Introduction to

The Keepsake1

In George Eliot's Middlemarch (1871-72), Ned Plymdale, "one of the good matches in Middlemarch, though not one of its leading minds," presents Rosamond Vincy with the latest Keepsake (presumably the 1831 volume):

He had brought the last Keepsake, the gorgeous watered-silk publication which marked modern progress at that time; and he considered himself very fortunate that he could be the first to look over it with her, dwelling on the ladies and gentlemen with shiny copper-plate cheeks and copper-plate smiles, and pointing to comic verses and capital and sentimental stories as interesting. Rosamond was gracious, and Mr. Ned was satisfied that he had the very best thing in art and literature as a medium for "paying addresses"--the very thing to please a nice girl.2

Although Eliot's Victorian portrayal of The Keepsake is disparaging, it rightly locates the book as a symbol of progress and cultural fashion, as well as a token of affection.

The Keepsake was an illustrated anthology of poetry and prose sold annually from 1828 to 1857 during the Christmas season as gifts, for middle-class women (see List of Publishers and Editors). Bound in sparkling crimson watered silk with gilt-edged pages, The Keepsake featured elegant, steel-plate engravings of fashionable women, travel scenes, and romantic story pictures. Keepsake literature was sometimes written to accompany the illustrations, but not always. The 1829 Keepsake features contributions from nearly every literary celebrity of the period, such as William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sir Walter Scott, Mary Shelley, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Thomas Moore, Robert Southey, L. E. L. (Letitia Elizabeth Landon), and Felicia Hemans. Literary historians, if they recognize the importance of literary annuals at all, usually view them as Eliot did: sentimental books unworthy of serious critical attention. Now, we recognize The Keepsake is a vital cultural artifact, improtant to our understanding of nineteenth-century book history, gender relations, and the commodification of literature in the period.

Indeed, Keepsake history is an interesting tale of such paradoxes and appearances. Keepsake publishers were fiscally conservative and serious about their position as moral guardians, yet they challenged the boundaries of propriety by promoting a highly successful commercial product targeted to middle-class female readers, one that competed with poetry volumes and other ostensibly serious literature for an equal share of the literary market. Keepsake proprietor Charles Heath was careful to market his book in advertising and prefaces as an exclusive, handcrafted book of fine literature, but the essential focus on women readers and the means of its production places The Keepsake squarely in the mainstream of nineteenth-century middle- class consumerism, oppositional to exclusivity.

Eliot's portrayal of The Keepsake in Middlemarch demonstrates the success of Heath's marketing plan. The "copper-plate cheeks and copper-plate smiles" were not produced with the old copper methods used in finely crafted eighteenth-century illustrations, but with the latest steel-plate engraving techniques being refined in Heath's factory line of engravers. These appearances enhance Plymdale's feeling that he is giving the perfect gift for a girl. The Keepsake was indeed a beautiful book with the promise of fine literature and romance, and the 1829 volume represents Heath's attempt to collect the largest list of literary celebrities ever contained in one volume. It also provides us with a unique opportunity from our late perspective to consider the nature of literature and books as cultural commodities.

Production of The Keepsake for 1829

Regardless of its veneer of conservatism, The Keepsake used many innovative techniques then being tested in the publishing community. Frederic Mansel Reynolds' 1829 Preface makes claims for "considerably augmented" engravings, "altered" type, and "materially improved" binding and gilding.3 Printing improvements are difficult to see; however, C. H. Timperley credits The Keepsake's London printer Thomas Davison for a special ink process: "By improvements which he made in printing ink, (a secret which he had for a long time the exclusive possession) and other merits, he acquired great celebrity; and few indeed of his competitors, would approach the characters of what issued from his press."4 While a casual inspection of the book reveals no overall change in the sizes of the engravings, the body of the text in the 1829 volume measures one cm longer on the page than in the 1828 volume. The added sheets of letterpress give the 1829 book 48 more pages, visibly increasing its bulk to fulfill its promise of added content.

