Gaskell House Blogs

Needle in a Haystack?

20th January 2021
in blog, Collection, People

An intriguing entry in the Sale Catalogue of items auctioned from Elizabeth Gaskell’s House back in 1914 says  “Presentation Copy from Rev W. Gaskell to Mrs Gaskell, 22nd Nov. 1852”. This inscription was inside an edition of Alfred Tennyson’s Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington. (you can read it online)

Tennyson at the time was a fairly recently appointed Poet Laureate and this Ode written on the occasion of the state funeral  of the Duke,  was his first separately published work since In Memoriam which had greatly enhanced his reputation. It was published by his good friend Edward Moxon, himself a minor poet and publisher of many of the well-known 19th Century poets. He offered his friend £200 for an edition of 10,000 copies of the Ode, selling at 1 shilling each. These were flimsy, paper covered editions, some of which survive, generally in poor condition as shown below.

This presentation edition is a bit of a mystery. I have been unable to track down how many copies of this may have been printed or what it may have cost. That information will probably be somewhere in the archives of the Moxon company and needs further research. But what is known is that it must have been published simultaneously . The funeral of the Duke of Wellington took place on  18 November 18 1852. The Ode was first published on 16 November, so that a handful of critics had been able to read and review it before the state event.  William had acquired this copy by  22 November.

Why did William give his wife this copy?

We know that Elizabeth was fond of Tennyson. He is a point of disagreement between herself and Charlotte Bronte (Letter 78). She obtains a signed copy of his work for Samuel Bamford (Letters 50 & 56). She “almost” visits him in Cumbria (Letter 79).

Had she perhaps expressed a wish to see the great state funeral of the Duke of Wellington for herself and was disappointed about not being in London? Marianne was there; in Letter 141, written to Marianne on the morning of 22 November, I feel that Elizabeth slightly reprimands her daughter for not being more impressed “ You are the only person among all those from whom we have heard, whom have not felt that the solemn & impressive feelings of admiration excited in so many thousands & thousands…I am sorry  the funeral car was so ugly as everyone says it was. However that’s done & gone.” In the same letter she is excited about the potential purchase of a piano, but does not mention William giving her this book. That must have happened later and would no doubt have been an excellent surprise.

Whatever the circumstances, wouldn’t it be wonderful if this particular volume could be traced?  I am unable to confirm what it looked like. A search of bookseller sites reveal a  hardcover 1st edition bound in Blue Morocco with a gilt top-edge. Perhaps it was one of these? A later collection of Tennyson’s work published by Moxon was an even finer volume, bound in highly decorated Green leather, but I have not yet found such a fine edition of this work.

We hope that wherever it is, it is looked after and we would love to be able to track it down. If anyone has any information, please let us know. 

Jane Mathieson
Volunteer at Elizabeth Gaskell’s House

Possibly the best second-hand book shop in Manchester

Visitor Comment