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    Description

    David Lyndsay Autograph Letter Signed. June 26, 1825, 7.375" x 9", mounted on mat board between two pieces of glass revealing both sides of the letter, two vertical folds and two horizontal folds, ink stains and moderate soiling to addressed side of paper. The red seal, .625" in diameter obscures two words at the right edge. Paper loss measuring .625" x .8125" from the seal has removed portions of two words. The area of paper loss has light staining to its right measuring .25" x .5". The letter has not been inspected outside of the gold frame, which measures 12.25" x 14.125".

    Transcription of the letter follows:

    Wm. Spooner, Esq.
    Messrs. Hurst & Robinson
    Booksellers
    90 Cheapside
    Stamped "T.P. 3g... St. Wert mr" "x8 Mo...R 8x 28 JU 1825"

    Verso:

    My dear Sir-

    I notic'd the printers quan. When I first received the sheet, but I made no alteration in the passage because it has been much the usage since our communication with the continent has been so open to use adjectives substantively like the French and Italians. I have done so frequently in the stories themselves. I have however changed the passage and restored the adjective to its ancient position. The two following lines are a quotation from Genesis, but as I usually quote from memory. I had made a trifling mistake, which when rectified and (words crossed out) the passage supplied with inverted commas, will (word obscured by seal) present the probable misconstruction which you mention (word obscured by seal) and which was very likely to occur-- I have amended the passage thus-"Many who were most deserving etc. and -"Shelley is not-Lord Byron is not-etc

    I am my dear Sir
    Very truly yours
    D. Lyndsay

    David Lyndsay and Walter Sholto Douglas were two pseudonyms used by Mary Diana Dods, a close friend of Mary Shelley's. Mary Diana and her sister Georgiana were the illegitimate daughters of the 15th earl of Morton. The dates of their births are unknown. When the earl, at the age of 54, married a contemporary of his daughters, the young ladies left home with small stipends.

    Unlike her sister, Georgiana, who gained social and financial security through marriage, Mary Diana had few marital prospects due to a deficit of good looks and an overabundance of intelligence and education, considered unfeminine in early 19th-century England.

    Mary Diana, accustomed to wealth, found it difficult to maintain her standard of living on her annual allowance of a hundred pounds and fell into debt. Her failed attempt at operating a girl's school added to her indebtedness and her sense of failure as a woman. During this time though, she was enjoying success as a writer under the pseudonym of David Lyndsay with two books published in three years, poems and articles in popular journals, a play (perhaps produced), and anonymous book reviews. This success, under the guise of a man, inspired Mary Diana, in 1826, to fashion an entire life as a man, complete with a wife, Isabella, and a daughter named Adeline. With her new identity as Walter Sholto Douglas, Mary Diana and Mrs. Douglas, with Mary Shelley's help, became successfully ensconced in Paris' elite Anglo-French society. Together, they fooled the likes of General Lafayette and other intellectuals such as Merimee, Stendhal, and Fauriel, who all believed Mary Diana to be a man with a highly flirtatious wife. Mary Shelley's roll in this intercontinental trans-gender charade posed enormous risks of scandal and the loss of custody of her son, Percy. Isabella, on the other hand, could only benefit from the ruse as she was able to present her secretly illegitimate daughter, Adeline, as the child of a sanctioned marriage, while continuing to indulge her coquettish nature.

    This letter was written to Lyndsay's publishers Hurst & Robinson, most likely regarding a piece entitled "Firouz-Abdel: A Tale of the Upas Tree", which, in 1825, appeared in Alaric Watts' The Literary Souvenir, a periodical touted as being from "the pens of the most popular writers of the day". The following first edition of the Watts book is included with the letter.

    Alaric A. Watts, The Literary Souvenir; or, Cabinet of Poetry and Romance (London: Hurst, Robinson and Co., 1825), small 8vo, half leather with marbled boards, Seven of 13 engravings present, 394 pages, includes "Firouz-Abdel; a Tale of the Upas Tree" by David Lyndsay (Mary Diana Dods), in overall very good condition.

    Mary Diana succumbed to a lingering illness and died in 1828. She took the secret of her multiple identities with her to her pauper's unmarked grave. The mystery was unraveled more than a century and a half later by Shelley scholar Betty T. Bennett, whose book Mary Diana Dods, A Gentleman and a Scholar, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991) is the source of this biography and is included with the David Lyndsay letter being auctioned. From the Betty Bennett Collection.


    View all of [The Bennett Collection ]

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    April, 2007
    16th-17th Monday-Tuesday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 2
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
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