The Keepsake was an octavo volume, available in two sizes; the small silk-bound edition (paper size 15.5 x 9.75 inches) was by far the more popular, priced at 13 shillings, a figure that never increased during the 29 years of Keepsake history. The larger royal octavo volume (paper size 23 x 15 inches) was available by special order, priced at two pounds, 12 shillings, six pence. The engravings were printed and published by a different publisher, Robert Jennings, who advertised the exclusive sale of illustrations from The Keepsake as art. According to advertisements for the 1829 Keepsake in magazines such as London Literary Gazette and The Athenaeum, one could purchase plain proofs of the book's illustrations without printed titles for two pounds, two shillings. These were the earliest proofs from a given plate. India proofs of the illustrations were also available, but more expensive because the thinner paper offered a finer impression; these were available with writing for three pounds, three shillings, or without writing for four pounds, four shillings. One illustration on India paper "with the Etchings" (the etched writing that identified the illustration) would cost five pounds, five shillings.5

Size of the book was important for viewing illustrations; one of the major complaints of reviewers was that the engravings were too small for appropriate inspection.6 Thus, many books got bigger as the art in the annuals became more important than the literature. By the mid-1830s, market demand for size produced larger volumes, such as Fisher's Drawing Room Scrap-Book and the folio volume Finden's Tableaux. Book size was also important for demonstrating wealth and class, although the preponderance of smaller editions in sales figures seems to indicate that either women readers preferred the red silk binding and smaller size as a code for gendered social acceptance or their economic status did not allow for the heavier expenditure.

While other books of the 1820s might be issued in paper boards for the owner to send to a binder of choice, The Keepsake was a bound product before distribution to the bookseller. The binding was one of many elements of The Keepsake appealing to female readers. Appropriately simple and understated, yet beautiful, the binding's tasteful gilt lettering on the spine served to offset the soft, shiny grain of the fabric cover, clearly feminine. Both the large morocco leather edition and the standard silk Keepsake changed to embossed cloth bindings by the mid-1840s. Michael Sadleir notes that the silks were too delicate for economical book use; surviving copies confirm his observation.7

Francis Westley, the 1829 Keepsake's binder, became famous for the elegant bindings of many annuals, such as The Amulet, The Literary Souvenir, and The Gem, which followed The Keepsake's lead with silk in varying hues. Alaric Watts, editor of The Literary Souvenir, records in February, 1828 that Heath "bought 4,000 yards of watered silk at 3s per yard for the next issue."8 The fabric gave the book a strikingly feminine look that also appeared expensive; however, John Heath suggests that the choice of silk for the Keepsake binding was "probably inspired by the well-publicised plight of the Spitalfields silk industry, which faced ruin from foreign competition";9 this detail serves as an ironic coincidence that an industry's failure would contribute to the success of a "domestic" product: a woman's book covered in dress fabric.

Westley's firm was one of four bookbinders who won medals for excellence at the 1851 Great Exhibition. The Westley binding ticket, "F. Westley, / Binder, / Friar St. / Showmaker Row / near / Doctors Commons" (1828 Keepsake), appeared on the inside cover of each volume. The Penny Magazine of 24 September 1842 features a wood engraving of Westley's binding factory, illustrating a modern production-line system of bookbinding, with workers busily hammering, gluing, and stamping stacks of new books. The annuals became a significant part of Westley's yearly business; his factory contained a special "Annual" shop on an upper floor where workers crafted the seasonal supply of annuals bindings. Other rooms adjacent to the annuals shop provided lettering, ornamentation, and gilting. By 1838, binders had invented new rubber backing techniques, touted in Keepsake ads as "Hancock's Patent Backs" and mentioned in a Literary Gazette review of The Keepsake for 1839: "it opens sweetly and exposes what is good in the engravings most eligibly to view, as it suffers the text to be read in the easiest of manners."10 The same rubber was also being used in women's corsets to tighten the stays.

Publishers of The Keepsake

Perhaps the most conservative elements of The Keepsake were its publishers, who considered themselves legally and morally responsible for protecting the public from impropriety. Reading audiences viewed the publisher who placed his name on the imprint of a book as the guardian of middle-class values, but he was also a conservative financial investor. This was not a time to take risks; as Richard Altick reports, one of the reasons book prices remained high in spite of cheaper production methods was the unwillingness of publishers to speculate in the postwar era.11

Heath approached Byron's publisher John Murray about his first illustrated book project on 24 October 1826, writing:

I have commenced a work similar to the Forget me Not and the "Literary Souvenir" and I flatter myself that in the Embellishments if [sic] will surpass every Book hitherto published . . . I think so splendid a work as could be brought out by our united exertions, and with your influence, would take the Lead in this sort of publication and we should divide annually very considerable Profit . . . My motive . . . is to get the Profit of my own Labour and Talent . . . to engrave for none but such works as I have an Interest in or, are entirely my own property.12

Murray declined, having experienced great financial losses in the panic of 1826.

