When it doesn’t work out: a failed attempt at identifying a contributor to the Lady’s Magazine

In the past few weeks, the social media pages of academics have been buzzing with commentary on the ‘CV of Failures’ that was published online by Princeton professor Johannes Haushofer. Prof. Haushofer decided to be open about his failed applications for jobs and scholarships and his rejected journal submissions to show the world that even tenured staff at Ivy League institutions have to deal with disappointments, and to encourage junior colleagues who might wrongly think that they are somehow deficient as academics because of their own. Some commentators have dismissed this as a ‘humblebrag’, but I am too appreciative of Prof. Haushofer’s candour, and too impatient with internet neologisms, to be of their opinion. In fact, I have decided to follow suit, and to write a blog post about a recent failure of my own: the wrong tree I have been barking up in the mistaken assumption that it held the identity of Lady’s Magazine contributor ‘J. Hodson’.

    Jennie, Jenny and I have in past posts told you enthusiastically about our discoveries on the largely anonymous and pseudonymous contents of the magazine. In the last two months alone, for instance, we have blogged about Catherine Cuthbertson and Radagunda Roberts (about the latter even twice). Most of you probably had not heard of these brilliant women before, and that is precisely why we were so interested in them. It is very satisfying to find out more about these long-forgotten authors whose periodical contributions had more contemporaneous readers than any canonized novel. Finding out the smallest detail often takes a lot of work. Despite of the rarity of resources on eighteenth-century authors in general, and the especially scanty paper trails left by periodical writers, it can take a while to rule out all possible leads that you need to verify in order to close in on the true, or at least the most probable story. Often we do not manage to do so at all. Only last week I lost a few days because I thought that I was on the brink of an exciting discovery concerning a reader-contributor who has been puzzling us for some time.

    We can gather a few basic facts about ‘J. Hodson’ from the magazine. This contributor is identified as male in an editorial footnote and genders himself male as well, he is active (at least under this signature) in the magazine from September 1781 to February 1784, and the by-lines to a few of his items tell us that he would have been ‘14 years old’ in September 1781. As I have discussed before, juvenile authors regularly contributed to the Lady’s Magazine, and their age is then often specifically stated to draw attention to the precocity of their writing. Hodson’s contributions are certainly impressive for a teenager. He starts off quite blandly with two appropriated items, being a poem allegedly ‘translated from Ossian’ (September 1781) which in fact appears to be only a slight paraphrase of the ‘original’ by Macpherson, and a series of ‘Sayings and sentiments of wise men’ of Greek and Roman Antiquity (September to January 1782) which did not come straight from these fonts of wisdom themselves but were all gleaned from The Spectator (continuously in print in collected editions) without acknowledgement. Young master Hodson however finds his own voice the year after, submitting a generic but prosodically competent pastoral poem in March 1782, and in May 1782 a gallant poetic defence of the fair sex against a misogynistic letter writer.

LM XIV (Dec 1783): p. 658. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM XIV (Dec 1783): p. 658. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

    From June 1783 to February 1784 he delivers his most impressive feat, an essay series entitled ‘The Critic’ which consists of quibbling but erudite discussions of contentious passages in translations of classical literature. This is one of several cases wherein reader-contributors in the late eighteenth century continue the older tradition of essay periodicals (such as the aforementioned Spectator) as serial features in magazines like the Lady’s. Hodson’s ‘Critic’ may have been inspired by earlier reviews of the translations in question, or may have otherwise followed on views first suggested by others, but they do appear to be largely original. An exasperated note with the December 1783 instalment shows that the editors, for one, either found them too ambitious for the Lady’s Magazine, or wished to say in a polite way that they considered Hodson’s essays too much like the homework of a schoolboy conning his Latin vocab.

LM XIII (June 1782): p. 320. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM XIII (June 1782): p. 320. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

    Nevertheless, in the June 1782 number Hodson is honoured with ‘A Card’ from overbearing regular contributor ‘J. L-g’ (John Legg), a strange polymath who often gave himself airs about his importance in the magazine. Legg predicts a bright future for Hodson, and indeed it is not hard to understand why he would have thought so. Other young hopefuls like Thomas Chatterton and George Crabbe had contributed before, and probably many other authors of later renown who we have since again forgotten about. So who knew what bright career Hodson went on to have after his promising start in the welcoming, democratic forum that was the Lady’s Magazine?

    Unfortunately, the trail went cold instantly. ‘J. Hodson’ stops contributing to the Lady’s Magazine, or at least under that signature, in 1874, and at no point before or after seems to have contributed to other periodicals with recognizable signatures (which includes the variants “Hodgson” and ‘Hudson’ that appear in the Lady’s Magazine as well). Our usual searches through records of births and deaths did not yield much because there were so many young men named Hodson/Hudson/Hodgson around with the initial “J”, and it is always best not to rule out the possibility that the signature referred to a so-called “hypocorism” (calling name or pet name) or a middle name that the author could have preferred to go by. His stipulated age allowed us to narrow it down somewhat, so that we could query all men named Hodson/Hudson/Hodgson born in 1781 minus 14, or 1767 (allowing a year of variability on the date).

   This was when it happened: information on a certain Rev. Septimus Hodson in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography implied that this person was born around the same time as our Hodson, in 1768. With some rounding off, both would have been 14 in September 1781, and “J.” could well have been an initial standing for the Rev.’s middle name. Could they be one and the same person? Further research made me eager that they would be. The Rev. Hodson turned out to have been a minor public figure in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. He was an author as well, publishing amongst others a few books of sermons and some favourably noticed socio-economic pamphlets. In the early nineteenth century he married the Romantic poet Margaret Holden, who was friendly with Joanna Baillie and Robert Southey, and there is no reason why the Rev. as a boy would not himself have tested his pen by writing for the Lady’s Magazine on matters literary. Interestingly, he was also a controversial figure, as is demonstrated by William West’s memoir of early-nineteenth-century literary London ‘Annals of authors, artists, books and booksellers’[1], which states that his reputation had suffered from an accusation of plagiarism levelled at his first books of sermons.

From Septimus Hodson (Ed.), Psalms & Hymns selected for Congregational Use (1801), p. viii

from: Septimus Hodson (Ed.), Psalms & Hymns selected for Congregational Use (1801), p. viii

   If only that were all. The fantastic blog All Things Georgian by the historians Joanne Major and Sarah Murden recently featured a post on him, that revealed that the Rev. Hodson during the had been involved in a scandal after allegations that he had “seduced” a thirteen-year-old ward of the Lambeth orphanage, where he then officiated as chaplain. This is a big discovery as the ODNB does not mention these events, merely stating that

[t]he claim […] that he was forced to give up his preferments and flee to America ‘in consequence of a discovery particularly disgraceful’, seems to be unsubstantiated, although in 1789 he did publish A Refutation of the Charges of Plagiarism Brought Against the Rev. Septimus Hodson.[2]

   Although I was able to track down a few documents relevant to Septimus, none revealed any helpful middle names starting with ‘J’. Confusingly, the year of birth that the ODNB has for him, 1768, is probably wrong to begin with, as I only discovered a couple of days into my research. Major and Murden hold instead that he was born in 1763, which I believe is right, as this year is indicated in a record of his birth that is difficult to track down because its entry in online databases transcribes Septimus’s name wrongly as ‘Sephinus’ (which – wonderfully – is also a name). I suspect that the ODNB biographer based her findings on the Cambridge alumni register where Caius College alumnus Rev. Hodson is entered as being born in 1768; likely too a wrong transcription, based on the understandable error of mistaking a foxed ‘3’ for an ‘8’. It is a scary thought, but you cannot always rely on historical documents, and errors tend to perpetuate themselves.

    So, neither the names, nor the ages of these men were in agreement. How I wish that they had been, as identifying ‘J. Hodson’ with the Rev. Septimus would have allowed me to tell a sensational story. But hey-ho: though disappointing, this is not the end. There are other J. Hodsons publishing in the late eighteenth century. One possible candidate is Dr James Hodson M.D., author of theological tracts and the men’s medical guide Nature’s Assistant to the Restoration of Health (1789) which contains valuable hints on ‘a destructive habit of a private nature’. This is an amusing possibility, and this Dr Hodson would surely be a less grim connection for the magazine than the Rev. Still, I have found no substantial evidence to confirm or refute the possibility that this author and the Lady’s Magazine’s ‘Critic’ would be one and the same person either.

