s ‘Tour to the Hebrides’, and are to have his ‘Life of Johnson’; and, as some money will yet remain in Burdon’s [a bookseller] hands, it is to be laid out in the purchase of Cowper’s works.” [Ltr. 12, Le Faye].

Boswell’s The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785) was published as an accompaniment to Johnson’s own 1775 publication Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775), both chronicling their trip together to Scotland in 1773. Boswell’s Life of Johnson was published in 1791. These two works that Austen mentions would be added to the family library at Steventon; so one wonders if when Mr. Austen moved the family to Bath in 1800, just two years later, were these books sold as part of his library of 500 books? And did Edward have either in his Godmersham Library? – The 1st edition of Boswell’s Life is listed and is unfortunately a Lost Sheep – interesting to note that it is listed in the typewritten 1908 catalogue, but is crossed out in two places. Boswell’s Tour is not noted in the GPL catalogue at all, but Johnson’s Journey is (see below – we found it in the archives of Amherst!).


In Letter 50 (February 8-9, 1807), Austen writes to Cassandra at Godmersham from Southampton:

“I flatter myself I have constructed you a Smartish Letter, considering my want of Materials. But like my dear Dr. Johnson, I believe I have dealt more in Notions than Facts.”

She is referring here to Johnson’s letter to Boswell of 4 July 1774, which reads:

“I WISH you could have looked over my book before the printer, but it could not easily be. I suspect some mistakes; but as I deal, perhaps, more in notions than in facts, the matter is not great, and the second edition will be mended, if any such there be. The press will go on slowly for a time, because I am going into Wales to-morrow.” [Life of Johnson, ii, 279].

In November 1807, Austen again writes of Cowper and Johnson. She is speaking of Henry’s manservant William: I am glad William’s going is voluntary, & on no worse grounds. An inclination for the country is a venial fault. – He has more of Cowper than of Johnson in him, fonder of Tame Hares & Blank Verse than of the full tide of human Existence at Charing Cross.” [Ltr. 95, Le Faye; referring to a Cowper poem and a Johnson letter in Boswell’s Life].

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Looking now at the 1818 GPL catalogue we find several Johnsons, Boswell’s Life, and two works about Johnson by Hester Thrale Piozzi, and one other travel work by her: these are the titles listed [please note which are extant in the collection and which are the Lost Sheep (most of them) that we continue to search for]:

Samuel Johnson:

1. The Idler. In two volumes. London: Printed for J. Newberry, 1761. 1st ed.

In the Knight Collection.
Read it online: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/100258735

2. The Rambler. In four volumes. London: Printed for A. Millar, in the Strand; J. Hodges; J. And J. Rivington; R. Baldwin; and B. Collins, 1756. 1st ed. 4 vols.

In the Knight Collection; missing vol. 1
Read online: various editions are available.

3. The Adventurer. London: Printed for C. Hitch, and L. Hawes, J. Payne, and R. Baldwin;LivesEnglishPoetsTP1781-wp and R. and J. Dodsley, 1756. 3rd ed. 4 vols.

In the Knight Collection.
Read it online: https://books.google.ca/books?id=DxFfuQEACAAJ

4. The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets; with critical observations on their works. By Samuel Johnson. In four volumes. London: Printed for C. Bathurst, J. Buckland, W. Strahan, J. Rivington and Sons, T. Davies, 1781. 1st ed.

A Lost Sheep
Read it online: https://books.google.com/books?vid=V9YNAAAAQAAJ


5. A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland.
London: Printed for W. Strahan; and T. Cadell in the Strand, 1775. 1st ed.

Found! Amherst College, Archives and Special Collections
Read online: https://books.google.ca/books?id=mpoHAAAAQAAJ

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 There are two of Johnson’s Dictionaries in listed in the 1818 catalogue, with some discrepancies in description. According to the Reading with Austen website, neither have been located: 

6. A Dictionary of the English Language: in which the words are deduced from their originals, and illustrated in their different significations by examples from the best writers. To which are prefixed a history of the language and an English grammar. By Samuel Johnson, LL. D. In two volumes. The tenth edition, corrected and revised. London, 1810.