We know little about Heath's arrangements with The Keepsake's first publisher, Hurst, Chance & Company (1828-31); an ad for the 1828 volume announces that the book will soon be available to its subscribers, indicating a subscription publishing agreement. Ads for 1829-31 indicate such a method was not continued after the 1828 volume.

Thomas Hurst, of Hurst, Chance and Company, began as a Leeds bookseller, moving to the London book business as a wholesaler supplying country booksellers with various London publications. He joined the Longman firm in 1804 as manager of the country department, but Longman's dissolved the partnership when Hurst drew money on the firm to pay his brother John's bills, according to Thomas Rees, former Longman partner.13 Longman made Thomas Hurst responsible for the bills, buying out his share of the firm with more than 40,000 pounds, an insufficient amount to cover his brother's debts.14 After leaving Longman, Hurst formed Hurst, Chance and Company in 1827, a firm that included future poetry publisher Edward Moxon. Hurst's contacts at Longman's possibly provided Heath with a new publisher when Hurst, Chance and Company went out of business in 1831.

Sales figures for the 1829 Keepsake are not available, but an article in The Bookseller reports that "The first volume of The Keepsake, of which from 12,000 to 15,000 copies were sold is said to have cost 11,000 guineas! That for 1829 must have demanded a considerably larger outlay, as nearly 20,000 copies were disposed of in less than a month."15 S. C. Hall, editor of The Amulet, estimated that proceeds from the sale of annuals in 1829 totaled 90,000 pounds; according to Hall, various tradespeople involved with producing annuals reaped considerable earnings that year:

  • Authors and editors--6,000 pounds
  • Painters for Pictures or Copyrights--3,000
  • Engravers--12,000
  • Copper-plate Printer--5,000
  • Letter-press Printers--5,000
  • Paper Manufacturers--6,000
  • Book-binders--6,000
  • Silk Manufacturers and Leather Sellers--500
  • Advertisements--2,000
  • Incidental Expenses--1,500
50,000 pounds

After the retail booksellers' profits (30,000 pounds), the publishers got 10,000 pounds.16 The figure points to a ten percent commission, indicating that all publishers preferred the safety of commission agreements with proprietors of the various annuals, garnering a meager portion of the profits, compared to that of the booksellers.

The Campaign for Contributors

Charles Heath and Frederic Mansel Reynolds set out early in 1828 on an editorial tour to enlist celebrated authors as editors or contributors to the 1829 volume. Courting them like royalty, Heath pursued Thomas Moore, Walter Scott, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, and Robert Southey with high fees that would make participation in The Keepsake irresistible. They took Heath's generous offers, while grumbling to their peers about Reynolds's personal manners or his editorial tactics. They worried over ruining their reputations by appearing in a popular women's book such as The Keepsake, nervously guarding any enthusiasm they might have about their contributions. Such attitudes about publication proved difficult barriers to all editors of The Keepsake.

Heath first offered Thomas Moore 500 pounds, then 700 pounds to edit the 1829 Keepsake, but Moore flatly refused. Reynolds pursued Moore in early February 1828 for a contribution, going so far as approaching him on the street and forcing a hundred pound check into his pocket for the contribution of a hundred lines. Moore was shocked, and wrote to a friend "The people will soon be annually mad."17 Although attracted to the high fees, Moore remained reluctant to contribute, fearing he would mar his reputation. He writes in his journal on 25 February 1828, "The fact is, it is my name brings these offers, & my name would suffer by accepting them."18

Heath's 1828 editorial tour included a trip to the Lakes District in early February where he hoped to get contributions from Wordsworth, who had been overwhelmed with offers from annuals editors. He told Allan Cunningham on 26 February 1828, "I have . . . had applications, I believe from nearly every Editor, but complied with none."19 Reynolds, having previously helped Wordsworth with a medical application for an eye ailment, hoped he would respond to the favor by contributing to The Keepsake; the poet fulfilled Reynolds's hope. One hundred guineas was a welcome sum to Wordsworth's ailing finances. Dora Wordsworth wrote to her friend Maria Jane Jewsbury about the offer: "Father could not feel himself justified in refusing so advantageous an offer--degrading enough I confess but necessity has no law, and galling enough but we must pocket our pride sometimes and it is good for us."20 Ashamed of selling his work to a popular publication, Wordsworth overcame his ambivalence by necessity.

