News

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House Book Sponsorship

Posted
13th March 2024
in news

Fans and supporters of Elizabeth Gaskell’s House are invited to sponsor one of the books listed below with a donation of £160 to cover the cost of much needed repairs.

The Study, and its collection of over 1500 books, is one of the most loved rooms in the House by visitors and volunteers alike. All the books in the collection have, in some way, a link or story that connects it to the Gaskell family and we continue to grow this collection as books are donated or acquired.

We have identified a selection of books to be professionally repaired, so that they can be made accessible to visitors at the House. The books include A Dark Night’s Work and Other Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell and Villette by Charlotte Brontë. We are asking for a donation of £160, which will cover the cost of the repair work and enable the sponsor’s name to be displayed on the bookplate within the book.

Like many historic buildings and museums, we have been hit hard by the pandemic. Whilst government grants have helped support us through these challenging times, donations and support have never been more valuable. We do not receive regular council or government funding and we rely on our visitors, donors, funders and partners to survive.

By sponsoring the repair of a book at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, you can be part of our incredible story.

The books available for Sponsorship in 2024

  • Bacon’s Essays with notes by Joseph Devey
  • Works of Anna Laetitia Barbauld, edited by Lucy Aikin (2 Volumes) – (VOL 1 SPONSORED)
  • Villette by Charlotte Brontë (NOW SPONSORED)
  • The Divine Comedy by Dante. Translated into verse by L.C. Wright  
  • A Dark Night’s Work and Other Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell (NOW SPONSORED)
  • Household Words, A Weekly Journal conducted by Charles Dickens Vol 1, 1850 (NOW SPONSORED)
  • The Ingoldsby Legends by Thomas Ingoldsby (Rev Barham)
  • The Life of Goethe by G.H.Lewes (NOW SPONSORED)
  • Dawn Island by Harriet Martineau (NOW SPONSORED)
  • Our Village by Mary Mitford 
  • Old English Ballads: A collection of Favourite Ballads of the Olden Time (NOW SPONSORED)

Find out more about the books and why we have them in our collection below.

If you would like to sponsor one or more of the books listed with a donation of £160 per book, please email the House Director sally@elizabethgaskellhouse.co.uk with your preference.


Bacon’s Essays with notes by Joseph Devey

Published 1874 by George Bell and Sons

As an exemplary essay writer, Francis Bacon would have been read by the Gaskell family. Elizabeth is clearly familiar with some essays. In My Lady Ludlow  there is a reference to Bacon’s Essays, writing that it  ‘was one of the few books that lay about in my lady’s room; and if you took it up and opened it carelessly, it was sure to fall apart at his Essay on Gardens’…then follows quite a long passage using examples of plants from the essay.

A copy of Bacon’s Essays appears in The Sale Catalogue of 1914. The volume we wish to repair has detached boards and a torn spine, but very clean pages.

Works of Anna Laetitia Barbauld, edited by Lucy Aikin

2 Volumes both published 1825 by Longman, Hurst and others.

Includes correspondence, lectures, poetry and prose. It was published shortly after Barbauld’s death.

Elizabeth certainly read Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743-1825). She was reputedly the most eminent living poet in Britain in the last part of the eighteenth century and was known to Elizabeth’s relatives, the Hollands. Her book Hymns in Prose for Children was used in most Unitarian Sunday Schools and we keep a copy of this in the bedroom. Elizabeth refers to it in a letter to Amelia James in 1851, writing that the news of Mrs James’s young daughter toddling on the grass reminded her of ‘Mrs Barbauld’s ‘If you fall, little lamb…’

Lucy Aikin (1781-1864), Barbauld’s niece, was born in Warrington into this prominent Unitarian family. Her grandfather was closely associated with the Warrington Academy, which William Gaskell later attended. She became a writer and biographer and also published work under the pseudonym Mary Godolphin.

This is a good quality publication, but both volumes have detached covers. We require a sponsor for each volume.