A Lost Sheep 

7. A Dictionary of the English Language: in which The Words are deduced from their Originals, and Illustrated in their Different Significations by Examples from the best Writers. To which are prefixed, A History of the Language, and An English Grammar. By Samuel Johnson, A. M. In Two Volumes. London: Printed by W. Strahan, For J. and P. Knapton; T. and T. Longman; C. Hitch and L. Hawes; A. Millar; and R. and J. Dodsley, 1755.

A Lost Sheep
Read online:
https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=ucm.5326809190;view=1up;seq=7

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One book by James Boswell:

James Boswell, by Joshua Reynolds

1. The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D. comprehending an account of his studies and numerous works, in chronological order …. London: Printed by Henry Baldwin, for Charles Dilly, 1791. 1st ed. 2 vol.

A Lost Sheep
Read online: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/008459343

boswell-Life-1791-tp-pitt

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Books by Hester Thrale Piozzi:

Hester Thrale Piozzi

Austen was familiar with Piozzi’s works on Johnson. In June 1799, she writes to Cassandra: So much for Mrs. Piozzi. – I had some thoughts of writing the whole of my letter in her stile, but I beleive I shall not.” [Ltr. 21]

And she writes again of Piozzi in a letter to Cassandra on December 9, 1808:
“But all this, as my dear Mrs. Piozzi says, is flight & fancy & nonsense…” [Ltr. 62, Le Faye, who says this quote is “substantially accurate” from Piozzi’s Letters to and from the Late Samuel Johnson (1788)].

1. Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson, LL.D. during the last twenty years of his life. By Hesther [sic] Lynch Piozzi. London: Printed for T. Cadell in the Strand, 1786. 1st ed.

A Lost Sheep 
Read online: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hw20dy;view=1up;seq=1

2. Letters to and from the Late Samuel Johnson, LL.D. To which are added, some poems never before printed. Published from the original mss. in her possession, by Hester Lynch Piozzi. London: Printed for A. Strahan; and T. Cadell, 1788. 1st ed. 2 vols.

A Lost Sheep
Read online: https://books.google.com/books?id=rOAEAAAAYAAJ

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3. Observations and Reflections Made in the Course of a Journey through France, Italy, and Germany. By Hester Lynch Piozzi. London: Printed for A. Strahan; and T. Cadell in the Strand, 1789. 1st ed. 2 vols.

This title has been found! and resides in a private collection.
Read online:
https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=yale.39002024184575;view=1up;seq=1

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So, as you can see, a good number of lost sheepif you should locate any of these Johnson-related books with any of the Knight family bookplates, please contact us here. Thank you!

c2019, Reading with Austen blog

Wanted! ~ The Godmersham Library Copy of Cowper’s Poems

This is at this moment the Godmersham Lost Sheep Society’s Holy Grail. William Cowper’s Poems. Cowper was Jane Austen’s favorite poet (or so her brother Henry tells us in his “Biographical Notice”]. It was located in the Godmersham Library in the South Case: column 1, shelf 3, and a book that Jane Austen would certainly have read there while visiting.


This title, unlike the majority of the Lost Sheep, is actually for sale – and unfortunately way beyond our collective pocketbooks – from Bernard Quaritch Ltd. of London.

Here is the description on Abebooks – see the reference to the all-important Montagu George Knight bookplate and a little bit of the history of Jane Austen and Cowper.

Cowper, William. Poems London: printed for J. Johnson 1782. [With:]_________. The Task, a Poem, in six Books To which is added An Epistle to Joseph Hill Tirocinium, or a Review of Schools, and the History of John Gilpin. London: Printed for J. Johnson 1785.