From his Keepsake contributions Wordsworth received a welcome return of creativity; he had not written a line of poetry in nine months, complaining, "my vein I fear is run out" (Letters, 3:656). Wordsworth needed the money and appreciated the attention of Heath and Reynolds demanding his services but, like Moore, he feared losing control of his reputation; yet, as Peter Manning notes, publication in The Keepsake "rejuvenated Wordsworth, diversifying and lightening his repertory . . . the almost sixty-year-long poet was learning new tricks."21 The Keepsake's frankly commercial attitude simply clashed with Wordsworth's reverence for his ideals of literature as a closed sanctuary of the poet priest. As Stephen Gill comments, "These were entrepreneurs, making money. Their assiduity indicated that though his collected volumes might be selling sluggishly, his was now a famous marketable name."22 He arrived at a harsh opinion about annuals, partly because of the aggressive pursuit of their editors: "Humility with these Gentry is downright simpleness".23 By 4 August 1829, nine months after The Keepsake was published, Wordsworth would have little more to do with annuals, saying, "Those gentlemen have used me between them most scurvily, and I am rightly served for having degraded the Muses by having anything to do with the venal" (387).

After more than nine months of haggling, the 1829 Keepsake appeared in November 1828 with Reynolds's Preface proclaiming, "such a list of authors has been obtained as perhaps never before graced the pages of any one volume of original contributions" (iv). Competition daunted Heath's efforts to bring his Keepsake into a library of respectable volumes of literature; reviewers grouped The Keepsake with the multitude of other annuals in their columns, comparing titles and generalizing about their various contributors. After their experiences with the "great" male authors, Heath and Reynolds evidently decided to forego the high fees paid to men such as Wordsworth and Moore, instead enlisting more aristocratic and women authors, as well as women editors.

Advertising and Marketing The Keepsake

The Keepsake was one of many literary annuals competing in a brisk, seasonal market every year. Rudolph Ackermann's Forget-Me-Not was the first English annual in the fall of 1822, but publishers soon recognized the commercial opportunities of a literary book joined with fine arts; an article in The Bookseller estimates sales of earlier volumes of annuals at fifteen to twenty thousand copies.24 In fall of 1823 appeared Friendship's Offering and Alaric Watts's Literary Souvenir, and the race for literary gift buyers was on, with many new titles appearing by the time the 1829 Keepsake appeared in November, 1828; as Bradford Allen Booth reports: "The single annual for 1823 was succeeded by three for 1824 and nine for 1825. For nearly a decade the number steadily increased; in 1831, booksellers' shelves bulged with sixty-two Tokens of Affection, Pledges of Friendship, and Gems of Loveliness."25

Such competition required shrewd imaging by proprietor Charles Heath and his editors that would place The Keepsake in a unique position among the many offerings. Literary annuals were generally a middle-class phenomenon; however, The Keepsake seduced its middle-class women readers with elegant illustrations of aristocratic women and notions of owning a book suitable for any gentleman's library. Romantic literature, celebrity contributors, and a bigger, more ostentatious physical presentation helped advance The Keepsake to such a position of popularity that other annuals soon began borrowing its name in titles such as The Biblical Keepsake (1835), The Biographical Keepsake (1830), The Christian Keepsake (1835), Holiday Keepsake (1840), Historical Keepsake (1836), Hibernian Keepsake (1832), The Midsummer Keepsake (1834), and many others. Indeed, later in the century the word "keepsake" became a generic term for all literary annuals.

Heath and Reynolds aggressively pursued literary celebrities for the 1829 volume in an attempt to market The Keepsake as high literature, boldly announcing production costs to create the notion that readers were getting a bargain, justifying the extra shilling paid for The Keepsake over other annuals. Reynolds claims in his 1829 Preface: "In prosecution of this design, and on the various departments of The Keepsake, the enormous sum of eleven thousand guineas has been expended" (iii). By revealing the high fees in his Preface, Reynolds conveys an image of The Keepsake as an elaborate, luxurious production, tapping into middle-class desires to possess the accoutrements of class, a bargain at 13 shillings.

Advertising in literary periodicals such as The Athenaeum and The London Literary Gazette became an essential element of The Keepsake's financial success each year from its introduction in December 1827 until the mid-40s, when Heath began to lose money on his many publishing projects.

