Marks in Books 13: A Drawing of a Rose in Mrs. Sherwood’s The Re-captured Negro

It’s easier to find doodles, scribbles, and inscriptions in children’s books than polished drawings.  When I discover one, I always hope that it will provide some insight into the artist, who presumably owned the book and had some reason for decorating the page.

The other day I opened up a rather sorry-looking American book from the 1820s, which had on the back of the front free endpaper a handsome color drawing of a rose below a name in a hand that could be contemporary with the book.  The more I looked at the book, the more difficult it became to draw any conclusions about the drawing.

The name above the drawing is “William Crowell.” Lacking a date or a place, there’s no information in the book to help answer the question when his name was written in the book,  or to try and identify him,  his home or age.

Would a boy or young man be as likely to choose the subject of a flower than a girl or young woman?  Is it possible that the signature and drawing were made by a girl or woman presenting the book to him as a gift? Or does that line of thought simply demonstrate how easy it is to fall back on gender role stereotypes when there is no information to query.  While this makes it easy to construct a plausible little scenario, it shuts down thinking about alternative explanations.   William Crowell might have been an enthusiastic gardener or plant collector.

The frontispiece, showing Dazee being pursued by the slaver. The illustration is a copy of the frontispiece in the original British edition published by F. Houlston ca. 1818.

But why would anyone draw a rose in a 72-page pamphlet by Mrs. Sherwood, the famous British evangelical woman writer?  It seems irrelevant to the story of  Dazee, a West African boy taken by a slaver operating illegally after Parliament passed the Slave Trade Act in 1807.  An anti-slavery patrol of the Royal Navy liberates him before he can be sold and takes him to freedom in Sierra Leone.  A missionary takes an interest in the boy, a willing convert to Christianity who finds peace when eventually reunited with his mother, who also embraces his faith.

What if there is no connection between the signature and the drawing: they might have been done at separate times by different people.  The person who drew the rose may have had no interest in the story at all, but simply been looking for a blank piece of paper to fill.  Seeing a beautiful rose, he or she pulled the book out of a pocket and captured its appearance.

Whether or not we know how the rose came to be drawn in this tract, the bibliographic record will record the presence of the drawing, the signature, and the little vignette on the title page.  Some researcher may recognize the book as having belonging to a library that was dispersed sometime ago and be delighted to add this to the list of books it once contained.  Someone curating an exhibition may want to include it as a specimen of amateur botanizing.  What matters is that these traces left behind in The Re-captured Slave are discoverable.


Marks in Books 12: Mrs. Sherwood Corrects Proofs of “The Oddingley Murder”

oddingley murder

Over her long career, Mary Martha Sherwood typically wrote for four or five hours each day.  Although she is best known for two novels for children–The History of Little Henry and His Bearer (1814) and The History of the Fairchild Family (1818)–she also produced penny pamphlets, adaptations of eighteenth-century children’s classics like Sarah Fielding’s The Governess, and textbooks for use in the school she and her husband ran after their return from India in 1818.  Even with the income from the school, the Sherwood family was strapped for cash, so she turned out around a hundred tracts over the next twelve years to make extra money.

sherwood front

Frontispiece, Mrs. Sherwood and Her Books for Children, M. Nancy Cutt (London, Oxford University Press, 1974) Cotsen PR5449.S4 Z63

The Cotsen Children’s Library has a fascinating manuscript from this period of her life: the annotated proofs for a tract about a notorious murder that had taken place in the tiny village of Oddingley, Worcestershire on Midsummer’s Day 1806 that went unsolved until 1830.


Cotsen 40111

The lurid story was a quintessential English crime set in a beautiful, remote village seething with class resentment.  The cast of characters included a grasping vicar, a shady man of all work, some disgruntled farmers, and the dapper old soldier who was the local magistrate.  Add two brutal killings and a shallow grave in a ramshackle barn and voila, a perfect candidate for Masterpiece Mystery…

When the murdered murderer’s body was finally found, Mrs. Sherwood, a Worcestershire native herself, picked up her pen to write about this real-life crime.  The why is more complicated than it might first appear.  To a devout Evangelical Christian like Sherwood, the way the perpetrators of the crime was discovered after twenty-four years fulfilled Isaiah XXIX.15: “ Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the Lord, and their works are in the dark, and they say, “Who seeth us?  Who knoweth us?”

A personal connection to the sordid affair may also explain her eagerness to drive home the lesson that “No man can conceal what Providence willeth to bring to the light.”  Her brother John Marten Butt was drawn into the case as Oddingley’s pastor: he was the successor of the murdered clergyman George Parker.   During his tenure in Oddingley, Butt came to realize that his parishioners had known all along the identity of the perpetrators and felt no remorse at their never having been brought to justice.  The villagers’ attitudes so profoundly disturbed Butt that he eventually left his living for another.

Mrs. Sherwood must have written the text almost immediately after the January trial.  On February 18, 1830, her publisher, Edward Houlston, mailed the proof of the tract now in the Cotsen collection to her in Worcester from Wellington, Salop (Shropshire), about forty five miles away.

Google Maps. (2015).

Google Maps. (2015).

To save time and money on postage, he wrote her a letter, asking how many copies she wanted and if he might enclose copies in her parcel for delivery to the Worcester booksellers.  In the closing, he asked if she could write six more tracts for the new series at her earliest convenience, adding that two would suffice at present.

Houlsten's letter to Sherwood

Mr. Houlston’s letter to Mrs. Sherwood

After making changes on pages 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 16, and 18, Mrs. Sherwood wrote her reply to Houlston on the blank side of the sheet.

Page 6, with Mrs. Sherwood's corrections

Page 6, with Mrs. Sherwood’s corrections

Page 10 with Mrs. Sherwood's corrections

Page 10, with Mrs. Sherwood’s corrections

She said, “I had written a letter to you which I shall not send requesting you to be very quick in sending ‘The Oddingley Murder’ as people know I have written it and are enquiring for it.”  She directed him to send her four copies of the French-language translation of Little Henry and His Bearer, six of “The Mourning Queen,” a dozen “The Oddingley Murders,” and an unspecified number of a new tract for the booksellers.  She closed (a bit tartly) with “I will write some tracts when I can find time—but time is a very scarce commodity.”

On back of proof, Mrs. Sherwood's response to Mr. Houlston.

On back of proof, Mrs. Sherwood’s response to Mr. Houlston.

The sheet was folded up for a second time and mailed to Houlston on February the 20th.  Presumably it retraveled those forty-five miles to Wellington within twenty-four hours.  The speed of the British postal service during the nineteenth century is well known, but this corrected proof is testimony to its efficiency.  Of course, the service then was slow compared to what we have come to take for granted via the Internet, but this annotated proof is a vivid reminder that Mrs. Sherwood could never have written as much as she did without a superb communications infrastructure.

Mr. Houlton's address.

Mr. Houlston’s address.

And thanks to our paper conservator, Ted Stanley, for restoring the proof of this tract, which was found in rather parlous condition in the Wall of Books some months ago.