By Stephen Basdeo
I recently got hold of a “Commonplace Book” which dates from 1859.
Commonplace books have been a feature of home life since at least the 1600s. Most often women—though not exclusively women—would compile various poems, drawings, or copy out “advice columns” from books and newspapers into these books for keeping later on.
I like to think of them as early modern, hard-copy Tumblr accounts (though less public than that particular social media platform), although I’m sure there’s a monograph (or five) out there with a more scholarly description of their function.
This particular Commonplace Book was owned, it seems, by three different people as there are three different styles of handwriting evident in the book.
We have the name for (I presume) one owner: Emily Maxwell (though we have no other information about her).
While a lot of commonplace books copied out poetry from various sources, some of these poems seem to be original, and the titles are interesting. There’s one called ‘Strong-Minded Woman’, another poem about fighting with her brother, and there’s also a few lines written out in pencil with the words ‘Have Pity Upon Me’ repeated over and over again.
The book is bound in contemporary brown leather and measures 14cm (length) x 9.5cm (width) x 1cm (height).
Emily Maxwell’s “Common Place Book” (1859) This PDF is the complete Commonplace book in one file — It may take a while to download as it’s a large file.
For those who have a slow computer, I also split the PDF into two parts (which may make for a faster download!):
Feel free to reuse the Emily Maxwell Commonplace Book in any way you wish.
Lecturers, researchers (and any other educators), drop me a line on the comments box below this if you ever find yourself able to use this resource to teach undergraduate poetry — it would be wonderful to know it’s being used!)
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