Normally, advertising for The Keepsake began in October, later in the season than many other aggressively marketed annuals; The Literary Souvenir and Winter's Wreath ads sometimes appeared in periodicals such as the Athenaeum and The Literary Gazette as early as September. Keepsake periodical ads were small in its first year, Hurst sharing advertising expenses with Robert Jennings, who published the engraved illustrations. Jennings purchased ads that exclusively featured print sales. The first 1829 Keepsake ad in The Athenaeum appears on Wednesday 22 October, 1828, boasting the success of the debut volume:

The extraordinary success of The Keepsake of last year, has induced the Proprietor, in the hope of meriting the increased patronage he anticipates, to spare no exertion nor expenditure, however immense, in the formation of his present volume; and to secure for it the assistance of so many Authors of the highest eminence, that he ventures to assert, such a List of Contributors has never before been presented to the Public. (830)

Promotion of the aggressive campaign for contributors conducted that year by Heath and Reynolds for the 1829 volume establishes a publishing event of colossal importance. The ad proudly features the list of contributors, promising 19 "Embellishments, . . . considerably increased in size, and, consequently, in value" (Keepsake 830). Also published are names of artists whose works are engraved for the 1829 Keepsake, as well as the engravers and the printer Thomas Davison, indicating the increasing celebrity status of engravers and production specialists. The language in Keepsake ads balances the proper degree of reserve with its high profile position. Words such as "eminence" and "patronage" suggest an oldworldly courtesy and exclusivity.

Illustrating The Keepsake

Most critics agreed that Keepsake illustrations were its finest feature; other critics attacked the book's artistic aesthetics for many of the same reasons they scorned its literary contents. They complained about The Keepsake's sentimental portraits of women and children, romantic escapades, rural vistas, and exotic scenes from foreign lands. One Fraser's reviewer (August 1830) barely tolerates such tastes, classifying annuals art as "a little boudoir school, which, should it not be suffered to interfere, as there is some danger of its doing, with the more manly styles of art, may be tolerated as harmless--perhaps commended as useful."26

Indeed, Keepsake engravings enabled women to participate in the new art appreciation movement. Print sellers hawking proofs from the annuals displayed their goods on London street corners; some sold freestanding portfolio supports to display prints in one's drawing room. Art societies formed to educate the public, and new galleries, such as the National Gallery, sponsored exhibitions. Eleanor Jamieson credits literary annuals for their part in the popularization process:

Steel engraving meant that for the first time, the finest art of the country could be reproduced at a reasonable price, and when such reproductions were diffused through the huge circulation of the annuals, they fostered in the general public an appreciation of painting never hitherto known.27

The Keepsake was at the center of this popularization process, educating women by providing them with engravings of elegant paintings by famous artists from the Royal Academy such as J. M. W. Turner, whose works appeared in Keepsake volumes from 1828-37; engraved landscape paintings such as "Florence" (1828), "The Lake of Albano" and "The Lago Maggiore" (1829), "Saumur" and "Nantes" (1830), and "Ehrenbreitstein" (1833) added continental flavor to The Keepsake. Other Royal Academy artists included Edwin Landseer ("The Duchess of Bedford," 1829), Thomas Stothard ("The Garden of Boccaccio," 1829), and A. E. Chalon ("Isabella and Gertrude," 1830).

Production of Keepsake illustrations involved many different professionals highly influenced by the new women readers. The Keepsake and other annuals promoted the popularity of steel-plate engravings for book illustration when American engineer and engraver Jacob Perkins invented the new technique, patented in 1819.28 The copper-plate processes used before this were, according to Marjorie Plant, "very expensive both to produce and to print, 10 pounds to 20 pounds being the quite normal cost of a single plate."29 Because the new steel plates were harder, they could survive much larger editions.

William Henry McQueen had a crucial role as plate printer of The Keepsake's engravings. Anthony Dyson discusses the importance of such a technician:

Where the intaglio printer was concerned, the network of contacts was perhaps particularly elaborate. Everybody, from publisher to plate-polisher, was in close touch with him. Artist, engraver, publisher, and dealer kept a sharply vigilant eye upon his activities, since success ultimately hinged on his skill.30

Names of plate printers often do not appear on plates, in spite of their importance; however, McQueen's name appears on Keepsake engravings throughout the 1830s. He was awarded a First Class Medal at the 1855 Paris Exposition Universelle, although excluded from the printing awards at the 1851 Great Exhibition in England for unknown reasons.

