The other day I received an email from the Conservation Lab with the subject line: “Annotation found on the verso of a lined frontispiece,” and a link to a couple of images, one taken under ultraviolet light. The conservators were preparing a book for the next Folger exhibition, Shakespeare’s Sisters: Voices of English and European Women Writers, 1500-1700, curated by Georgianna Ziegler and open February 3—May 20, 2012. The Folger copy of Margaret Cavendish’s Plays, never before printed. Written by the thrice noble, illustrious, and excellent princesse, the Duchess of Newcastle (London, ) [Wing N867] was in poor condition, and part of the conservation work involved removing the heavy paper lining from the back of the frontispiece portrait of Margaret Cavendish since the adhesive had most likely caused the patchy staining and discoloration of the frontispiece.
This is the frontispiece:
And this is the top part of the back of the frontispiece, after the heavy paper lining had been removed, shown under regular light and ultraviolet light:
As you can see, the inscription reads: “Mary [Sl....y] Her Book / Giuen by Her Grace / The Duches of / Newcastle.”
The book owner’s surname is partially obliterated, and there is another name, visible under UV light, below this inscription, that is rather difficult to make out [Bruce Le..?]. So this is a presentation copy from Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, to Mary somebody, who then wrote in this inscription to mark the gift.
When Heather showed me the inscription, I went hunting in biographies to see if Cavendish knew anyone named Mary S. Then I found a Mary Slingsby. She was an actress who debuted on the stage around 1670, two years after the publication of this book and four years before Cavendish died. Mary was originally married to an actor named Lee and then in 1680 was married to (or became the partner of ) Sir Charles Slingsby. Is it possible that the inscription was written by herself and that she, or a subsequent owner, later obliterated her last name? That makes a nice story, but we don’t know if or how she would have crossed paths with Cavendish in her younger days, nor does it account for the detail that she was known as Mary Lee when Cavendish was alive to have presented the book. But no other candidates have yet come up.
As James Fitzmaurice has shown, Cavendish took great care to correct printers’ errors in almost every surviving copy of her biography of her husband (The life of the thrice noble, high and puissant prince William Cavendishe, Duke, Marquess, and Earl of Newcastle, London, 1667) as well as in the presentation copies of CCXI Sociable Letters (London, 1664). This copy of her plays follows that trend, with roughly 17 handwritten corrections to the text, written in a neat italic hand. A quick glance at the Huntington copy on EEBO indicates that seven of the handwritten emendations are duplicated there as well, in what appears to be the same hand.
Here are just two of the emendations:
This copy also includes four printed strips of paper pasted onto three different pages, attributing certain passages to her husband (“Written by my Lord Duke”)1. I’ve included one example below:
We would welcome any thoughts on either of the names on the back of the frontispiece. When the book comes down from the exhibition, we hope that Cavendish scholars will come and have a closer look at the newly uncovered inscription.
- for more on this, see Jeffrey Masten, “Material Cavendish: Paper, Performance, ‘Social Virginity,'” Modern Language Quarterly 65 (2004) [↩]