Villette by Charlotte Brontë

1880 edition, Smith Elder

This is one of two editions of Villette in our collection, the other being a pocket edition. This edition has a handwritten shopping list on the inside back cover, which makes it a favourite amongst our volunteers.

Elizabeth’s connection with Charlotte Brontë is well known and she writes specifically about Villette in several letters. In a letter to Lady Kay-Shuttleworth she says ‘I believe it to be a very correct account of one part of her life…there can be no doubt that the book is wonderfully clever; that it reveals depths in her mind, aye, and in her heart too which I doubt if ever any one has fathomed.’

The boards are now completely detached, with worn top and bottom edges.

The Divine Comedy by Dante. Translated into verse by L.C. Wright  

Published 1854 4th edition, Bohn Illustration Library.

This is our only copy of The Divine Comedy which Elizabeth undoubtedly read. There are two references to Dante in the Collected Letters. One letter to Charles Eliot Norton mentions Dante’s Vita Nuova and in another she thanks him for the copy of Portraits of Dante ‘which it is a pleasure to even open’.

There are many references to Dante in her fiction. An article written in 1996 in The Gaskell Society Journal titled The Shadow of Dante: Elizabeth Gaskell and the Divine Comedy by Francesco Marroni provides extensive detail.

In North and South there is a copy of Paradiso ‘in the proper old Italian binding of white vellum and gold’.  Cousin Phillis reads the classics, including Dante, asking Paul to help her translate ‘Father bought a heap of old books cheap. And I knew something of Dante…’

This copy (sadly not white vellum) has a torn spine, loose boards and a faded cover. Some pages at the front are detached.

A Dark Night’s Work and Other Tales by Elizabeth Gaskell

Published in 1890 by Smith and Elder.

This is one of only two copies we have of A Dark Night’s Work. This one is a pocket edition and is the only one we could allow visitors to handle.

First published in Jan-Apr 1863, initially serially in Dickens’ All The Year Round. Dickens suggested adding the word Dark to Elizabeth’s original title, against her wishes.  She declared later that ‘she would never publish with Smith again’, after he retained the word in the title of the volume edition.

She wrote this book at the same time as researching and writing Sylvia’s Lovers during an intensely active period of her life.

This edition is in poor condition with loose boards, and a torn cloth spine

Household Words, A Weekly Journal conducted by Charles Dickens Vol 1, 1850

This incomplete set of bound editions of Household Words is looked at regularly by volunteers and visitors as it is important to Elizabeth’s story and her relationship with Charles Dickens.

Household Words was a weekly periodical begun in 1850 by Dickens. It was to include contributions from a range of well-known, though unattributed writers, as well as Dickens himself. The aim of the journal was ‘the raising up of those that are down and the general improvement of our social condition’. Dickens invited Elizabeth to contribute to the journal, saying ‘there is no living English writer whose aid I would desire to enlist, in preference to the authoress of Mary Barton…’ 

Elizabeth, worried about finding time to write regularly for the Journal, took Dickens’  advice to try writing short stories rather than long fiction. The first part of her story Lizzie Leigh, for which Dickens paid a generous £20 in this issue, followed immediately after his Preliminary Remarks.

If not repaired this copy will need to be removed from the Study to avoid further deterioration. It has a torn spine, the front 2 pages are detached and it has loose boards.

The Ingoldsby Legends by Thomas Ingoldsby (Rev Barham)  

Published by Richard Edward King. Date unknown.

Rev Richard Barham 1788-1845 was a Church of England clergyman, novelist and humorous poet, generally known by his pseudonym of Thomas Ingoldsby. He first contributed to Blackwoods Magazine and Bentley’s MiscellanyThe Ingoldsby Legends became very popular and were reprinted in numerous editions since 1847.