The first literary annual to use steel-plate engravings was Rudolph Ackermann's Forget-Me-Not in 1825, but Charles Heath was using the process for book illustrations as early as 1820, with Thomas Campbell's Pleasures of Hope.31 Heath became famous for his work as an engraver in various publications, providing engravings for several annuals, including the Forget-Me-Not in 1825 and 1826, the Amulet for 1826, and The Literary Souvenir for 1826 and 1827.32 According to one observer in 1858, "The success of the Literary Souvenir, to which, indeed, the masterly engravings of Chas. Heath had in some degree contributed, induced him to attempt a work of the same kind, upon a larger and more important scale, for his own benefit. A more formidable rival could hardly have entered the field."33 Soon the Heath family engravers developed into a major business that employed London's finest engravers. A single plate might involve the skills of several artisans, according to John Heath, who writes that the 1829 Keepsake illustration of Mrs. Peel

bears the signature of Charles Heath, but a very early proof copy is lettered in manuscript: "Lane reduced, Goodyear etchd [sic] figure, Webb etchd fur and feathers, J. H. Watt drapery and hat, Rhodes worked up hat feathers, D. Smith background, and C. Heath flesh."34

Although marketed as a delicately handcrafted book, this proof copy betrays The Keepsake as a frankly commercial product, engraved in a factory by line of technicians.

Heath developed special working relationships with artists Sir Thomas Lawrence and J. M. W. Turner. Lawrence, president of the Royal Academy, signed an agreement in 1822 with publishers Hurst & Robinson, allowing Heath to engrave his pictures for Hurst's publications. According to George Somes Layard, Hurst and Robinson agreed to pay Lawrence 3,000 pounds a year for two years, with a seven-year option.35 Heath, deeply involved in the engraving business, lost money when Hurst & Robinson went bankrupt and sold his collection of engravings at auction in May 1826;36 however, his relationship with Lawrence evidently remained intact, for Lawrence's beautiful portraits appear as Keepsake frontispieces in 1828, 1829, and 1835. Heath commissioned 120 pictures for various book projects from Turner, who contributed 17 illustrations for The Keepsake from 1828-37, including two for the 1829 volume.

As a businessman, Charles Heath was an unlikely promoter for a book that, on its surface, promoted propriety. As the illegitimate child of engraver James Heath and his common-law wife, Charles learned a trade that would make his fortune, but overspeculation caused him to lose that fortune several times. Financial disaster first threatened Heath in 1821, and his final bankruptcy in 1841 left him owing creditors 2030 pounds at his death in 1848; by 1847 he had invested in at least 15 book projects. In spite of his irrational business speculations, Heath's reputation soared among book publishers.

By far the most expensive element of Keepsake production, Heath's illustrations became so admired that engravers gained the celebrity status of artists, earning high fees for their work. Artist John Martin's biographer, Thomas Balston, cites fees as high as "30 guineas to as much as 150 or 180" guineas for engravers of Martin's work.37 Heath shared Keepsake production expenses from 1828-31 with print seller Robert Jennings, who appears on the imprint with publishers Hurst, Chance & Company. These commercial partnerships were profitable for both parties; print sellers experienced brisk sales with engravings in various proof stages, while the arrangement allowed Heath to display them in The Keepsake.

Steel-plate engraving signified refinement, contributing to The Keepsake's expensive image. Annuals illustrators rarely used lithography, a cheaper illustration method soon extremely popular with other book illustrators; in a letter to publisher J. O. Robinson on 31 July 1824, Alaric Watts, editor of The Literary Souvenir, quips:

Books, like puddings, are often made of excellent materials, and,--marred in the making. The author says he has some drawings "which might be lithographed." Lithography is damnation to any respectable book. If found worth engraving, they should be slightly etched.38

Until its final years in the 1850s, The Keepsake avoided any implication of mass reproduction, while ironically demonstrating some of the latest techniques in such production.

Common Themes of The Keepsake

Politics, current events, outwardly radical social opinions, and crude language were unacceptable in The Keepsake. Editors made their volume appear sanitized for drawing-room display and family reading by carefully choosing poetry, prose, and illustrations that would satisfy conservative readers; indeed, a great deal of Keepsake material satisfies the most stringent inspection for propriety. However, while pictures of women and children, animals, nature scenes, and romantic embraces in The Keepsake seem innocent, they frequently suggest themes that threaten to disturb the carefully woven fabric of domesticity.

A reader who came to The Keepsake for beauty, fashion, art, and a reverence for literature opened herself to daring pictures and stories about Byronic women heroes, sensuous escapades with hot-blooded Italian lovers, terrifying accounts of abusive husbands who leave women desperate and alone, and mystical worlds where women acquire and use positions of power. Women could read about other women who acted out middle-class fantasies, such as the Gothic heroine who escapes a terrifying male presence, and the "bad" woman who angrily avenges social injustice. By reading about the unfortunate bride, the fallen angel, and the victims of family abuse, women sharing those experiences knew they were not alone. Keepsake writers bonded with their readers through the imagination, a boundless space of emotion that connects experience with fantasy in a very personal, indefinable way.