Price: $ 10,657.66 / £ 8,000

Description:
2 vols., 8vo., pp. [4], ‘vii’ [i.e. viii, misnumbered], 367, [1, errata]; [8], 359, [1, advertisement for Poems 1782], Poems with the suppressed Preface, E6 and I6 are cancels as usual, The Task with half-title (‘Poems Vol. II’); title-page to The Task shaved at foot touching the date, else good copies in contemporary tree calf, morocco spine labels; front board of volume I restored, joints rubbed in volume II, spines dry and rubbed; the Chawton copy, with the large roundel bookplate of Montagu George Knight and with the earlier Knight family shelf tickets ‘J 9 27-8’; scattered underlining or marked in the margin throughout in pencil and occasionally pen or red crayon. First edition of each volume, with the notoriously rare suppressed preface by John Newton. This copy comes from the library of Chawton House, with an early shelf label and the bookplate of Jane Austen’s great-nephew George Montagu Knight [sic]. Austen’s ‘favourite moral writers were Johnson in prose, and Cowper in verse’ (‘Biographical Notice’, Northanger Abbey), and Cowper provides the moral framework for much of her writing, is referred to or quoted in Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey, Emma, and, in particular, Mansfield Park, and mentioned several times in her letters. Jane’s father, himself a clergyman, ‘bought a copy of Cowper’s works in 1798 and Jane described him reading them aloud to the family in the evening; ten years later she bought a copy of a new edition as a present for her niece Fanny’ (David Selwyn, Jane Austen and Leisure, 1999). The Austens moved to Chawton Cottage, in the grounds of Chawton House, in 1809, after her brother Edward, who took the name of Knight, had inherited the estates of Chawton and Godmersham Park. Jane regularly used the libraries at both houses: ‘I am now alone in the Library’, she wrote to Cassandra from Godmersham, ‘Mistress of all I survey’. The present volumes appear in the 1818 Godmersham Park catalogue compiled by Edward Knight (South Case, col 1 shelf 3). It has been carefully read, and numerous passages marked, especially in the poems quoted by Austen (‘Tirocinum’, ‘The Truth’ etc.), though almost certainly not by Austen herself. They do however express the canonicity of Cowper in the Austen family and it is hard to imagine she would not have turned through the pages of this set in the library at Godmersham. The Godmersham and Chawton libraries were later merged, hence the Chawton bookplate of Austen’s great-nephew Montagu George Knight. Poems, published at the age of 50, was Cowper’s first and most important collection. The suppressed Preface by the reformed slave trader John Newton is notoriously rare. As curate of Olney, Buckinghamshire, Newton for seven years was a neighbour of Cowper and became a close friend. They collaborated on Olney Hymns in 1779, Newton’s contributions including ‘Amazing Grace’. His Preface was ‘not designed to commend the Poems to which it is prefixed’, but to provide testimony to Cowper’s (and his own) religious experience. In the poems, he writes, Cowper’s ‘satire, if it may be called so, is benevolent dictated by a just regard for the honour of God, an indignant grief excited by the profligacy of the age, and a tender compassion for the souls of men He aims to communicate his own perceptions of the truth, beauty, and influence of the religion of the Bible. A religion, which alone can relieve the mind of man from painful and unavoidable anxieties’. The publisher, no doubt rightly, was alarmed that such an evangelical Preface might prejudice the sale of the book, and, with Cowper’s reluctant consent, withdrew it a week before publication. The Task was written at the suggestion of Cowper’s friend and neighbour Lady Austen (no relation). She had encouraged him to attempt blank verse, and he agreed provided that she would supply the subject. ‘O’, she replied, ‘you can never be in want of a subject: you can write upon any. Write upon this sofa!’ And so he did, hence the wry title, Bookseller Inventory # E4430.1

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If you would like to contribute to the Lost Sheep Fund and help in facilitating the return of this book, we would be most grateful – and you will become one of the esteemed members of our community of GLOSSers. Please contact us here for more information.

Images: Abebooks and the RwA website, courtesy of Bernard Quaritch, Ltd.

C2019 Reading with Austen Blog

WANTED! ~ Books with Montagu George Knight Bookplates

Calling all Booksellers, Librarians, Bibliophiles

Wanted !

