Often I catalog books which have a previous owner’s signature, and since these names represent an important part of the book’s history, they are always recorded in the record I make. Although I try to find a positive match for every name, if all I have is a very common name, it just isn’t possible to know which “J. Smith” owned the book. This case was a happy exception, however. The book has two inscriptions; one in Johnson’s hand, reading simply “Miss Wesley”, and another which says “These books were presented to Mrs. Hall by the author Dr. Johnson, a gift to her niece S. Wesley”. Armed with that information, I checked the index of The letters of Samuel Johnson, which is always a good source for names associated with Johnson.
I got even more than I expected when I found a letter from Johnson to Sarah Wesley, dated October 28, 1783: “Madame: I will have the first day that you mention, come, my dear, on Saturday next, and, if you can, bring your aunt with you, too.” Footnotes to the letter helpfully supplied the birth and death dates for Sarah Wesley and Martha Hall, Sarah’s aunt. The note adds the fascinating tidbit “According to John Telford, SJ ‘greatly admired Mrs. Hall … and wished her to reside under his roof, but she feared that this step would arouse the jealousy of Johnson’s other lady friends.'”
Happily, this letter also resides in the Hyde Collection, so these two sources of information can be consulted simultaneously.
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