The publisher of this volume (Richard Edward King) was found guilty of deception and fraud in 1909 and sentenced to imprisonment and hard labour. He was guilty of many crimes all connected with the buying and selling of books and the incurring of many debts.

While The Ingoldsby Legends are referenced in many later works of literature we cannot find any direct connection to the Gaskell family. Given their date however, and the fact they were written by a humorous clergyman, we can imagine that Elizabeth and William may have read them.

It is an attractive edition with an embossed cloth cover, loose binding and a hole in spine.

The Life of Goethe by G.H.Lewes

Published by Smith, Elder in 1864. Donated by Shirley Foster in 2023.

Lewes was the partner of George Eliot, with whom Elizabeth corresponded.  First published in 1855, this was the first full biography of Goethe in any language and George Eliot assisted with research in Weimar in 1854.

William Gaskell was a German scholar and will have read Goethe. The biographer Jenny Uglow recounts that on a trip to Germany with William in 1841, Elizabeth refused to dance with ‘a very ugly man’ who turned out to be Goethe’s grandson. ‘Wm said I should have danced with the name’.

This title is listed twice in the books borrowed from the Portico Library by William Gaskell.

This edition has very loose boards and a detached first page.

Dawn Island by Harriet Martineau 

Rare 1st Edition, published in 1845 by J Gadsby of Newall’s Buildings Manchester for The National Anti-Corn Law Bazaar

Harriet Martineau was from a leading Unitarian family, well known to Elizabeth.

Dawn Island is a fiction promoting free trade set on a South-Sea Island. Richard Cobden, radical politician of the Anti-Corn-Law League, had specifically asked Harriet Martineau to support a fundraising event with a publication. She described it as ‘A moral tale rendering ideas of political economy taken from Smith, Malthus, Ricardo and Mill.’ Its ideas are now very outdated to the modern reader, but this is an important historic artefact.

The Anti-Corn Law Bazaar was a huge event in Manchester, raising £10,000 for the campaign. William and Elizabeth were not directly involved, as William believed that ministers should remain aloof from political controversies that were not concerned with religious ideas.

This 1st edition has a torn spine, loosening boards, and stains

Our Village by Mary Mitford 

Published 1824 by George Whittaker.

Miss Mary Mitford (1787-1855) wrote poetry, prose and drama, and had plays produced at Covent Garden. Her best-known work was the very popular Our Village, which came out as a series of sketches in The Lady’s Magazine from 1819 onwards.

The biographer Jenny Uglow lists Miss Mitford among the female authors held in high esteem at the time when Elizabeth was at school. Later we know Elizabeth was familiar with her works, as William borrowed items by Miss Mitford from the Portico Library.  Our Village reputedly influenced Cranford. Both address the reader directly, from the point of view of somebody involved in a small community, telling stories about the people who live there.

The front board is almost detached from the leather spine.

Old English Ballads: A collection of Favourite Ballads of the Olden Time

Published by Ward Lock, Date unknown (likely to be pre-1871)

This is a fine edition with a highly decorated cover and gilt edges, extensively illustrated by Birket Foster.

We know that music was important to the whole family as The John Rylands Library and Manchester Central Library have some of Elizabeth Gaskell’s music books. We also know Charles Halle gave piano lessons in the House and that William liked to listen to dialect songs.  We have few examples of the sort of music and songs they would have been familiar with in our collection and this book is a good example of songs that might have been sung in a Victorian household.

It is covered in highly decorated cloth, and has loose boards and a very torn spine.


If you would like to sponsor one or more of the books listed above with a donation of £160 per book, please email sally@elizabethgaskellhouse.co.uk with your preference.

We also welcome joint sponsorship if several people wanted to sponsor one book.

We will ask all sponsors to make their donation by bank transfer. Sponsors will be kept updated on the progress of the book repairs and will be invited to the House for a private viewing later in the year once the books are repaired and available for display.

Thank you for your continued support.



I'm afraid we must do some shopping

Elizabeth Gaskell 1863