    As Prof. Haushofer wanted to demonstrate with his inverted CV: the important thing is not to lose heart. If you have any suggestions on where I might look next, I would be very grateful for them, and productive leads will of course be cited in our annotated index!

Dr Koenraad Claes

School of English, University of Kent

[1] William West, ‘Annals of authors, artists, books and booksellers. Letter XIV: Thomas Cadell, the Rev. Septimus Hodson, &c.’, The Aldine Magazine of Biography, Bibliography, Criticism, and the Arts Vol. 1, 1839.

[2] Kathryn Sutherland, ‘Holford , Margaret (bap. 1778, d. 1852)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/13450, accessed 4 May 2016]

The Mighty Pie Chart and Generic Evolutions

Screen-Shot-2014-11-24-at-10.19.52We often discuss the variety of items, subjects, themes and genres that appear in the Lady’s Magazine. Each seemingly transparent topic can be found within an array of genres; for example, the topic of ‘fashion’ appears in items ranging from the moral essay and advice column to the opinion piece, historical essay and fashion report. Deciding which genre an item belongs to in the magazine is a task at times difficult to negotiate. This is in part because genres overlap and are by nature flexible; designating a particular item either a sentimental tale or a moral tale is thus not always simple or clear. Assigning works a genre requires that one privilege a particular genre over another, making decisions at once about authorial intent, editorial preference and reader perceptions.

Yet once the difficult decisions are made, how can we disseminate a database with tens of thousands of items, belonging to dozens of distinct genres, into readily comprehensible information? The pie chart is a simple yet effective research tool that allows the different genres in the Lady’s Magazine to be visualized. In 1770-71, for example, the magazine was largely made up of anecdotes, essays and translations, followed by enigmas and conduct items.
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In comparison, in this sample chart for 1771, it is easy to see that the majority of the magazine’s items are now essays or moral essays, followed by enigmas, translations and reviews. And of course, because enigmas are short in comparison to the lengthier essays, translations and reviews, it is these latter three genres that made up the bulk of the magazine’s content in its second year of publication. Anecdotes in 1771 make up only 5% of the magazine, in comparison to 17% the previous year. Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 15.37.14

One of the key aspects of my research on the project is not only to analyse the items in order to assign them genres, but also to examine how the magazine’s generic composition evolves over the five decades of shifting literary tastes and political, social and cultural revolutions of its first series. Although this is a difficult task to negotiate, by breaking down the magazine’s generic makeup for each year in a pie chart, one can readily see what types of items could be found in the magazine. From here, it is easier to extrapolate the larger shifts in genres over the magazine’s print run. The dramatic decrease in the number of anecdotes from the first to second year, for example, could be explained by the magazine’s increasing readership and correspondingly larger number of contributors of original essays and fiction that meant the editors could rely less on extracted and popular anecdotes as material.

The most striking aspect of the pie chart created for 1790 is, I believe, the greater number of distinct genres in the magazine. Twenty years into its publication, the periodical was clearly comfortable with its position in the literary marketplace and the editors and publishers felt secure enough to  print an even greater variety of genres and items. Also interesting is that, in the key historical moment, the number of translations (usually from the French) has dwindled to only 1% of the magazine.Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 16.03.11

This is only a snapshot of one aspect of our research on the magazine’s composition and genres, but it allows the scope and quantity of data on genres to be readily perceived and is useful in analyzing the evolutions and in disseminating the results to other researchers and the public.


Jenny DiPlacidi

University of Kent

Finding the Mysterious Miss Cuthbertson in the Lady’s Magazine

In the 1830s, in India, an anonymously published book entitled Santa Sebastiano was sold at auction. It had two eager bidders who did not want to give up the purchase. One was Emily Eden, poet, novelist, bibliophile and sister of Lord Auckland. The other was historian, politician and equally avid reader Thomas Babington Macaulay. The episode is described with predictable bemusement by Macaulay’s nephew Sir George Trevelyan in his Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay (1875-76), who notes that the auction winner, Macaulay, later annotated the last page of his copy of Santa Sebastiano (1806) with ‘an elaborate computation of the number of fainting-fits that occur’ in it. (Julia de Clifford alone faints 11 times, but who, except Macaulay, is counting?) [1]

While Trevelyan expressed admiration that Macaulay thought he could probably ‘rewrite “Sir Charles Grandison” from memory,’ his uncle’s passion for ‘silly, though readable’ books, like those of Mrs Meeke or Mrs Kitty Cuthbertson, who authored Santa Sebastiano, as well as The Romance of the Pyrenees (1803), The Forest of Montalbano (1810), Adelaide; or, the Countercharm (1813), and (although Trevelyan did not know this) Rosabella;  or, A Mother’s Marriage (1817), seemed inexplicable. Yet Trevelyan’s view is unrepresentative. Kitty or Catherine Cuthbertson was a widely read and highly popular Gothic novelist in the Radcliffean tradition. The Romance of the Pyrenees was translated into French and German (the anonymous French translation was widely presumed to be of a Radcliffe novel on the continent). American editions of her novels followed and extracts from them appeared in US periodicals well into the nineteenth century [2].

A perhaps still more telling indication of Cuthbertson’s enduring popular appeal can be found in a review of Lord Brabourne’s edition of Jane Austen’s letters that appeared in The Times on 6 February 1885. The review broadly welcomes Brabourne’s edition, but laments the lack of annotation, especially in correspondence in which Austen alludes to other writers. It was ‘absurd to assume’, the reviewer declared, ‘that one reader in a thousand knows any particulars about “Alphonsine” and the “Female Quixote”, and is aware that Madame de Genlis is the author of the former and Mrs. Charlotte Lennox of the latter’. The refrain is repeated a few lines later when the reviewer turns to a now well-known letter in which Austen expresses incredulity that Mrs. (i.e. Jane) West was so very prolific when so domestically encumbered. West, the reviewer proclaims, is ‘but a name to the reader of this work’. Brabourne should have recognised this fact and provided relevant editorial information that the reviewer is, instead, forced to disclose. West, he interestingly continues, was ‘a voluminous writer in the last century who resembled in many things the Mrs. Meeke and Mrs. Kitty Cuthbertson’ [3].

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LM, 35 (Feb 1804): 87. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

What does this tell us? Well, for thing it suggests that if West and her works were obscure in 1885, Cuthbertson and her Gothics evidently were not. This is despite the fact that Cuthbertson never signed her name to any of her novels. And there is considerable evidence that knowledge of her fiction, although increasingly clouded in a biographical fog, persisted for at least several decades afterwards the Times review. Cuthbertson’s novels generated sufficient interest, for example, to spark conversations in Notes and Queries the 1910s and 1920s (some prompted by speculations that her work was by Radcliffe or Clara Reeve). More recent scholarship on the Gothic by Rictor Norton and others has sought to establish Cuthbertson’s place as one of the key figures of the genre in the early nineteenth century, as she surely was [4].
It was a career that began in earnest in the pages of the Lady’s Magazine. (Some sources suggest that she wrote an earlier 1793 unpublished play staged on 25 February at Drury Lane entitled Anna but the attribution is not secure.) Her first novel, The Romance of the Pyrenees was serialised in the magazine from February 1804, having been recently published in volume form by Robinson (the magazine’s publisher) in 1803. However, just weeks after the title first went on sale, and after only a few copies of it had been sold, the bulk of the print run of the Romance was devastated by a warehouse fire at the establishment of the magazine’s then printer, Samuel Hamilton.


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LM, 35 (Feb 1804): 87. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Attempting to cut their losses on the damaged run, Robinson decided to serialise Cuthbertson’s novel along with their recently printed edition of Royall Tyler’s American 1797 The Algerine Captive in the Lady’s Magazine with occasional engravings. As a consequence, The Romance of the Pyrenees reached a new and possibly much wider readership than it would have done had it been published in volume form alone. It became the longest running serial magazine fiction in the long eighteenth century apart from a serialisation of Pamela [6]. In subsequent years, the magazine would publish extracts of other of her novels (Santa Sebastino in 1807; Adelaide in 1814), all of which Robinson published, and the snippets from which seemed to serve as puffs to promote wider circulation of her work.

