I’m a detective.

I wrote before about this book that Robin inherited from her mother. While it lacks a title page, the title does appear at the start of the first chapter: Elements of Morality. I did some searching and found two books by this name, one of which is a philosophical treatise. The other one is, more completely, “Elements of Morality for the Use of Children: With an Introductory Address for Parents.” The full text is available online via Google, and the bottom of the page I’ve linked to is the bit I quoted in the other post. But this is clearly not the same translation as I have.

The original is by Christian Gotthilf Salzmann (1744-1811), written in German. It was first translated into English by Mary Wollstonecraft (Mary Shelly’s mother), and illustrated by William Blake. That edition came out in 1791 in England, and 1796 in Providence, RI. This is likely the one I have, based on evidence from the kids’ scribblings inside the covers.

Both covers have been written on extensively by children practicing their penmanship with a quill pen and India ink. The largest name is on the inside back cover, and says “Leah Irving”. On the inside front cover it says “Levin Irving” a couple of times. And on the top of the first remaining page (I think it’s xii in the preface), in a more mature handwriting, is “Elizabeth K. Irving”.

Naturally, I went to the Handy Annals, a big book of genealogy of the Handy family; Robin’s mother was born Elizabeth Ker Handy. There are a lot of Irvings in there. The only Elizabeth Irving I can find was born in 1813 and died in 1839 of “consumption”. Her grandmother was Elizabeth Ker, and several siblings had family names as middle names, so I’m betting she was actually Elizabeth Ker Irving.

Leah Irving and Levin Irving were siblings, and their brother Handy Irving was Elizabeth Ker Irving’s father. Levin lived to the age of 7, from 1786-1793; Leah lived to the age of 11, from 1800-1811. So, here’s my best guess. Levin had the book first. “Levin Irving” is written in a very childish hand, conceivably that of a 6 or 7 -year-old. After Levin’s death, the book went to sister Leah, who wrote in it, and after her death in 1811, her niece Elizabeth was born in 1813, and the book went to her. She lived to the age of 26, consistent with the much more adult handwriting.

How this got to my mother-in-law isn’t entirely clear; Elizabeth K. Irving was unmarried, and was the first cousin twice removed of Elizabeth Ker Handy. Probably some family member thought it would be nice to pass this on to the latest Elizabeth Ker. I suppose this means it has to go next to Cabell, whose first name is actually Elizabeth.

There you have it. This is how I spend my evenings.

4 Responses to “I’m a detective.”

  1. Cabell says:

    Score! Heirloom!

  2. Allen says:

    Yeah, and you’ve already claimed my embroidered jean jacket. Sophie and Hannah had better get busy. Of course, Sophie’s going to inherit the portrait of Sophonisba Preston Breckinridge.

  3. K says:

    That is just so amazing that you managed to find all that out. (I’m training to be an archivist, so I appreciate the effort that goes into this kind of thing.)

    It pleased me no end to discover that Sophie’s name (as opposed to a mere LJ handle) is Sophonisba*. And now it appears she’s one of a line of Sophonisbae. Your family have such excellent names.

    *Not that there would have been anything wrong with Sophia, but.

  4. Allen says:

    Well, some of it is conjecture — I’d really like to see copies of the British and American editions of the book to see if I can tell which one mine is. But I really do get caught up in genealogy.

    And yes, Robin’s family has several Sophonisbas. I think this arose from the Southern aristocracy’s love of classical literature, and then once the name was used, it was passed on repeatedly. My own family were up in the hills of Virginia when Robin’s were down on the good land, and they sure weren’t reading Greek and Latin.

    I did have a great-grandfather named Samson Greenbrier Sites — having no male offspring, we weren’t tempted to saddle anyone with the name Samson.

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