The Godmersham Lost Sheep Society*

Cordially invites you to join in the

Global Search

For all books bearing

Montagu George Knight bookplates**

Please help us return these books to the fold

at the

Library at Chawton House, Chawton, Alton, Hampshire, UK

* The Godmersham Lost Sheep Society (GLOSS) is a research group of scholars and bibliophiles searching for all books that were originally in the libraries of Godmersham Park and later Chawton House, both estates of Jane Austen’s brother Edward Austen Knight.

**The three Knight bookplates were all designed by Charles Sherborn in 1900 / 1901:

Bookplate 1

Bookplate 2

 

Bookplate 3

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We note here that there are also the bookplates of Thomas Knight (1701-1781) and Edward Knight (1767-1852) and his son, also named Edward (1794-1879) – it is unclear if the bookplate was father or son’s, or if they both used the same bookplate – these bookplates are also to be found in some of the Godmersham library books, so we are searching for these as well, especially if they are listed in the original 1818 catalogue:

 

Thomas Knight bookplate

 

Edward Knight bookplate

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1.  The History:  

Edward Austen Knight inherited three estates from his adoptive family the Thomas Knights: Godmersham Park in Kent, and Chawton House and Steventon in Hampshire. Godmersham and Chawton had large extensive libraries typical of the gentry of the time. Edward had a catalogue of the Godmersham Library compiled in 1818, listing about 1250 titles. These books were later combined with the Chawton House Library when Godmersham was sold in 1874, with many of the volumes sold or otherwise distributed over the years. [Montagu George Knight, grandson of Edward Knight, placed his bookplates in most of the books of this combined library, as well as in the books he added to it. The remaining library (called the “Knight Collection” and still in the family) is now housed at Chawton House Library, which serves as an important literary heritage site and a center for the study of early women writers]. We know Jane Austen spent a considerable amount of time in both these libraries – and an ongoing project has been to try to locate the missing volumes that have wandered away and might still be extant in libraries, in book collectors’ homes, or on bookseller shelves – the “Lost Sheep” of Godmersham Park.

2. The Digital Godmersham Project:

Initiated and run by Professor Peter Sabor (Canada Research Chair in Eighteenth-Century Studies and Director of the Burney Centre at McGill University), this is a web-based open-source project that will include the Knight family books that are recorded in the catalogue of 1818, as they were on the shelves – a virtual library so to speak. You can visit the Reading with Austen website here; phase I of the project launched in 2018, the bicentenary of the original catalogue. While it would be a final goal to locate all the missing titles that are out there, this digital project will create for us what Jane Austen would have seen and read when visiting her brother.

3. What we need:

If you have or locate any books with any of the three Montagu George Knight bookplates, or the Thomas or Edward Knight bookplates, please contact us – we would like good pictures of:

a.) the binding/cover;

b.) the inside cover of the book, where Montagu Knight’s bookplate should be attached, often together with a small shelf ticket from Chawton House Library; and

c.) the title page of the book;

d.) any marginalia

These images would be used on the website, with or without your name as the book’s current owner/location (this is up to you).

4. Donation / sell options:

Some of those found thus far have been privately purchased and donated back to the Library at Chawton House (they do not have funds for this project). If you would like to “return” the book to Chawton to be part of their permanent collection, you would become one of GLOSS’s Team Heroes and we would be forever grateful. All donations are tax-deductible. Or, if you would consider selling the book back to CH now or in the future (or making a donation to the cause so we can purchase books as they become available – you can do that at the “North American Friends of Chawton House” website), we would add it to our wish-list of purchases and ask that you send the pictures noted above so it can be added to the website. Progress is slow, and because every book may not be able to return home, we hope this virtual library will serve as a useful research tool for future studies of reading habits in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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[CHL book with bookplate and shelf ticket]

Thank you for any help you can offer! 

For more information, please contact one of us:  

  1. Deborah Barnum – Board Member, North American Friends of Chawton House Library: jasnavermont [at] gmail.com
  2. Peter Sabor – Professor, Canada Research Chair in Eighteenth-Century Studies, Director of the Burney Centre, McGill University: peter.sabor [at] mcgill.ca
c2019, Reading with Austen blog