Stanford [New York]: Printed and Sold by Daniel Lawrence, 1804. First Edition. 16mo. 12 pp. Extracted from a binding, later wrappers (at one time the wrappers had been affixed to the pamphlet). Foxing and age toning as is true with almost all American imprints of this date. Preserved in a mylar sleeve. Pencilled inscription on p. : "Mark A. Carnevale 7/10/52." ADDED: Stipple engraved portrait of Mary Knowles (London: Vernor & Hood, 1803). Matted (plate size: 21 x 14 cm). Good. Item #3254
Rare and little known ghost-story written by an intimate of Samual Johnson, Hester Thrales, and Boswell, being an account of the apparition of a lady in white who appeared before the "Wicked" Lord Thomas Lyttelton and foretold his death. The connection between these notable Georgian personages suggests an interesting historical constellation. No copy in the Hyde Collection (or indeed in any collection at Harvard).
¶ Mary (Morris) Knowles (1733-1807) was an artist, activist, poet, abolitionist, champion of women's rights, and a brilliant conversationalist. Her bold views on converting from Anglicism to Quakerism brought her into direct conflict with Johnson (their "Dialogue" was published in 1791), and public dispute with Boswell. While Knowles was celebrated for her extraordinary needlework, "She is now regarded as an important early protagonist of the feminist viewpoint in English cultural life. Her support for the abolition of slavery, her investigation into mystical science and her knowledge of garden design, in addition to her accomplishment as a needlewoman, suggest the breadth of her interests. In 1771 she was introduced by her fellow Quaker Benjamin West to Queen Charlotte, who remained on terms of friendship with her over the next thirty years and whose interest in female accomplishments, notably needlework, was well known." (Source: Royal Trust Collection, online).
¶ Her ghost-story, which is published here for the first time (sic!) concerns the mysterious demise of Thomas Lyttelton (1744-1779), Second Baron Lyttelton, a young man of "questionable character," namely: a compulsive gambler, a drug addict, and debaucher of women. "Knowles’s reputation was enhanced by this retelling of what can be truly considered a ghost story: Lord Lyttelton, reckless and given to drink and dance, is told by a female spirit that he will be dead in three nights. Lord Lyttelton proceeds to challenge this date with Death with more amusement and pleasure, but is stricken fifteen minutes before midnight on the third day. A fellow rake (who had betted Lord Lyttelton one thousand pounds on the odds and outcome of his predicted death) suddenly recoils in horror in bed, miles away, upon mystically sensing the passing of his gambling companion."
For months after Lyttelton's death, as Hester Thrale noted, the ghostly story was the talk of the town. The Thrales and Samuel Johnson had actually met the young rake, and Mrs. Thrale had written her own narrative of the story. In her account, Lyttelton had claimed to have “bilk’d the Bitch” (i.e. cheated the female apparition of her prediction) only minutes before expiring. Citing Knowles's "Brief Account," Terry Castle states that "The sensational history became a staple in apparition books of the early nineteenth century, despite numerous attempts to debunk it." (Source: "Phantasmagoria: Spectral Technology and the Metaphorics of Modern Reverie" in: Critical Inquiry, Autumn, 1988, Vol. 15, No. 1, p. 53, n. 46).
On p. 3 of the present pamphlet, the printer Daniel Lawrence (of Stanford, New York) states: "In the American daily advertiser of the tenth of August 1803, was inserted an extract from the Charleston courier, respecting the vision and death of Lord Lyttleton. Having since seen several manuscripts accounts of the same event, differing materially from that publication ... we have sought for and obtained the original writing, from which they had been transcribed, and present a faithful copy of it to our readers. The original [...] is in the handwriting of Mrs. M-- K-- [i.e., Mary Knowles], a lady distinguished in the literary world [...] and for her dispute with the celebrated Dr. Johnson, on the right of private judgment in mattars [sic] of religion."
¶ Of the ACTUAL pamphlet (and not microfilm or digital surrogates) we locate five copies worldwide: New York Historical, AAS, NYPL, Haverford. Shaw and Shoemaker 5905 and 6601 (citing four of the five). Not in COPAC. Ours is apparently the only copy in private ownership.
Concerning Mary Knowles, see the full-length biography by Judith Jennings, "Gender, Religion, And Radicalism in the Long Eighteenth Century: The 'ingenious Quaker' and Her Connections" (2006).