Design a site like this with
Get started

Mary Marsden #HerBook

The Twitter hashtag #HerBook and blog Early Modern Female Book Ownership have revealed much about early modern women’s literacy, their reading habits and book ownership, and it seems particularly fitting to promote the growing scholarship on these aspects of women’s history on International Women’s Day.

I was recently fortunate enough to find an eighteenth-century book entitled The mottoes of the Spectators, Tatlers, and Guardians, Translated in English (1737), which was owned by a woman named Mary Marsden who inscribed her name and the year 1741, when she acquired this book for her collection.

Marsden’s signature is confident, suggesting that she was able to read and write fluently. The book itself is a collection of translations of Latin mottoes from The Spectator, Tatler and The Guardian into English. So, for example, one motto in The Spectator that relates to women’s work is: ‘Longum cantu solata laborem, Arguto conjux percurrit pećtine telas‘, meaning ‘She sings to drive the tedious Hours away, And shoots the flying Shuttle through the Loom’. [1]

Mary Marsden evidently hoped to improve her knowledge of Latin by reading this book. Further down the page, another reader has calculated and inscribed the original year of publication (1737) from the Roman numerals, indicating that Marsden acquired the book four years after it had been printed. It was published by Richard Wellington at the Dolphin and Crown without Temple Bar, and a 1730s pamphlet listed works printed by Wellington, which included the novels and plays of Aphra Behn (1640-1689). Customers could also purchase ‘single Plays, as they are published Weekly at 6 d. each Play’. [2]

The book features charming printed illustrations including the sullen little rabbit pictured below. Owls, classical figures, and decorative borders adorn other pages suggesting that these were blocks already owned by the publisher because they do not relate directly to the text (or at least I haven’t found any mottos about rabbits to warrant the multiple sullen bunny illustrations!)

Unfortunately, I have not been able to identify Mary Marsden further at this time but it is possible that other books with her signature have survived and it would be great to trace them. Georgianna Ziegler recently published a blog post on books in the Folger Shakespeare Library that include various inscriptions and marginalia made by women in a wide variety of books, offering insights into their reading practices and the process of handing books down through generations of women. Though only one book featuring Mary Marsden’s signature is extant, it tells us that she enjoyed reading early eighteenth-century newspapers like The Spectator, Tatler and The Guardian, and wanted to know more about the Latin phrases used in those texts. The book is certainly well-read, and a little ravaged by time, though there is a great deal of magic in knowing that a woman named Mary Marsden once held this book almost three centuries ago.

The blog Early Modern Female Book Ownership is maintained by Martine van Elk, Mark Empey, Sarah Lindenbaum, Tara Lyons, Erin McCarthy, Micheline White, and Georgianna Ziegler and it covers books held in public and private collections.


[1] The mottoes of the Spectators, Tatlers and Guardians, Second Edition (London, 1737), pp. 152-153.

[2] Anon., Books Printed for Richard Wellington, at the Dolphin and Crown without Temple-Bar. Who gives the full value for any library or parcel of books (London, c. 1735).


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s