Cuthbertson’s fiction, with its complex plots and naturalised supernatural endings (my favourite involves a parrot), extends over many volumes and merits a blog post in its own right. Since reading it, however, one of my major preoccupations has been trying to find out more about its author. Although Cuthbertson was evidently popular and, at some point in the nineteenth century, revealed to be the author of her anonymous novels, her biography remains a series of speculations and lacunae.

Biographical accounts suggest that Cuthbertson was born before 1780 and that she may have been Scottish or, as a likely army daughter, been born overseas. Some sources also make reference to a possible connection to a Captain Bennet Cuthbertson, who published an important work on military tactics. Armed with this scant information I was determined to find out more and with a little effort, and a few hours lost in the archives, I did.

The first and most signifiant clue I found was a Notes and Queries article by a relative of the Cuthbertsons, William Ball Wright, of Osbaldwick Vicarage, York, who posted in June 1911 a response to a query about the authorship of the Romance of the Pyrenees. The article notes that Kitty Cuthbertson was the author of the work and that Kitty’s father was a Captain Bennet Cuthbertson, of Northamptonshire, of the 5th Regiment, who retired to Dublin in 1772. The first two dots were, therefore, joined. A third came when I looked into Bennet Cuthbertson a little more. Cuthbertsons System for the Complete Interior Management and Oeconomy of Battalion of Infantry was published in 1768 in Dublin. Likely before the publication of this work, Cutherbertson married a Catherine Bell (daughter of a Dr Thomas Bell of Dublin). Ball Wright, a descendant of Catherine Bell’s sister, Elinor, goes on to explain that the couple had several children, including  Kitty (or Catherine), Olivia, Julia and Anne. (It is possible that they also had a son, Robert, although this is not mentioned in the article.) While Anne stayed in Ireland,  the other Cuthbertson sisters moved to London at some unknown point before 1803 to ‘wr[i]te romances’. [5]

The Dublin connection, then, is what has thwarted efforts to find Catherine Cuthbertson before now. The Irish records for this period are patchy to say the least. After many hours of searching, I can find no birth or baptism notice for Catherine in the extant Irish records. But I can now prove that she was born in Ireland.

Hoping that a life of penning Gothic fiction promoted good health, long-livedness and a disinclination to marry, I went in search of the Cuthbertson sisters in the 1841 and 1851 census returns. An Olivia Cuthbertson (born in Dublin) showed in the 1851 census as living, aged 85, in Ealing, Middlesex. I was disappointed that I couldn’t find a Catherine or Julia. But the Ealing connection seemed worth pursuing. What if this Olivia was Catherine’s sister? And what if the sisters had lived together or very near one another?

And then I found them.

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In the 1841 census, Catherine Cuthbertson, born in Ireland, was living with a Juliana Cuthbertson. Both are listed (perhaps improbably) as 70 years old at the time (although it is theoretically possible, if unlikely, that the sisters were twins). Their source of income was the Irish Civil List, details of which subsequently confirmed for me that the sisters, along with Olivia, were living off their deceased father’s pension. I then went in search of Catherine’s death notice (occurring some time between 1841 and 1851, since she was not in the later census) and soon found a burial record indicating that she was buried in Ealing on the 2 June 1842 aged a more likely 67, dating her birth to around 1775.

As attribution finds go (and we have had lots so far in the Lady’s Magazine project), this may not seem like headline news. Cuthbertson was a magazine contributor by accident not design. And although her work in the magazine and outside it was published anonymously, her authorship has long since been known and the attributions of her novels secured. Putting a (rough) birth and (more secure) death date on Cuthbertson’s life as I have been able to do might seem more like housekeeping than significant research.

But I can’t help but feel that this is signficant. The Dublin connection – the fact of which made Cuthbertson’s biography so remote to us for so long – is surely of particular interest. Cuthbertson deserves the place in the history of the Gothic she is beginning to secure, but she also, I think, warrants a place in the history of Irish (women’s) writing. I hope some of my colleagues in Irish Studies will pick up this gauntlet and run with it, because Cuthbertson, quite frankly, deserves our attention.

Like so many of the writers published in the Lady’s Magazine Cuthbertson’s work was influential. She was more than a Radcliffe imitator. Her work, as I hope to show in a later blog post, had formal and thematic influence and, as I have indicated, had extraordinary geographical as well as temporal reach. Her books sat alongside Austen’s in Queen Charlotte’s library, and as we have seen, it was taken for granted that readers in the 1880s would have heard of her, as they would have heard of Jane Austen, in contrast to the by then considered obscure Jane West, Charlotte Lennox and Madame de Genlis. Into the early twentieth century, people cared enough about her novels to enquire into her author’s life and work.

Cuthbertson, like so many Lady’s Magazine authors, is an important figure in literary history, not just because of what she wrote, how many people fainted in her novels’ pages, or because people like Macaulay read her. She is important because her persistent popularity and claim on readers’ imaginations makes clear that so many of the things we once thought we knew about literary history – about who was read and remembered – don’t always chime with reality.

Dr Jennie Batchelor

School of English

University of Kent


[1] Sir George Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, 2 vols. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1877), vol 1, pp. 129-130.

[2] A notice for an 1812 American edition of The Forest of Montalbano appeared in the National Intelligencer for 24 March 1812, for instance. The Arkansas Gazette published a long extract of Romance of the Pyrenees on March 17 1878.

[3] ‘Jane Austen’, The Times (6 Feb 1885): 3.

[4] See, for instance, Rictor Norton ‘Gothic Readings’ <accessed 14.4.16>.

[5] William Ball Wright, ‘Note’, Notes and Queries, 77 (17 June 1911): 475.

[6] Robert D. Mayo, The English Novel in the Magazines, 1740–1815 (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), pp. 232–33

Rabies and the Lady’s Magazine

It is a truth universally acknowledged – by epidemiologists, at least – that the ‘first case’ is never the first case. For example, the Duke of Richmond’s illness and death in 1819 is often said to be the first recorded case of rabies in Canada [1]. However, not only is the nature of the Duke’s illness contested, but three much more probable cases of human rabies have come to light: Charles Gigueres (dog bite, 1814), Jean Maheu (dog bite, 1816) and Madame Bruneau (cat bite, 1817) [2]. All of these reports predate the Duke of Richmond’s death.

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LM, 46 (April 1815): 194. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission

The scientific veterinary literature infers from data like these that rabies was present in Canada in pets and perhaps in wild life from at least the late eighteenth century, but the reference in the Lady’s Magazine (LM, 44 [April 1813]: 194) to the dogs running mad in Newfoundland is the first direct reference to rabies in animals in Canada of which I am aware.

The commentator reports that, ‘This is said to be the first case of hydrophobia among the canine race in that cold climate. The consequences are very serious, as dogs are the beasts of burden in that country’. It is tangentially interesting to note that the poet, Byron, owned a Newfoundland breed dog, which contracted rabies and died in 1808 at Newstead Abbey in England. The dog, ‘Boatswain’ was commemorated in a famous epitaph, the last lines of which are

who was born in Newfoundland May 1803,
and died at Newstead Nov.r 18th, 1808.

Assuming that Boatswain was not a recent acquisition, he contracted rabies in Britain not Canada (the incubation period of canine rabies is usually less than 6 months; range, 10 days to about 1 year). Rabies was endemic in Britain around that time. Byron is said to have nursed Boatswain without any fear of contracting the disease himself. This may not be as fantastical as it sounds; canine rabies exists in two forms: furious and dumb. In dumb rabies the dog becomes docile and may be paralyzed. An almost contemporary (1815 case date) account of dumb rabies in a Newfoundland breed dog can be found in The Veterinarian [3]. Byron aside, by reporting the outbreak of rabies in Newfoundland in 1815, the Lady’s Magazine scored an important scientific first.

