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Matilda Betham - A Biographical Dictionary of the Celebrated Women of Every Age and Country (1804)




Betham, Matilda. A Biographical Dictionary of the Celebrated Women of Every Age and Country. London: Printed for B. Crosby and Co. Stationers’ Court, Ludgate-Hill; Tegg and Castleman, Warwick-Lane; and E. Lloyd, Harley-Street, Cavendish-Square. 1804.


FORE-EDGE PAINTING, SOLE EDITION (210 x 140) pp. 352 + 4 p. Errata and publisher’s ads. Half title & title page present. Signature: A2, B-HHH8, III3, π2. Bound in full calf with gauffer binding. Ownership inscription on title page. Portraits of Madame de Sevigne, Lady Russell, and Lady Jane Gray tipped in on front flyleaf. Cover and spine are scuffed and worn, with chips to end bands and bumps to corners. Interior very clean. Overall GOOD.


This biographical dictionary of celebrated women represents the six-years of effort by Matilda Betham (1776-1852). By the time of this book’s printing, her poetry and translations had already inspired a panegyric poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the portraits she painted had just been installed for exhibition at the the Royal Academy of Arts where they would be admired for over a decade.


Despite her successes, her work was subject to careless publishing, with printings misspelling her name, and her titular character, Marie de France, as Mario. After a culmination of misfortunes, her mental health suffered and she was committed several times to an asylum. Despite this, she persevered and continued to write poetry and support women’s rights.


Her labors touched Miss Eliza Scott, who obtained a copy of Betham’s biographical dictionary in 1804 and delicately penned her name to the title page. Either she, or a near contemporary, further honoured the book by embellishing it with a somewhat rustic fore-edge painting of a pastoral scene. The book has an attested Cambridgeshire provenance, and it is not too difficult to believe that the distant, looming structure may be the iconic King’s College.


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