Angelica Singleton Van Buren,
1817-1877

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Island 4
 

Books belonging to Mary Carter Singleton (1837-1863) and other family members

Literary taste in the generation after Angelica is represented by her niece, Mary Carter Singleton. Twenty years on, the upbringing of a young lady in South Carolina remained remarkably similar to Angelica's own, including attending a finishing school, yet Mary Singleton's books show also a significant new interest in works by women authors and about women's issues. In 1858, Mary married Rev. Robert Barnwell, thereby providing the link between the Singletons and the Barnwell family, through whom this collection descended. Also displayed in this case are books from the Phillips' gift from other members of the family, including her two sons, along with some unsigned items from the collection that round out the picture it gives of women's reading in the mid-nineteenth century.


Caroline Gilman, 1794-1888
The Sibyl, or New Oracles From the Poets
New York: George P. Putnam 1849.
Inscribed "To Mary from her father Dec. 28th 1849."

Caroline Gilman was a leading female Southern writer who edited juvenile and family weeklies and wrote stories and poems for children as well as domestic novels for women. She published several volumes of "oracles," or literary extracts, as "drawing-room diversions" with an educational benefit so that "the young may become familiar with something in an attractive form from the whole range of Poetry." This volume culls quotations from Catullus and Virgil up through Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Byron, Browning, and Longfellow, as well as lesser known writers. These were used to play a fortune-telling parlor game; a series of questions are followed by numbered quotations as answers. The person whose fortune was to be told picked a number and the corresponding answer was read aloud; some answers were serious, some meant to be humorous. A young woman who asked for a description of her future lover might get as an answer Shakespeare's "A sad face, a reverend carriage, a slow tongue," and so forth. A young man might hear that the character of his "lady love" was that of which Browning wrote "A heart too soon made glad, too easily impressed." Other topics include home, destiny, "state of your feelings," likes and desires, and profession or occupation of "he who loves you." A game could also be made of guessing the author of each quotation.


The Village in the Mountains; Conversion of Peter Bayssiere; and History of a Bible
New York: The American Tract Society, n.d.
Inscribed "To M.C. Singleton from her Aunt Martha."

Religious reading was considered particularly appropriate for young women, as a natural part of the social and familial role their education and upbringing was meant to prepare them for. This volume is a religious tract, combining story and sermon, of the type that was widely distributed in the antebellum period. The American Tract Society was the most prolific producer of this type of volume, producing over a million a year by 1850, with the aim of teaching non-denominational evangelical Christianity.


Frederick Rowton, ed.
The Female Poets of Great Britain
Philadelphia: Henry Carey Baird, 1854.
Inscribed: "Mr Archer's Academy Premium awarded to Miss M. Singleton for amiable deportment. June 29th 1855."

This anthology reflects the growing interest in and respect for women writers in the Victorian era of the time. Focusing on poetry by women from the fifteenth century to the mid-nineteenth, the editor claims to "supply a want which must have been frequently experienced by every student of our literary annals." The volume was meant to "prove that the Poetical Faculty is not confined to one of the sexes," and the Preface devotes several pages to lamenting the lack of attention for women poets: "In these enlightened days it may certainly be taken for granted that women have souls: and further, that their souls have no small influence upon the world of thought and action." As with much popular poetry of the mid-Victorian era, the audience for which was primarily women, the poems chosen tend toward the romantic and sentimental, with religious, moral, and domestic themes. Included are poems ascribed to Anne Boleyn, Queen Elizabeth I, Lady Mary Wroth, Anne Bradstreet, Aphra Behn, Mary Wortley Montagu, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Felicia Hemans, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, along with nearly 100 others.


Lydia Howard Sigourney, 1791-1865
Water Drops
New York: Robert Carter 1848.
Inscribed "To M.C. Singleton for her composition 1847."

Lydia Sigourney, known to contemporaries as the "sweet singer of Hartford," was perhaps the most popular American poet of the mid 1800's. Though to a modern reader her works may seem "imbued with all the worst traits of 19th century sentimentality, religiosity, and morbidity" (DLB 42, 323), her poems and stories on home and family particularly appealed to young women and their mothers, and she meant her work as a vehicle for moral instruction as well as entertainment. Water Drops, a collection of Sigourney's prose and poetic work, is a temperance tract principally intended to help mothers influence their children against drink.


Heroines of Shakespeare
Boston: Philips, Sampson & Co., n.d.
Inscribed "Mary C. Singleton from her cousin Richard I. Manning Jr. Dec. 31st 1855."

The main focus of this volume is on the elaborate engravings of each featured "heroine," interpretations firmly in the sentimental tradition, intended to "give each exquisite creation a 'local habitation' in the mind's eye." This anthology compiles speeches and dialogues from Shakespeare's heroines, from Juliet and Ophelia to Lady Macbeth, Titania, Cleopatra, and Miranda. Most of the major comedies and tragedies are represented as well as several of the histories. The publisher, Phillips, Sampson & Co., advertised and solicited orders from all over the country and the North American territories, reaching as far as San Francisco.


Sir Walter Scott, 1771-1832
The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott
New York: D. Appleton, 1852.
Inscribed "Mary C. Singleton from her cousin Thomas Taylor."

Scott was popular throughout the U.S. during the nineteenth century but particularly in the antebellum South, where his chivalric medievalism and heroic nobility appealed to the aristocratic elite. Mark Twain blamed Scott for a South where, as he wrote in Life on the Mississippi, "the genuine and wholesome civilization of the nineteenth century is curiously confused and commingled with the Walter Scott Middle-Age sham civilization." This volume includes engravings, a memoir of the author, and his major poems including Lay of the Last Minstrel and Marmion. Appleton, the publisher, exemplifies the literary boom of the early nineteenth century; Daniel Appleton entered the book trade from the dry goods business after finding the selection of books in his store one of the most profitable aspects of his business. As there were no international copyright laws at the time, Scott's works remained widely available and fairly inexpensive.


Charles Dickens, 1812-1870
Dealings with the Firm of Dombey and Son
New York: 1847.
Signed on cover "Travis C. Van Buren."

In the mid-nineteenth century, British novels were most commonly published in three-volume sets, known as three-deckers, but also were serialized in periodicals and in "part-issue" as separate pamphlets. Although Dickens was one of the few major authors to publish regularly in serial format outside of magazine publication, his popularity, beginning withPickwick Papers in 1836-37, was immense in the United States as well as in Britain. This is part 10 of a novel issued in parts.


George Alfred Lawrence, 1827-1876
Sword and Gown
London: Tinsley Bros., 1871.
Signed on half-title "M. Van Buren Paris."

This novel falls into the later nineteenth-century sensational genre which had as a central figure the unconventional, cynical, and slightly amoral anti-hero. Lawrence took as his heroes brooding Byronic types, men of the world, equally adept at the arts of love and war, intellectual but more importantly strong and brave and usually doomed to an early but unquestionably heroic death. This volume, belonging to Angelica's son Martin, is an example of the sort of work women would not have read (or at least were not supposed to read). Published in the series Tinsley's Cheap Novels, this was a"yellowback"; rather like modern paperbacks at the airport, yellowbacks were designed for railway travelers, "sold at the station, read on the train and perhaps left behind at the end of the journey" (Feather 136).


George Eliot's first book

While this exhibit highlights books from the Singleton family, the Phillips' gift also includes books from the Barnwells, a collection especially strong in nineteenth-century theology. Among them was this find, the very first book by the English Victorian novelist"George Eliot" (Marian Evans), her anonymous translation of the ground-breaking modern Life of Jesus by the German scholar David Friedrich Strauss

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