Rabies is caused by a bullet shaped Lyssavirus. Viral ecotypes emerge which become adapted to and persist in particular mammalian hosts. Nevertheless, the virus can spill over into other susceptible species. For example, canine rabies causes approximately 59,000 human deaths annually [4]. A stomach-churningly accurate description of human rabies can be found in an 1807 issue of the Lady’s Magazine (LM, 38 [March 1807]: 152–56). The average incubation period of rabies in humans is typically between one to three months (range 10 days to a year, rarely longer). Once symptoms appear, the disease in people is almost always fatal. Only 11 survivors of clinical rabies are known [5] and more than two thirds of these have lasting neurological damage.

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LM, 38 (Mar 1807): 152. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / British Library. Not to be reproduced without permission

The author (Dr Motherby) of the article on ‘Hydrophobia’ extracted by the Lady’s Magazine recommended several prophylactic measures: these included immediate cautery of the bite wound, the application of a caustic substance to the wound or, preferably, excision (or amputation) of the wound site (LM, 38 [March 1807]: 156). Although Motherby offers no evidentiary basis for his recommendations they might well have worked. We must be careful here because not everyone bitten by an infectious animals contracts rabies (even in the absence of immediate action) and the risk of infection varies with the location of the bite, but well-regarded randomized controlled clinical trials from the 1960s demonstrated that immediate and thorough cleansing of the bite with soap (and some other substances) markedly reduces the risk of infection compared with controls [6], and thorough cleaning the wound is still the first of several steps in rabies prophylaxis. Dr Motherby goes on to state, that once symptoms appear, 2 grains (about 130 mg) of opium administered every 3 hours can relieve the symptoms but do ‘no more’. Other authors writing in the Lady’s Magazine were much more optimistic.

In 1816, Dr Vogelsang (of Goerlitz, in Saxony) claimed to have cured Ms Joanna Rosina of Hydrophobia by bloodletting (LM, 17 [Jan 1816]: 29). Ms Rozina ‘aged 19, had been bitten by a yard dog in the foot … Four days afterwards she found herself unwell’. Dr Vogelsang, ‘opened a vein’ and took, in all, about 38 ounces (over a litre) of blood. Ms Rozina, not surprisingly, ‘fainted away’ but subsequently was ‘quite recovered’. There are at two things that tell us this was not rabies: first, the patient recovered, and, second, the incubation period of 4 days was less than half the accepted minimum incubation period for rabies in humans (Ms Rozina was also bitten in the foot which tends to result in longer incubation periods for human rabies). According to the US Centers for Disease Control, 15 to 20% of dog bite wounds become infected and at least 40 different pathogens have isolated from dog bite wounds. If the cause of Ms Rozina’s illness was an infected bite wound (plausible, but by no means certain) there are plenty of pathogens other than the rabies virus that are better candidates.

Almost 25 years earlier than the article describing Dr Vogelsang’s apparent success, an anonymous contributor to the Lady’s Magazine (LM, 33 [June 1792]: 300) extolled the virtues of ‘Aurum palpabile’. He or she writes, ‘There are few political disorders in which it is not happily administered, as it generally performs a cure. The rabies patriotica (or patriotic fury) has often yielded to this remedy’. The contributor goes on to claim that it works even in very advanced cases of human rabies. Aurum potabile (sic) was a centuries old universal remedy: there is a laboured, jokey reference to it in Ben Johnson’s Volpone (‘Tis aurum palpabile, if it is not potabile’) and earlier mentions abound. For those interested in such things here is an eighteenth century recipe for drinkable gold (all metric measure are approximate).

Dissolve in a moderate heat half a dram (0.88 g) of fine gold, in two ounces (57 ml) of aqua regia (a mixture of nitric acid and hydrochloric acid), and add to the solution an ounce (28 ml) of the essential oil of rosemary (an infusion of rosemary in in olive oil), shake them together, and set them to rest; after which separate the oil by decantation, and add to it four ounces or five (156ml) of rectified spirit of wine (repeatedly distilled wine), digest them for a month and it will become purplish. [7]

An online search revealed that there are no randomized controlled clinical trials that demonstrate the efficacy (and more importantly, the safety) of this concoction for rabies.

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LM, 44 (Dec 1813: 586. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / BritishLibrary. Not to be reproduced without permission

Rabies was endemic in Britain throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries [8]. It was present in both dogs and cats. The Lady’s Magazine (LM, 14 [December 1813]: 586) reports that a servant girl in Camberwell died ‘in consequence of having been bitten by a cat, which she was chastising for some act of misconduct’. The servant died with symptoms ‘exactly similar to that perceptible in cases of the hydrophobia’.

The elimination of rabies from Britain began with various legislative acts in the second half of the nineteenth century that promoted and enforced the shooting and muzzling of stray dogs and instituted draconian quarantine laws. These laws were vigorously opposed by humane societies, but rabies disappeared (temporarily) from Britain in the first few years of the twentieth century. We do not know why. Such strategies have never worked as effectively anywhere else. It is speculated that the legislation succeeded in its aim because rabies in Britain never became endemic in foxes in Britain – fox densities were just too small to maintain the virus. It is certainly true that fox hunting in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries resulted in such a large turnover of indigenous populations that foxes had to be imported from France to bolster the ‘thinned’ populations [9]. It would be interesting to know if contributors to the Lady’s Magazine had anything to say about foxes.

Gary Smith

Professor of Population Biology and Epidemiology

University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine


[1] H. Tabel, A. H. Corner, W. A. Webste, C. A. Casey, ‘History and epizootiology of rabies in Canada’, Canadian Veterinary Journal 15 (1974): 271-281

[2] J. D. Blaisdell, ‘Rabies and the Governor-General of Canada’, Veterinary History 7 (1992): 19-26.

[3] Mr Youatt, (1837) ‘Animal Pathology. Rabies in the dog – symptoms continued’, The Veterinarian 10 (1837): 446-47.

[4] K. Hampson, L. Coudeville, T. Lembo, M. Sambo, A. Kieffer, M. Attlan, et al. (2015) Estimating the Global Burden of Endemic Canine Rabies. PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases 9: 4 (2015) <e0003709. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0003709>

[5] M. Netravathia, V. Udanib, R. S. Manic, V. Gadada et al. ‘Unique clinical and imaging findings in a first ever documented PCR positive rabies survival patient: A case report’, Journal of Clinical Virology 70 (2015): 83–88.

[6] D. J. Dean, G. M. Baer, and W. R. Thompson, ‘Studies on the Local Treatment of Rabies-infected Wounds’, Bulletin of the World Health Organization 28 (1963): 477–486.

[7] G. Motherby, A New Medical Dictionary (London: J. Johnson, 1775).

[8] P. Muir and A. Roome, ‘Indigenous rabies in the UK’, The Lancet 365 (2005): 2175

[9] A. N. May, The Fox-Hunting Controversy, 1781-2004: Class and Cruelty (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016).



The Lady’s Magazine Project at the Authorship & Appropriation conference (Dundee – 8/9 April 2016)


Beautiful Dundee, by B4bees on Flickr (click pic for link)

We are approaching that time of the year again. Every year from spring to late summer, Conference Season brings opportunities to learn about the research of colleagues working all over the world, to see old friends, and to meet new ones. This festive period lasts longer than Christmas time, and in many ways, it’s better. You get to talk freely about your obsessions without relatives and friends diverting the conversation to less esoteric subjects, and who doesn’t like a good wine reception? At the bottom of this post you will find a calendar of conferences and workshops which will be attended by Team Lady’s Mag in the near future, but in this blog post I will zoom in on an early event that I have been particularly looking forward to: this week’s Authorship & Appropriation conference at the University of Dundee (8 – 9 April 2016).

