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Finding Aid for the Sydney Morgan Commonplace Books, [between 1800 and 1810]
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Volume I

Volume I: Extracts from various works circa 1800-1801?

Scope and Content Note

Volume I is dated 1810, but it contains manuscript versions of works published in 1801 and earlier material. Volume I begins with an index of sixty-four authors, in no obvious order, whose works are represented in the volume. They range from classical to contemporary writers. Owenson includes several quotations from Confucius (credited as such in the copy), although she does not list him in her table of authors.
The volume is divided by four subheadings: Poetic Extracts, Prosaic Extracts, Miscelanies [sic], and Original Poetry by Sidney Owenson, although it is important to note that these categories do not accurately describe all of the content within the sections (i.e., prose appears in the poetic extracts and vice-versa).
Of particular interest are two elements found near the end of the volume. The first is the section titled "Original Poetry by Sidney Owenson" (though it contains misc. matter besides her poetry), which includes manuscript versions of poems such as "Will 'o the Wisp," "Sonnet to Hope," "To Myself," "To My Muse," "Chloe and Cupid" (in pencil, and barely legible), "Stanzas" ("When shall I be at rest"), and "The Post Boy (waiting for a letter from my father)," which were published in her first work, the 1801 Poems. The manuscript versions differ substantially from their finished incarnations, and many show evidence of composition: strike-throughs, words replaced, etc. The poems are preceded by a list of 42 "Poems by Sydney Owenson," somewhat re-ordered and with many strike-throughs. Many of the titles here are recognizable as versions of the poems included in her 1801 volume.
The other matter of interest is her self-explanatory "List of books I'm anxious to procure," which includes, among others, Johnson's Lives of the Poets, "Petrarch - Tasso - Metastasio," Lorenzo de Medici, Burke's Sublime and Beautiful, "Lives of Peter the Great, Frederic the Great," and James Harris's Hermes.
Volume II

Extracts and reflections 1800, 1800-?

Scope and Content Note

Volume II is dated 1805 in two places, but the dates seem to have been partially erased. This imprecision as to dates may be related to Owenson's well-known efforts to obscure her real age. If Owenson was in London when she commenced filling this volume, which the contents support, that would confirm a real date of 1805 (when she traveled to England to publish her second novel, The Novice of Saint Dominick).
Volume II begins with a short list of authors that seems to be a continuation of the list in Volume I. Volume II contains occasional comments from the author on her reading, initialed S:O. It also holds copies of a few letters, such as one sent to London on the twelth of September documenting her sister Olivia's health. There is also a rough pencil sketch of an angelic nun menaced by some sort of devil, with the note, "the Castle Spectre humbly dedicated to wise Olivia who sat for the picture of that and the witch of Endor," and the postscript, "I am a spectre."
There is a second "List of books I'm anxious to procure," this one including, among others, Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments, William Smellie's Philosophy of Natural History, Thomas Leland's History of Ireland, and Petrarch's Life. There is also a manuscript version of Owenson's poem, "To Fancy," which was published in her Lay of an Irish Harp (1807). As with the manuscript versions of her 1801 poems, there are substantial differences between this and its final version. There are five loose pages of notes and partial correspondence tucked into the volume.
Volume III

Extraits Francoises compilês par Sidney Owenson circa 1800?

Scope and Content Note

Volume III is dated 1800, although the dates 1829-30 can be read on the following page. The text is in French. Volume II has a table of contents in Owenson's hand listing authors' names (2r), beginning with Mademoiselle de Scuderie [sic], and including Scudery, Racine, Boileau-Despréaux, Phillipe Quinault, La Fontaine, Molière, and Voltaire. The entries themselves are generally short biographies for each author, although there are occasional literary extracts as well.