In the nineteenth century, gift books were tokens—not meant so much to be read as to be given away, often for remembrance of a person or event. The Cambridge History of English and American Literature states that almost all the gift books published in the United States were literary miscellanies. They contained selections of poems, essays, and sometimes short stories. These books had great popular appeal for those wishing to bestow an elegant gift upon acquaintances or family.
The state of the publishing industry during the nineteenth century made it possible for such books to be produced. According to A History of Publishing in the United States, the first radical changes in printing technology since the 1500s and cheaper methods of making paper and bindings allowed for the mass production of low-priced books. With this expansion, many people who were good at writing could become published authors. Writing also grew into a suitable means for women to earn some income. Though mid–nineteenth century society generally frowned upon a woman having a career, writing was seen as something that a woman with a financial necessity could do. This was indeed the case for Mary Baker Eddy. She often wrote for pleasure in her youth, but after the death of her first husband, George Washington Glover, she used her skills to earn some income to support herself and her young son.
In Gems for You: From New Hampshire Authors, a gift book in the Library’s rare book collection, we find two poems by Eddy, whose name at the time was Mrs. Mary M. Glover. “Old Man of the Mountain” features New Hampshire’s awe–inspiring rock formation at Franconia Notch. Many writers, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, were inspired to write about the rugged face in Cannon Mountain. Eddy wrote:
“Let there be light!”—from chaos dark set free, Ye rose, a monument of Deity!1
The poem was originally published in July 1844 in The Floral Wreath, and Ladies’ Monthly Magazine and included this from the foreword:
The following lines were composed on witnessing this far–famed natural curiosity, in “Franconia Notch,” New Hampshire,—a sublime and imposing spectacle, formed by contiguous rocks on the highest peak of an inaccessible crag, at the summit of a stupendous mountain—…. I was lost in admiration when contemplating the “Old Man!” so forcibly shadowing forth the symbols of an invisible power….2
In “The Valley Cemetery,” Eddy touches upon the subjects of death and mourning. The poem illustrates some of the anguish the young widow may have felt and shows the literary talent that kept her writing for her entire adult life.
Here sleepeth, ’mid unfading flowers, the dead— Flowers fresh as the pang in the bosom that bled; Yea, constant as love which outliveth the grave, That time cannot quench in oblivion’s wave.3
Gems for You was first published as a gift book in 1850 by William H. Fiske. It was published multiple times—with slight variations of the title and by different publishers—until 1858. This 1850 edition features an embossed binding with details in gold leaf and gilt edges. An illuminated color lithograph of the Old Man of the Mountain rock formation and color-printed title page open the volume. The book also has works by other famous New Hampshire natives, including Sarah Josepha Hale, the author of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”; Horace Greeley, the founder of the Liberal Republican Party and editor of the New York Tribune newspaper; James T. Fields, famous publisher of many American and British authors of the time and editor of the Atlantic Monthly; and also Mary Abigail Dodge, who wrote to promote the equality of women in education and occupations under the pseudonym of Gail Hamilton.
- Mary M. Glover, “Old Man of the Mountain” in Gems For You (Manchester, NH: William H. Fisk, 1850), 113.
- Mary G. W. Glover, “The Old Man of the Mountain,” The Floral Wreath, and Ladies’ Monthly Magazine, July 1844, 33.
- Mary M. Glover, “The Valley Cemetery” in Gems For You (Manchester, NH: William H. Fisk, 1850), 176.