What the Gwillims Read in Madras

What did Sir Henry and Elizabeth have in their library? Surprisingly, quite a few books and some magazines, according to their letters.

On February 11, 1802, Mary wrote to her sister Hester, “dont forget the Magazine of the fashions, that we may see how to put them on.”

On August 23, 1802, also in a letter to her sister Hetty, Elizabeth complained that they had only received “only a Box of Books from Butterworth”. Butterworth was a law publisher, located on Fleet Street, London.

A year later, on August 14, 1803, Elizabeth writes that Sir Henry is delighted by the “Gloster” Journals:

Fashion Plate, ‘Morning Dresses for June, 1802’ for ‘Lady’s Monthly Magazine’. Courtesy LACMA.

Tho:’ he has particular times once at least a day & sometimes more frequently when one at least is read – at first he began to read in bed of a morning as soon as a ray of light came instead of reading going to ride out & in this way having skimmed over all the news – they were replaced in bundles & from that time have been carefully perused at the opportunities I have above mentioned & may possibly have contributed much to his health as he certainly is induced by them to give a sufficent [sic] time to what he is about.

Elizabeth Gwillim to her Sister, Hester “Hetty” Symonds James, August 14/15, 1803

In 1805, Elizabeth requested from Hetty on March 6 the second volume of Bewick’s British Birds – “I wish to have immediately Bewicks second vol: of British Birds which I see by the papers is come out.” A History of British Birds by Thomas Bewick, was published in two volumes. Volume 1, Land Birds, appeared in 1797. Volume 2, Water Birds, appeared in 1804.

Elizabeth also noted she had one volume of “Dr: Martins new Edition of Miller’s Dictionary”. She said, “for it aids me in reading Latin – when I know what it is, I guess with astonishing facility. But that Book is very correct in all I have seen.” Elizabeth was likely referring to the 1795 publication in parts of Miller’s The gardener’s and botanist’s dictionary; containing the best and newest methods of cultivating and improving the kitchen, fruit, flower garden, and nursery; of performing the practical parts of agriculture; of managing vineyards, and of propagating all sorts of timber trees. By the late Philip Miller, F.R.S. … The whole corrected and newly arranged, … By Thomas Martyn, B.D. F.R.S.

She also suggested to Hetty on August 24 1805 that “If you woud read Marsden’s Sumatra you will get an idea of the people.”

William Marsden, The history of Sumatra : containing an account of the government, laws, customs, and manners of the native inhabitants, with a description of the natural production, and a relation of the ancient political state of that island. (London, 1783)

In 1806, Mary writes to her sister on 12 February that “Poor Sir Henry too he has not acknowledged the books I wonder of that too but to say the truth he has little time for reading them. Mr. Cobbet lies on the table by me now. Sir H– carries them about with him but poor soul he has so little leisure, he reads when he can …”

This might refer to William Cobbett, Cobbett’s parliamentary debates, during the … session of the… Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the Kingdom of Great Britain

Finally, in 1806, after the Vellore uprising, Elizabeth notes in a letter to her sister in September or October 1806, that “Mary has got a copy of poor Mrs. Fancourts narrative which she wrote after she had recovered herself but she was for a fortnight in a state of stupor…”

By Victoria Dickenson