Coelebs In Search of a Wife
London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1808. First Edition. Full calf. 2 vols. 1st edition. Her first (and only) novel, and a scarce one. Contemporary full calf, smoothly rebacked, sides rubbed, contemporary ownership signature on title page of volume 1, else very good, a complete set with errata in both volumes, that in vol. II (A1) often missing (not issued with half–titles). A suitable and sound binding, not a decaying one, or worse, a new one glowing with all the glossy dumbness of a dead fish. Collation: pp.[xii],+351+[i (blank)]. [iv]+ 469+[i (blank)]. Reference: Block, 166. Very good. Item #312
Hannah More was a literary giant, the most famous and successful woman author of her time, and the best–selling of the female blue stocking writers in the later period of that salon, comprised of both genders, and devoted to establishing the intellectual credentials of women. In 1876 she wrote their anthem (the poem Bas Bleu), and during her career as a literary figure, she transcended the others without ever becoming pedantic. She was a triumphant playwright and poet, and the primary fount of the cheap repository tract, those little 8 page tales of whimsy published with the focused aim of encouraging the poor to read, and surprisingly, she pulled off the miracle, selling 2 million copies of one of them (The Shepherd of Salisbury Plain), an unprecedented feat in the 1790s. She spent her loot setting up Sunday schools to fight illiteracy, then turned to the novel in 1808. Expectedly, her publishers imagined Coelebs would be overlooked since Hanna More was not known as a “novelist.” But she had an eerie sense of the public pulse, and publishers notoriously surround themselves with smart people, the way a hole surrounds itself with a doughnut, then ignore those smart people, and make dumb decisions. So the book was issued in a small edition, that was quickly consumed, and read to rag, to be followed by a superfluity of reprints (beginning in 1809) and status as a huge bestseller. Those tears on her cheeks are from laughing.