Tuesday 27 September 2011

18C Readers of Eliza Haywood in New York

New York City's oldest library (the New York Society Library [NNYSL], founded 1754) has digitized and transcribed its earliest surviving borrowing ledger, which documents the reading history of its members from July 1789 to April 1792.

The five hundred or so NNYSL members whose reading habits are represented in these circulation records include physicians, members of the clergy, lawyers, and merchants, and a number of women. Among the notable readers are familiar figures like George Washington, but biographical information is available for many of the borrowers.

Since borrowing records like these are both extremely rare and extremely interesting I took a close look at this resource as soon as I read about it on the SHARP list (the information was reposted by Ellen Garvey from "H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online" on 18 September).

In 1995 I wrote in my essay "Measuring the Success of Haywood's Female Spectator (1744–46):

Although it is clear that [The Female Spectator] was in many public libraries we do not have borrowing records from these libraries. We know [that it was in ten circulating libraries and a number of research collections] … However, we do not know if the copies of The Female Spectator that these libraries contained were ever read and, if so, by whom. Only in the case of the Harboro Library, Pennsylvania, is this sort of information available. From 1762 to 1774 The Female Spectator actually surpassed Samuel Richardson’s Pamela in circulation (and The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless was almost as popular). It would be extremely interesting to know if this borrowing pattern was typical.

The NNYSL charging ledger—ledgers actually, but the later ledgers are not yet available—is the first real opportunity Haywood scholars have had to test this question.** This post can only scratch the surface, but future posts and (I think) an article will explain just how important this information is to Haywood scholars.

Although the NNYSL ledger is searchable by borrower name, book (i.e., author/title), or keyword, the "book" list is not organised alphabetically under each author's name, and the keyword search is not a reliable guide to authors included. This is because both the short author/title which you can browse, and the more detailed descriptions which you can search, are taken directly from the original 1789 catalogue. (A pdf of the 1789 catalogue is available here; see below for the other pre-1850 catalogues.)

As is typical of eighteenth-century catalogues, some books appear under an author's name, followed by a short descriptive title (such as, "Arbuthnot (John) on coins"), others appear under a short descriptive title only (such as, "Antiquities of Scotland") and a few appear under a short descriptive title followed by an author's name ("Antient Measures, by Bishop Hooper").

All items are listed under the first letter used (either from the author's name or the title), in sections organised by the size of the book (large to small: folio, quarto, octavo, duodecimo): but only in very rough alphabetical order ("Antient Parliaments of France, by Boulainvilleriers" comes after "Aubrey's miscellanies on fatality, omens, dreams …").

Since the author's name is most frequently omitted from works of fiction, it is not surprising that Haywood's name does not appear anywhere in this catalogue. Which means that, if you search for Eliza Haywood you will find nothing. But a search of the "books" list (the individual titles) reveals three works by Haywood were held by the New York Society Library. These are:

[Ab.57] Memoirs of an Unfortunate Young Nobleman (1743) 21 borrowers.
[Ab.60] The Female Spectator (1744–46) 24 borrowers.
[Ab.67] The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless (1751) 22 borrowers.

Also present are many other well-known novels and periodicals. This is hardly surprising, though the relative popularity of the titles in the following list (indicative, but not exhaustive) is:

Novels: Henry Brooke's Fool of Quality (46 borrowers); Frances Burney's Evelina (60 borrowers) and Cecilia (47 borrowers); Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (10 borrowers); Henry Fielding's Amelia (only two borrowers) [but the twelve volumes of his Works had 77 borrowers]; Oliver Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield (27 borrowers); Charles Johnstone's Chrysal; Or, The Adventures of a Guinea (23 borrowers); Samuel Richardson's Pamela (17 borrowers), and Sir Charles Grandison (26 borrowers).

Periodicals: Richard Steele and Joseph Addison's The Spectator (20 borrowers); Oliver Goldsmith's Citizen of the World (30 borrowers); John Hawkesworth's The Adventurer (20 borrowers); Samuel Johnson's The Rambler (12 borrowers) and The Idler (13 borrowers); Henry Mackenzie's The Lounger (25 borrowers); Richard Steele's The Tatler (11 borrowers); Richard Steele's The Guardian (7 borrowers); George Coleman and Bonnell Thornton's The Connoisseur (19 borrowers).

What this preliminary survey suggests is that Haywood's Memoirs of an Unfortunate Young Nobleman and Betsy Thoughtless were quite popular at the end of the eighteenth century—more popular than many novels that have been the focus of more sustained critical attention, such as Richardson's Pamela and Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Also, Haywood's Female Spectator was even more popular—more popular than almost all other periodicals, including almost all of those that have been the focus of sustained critical attention such as The Spectator and The Rambler.

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** In 2005 the Harboro Library records were only available to me third hand. Chester T. Hallenbeck published a transcript of the Loan-Book in his "A Colonial Reading List" in The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography in 1932, details of which were used by Mary Summer Benson in her Women in Eighteenth-Century America in 1935. Only Benson's volume was available to me in 2005.

The NNYSL catalogues are not easy to find on the nysoclib.org site. After considerable digging I found a directory for library catalogues here, which contains links to searchable pdfs of the 1758, 1761, 1773, 1789, 1791, 1792, 1793, 1800, 1825 and 1850 catalogues. All but one of these catalogues have been online since July 2009. Links to individual pages of the borrowing ledger are here.