Saturday, November 23, 2013

What Is It? Where Is It? (Octo-vember): The Commonplace Book

Did you guess that this is a page from one of Elizabeth's commonplace books?

If you're a friend of Elizabeth's on Facebook, you might even recognize it as her cover photo. So what the heck is a commonplace book anyway? Well, as you might have gathered from our blog name and blurb, it is a collection of writings, some original, some quoted, that is meant to be shared with others. There are three commonplace books of Elizabeth's known to be in existence: ours, known as the Willing Commonplace Book, was created for the Willing sisters between 1787 and 1789. Dickinson College owns a second volume that was created for Annis Boudinot Stockton, mother-in-law of Dickinson's founder Benjamin Rush. This volume contains Elizabeth's poetry and the poetry of her niece, Anny Young Smith. The third volume is known as the Yale Commonplace Book and is held by the Library Company of Philadelphia

Elizabeth's writings are also prominently featured in Milcha Martha Moore's published commonplace book and provide us with access to parts of Elizabeth's lost journal that she kept while she traveled in Europe. This multi-volume journal was sent back to America as she finished each part and was eagerly anticipated by her friends and family, who enjoyed reading about her experiences and observations. Unfortunately the original, complete, journals disappeared and have not been seen since prior to the mid-19th century, but this loss demonstrates the importance of commonplace books as a recording method. 

If you're interested in learning more about Elizabeth, we've recently stocked paperback copies of her biography, The Most Learned Woman in America by Anne Ousterhout in our shop, which is open Fridays-Sundays.

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