   As we have been telling you from our first post, gaining insight into the authorship of the Lady’s Magazine is a major goal of our research project. We soon found that the myriads of reader-contributors who supplied the bulk of the magazine’s contents did not just submit original productions, but also acted as intermediates who disseminated the work of others. Often, their submissions elaborated on or were downright identical to previously published texts by other authors; in other words, they engaged in appropriation. We were therefore very excited when we read in the CFP for this event that papers were invited on the “theory and practice of the adaptation and appropriation of literary texts”. Jenny DiPlacidi and I proposed a panel on ‘Appropriation as Cultural Transmission in the Eighteenth-Century Periodical Press’, which was lucky enough to be accepted. Ours is session 3C on Friday afternoon, in case you’re around and would like to join us! Jenny and I will of course be talking about the Lady’s Magazine (when are we not?), but this isn’t strictly a Lady’s Mag panel. Jennie Batchelor will unfortunately not be able to join us, but we were very happy to find a third speaker in our Kent colleague Dr Kim Simpson (@AmatoryAnon). Kim works on anonymity and appropriation in early eighteenth-century prose fiction, and has recently been exploring the afterlives of these narratives in mid-century periodicals. We expect that the three of us together will be able to do justice to the central role in literary history of appropriations from and in eighteenth-century periodicals.

   Most readers of this blog will know that periodicals were the primary site of literary publication throughout the eighteenth century. The number of authors who made it to the stage of getting their own books published was dwarfed by the myriads of those contributing essays, verse and short or serial fiction to the essay papers, newspapers and magazines of their day. Encouraged by a more lenient attitude towards intellectual property, and a smaller risk of prosecution due to less stringent copyright laws, magazines in particular liberally repurposed material from other sources such as books and competing periodical titles. This practice was often justified at the time as a form of cultural transmission: in the spirit of the Statute of Anne that limited the ownership of copyright to a limited period so that texts could later circulate freely, periodicals would have disseminated meritorious literary productions so a wider readership could benefit. In this period the distinction between repurposed content and original copy is problematic, because appropriated texts were often subtly adapted and subsequently with no qualms claimed by the author-appropriators as their own. The three papers in this panel discuss instances of how this practice of appropriation in British eighteenth-century periodicals contributed to the development and popularization of certain literary modes, themes and genres, either reading long-forgotten original publications from periodicals as possible models for now canonized texts, or, conversely, demonstrating how the legacy of famous texts was kept alive in periodicals through unacknowledged adaptations written by minor authors.

Jenny DiPlacidi: ‘“Full of pretty stories”: Literary Afterlives in the First Series of the Lady’s Magazine

LM, V (Aug 1774): p. 182. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

LM, V (Aug 1774): 182. Image © Adam Matthew Digital / Birmingham Central Library. Not to be reproduced without permission.

This paper examines appearance and reuse of Gothic conventions in the fiction of the Lady’s Magazine: or, Entertaining Companion for the Fair Sex (1770-1832), analysing the fiction’s engagement with earlier texts and assessing its influences on later and better-known works. It argues against the critical tradition that has long disparaged the periodical’s tales as derivative works produced by amateurs to suggest that its fiction was a significant cultural form that reworked classical and contemporary tales to establish and shape eighteenth-century popular literature. For example, the short tale ‘Alphonso; or, The Cruel Husband’ (1774) reframes Boccaccio’s story of Ghismonda and Guiscardo, popularized by Hogarth’s 1759 painting, and, arguably, participates in a cultural practice in which classical works were marketed and consumed via translations later reformulated within the magazine. The History of an Humble Friend (1774-76), an anonymous serial novella, shares marked similarities to Frances Burney’s Evelina (1778) and Ann Radcliffe’s The Italian (1797). The serial deploys standard eighteenth-century Gothic tropes such as the reclamation of the missing mother early on in traditional chronologies of the genre. Likewise, its presentation of the sentimental orphan prefigures later representations in novels by Burney and Charlotte Smith. Stories like this, The Governess (1778-80) and The History of Lady Bradley (1776-78) are preoccupied with issues such as women’s education, laws, marriage and inheritance and the conflict between duty to family and self-autonomy; concerns central to eighteenth-century society that featured prominently – and similarly – in later canonical texts.

Kim Simpson: “Anomalous & Anonymous: Locating Links and Chasing Tales in Amatory Fiction and Beyond”

Aphra Behn, by unknown artist

Aphra Behn, by unknown artist

In 1723, Jane Barker, writing as Galesia in A Patch-Work Screen for the Ladies, spoke indignantly and scornfully of Aphra Behn, despite, in the 1726 sequel, The Lining of the Patch Work Screen, borrowing from her short fiction plots for inset narratives. One of these borrowings was from Behn’s ‘The Wand’ring Beauty’ (1698). Although Carol Shiner Wilson, amongst others, have noted this particular reworking, in 1723 the text had undergone another adaptation by the little-known Arthur Blackamore, which was crucial to Barker’s version. Reading these three versions together, this paper traces and analyses the transformations of the original plot. It contends that Blackamore’s rendering develops the disguised amatory heroine, foreshadowing later works that address proto-feminist strategies of dissimulation. Meanwhile, Barker’s self-conscious positioning of Behn’s romance tale alongside the inset narrative ‘The History of Dorinda,’ a reactionary warning about the dangers of quixotic reading practices, prefigures Charlotte Lennox’s  The Female Quixote (1752), as well as some of the concerns articulated by Eliza Haywood in her periodical the Female Spectator (1744-46). This case study explores the complex and contradictory ways in which the generative potential of the original was exploited by subsequent writers. It maps out influence between amatory writers, between early and mid-century writers, and between short fiction and the periodical. But it also makes a claim for the importance of lesser known and anonymous writers in this time period, demonstrating that despite our tendency to place known authors at the centre of study, a fuller picture of the array of understudied texts might demonstrate that they shaped and informed attributed ones as much as the other way around.

Koenraad Claes: “Poetics of appropriation: re-occasioned occasional verse in the Lady’s Magazine

The Lady’s Magazine (1770-1832) stands out among periodicals of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century because of the exceptionally large extent to which it relied on readers’ submissions for its copy. According to the scholarly consensus, the early years of this periodical coincided with the breakthrough of sentimental verse, and much of the poetry submitted by readers does adhere to what Jerome McGann has identified as ‘the poetics of Sensibility’: featuring a strong emphasis on the recording and communication of an individual’s ‘affects’, i.e. emotional responses to specific situations. Most of the poetry submitted by the readers to the magazine belongs to the subgenre of ‘occasional verse’, usually short lyrical poems that were meant to mark a specific event that had impressed the poet. However, research by the Lady’s Magazine Project has shown that most of these poems were not merely influenced by the leading poets of Sensibility of the period, but are undeniably appropriations. These appropriations often are near-verbatim copies of famous or more obscure originals in which only references to the absolute specifics of settings or addressees were altered. This paper will discuss how such loose notions of intellectual property could coexist with the valuation of emotional authenticity that is apparent from the poems themselves and from the reception of other work in this genre, and will identify which specific aspects of appropriated texts were adapted to detach the source text from its original author and publication context.

We would love to meet our readers attending the conference in Dundee, so if you are around, please do come say hello. Alternatively, this spring and early summer you will be able to hear us at the following events.

13 May – University of East Anglia (Norwich) – CHASE workshop “Periodical Studies

17 May – Cardiff University – Cardiff Romanticism and Eighteenth-Century Seminar: CRECS Annual Conference

7-8 July – Liverpool John Moores University – European Society for Periodical Research (ESPRit): Conf. Periodical Counter Cultures

15 July – Athenaeum Club (London) – Conf. Victorian Periodicals Through Glass

Dr Koenraad Claes
School of English, University of Kent

Acrostic Poems, Love and Life in the Lady’s Magazine

One of the fascinating, yet easily overlooked, genres of the Lady’s Magazine is that of the acrostic (or, as they are often termed, ‘acrostick’) poem. Readily dismissed as amateurish attempts at poetry, the acrostic holds a special place in my heart. The acrostic offers much potentially valuable information about contributors’ names, locations, and names of their beloved/friends/family. The form also depends more on writers’ — and readers’ — ingenuity than it usually receives credit for.

Screen Shot 2016-03-30 at 20.44.55The acrostic poems in the magazine were exploited by the contributors in deliberately revealing ways. Their use is often not merely an attempt to highlight the contributor’s cleverness, but a means of interacting with members of a local geographical community – most often (and this is why I love them) with the object of the writer’s affection. Contributors could give voice to questions, desires, apologies and declarations to those closest to them in their personal lives through the pages of the magazine. The medium of the periodical provided a veil that allowed, in particular, women to voice their desire to men without the danger of being directly observed by a social circle and consequently condemned for forward or coquettish behavior.

