A Book for the Study Shelves
‘I promised to send you Wordsworth’s ‘Prelude’, and accordingly, dispatch it by this post.’
Charlotte Bronte to Elizabeth Gaskell, 27 August 1850
Charlotte Bronte sent her present of The Prelude to Elizabeth Gaskell after their first meeting, when they had spent three days together at Briery Close in Ambleside as guests of the Kay-Shuttleworths.
Until very recently, we haven’t had a copy of The Prelude on the bookshelves in William Gaskell’s study, although from this letter we know the Gaskells owned a copy. And as Charlotte was sending the book in August 1850, we also know it must have been a first edition as The Prelude was first published by Edward Moxon in 1850. The second edition didn’t appear until 1851.
The books on the shelves in the study have to earn their place and have an evidenced connection to the Gaskell family. They might be titles which are referenced in the catalogue prepared for the auction of family effects after the death of Meta Gaskell, or which are mentioned in Elizabeth Gaskell’s letters, in diaries, or perhaps quoted in her novels and stories. So we are delighted that one of our generous supporters, Tony Bray, has gifted a first edition of the Moxon The Prelude to us so it can be displayed in the study for us all to enjoy.
So far so exciting – but there is more!
When the books were being chosen for display in William’s study in 2013, there was an ambitious plan to include a bookplate in each volume recording the reasons for including it on the shelves. A plate in each book is probably too much of a stretch – there are over a thousand! – but over the last eight years nearly a hundred have been prepared and inserted in their volumes. You can find and read them as you explore the study when you visit the House. The majority of them have been written by volunteers, but the writer of the bookplate for The Prelude is considerably more eminent!
One of our volunteers is lucky enough to know Melvyn Bragg, who needs no introduction as a novelist, broadcaster and lover of William Wordsworth’s poetry. Melvyn Bragg has been kind enough to write the bookplate for The Prelude, and book and bookplate are now proudly displayed on our shelves. He writes:
‘I am fascinated by the connection between Elizabeth Gaskell and William Wordsworth. Especially in her admiration for his poetry and impressed by her selection of ‘The Poets and Poetry of Humble Life’, a series of lectures prepared by her husband with her help. William Gaskell had already published ‘Temperance Rhymes’. Wordsworth sent him a letter of commendation. By the time you include Charlotte Bronte, who was smitten by ‘The Prelude’ which she sent to Elizabeth and others, and add in De Quincy, Coleridge and of course Dorothy Wordsworth along with Elizabeth Gaskell, you have a caucus of poets and writers of extraordinary varied luminous and lasting talents. What greatly interests me is the northerness in Elizabeth’s work and its ordinariness which sits so well alongside so many of Wordsworth’s poems. Elizabeth gives us an anecdote about Wordsworth and his wife walking to Ambleside to post the proof of one of his Lyrical Ballads. On the way back, he decided that he wanted to change a word, so they trudged back to Ambleside, somehow fished the poem out of the postbox, changed the word and said they ‘trudged back to Grasmere with merry hearts’.‘
Very many thanks to our kind donor and bookplate provider – we couldn’t be more grateful! And many thanks to Chris English from Toby English Books for the wonderful copy of The Prelude and impeccable service. Chris English is absolutely delighted to find that the copy of the book sold through Toby English Books is on the shelves of Elizabeth Gaskell’s house and hopes some day she will see it there.
Lesley Burn, Volunteer at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House