Sorrows. Sacred to the Memory of Penelope. by [BOOTHBY, Brooke,…

~ Sorrows. Sacred to the Memory of Penelope. London: Printed by W. Bulmer and Co. and sold by Messrs Cadell and Davies... Edwards... and Johnson... 1796.

Folio (300 × 218 mm), pp. 89, [1], complete with half-title; engraved frontispiece by Fuseli (imprint cropped) and two vignettes in text (one, a portrait of Penelope by Kirk after Joshua Reynolds), ornamental tailpieces using motifs from the frontispiece; slight offsetting from frontispiece to title, occasional light spotting; contemporary tree calf, gilt, green morocco spine label; corners worn, joints cracked but secure; early inscription of Matthew Robinson (1797), later bookplates of Roger Senhouse and Peter Scupham.

First edition of this poetic and artistic memorial to a child; the six year old Penelope Boothby. Its importance lies not so much in its poetry but its illustrations, which include a frontispiece, The Apotheosis of Penelope Boothby, after a painting by Henry Fuseli; a portrait of the child at the age of 4 after a painting by Joshua Reynolds; and an engraving of her stone memorial by Thomas Banks. The poem, together with these three images are eloquent reflections of the Romantic construction of childhood and are the subject of a long and fascinating entry in the Oxford DNB, in which Rosemary Mitchell elaborates the ‘cultural afterlife’ of the infant Penelope Boothby.

Sir Brooke Boothby (1744-1824) of Ashbourne Hall was a child of the British Enlightenment. As a young man he was part of the Lichfield circle which included Anna Seward, Erasmus Darwin, Thomas Day, and the Edgeworths, and he was personally acquainted with Rousseau, who had stayed at Ashbourne in 1766 and who Boothby visited some years later during his continental travels. Rousseau’s influence is felt in almost all his published writings.

He married Susanna Bristow in 1784 and their daughter Penelope, born in 1785, was to be their only child.

‘In 1787 the Boothbys visited Paris, where Brooke met the French artist Jacques-Louis David, and by April 1788 they were in London, where a portrait of Penelope was commissioned from Sir Joshua Reynolds... Allegedly a warm relationship developed between the artist and the sitter, who disappeared from her home one day and was found at Reynolds's house. The portrait, on loan at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, has been described as “one of Reynolds' most successful child-portraits, original in conception and brilliant in execution” (Penny, 319): it depicts Penelope sitting down against a wooded landscape, sporting an oversized bonnet, which earned the paintig the epithet of the Mob-Cap. Higonnet comments that Penelope does not quite fit her clothes: “endearingly miniaturized”, she is the classic Romantic child, representative of an Edenic innocence, “absorbed in childhood”, emblematic of “what we have lost and what we fear to lose” (Higonnet, 28).

Soon after the portrait's completion the Boothbys returned to their estate at Ashbourne in Derbyshire, where Penelope probably spent the remainder of her life. She died on Sunday 13 March 1791, at Ashbourne Hall, after an illness of about a month, during which she was treated by Erasmus Darwin...

The grief of Penelope's parents led both to memorialize her in their separate fashions. A monument to Penelope was commissioned in 1793 from the prominent sculptor Thomas Banks. Made of Carrara marble, it depicted the little girl apparently sleeping, and carried inscriptions in English, Italian, Latin, and French, culled from the Bible, Catullus, Petrarch, and (unsurprisingly) Rousseau. According to the sculptor's daughter, Brooke Boothby used to come daily to view progress on the effigy, and often wept. When Banks's model (now in the Sir John Soane collection) was exhibited at Somerset House in 1793 Queen Charlotte and her daughters were also apparently moved to tears... Boothby also commissioned the artist Henry Fuseli to memorialize his daughter in a painting entitled The Apotheosis of Penelope Boothby (1792; Wolverhampton Art Gallery). With its strong resemblance to an altarpiece, Fuseli's work depicts a winged and elegantly clad angel sweeping down from heaven to receive an elongated Penelope, while a figure representing the daystar indicates the way upwards. On the ground, an urn and an oversized butterfly or moth serve to symbolize death, the fleeting character of human life, and the resurrection of the dead’ (Oxford DNB). Jackson, p. 214.

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