Within the pages of the poetry section, women were able to enjoy a flexible anonymity through which they could literally spell out their desires yet remain obscure enough to avoid any positive proofs of their declarations. 1789 was a particularly fruitful year for acrostic poems and one frustratingly elusive couple in particular drew my attention. A contributor who signed herself ‘Anna’ wrote an acrostic poem in September 1789 entitled ‘An Acrostical Prayer, on the much-lamented Illness of Mr. — of Au—y Ch—l’ (LM XX [Sept 1789]: 495) The poem spells out ‘Griffiths’. Anna’s prayer that Mr. Griffiths recover his health is repeated in November of the same year when she contributes the poem ‘Absence’ (LM XX [Nov 1789]: 604), lamenting the ongoing lack of ‘G—s’ whose health is unrestored.

Immediately following Anna’s poem ‘Absence’ appear ‘To Anna’, a short poem that is signed by ‘W. G.’ and states ‘my health returns, again I live’ (LM XX [Nov 1789]: 604) – perhaps the mysterious Griffiths of Au—y Ch—l? In April of 1790 Anna returns to the magazine to offer ‘A Thanksgiving for the Recovery of Mr. G —s’ which offers thanks and praise to God, to whom the poem is addressed. Yet Anna’s hopes for Griffiths’ recovery seem ill-founded. Seven months later, in November of 1790, over a year after her first poem appeared, Anna writes in again. This time the poem seems less joyful and more mournful; less certain and more doubtful. Anna’s poem is less focused on prayers and thanks to God, and more on Griffiths and his impression.

This final poem, ‘An Address to a Seal’, sees Anna turn away from prayer and Christian fortitude and turn to metaphor and imagery. Anna writes ‘As thy soft wax the deep impression takes, Which G—in thy sable surface makes: So doth my heart his image still retain, where his idea ever will remain’ (LM XXI [Nov 1790]: 609). It is not, perhaps, the most original or well-written poem to grace the pages of the magazine. But I think it is honest, and the testament of a woman’s love to a man she knows she may never see again. She is no longer coyly writing his name out in the acrostic; this is a different Anna indeed, who no longer begs ‘O Lord, my prayer receive’ (LM XX [Sept 1789]: 495). Anna in November 1790 addresses Griffith’s seal, not God, writing ‘And I will ever keep thee for his sake. To thee I will impart each doubt and fear’ (LM XXI [Nov 1790]: 609) – almost as though she has turned away from the God to whom she had once offered thanksgiving for Griffiths’ recovery, only to see him fall ill again.

Anna never writes about ‘G’, ‘G—s’, or ‘Griffiths’ again. Her final lines in ‘An Address to a Seal’ that ‘O may my hopes no more delusive be, then every anxious doubt and fear will flee’ (LM XXI [Nov 1790]: 609) remain, for us, unanswered. In spite of having spent hours searching for traces of a W. Griffiths or Anna (possible Anna Griffiths) of Au—y Ch—l, I’ve yet to find anything definitive. Even though Anna is not one of the magazine’s most prolific or talented contributors, she is characteristic of the magazine’s many nameless, faceless writers: she voices her hopes, fears and love; she evolves through the pages of the magazine, she shares a little bit of her heartbreak and her world, and then she disappears.


Jenny DiPlacidi

Stitch Off participant Lucie Whitmore on embroidering for research

© Lucie Whitmore

© Lucie Whitmore

Sometimes there are benefits to spending far too much time on Twitter, and I was so excited when earlier this year I saw tweets about the Lady’s Magazine Stitch-Off pop up on my feed. In this short blog post I will describe my Stitch-Off experience, working with embroidery patterns from a 1796 edition of the Lady’s Magazine.

I am currently working on a PhD related to academic dress history , but my first degree was in textile design with embroidery. I have created small embroidered pieces intermittently over the past few years, though often struggling to find the time or motivation without a set project. The Stitch-Off, so perfectly linking research with the opportunity to try out some historical patterns for myself, was the ideal project to get me sewing again. When Jennie told me about the Chawton House / Jane Austen connection, the incentive was even greater!

2. Stitch off samples

© Lucie Whitmore

I have had a go at three of the Lady’s Magazine patterns. I decided to think of them as trials, using different materials and stitches to see what worked best. My pieces will not be the most polished or accomplished in the exhibition, but I like to think they represent the eighteenth-century lady who loves embroidery, but was perhaps a little rusty when she started, and too impatient to go out and buy materials so made do with what she had already in her sewing basket! My method was simply to copy the patterns by eye, though I did sketch some details onto the fabric first with chalk pencil. The first two samples come from the pattern for a gown or apron, and the pattern for a gentleman’s cravat. I used white cotton thread on white muslin, I thought the combination was the most historically appropriate. The muslin has quite an open weave, which made for some fiddly moments, but I was pleased with the historical look when finished. The sprig from the gown or apron pattern worked much better, carried out in satin stitch, split stitch and French knots. For the cravat pattern I used chain stitch to imitate tambour work, but I don’t think it worked quite as well.

3. Stitch off sample

© Lucie Whitmore

I wanted to introduce some colour (and some of my own taste) into the next pattern I tried, the pattern for a gown. I used a lovely (but small, which I later regretted) piece of silk linen that I had lying around, and a combination of cotton and linen threads from my very messy embroidery cupboard. I started out thinking I’d just do a little bit, but over a couple of weeks I managed to complete the whole design! I used a combination of split stitch, chain stitch and whipped running stitch. When a couple of my colours ran out halfway through I decided to be resourceful, eighteenth century stitchers must have had these problems too – and they couldn’t just go online and order more! I was in agonies about how to finish the piece. It looked very rough and ready left un-mounted, but was too small to do much with. After a discussion with the lovely lady in my local fabric shop, I decided to mount it onto some beautiful white linen and add a little more white on white embroidery. Though this means that you can no longer see the back (I was sad about this as I love to look at the back of other people’s work, it can teach us so much), it completes the piece and gave me the opportunity for a little more creativity.

© Lucie Whitmore

© Lucie Whitmore

I have a long-standing interest in historical embroidery, but this is the first time I have tried following a pattern. After graduating the first time round, I worked in textile design for a while but was also the research assistant on a historical embroidery research project centred on the collections of the Needlework Development Scheme. The purpose of the NDS was to promote interest in embroidery and raise the standards of embroidery education. The project involved spending a lot of time with embroidery samples dating from the 16th century right up to the 1960s – which was obviously wonderful – but also interviewing people about their experiences of the NDS. We travelled the country talking to women who had been involved with the scheme, which ran from 1934? to 1961, and usually ended up discussing women’s unique relationship with embroidery, the importance of hand skills, and how much you can learn from these objects created with such care and craftsmanship. Hand embroidery is a timeless skill – and when I stitch I love to think how little the practice has changed. It links me straight back to the embroiderers involved with the NDS, and to the women who first attempted the Lady’s Magazine patterns in 1796.

© Lucie Whitmore

© Lucie Whitmore

This has been a wonderful project and I am definitely going to have a go at some of the other Stitch Off patterns. It has been especially exciting to see how many people of all different standards and backgrounds have had a go and shared updates on Twitter, and it is great that the efforts are going to be on show for the public at the Emma at 200 exhibition. While my own research centres on a very different period (the First World War, 1914-1918), I rely heavily on women’s magazines in my research, so working with these patterns has led to some interesting thoughts about women’s relationship with printed media and the possible material outcomes. For my next project, I may have to try out one of the dressmaking patterns from the war period!

Author Biography

Lucie Whitmore is a PhD researcher at the School of Culture and Creative, University of Glasgow.

For our report on (and lots of pictures of) the opening of the Stitch Off display and the ‘Emma at 200’ exhibition, please follow this link.

For information about visiting the ‘Emma at 200’ exhibition at Chawton House Library, please follow this link.

Shoe Conversations; or, what the Lady’s Magazine Stitch Off taught me about eighteenth-century footwear, embroidery, and community.

