Two hundred years ago, Jane Austen’s novel Emma was first published in London in December 1815 (with the date 1816 appearing on the title page). Next year, in 1816, the prominent Philadelphia publisher Mathew Carey decided to issue a reprinted, cheaper edition for the American market.
Only six copies are known to remain of
this first Austen novel to be published in America—and one is here at Dartmouth!
Although this copy has been at Rauner
since it was donated in 1972 as part of a 601-item collection, its existence has
been unknown to Austen scholars until now.
This Emma was owned by Jeremiah Smith
(1759-1842), who served as chief justice of New Hampshire and, briefly, as
governor of the state. Smith's copy of Emma conveys that he was both a careful
and a curious reader. He kept
track of when he bought the volumes, from whom, and what he paid. He also wrote in notes, gleaned from
periodicals and encyclopedias, about Austen, her life, and her works. (Emma, like all of Austen's novels
published in her lifetime, did not identify her by name as its author.) Most
delightfully, Smith evidently read Emma
with pen in hand, correcting the printers' errors—which were many. That Smith's interest in and appreciation of Austen continued is clear
from the presence in his collection of Sense
and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice,
Park, all of which he subsequently purchased in English editions.
Like Smith's, each of the surviving
copies of the Philadelphia Emma has
its own stories to tell of owners and readers.
The New York Society Library recently featured its copy, which is annotated
in pencil by nineteenth-century readers, in an exhibition and blog
post. Goucher College in Baltimore, where I teach,
is preparing an open-access digital edition of our
own well-traveled copy. Other copies are
held at Winterthur Library, Beinecke Library, and King's College Library of the
University of Cambridge. To see Dartmouth's copy, come to Rauner and ask for Smith J PZ3 .A93.
Posted for Juliette Wells, Associate
Professor and Chair of English at Goucher College, editor of Emma for Penguin Classics (2015), and author of Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination (2011).