A Petite Penmanship Copy Book, Representing an Effort To Inculcate Personal Elegance and Moral Character


(England: ca. 1850). 28 x 170 mm. (1 1/8 x 6 3/4"). [29] leaves (last two blank).

Contemporary brown calf, covers with double gilt rule border, flat spine divided into three panels with double rules. With 27 leaves of engraved sample script, two leaves with alphabets, one with numbers, and 24 with phrases. Leaf 16 inscribed on verso: "Miss Warnes / A present from her dear Grandmother / May 13 1856"; leaf 15 with ink signature of Martha Warnes on verso; ink copying efforts by Miss Warnes throughout. Leather a little crackled and rubbed, leaves lightly yellowed with age and with occasional small ink blots, but A REMARKABLY WELL-PRESERVED EXEMPLAR of a very ephemeral item.

This extremely charming item documents a young Victorian lady's attempts to learn a graceful copperplate script by copying out the moralizing sentences engraved in this tiny volume, each of them beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. On the facing blank page provided for practice, young Martha Warnes tried to duplicate such sentences as "Charity and humility purchase immortality" or "One bad companion ruins many good men." (However, she sometimes goes off-script: for some reason, instead of copying "A good conscience has continual quietness," she writes instead, "A Man there was that had no eyes"!) There is something poignant in the attempts of a girlish hand to reproduce the flowing copperplate; Martha's writing does not achieve the elegance of the original, but it has a certain adolescent charm. Perhaps growing bored or frustrated--only half the entries inspired her efforts at duplications--she began signing her name repeatedly, like many schoolgirls before and after her. The last five blank pages and the pastedown are filled with her touching efforts to write like a lady. The word "Lowestoft" makes several appearances near the inscriptions asserting her ownership of the book, suggesting perhaps a Suffolk residence. Ephemeral items like this little book rarely withstand the vicissitudes of time, and this fortunate survival offers an appealing and rarely seen glimpse of the efforts of a bygone era to inculcate personal elegance along with moral character.