How Emma Travels: By Letters, Hands and Libraries

By Hayes Smith
February 2012

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How Emma Travels: By Letters, Hands and Libraries

Tracking the Journey of the First American Edition of Jane Austen’s Emma
A Research Paper Submitted for English 241

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Behind a low glass case in Goucher’s Special Collection Room sits a humble blue book box that holds the first American edition of Jane Austen’s Emma. Valued from nineteen to seventy-five thousand dollars on, the edition is unquestionably valuable. But how did this extremely rare copy end up in Goucher’s modest library? In a letter to David Gilson on August 5th, 1967 Alberta Burke revealed that she owned a copy of the 1816 Philadelphia Emma, which formerly belonged to Siegfried Sassoon. The two corresponded from 1967 to 1975 until Alberta fell ill. Throughout this time a steady thread of conversation exists about the Philadelphia Emma.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 After seeing the interest that both Alberta Burke and David Gilson had in the first American edition of Emma, perusing the pages and studying the tome in detail was essential to discover first hand the majesty of the volumes.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 First Edition of Emma (1816) Front pastedown and first flyleaf of the Burke Collection copy of the American first edition of Emma (Philadelphia: M. Carey; for sale by Wells & Lilly, Boston, 1816), with the book plates of the Countess of Dalhousie, Frank J. Hogan, and Alberta H. Burke.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The inside of the custom-made blue book box is coated with a light perimeter of oil damage. Nancy Magnuson, one of Goucher’s librarians and liaisons for the Special Collections, said that Alberta Burke felt so attached to the books and bindings in her collections that she oiled the leather twice a year, far more then necessary. The first volume’s brown leather is faded and has been repaired after cracking. On the inside cover are two pasted rectangular cutouts. The first, measuring 3.5cm tall and 8cm wide, reads “Countess of Dalhousie” in delicate black print. The mysterious figure of the Countess Dalhousie intrigued both David Gilson and Alberta Burke. In a letter dated August 15th 1967 Burke wrote, “The Countess of Dalhousie’s signature, but no date, is on the title page. I like to think, most romantically, but with no evidence that she purchased it in new york when she was in Canada with her husband who was governor-general there in 1819.”

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 Five months later Burke and Gilson are still perplexed by the elusive Countess and her involvement with the edition. On January 12th, 1968 she writes to Gilson hoping to answer the questions he’d had about the 1816 Philadelphia Emma. She notes that over the first half of the page in volume I there is a note in pencil, “not I think in Sasoon’s writing, probably in that of Percy (Mathews) who was the agent who arranged the sale from Mr. Sasoon to Mr. Hogan.” The note, hand-written in pencil that has faded to the extent of being almost translucent, reads “Countess of D- wife to the 9th Earl (1770-1838). Who was Governor of Canada, Nova Scotia, etc 1819-1828- this explains her owning this edition, which was unknown to G. Keynes when he compiled his Bibliography of Jane Austen, 1929.”

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