I study and write about eighteenth-century literature, and one of my areas of interest is representations of footwear and movement in fiction of the period. I have spent hours poring over artefacts from the era, so you can just imagine my excitement when Jennie Batchelor and the Lady’s Magazine project made these shoe embroidery patterns available, which appeared in a 1775 edition of the magazine now belonging to Penny Gore. I had to try my hand at them.

But what did I learn? What special insights did I gain into the objects I spent so much time thinking and reading about? Well, I learned that I had to try it out for myself, which tells me something about the need to physically and mentally place myself in another’s shoes in order to really understand material culture and its relationship to literature. What the Stitch Off patterns meant for me, then, was that I now had the chance to do more than just wish: I could also experience what it felt like to embroider an upper.

1And what did it feel like? The thing is, it didn’t feel that foreign. It actually felt pretty familiar and when it didn’t, there was a whole community I could turn to for help and encouragement in the form of the Stitch Off participants (including Jenny DiPlacidi’s post). Choosing my silks and colour schemes turned out to be a lesson in local needlepoint knowledge and resources, as shop employees helped me choose materials and became invested in the project. And I think that the sense of community and identity that it created for me and that the Stitch Off itself has brought to the surface also perhaps existed in different ways in the eighteenth century, but this is a trickier question to ponder.

Of course, the way I’d like to ponder it is with the assistance of the fiction I couldn’t help thinking of as I was choosing the materials and stitching the patterns. In Northanger Abbey (1818) Henry Tilney famously claims, ‘muslin always turns to some account or other . . . [it] can never be said to be wasted’, [1] and I thought of Tilney’s words when I realized how little of the silk material I’d need to create the two shoe uppers, as well as when the clerks at the fabric store told me that the silks I purchased were remainders from someone’s wedding clothes. I also realized just how easy it would have been to create silk uppers to match one’s gown; I didn’t buy very much silk, and yet I have so much left that perhaps I will make fellows for each of my uppers so that they don’t exist in such solitude.


© Alicia Kerfoot

Embroidering the uppers also made me think about the relationship between community and solitude. In Frances Burney’s The Wanderer (1814) the heroine (known as Ellis early in the novel) manages to find protection in Mrs. Maple’s household because her needlework is so valuable. However, when Mrs. Maple wants to bar Ellis from the rest of the community and considers casting her out of the house, the housekeeper protests because ‘some fine work, which the young woman had just begun, would not look of a piece if finished by another hand’. [2] This use of Ellis’s needlework first to make her part of Mrs. Maple’s household, and then to prevent her from becoming friendly with neighbours shows how needlework can be both community-building and a solitary activity used to control women. [3] I also like how it points out that one’s handiwork is like a signature, with individual styles and choices that cannot be replicated by another. If I do decide to make matching uppers for the ones I’ve already stitched then they will not be exact pairs either, as my stitches will not match my earlier ones.


© Alicia Kerfoot

Indeed, one of the reasons I became so engaged with the project is because the act of choosing what sorts of stitches to use and where (and being either pleased with or distressed by the results) was so engrossing and addictive. I can sort of see why, in Richardson’s novel, Pamela doesn’t want to leave off stitching Mr. B’s waistcoat, writing to her parents: ‘I never did a prettier Piece of Work; and I am up early and late to get it finish’d’. [4] I, too, felt a sense of ownership and personal connection to my work and stayed ‘up early and late to get it finish’d’.

Another proud and talented needle-woman appears in the 1754 it-narrative, The History and Adventures of a Lady’s Slippers and Shoes (written by themselves, as it-narratives were told from the perspective of the objects). The shoes describe the woman who embroidered them:

The whole town did not afford a neater work-woman, nor a prettier girl, than she, whose delicate hand, performed the needlework of me, —especially she had not her equal for cross-stitch—and she made her boasts with the lasses of her acquaintance, that she had never done any thing neater, and with so much expedition. I am sure, says she, they cost me many a prick’d finger, and broken needle. [5]

 I can relate to this! I did prick my finger a few times while I was stitching, and although the results are not exactly neat, I still have a certain amount of pride in my work and personal investment in it, not unlike the unnamed work-woman.

I also noticed that stitching is an activity that becomes associated with the physical context that one is working in; whether having a conversation, watching the television or sitting in a quiet room, the physical space becomes tied in one’s memory to the physical object. The shoes in the History and Adventures also take in the activities and conversations that occur while the girl does her needlework: ‘Whilst she was at work upon us, her tongue moved as nimbly as her fingers, with hymns, and love-songs, stories, jests, and all the effusions of female prattling’. (38)

How wonderful to think about all of the conversations that have happened over the embroidered shoes that museums and archives currently hold! It adds a significant cultural layer to the object and makes me think of the way, as Jennie Batchelor argues, the Lady’s Magazine encourages conversation and complex dialogue, especially about fashion. The young woman in History and Adventures similarly reproduces multiple and often clashing verbal texts while creating her material one.

The production of footwear in the eighteenth century similarly required different artisans to contribute parts to a completed project that was then shaped and individualised by the consumer. [6] In History and Adventures the ‘neat girl’ passes her work on to a shoemaker, who feels that he must match the standards of the embroidery, as the shoes put it: ‘that my other parts might be answerable’. Shoe-making required a communion between parts, and I do feel a little strange that my uppers will not be used to vamp any shoes; however, the fact that they are at Chawton House for the ‘Emma at 200’ exhibition makes them part of a bigger project and conversation in a similar sense.


© Alicia Kerfoot

Here are the finished products. One upper has been washed and ironed and the other only ironed (I learned that Douppioni silk does not wash well), while the undersides are quite embarrassing. I somehow never managed to get all of the stray threads neatly tucked under my stitches. I could not be called a neat ‘work-woman’ as in the fictional examples above. All of this shows my inexperience with the materials but also gives me something to consider the next time I am looking at surviving examples of footwear.


© Alicia Kerfoot

And speaking of surviving examples, I discovered yet another layer of community when I found these eighteenth-century shoes in the Victoria and Albert Museum digital collections with the 1775 Lady’s Magazine pattern adorning them. I was so excited! Suddenly the pattern became even more alive than it already was.


© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Left: Details of shoes in the Victoria and Albert Museum Collections, juxtaposed against my interpretation of the design.

The embroiderer had made so many different decisions from mine that I felt like we were having a conversation across time. She (perhaps the owner of the shoes who had spotted the pattern in the Lady’s Magazine or a professional who was hired to complete the work for another) had decided to aim the design in a different direction, with the stems pointing towards the tongue rather than the toe of the shoe and I realised that this assumes the wearer would be looking at her own feet, rather than expecting others to look at her feet. In my focus on dress as an outward expression of self, I’d forgotten Jane Austen’s narrator’s advice in Northanger Abbey: ‘Woman is fine for her own satisfaction alone’ (54). But this is not entirely true for the owner of the V&A shoes either, because I certainly gained a great deal of satisfaction from this absent person’s finery.

The thrill I felt when I found an eighteenth-century interpretation of the design I had just spent weeks replicating speaks to a sort of intertextuality I think I need to pay more attention to: when object and embroiderer and text talk to one another a connection is forged that perhaps links us not only to one another, but across time and space, to the hands and minds of those who had to decide between a chain stitch and a long-and-short stitch all those years ago, and to the objects that still embody those choices.

Author biography

Dr Alicia Kerfoot is an Assistant Professor at the College of Brockport (SUNY), where she teaches Restoration and eighteenth-century British literature and culture.


[1] Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey. 1818. Ed. John Davie (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998), 14, 54.

[2] Frances Burney, The Wanderer; or, Female Difficulties. 1814. Ed. Margaret Anne Doody (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001), 104.

[3] See Rozsika Parker’s The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine for a developed discussion of this complex issue, especially page 102.

[4] Samuel Richardson, Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded. 1740. Ed. Thomas Keymer and Alice Wakely (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2001), 44.

[5] The History and Adventures of a Lady’s Slippers and Shoes. Written by Themselves. (London: M. Cooper, 1754), 38-9.

[6] For a discussion of how shoemakers and journeymen collaborated and competed with one another in the production of footwear see Giorgio Riello’s A Foot in the Past: Consumers, Producers and Footwear in the Long Eighteenth Century (Oxford, Oxford UP, 2006).

