Friday, February 06, 2009

Sarah Willoughby's Library

Next Thursday I'm giving a talk to a Simmons class about women and reading during the colonial period; in doing some research for that I discovered some additional inventories of women's libraries, so I thought I'd take a brief break from Ben Franklin and add one of those to the Libraries of Early America project.

Sarah Willoughby (1639-1672) was the wife of planter and militia Lt.-Col. Thomas Willoughby of Lower Norfolk, Virginia. Unlike her husband's books (which are captured in the inventory of his estate - taken just a few months before Sarah's - only as "a pcell [parcel] of books"), Sarah's are mostly itemized, giving us some insight into her reading habits.

Religion and associated topics form the core of the collection, as one would expect: there are at least five bibles (one in folio, two in quarto, one in Latin, and two New Testaments) and several common books of devotional material, sermons, &c. There are also several histories and books on agriculture, navigation, medicine, grammar and other utilitarian topics. There is little in the way of literature, although several works by Ovid appear, as do Aesop's fables and one Virgil title. Slightly less than 90% of the works are in English, the rest in Latin.

This inventory, like many others, seems to have been created by one person calling out titles and another recording them. That always makes for some tricky identifications (I often have to say titles out loud to see if I can reshape them): "Sonds his travells," for example, turned out to be Sandys' Travels, while "ovids deartia Mundy" morphed into Ovid's De arte amandi). Thankfully wildcard searching with ESTC and WorldCat tends to work pretty well at sussing out results. There were a few titles I didn't manage to puzzle out ("arsmetias in octavio," "plain prime,") so if anybody has any suggestions on those I'm all ears.

Now back to Ben.