For women, life usually meant marriage and a permanent home in their immediate geographical region. When a woman lost a suitable partner for marriage, she potentially lost her security, for she had few of the outlets available to men for self-sufficiency, and the separation of spheres demanded that she stay in her domestic circle or face social ostracism. L. E. L.'s life as an independent, single woman working in London is a testament to such restrictions; Like Georgiana, Duchess of Bedford, whose prtrait L.E.L. describes in the poem featured in a our study, rumors of romantic interests often dominated public perceptions of personal success.

Domestic tranquility and acceptance of woman's social position might be the ideal, but Keepsake stories and poems frequently expose the unreliability of such assumptions. More common are tales about unhappy or arranged marriages, the lack of opportunities for women to support their own families, the damage wrought by society's double standard, the self-destructive effects of jealousy caused by competition in the marriage market, the fate of fallen women, society's neglect of laboring women, the depressing status of orphans and single women, mental and emotional abuse of women by men, and the sickness of a class-bound society regulated by a hierarchy that enclosed women in the home appear in most Keepsake volumes. Examples of these themes can be found in 1829 Keepsake tales such as "The Victim Bride," by W. H. Harrison; "Clorinda: or the Necklace of Pearl," by an anonymous author; "The Half-Brothers," by John and Michael Banim; Mary Shelley's "The Sisters of Albano" and "Ferdinando Eboli." These works at times illuminate the meanings of Keepsake selections discussed in these essays and modify their meanings at others.

However subversive these themes may appear, Keepsake authors rarely accomplished a complete removal from the rules of propriety; moral guardians, fearing the influences of imaginative literature, formulated strict boundaries of domestic ideology to keep women at home in their minds as well as within the domestic circle. Keepsake authors could only provide a temporary imaginative escape for women readers who would be helpless to find a cure for the domestic illness of their society for many decades. Modern critics wishing to learn more about women's history will find a store of information about these important aspects of the middle-class woman's life in Keepsake volumes.

List of Editors and Publishers for The Keepsake 1828-57

Hurst, Chance & Co., & Robert Jennings, London
Editor William Harrison Ainsworth

Hurst, Chance & Co., and Robert Jennings, London
Editor Frederic Mansel Reynolds

Hurst, Chance & Co., and Robert Jennings, London
Editor Frederic Mansel Reynolds

Hurst Chance & Co., and Jennings and Chaplin, London
Editor Frederic Mansel Reynolds

Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, London
Editor Frederic Mansel Reynolds

Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman, London
Rittner and Goupill, Paris
Charles Jugil, Frankfort
Editor Frederic Mansel Reynolds

Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman, London
Rittner and Goupill, Paris
A. Asher, Berlin
Editor Frederic Mansel Reynolds

Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman, London
Rittner and Goupil, Paris
A. Asher, Berlin
Editor Frederic Mansel Reynolds

Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman, London
Rittner and Goupil, Paris
A. Asher, Berlin
Editor Caroline Norton

Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman, London
Delloy and Co., Paris
Editor Lady Emmeline Stuart Wortley

Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman, London
Delloy & Co., Paris
Editor anonymous (Reynolds)

Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman, London
Delloy & Co., Paris
Editor Frederic Mansel Reynolds

Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman, London
Appleton & Co., New York
Fisher & Co., Paris
Editor Lady Emmeline Stuart Wortley

Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longman, London
Appleton and Co., New York
Fisher and Co., Paris
Editor the Countess of Blessington

Longman, Brown, Green, and Longman
Lea and Blanchard, Philadelphia
Fisher and Co., Paris
Editor the Countess of Blessington

Longman, Brown, Green, and Longman
Appleton and Co., New York
Aubert and Co., Paris
T. O. Weigel, Leipsic
Editor the Countess of Blessington

Longman, Brown, Green, and Longman, London
Appleton & Co., New York
L. Curmer and Aubert and Co., Paris
T. O. Weigel, Leipzig
Editor the Countess of Blessington

Longman, Brown, Green, and Longman, London
Appleton and Co., New York
Fisher, Son, and Co., Paris
T. O. Weigel, Leipzig
Editor the Countess of Blessington

David Bogue, London
Appleton and Co., New York
H. Mandeville, Paris
Editor the Countess of Blessington

David Bogue, London
Appleton and Co., New York
H. Mandeville, Paris
Editor Marguerite Power