For our report on (and lots of pictures of) the opening of the Stitch Off display and the ‘Emma at 200’ exhibition, please follow this link.
For information about visiting the ‘Emma at 200’ exhibition at Chawton House Library, please follow this link.

The Stitch Off: A Golden Opportunity, by Mary Martin

As a hand embroiderer working out of a home studio, making new friends and contacts can be challenging. Social media is wonderful for this, but can at times be overwhelming. When I first saw that the University of Kent School of English was promoting a stitching project with historic patterns, I became so excited as this was a perfect opportunity for them to create a sense of community along with the chance to do some historic stitching. I cannot begin to tell you how much fun this has been, and how many wonderful new people I have met online. There was so much joy in working the same pattern as one of your friends, but in a different way.


© Mary Martin

The pattern I chose was the left shoe from Penny Gore‘s set, from a 1775 Lady’s Magazine, as I knew I wanted to work with gold and silk. Goldwork is a type of embroidery using metal threads that is used in combination with silk shading. For the most part, the gold is couched over the surface of the fabric instead of stitched through.


© Mary Martin

Most embroidery stitches have been used for centuries. There are new combinations and new uses with materials, but the stitches have stayed relatively unchanged. Some stitches, however, are less common, such as the detached buttonhole stitch that I used for the center pink flower and the strawberries. Both have metal thread returns, instead of silk, which is also uncommon. Other stitches used in my piece with silk threads were outline and stem, couching, silk shading. The goldwork stitches are bricked couching, outlining and chip work.


© Mary Martin

I chose to work on a hoop for this project, as it was going to be worked quickly. Normally, goldwork is done on a slate frame to stretch the fabric as tightly as possible. The linen had to be taken off the hoop every time I stopped working so it did not leave a ring.  


© Mary Martin

I did try to plan out the project as much as possible ahead of time, choosing stitches and threads beforehand. Nearly every thread and stitch choice changed as I started stitching! The top flower was stitched five times in five different ways to ensure that it went with the rest of the piece. I’ve found that for me at least, part of the process is seeing how things look as they are created. I don’t get upset anymore if what I planned doesn’t work out – generally what I take out can be used in a later project. One of my embroidery friends always tells me that if you feel something should be taken out, go with your gut and do it. I do take photos before I rip something out though, so I can keep a record of it for later use.  


© Mary Martin


The embroidery was worked with the silks done first, then the goldwork. I chose to outline each leaf with a single strand of gilt passing thread, and then filled in with shaded stem/outline stitches. The couched circles were fun to do, and I believe I counted nearly 80 of them. I saved the ornamental gold couching for the end as that is the part of any project I enjoy the most.


© Mary Martin

After the embroidery was finished, I spoke to Jennie Batchelor and we decided that it would be best to mount my piece on illustration board. I wanted the piece to be able to be picked up by the tour staff, and eventually to be framed. If I’d have made it into a household item, it might become worn or get damaged. After the mounting process is finished, I found a nice fabric to cover the lacing on the back as that part always looks messy to me, and stitched it on. It was then brought to the post and sent on to Chawton House Library.


© Mary Martin

One of the biggest challenges for me in this project was time. I found out about the Stitch Off and made the decision to participate one month before the show opened. I knew I’d need 1-2 weeks for shipping over to the UK from Houston, and really wanted my embroidery to be there on time. Overall, I spent around 75 hours from the initial plans to the finishing, over a ten-day period. Actual stitch time was 60 hours. I don’t normally work this quickly, especially not with goldwork. What kept me going and working at that pace was the constant encouragement from my fellow stitchers on Twitter and Facebook, and I cannot thank them enough.

Author biography

Mary Martin is a contemporary hand embroiderer who works out of her studio in Houston, Texas. She has more than 40 years of experience in all forms of needlework, embroidery and sewing, and specialises in hand embroidered jewellery featuring goldwork and blackwork.

For our report on (and lots of pictures of) the opening of the Stitch Off display and the ‘Emma at 200’ exhibition, please follow this link.
For information about visiting the ‘Emma at 200’ exhibition at Chawton House Library, please follow this link.

Penny Gore, the ‘Good Enough’ Stitcher and the Lady’s Magazine Stitch-off

The spine – once leather-bound and gilded, now torn for a quarter of its length – has ‘1775’ inked onto it in an old-fashioned hand. Inside the front cover a much more recent pencilled addition reads ‘February onward only. Lacks some of the plates. £5’.

1775 patterns

Shoe and waistcoat patterns from the 1775 Lady’s Magazine. © Penny Gore

I can’t remember where I bought this sorry-looking copy of the Lady’s Magazine, but I would have grabbed hold of it instantly thanks to the discovery of several folded sheets of embroidery patterns nestling towards the back of the volume, survivors of the binder’s knife. That must be at least 20 years ago: the book has accompanied me through two house-moves and, while not exactly forgotten, has sat largely unnoticed on its shelf ever since. Sheer chance led me to Jennie, to the Lady’s Magazine project, and to the Stitch-Off, and finally (about time too, you may say), those patterns have not only seen the light of day, but are being brought vividly, beautifully back to life by stitchers from all over the world.

Happy though I was to share the patterns, I wasn’t going to be one of those stitchers, I reassured myself. Definitely not. Although I’ve always knitted, sewed and quilted, any embroidery I’ve ever done was in the deep, dark past, forever associated with tray-cloths bearing outlines of crinolined ladies and the transfers on tissue paper that my mother used to buy from the local haberdashery shop (where I later had a Saturday job). But a little voice niggled away at me – what about that muff pattern? Huge (it opens out from the book into a substantial sheet which is still only half-size), complicated-looking and with alarmingly small motifs. But… seductive.

Muff pattern

1775 muff pattern. © Penny Gore

The discovery that I owned not only an embroidery hoop but also embroidery needles and a fairly substantial collection of Anchor threads in a surprisingly large range of colours – yes, I’m a hopeless case who also hoards craft supplies and promptly forgets about them – made me bite the bullet. I would attempt a small section of the muff pattern. It would be an experiment and not intended in any way as a ‘finished’ piece. My abilities were likely – no, certain – to be limited.

In that spirit of nothing ventured, nothing gained, I photocopied a section of pattern and enlarged it slightly. An old, much-washed, cotton pillowcase was cut up to use as the fabric; I rather liked the thriftiness of re-purposing something that had already given good service. Merrily chucking all notions of historical accuracy out of the window, I put the fabric over the pattern against a lampshade, and traced off the designs with a Frixion pen (having first tested that the pen-marks would indeed disappear, as promised, at the first touch of a warm iron). Then the embroidery could begin.

Penny Gore finished hoop (muff pattern)

© Penny Gore

Some weeks and much sotto voce swearing later, I’ve almost finished the ‘experiment’ and am feeling better about it than expected. I’m sure the average 15-year-old reader of my 1775 volume would snigger at my efforts, but I was encouraged by a comment made by another of the contributors to the Stitch-Off, Rachel of www.VirtuoSewAdventures.co.uk.

She astutely pointed out that not every piece of eighteenth-century ‘fancy-work’ would have been perfect. The concept of ‘good enough’ must have applied widely – though I’m sure we’re often misled into thinking otherwise by the gorgeousness of historical dramas on TV, with their improbably exquisite costumes. Surely Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra, or those fashion-mad ladies of Cranford, must have turned a blind eye to the odd botched French knot or wonky bit of stem-stitching? Looking with qualified pride at my own less-than-pristine work, I’m hoping so, anyway.

Author biography

Penny Gore studied Modern History at Liverpool University and spent time working as a cook and in the costume department of Liverpool Museum before joining the staff of what is now the British Library National Sound Archive in London. From there she moved to the equivalent department in the BBC, but soon embarked on a life behind the microphone as a BBC Radio 3 presenter. She is currently a regular presenter of Afternoon on 3 and the BBC Proms. We are very grateful to Penny for so generously making available her patterns for the Stitch Off.

For our report on (and lots of pictures of) the opening of the Stitch Off display and the ‘Emma at 200’ exhibition, please follow this link.

For information about visiting the ‘Emma at 200’ exhibition at Chawton House Library, please follow this link.