1. Parts of this essay appeared previously in Studies in the Literary Imagination 30.1 (Spring 1997): 35-47 and in The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 88.2 (June 1994): 206-16. Return to Essay

2. Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), Middlemarch (London: Penguin, 1985), 302. Return to Essay

3. Reynolds, Preface to The Keepsake for 1829 (London: Hurst, 1828), iv-v. Return to Essay

4. Timperley, A Dictionary of Printers and Printing (London: Johnson, 1839), 919. Return to Essay

5. See the advertisement for the Keepsake for 1829, in The Athenaeum 52 (22 Oct. 1828): 830. Return to Essay

6. See "Strictures on Art and Exhibitions," Fraser's Magazine 2: 7 (Aug. 1830): 93-110. Return to Essay

7. Sadleir, The Evolution of Publishers' Binding Styles, 1770-1900 (London: Constable, 1930), 40. Return to Essay

8. Watts, quoted in Sadleir, 40. Return to Essay

9. Heath, The Heath Family Engravers 1779-1878 (Hants: Scolar Press, 1993), 2: 55. Return to Essay

10. Review of The Keepsake for 1839, in The Literary Gazette 1137 (3 Nov. 1838): 691. Return to Essay

11. Altick, The English Common Reader: A Social History of the Mass Reading Public 1800-1900 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 260. Return to Essay

12. Heath, The Heath Family Engravers, 24. Return to Essay

13. Rees, "Reminiscences of Literary London from 1779 to 1853," in The English Book Trade 1660-1853 (New York: Garland, 1974), 45. Return to Essay

14. Rees, "Reminiscences," 47. Return to Essay

15. "The Annuals of Former Days," The Bookseller 1 (29 Nov. 1858): 498. Return to Essay

16. Hall, quoted in "The Annuals of Former Days," 493. Return to Essay

17. Moore, Notes from the Letters of Thomas Moore to His Music Publisher, James Power (New York: Redfield, n.d.), 144. Return to Essay

18. Moore, The Journal of Thomas Moore, ed. Wilfred S. Dowden (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1983), 3: 1125. Return to Essay

19. Wordsworth, The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, The Later Years, Part I, 1821-28, 2nd ed., ed. Alan G. Hill (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), 3: 583. Return to Essay

20. Dora Wordsworth, quoted in The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth, The Later Years, 3: 580. Return to Essay

21. Manning, "Wordsworth in The Keepsake, 1829," in Literature in the Marketplace: Nineteenth-Century British Publishing and Reading Practices, eds. John O. Jordan and Robert L. Patten (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 62. Return to Essay

22. Gill, William Wordsworth: A Life(Oxford: Clarendon, 1989), 350. Return to Essay

23. This quotation and the one that follows it are from a different edition of letters than the one previously cited. They are from Wordsworth, The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Laters Years, Vol. 1: 1821-30, ed. Ernest De Selincourt (Oxford: Clarendon, 1939), 351.Return to Essay

24. "The Annuals of Former Days," 496. Return to Essay

25. Bradford Allen Booth, in A Cabinet of Gems, ed. Bradford Allen Booth (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1938), 4-6. Return to Essay

26. "Strictures on Art and Exhibitions," 94. Return to Essay

27. Jamieson, "The Binding Styles of the Gift Books and Annuals," in Frederick W. Faxon, Literary Annuals and Gift Books: A Bibliography 1823-1903 (1912; rpt. Middlesex: Private Libraries Association, 1973), 5. Return to Essay

28. John Ford, Ackermann, 1783-1983: The Business of Art (London: Ackermann, 1983), 65. Return to Essay

29. Plant, The English Book Trade (London: Allen, 1965), 309. Return to Essay

30. Dyson, Pictures to Print: The Nineteenth-Century Engraving Trade (London: Farrand, c. 1984), 37. Return to Essay

31. Heath, The Heath Family Engravers, 21. Return to Essay

32. Ibid., 24. Return to Essay

33. "The Annuals of Former Days," 497. Return to Essay

34. Heath, op. cit., 58. Return to Essay

35. Layard, Sir Thomas Lawrence's Letter-Bag (New York: Longman, 1906), 171. Return to Essay

36. "Charles Heath," DNB (1917), 9: 341. Return to Essay

37. Balston, John Martin 1789-1854: His Life and Works (London: Duckworth, 1947), 92. Return to Essay

38. Watts, Alaric Watts: A Narrative of His Life (London: Bentley, 1884), 1:230. Return to Essay