Embury, Emma C. [Commonplace Book of Emma C. Embury, with Original Botanical and Ornithological Watercolors, and Original Manuscript Poetry]. S.l: s.n, 1828.
Continuing (after a fashion) the botanical theme of the last few posts in the Neat Things I Have Cataloged series, let’s take a look at a one-of-a-kind commonplace book by a notable nineteenth century woman.
Emma Catherine Embury was a remarkable woman. Not only was she a poet and an editor, but as illustrated above, she was also an adept amateur artist. Here is what Edgar Allan Poe had to say about Embury in Godey’s Lady’s Book, volume 3, pages 84-85:
MRS. EMBURY is one of the most noted, and certainly one of the most meritorious of our female litterateurs. She has been many years before the public — her earliest compositions, I believe, have been contributed to the “New York Mirror” under the nom de plume “Ianthe.” They attracted very general attention at the time of their appearance and materially aided the paper. They were subsequently, with some other pieces, published in volume form, with the title “Guido and other Poems.” The book has been long out of print. Of late days its author has written but little poetry — that little, however, has at least indicated a poetic capacity of no common order.
Yet as a poetess she is comparatively unknown, her reputation it this regard having been quite overshadowed by that which she has acquired as a writer of tales. In this latter capacity she has, upon the whole, no equal among her sex in America — certainly no superior. She is not so vigorous as Mrs. Stephens, nor so vivacious as Miss Chubbuck, nor so caustic as Miss Leslie, nor so dignified as Miss Sedgwick, nor so graceful, fanciful and “spirituelle” as Mrs. Osgood, but is deficient in none of the qualities for which these ladies are noted, and in certain particulars surpasses them all. Her subjects are fresh, if not always vividly original, and she manages them with more skill than is usually exhibited by our magazinists. She has also much imagination and sensibility, while her style is pure, earnest, and devoid of verbiage and exaggeration. I make a point of reading all tales to which see the name of Mrs. Embury appended. The story by which she has attained most reputation is “Constance Latimer, the Blind Girl.”
Mrs. E. is a daughter of Doctor Manly, an eminent physician of New York city. At an early age she married a gentleman of some wealth and of education, as well as of tastes akin to her own. She is noted for her domestic virtues no less than for literary talents and acquirements.
She is about the medium height; complexion, eyes, and hair, light; arched eyebrows; Grecian nose, the mouth a fine one, and indicative of firmness; the whole countenance pleasing, intellectual, and expressive. The portrait in “Graham’s Magazine” for January, 1843, has no resemblance to her whatever.
In addition, Embury was an early contributor of poetry to the New York Mirror among other publications. Her reputation as an author was doubtless strengthened by her position in high society as the wife of Daniel Embury, president of the Atlantic Bank of Brooklyn. She also had a strong interest in botany, as the watercolors illustrate, and she published American Wild Flowers in Their Native Haunts, a 19th-century American book illustrated with images of wild flowers, in 1845.
This commonplace book is bound in contemporary deep purple morocco, covers with gilt stamping, with a blocked border stamped in blind, and large centrally-placed gilt vignettes on the covers, as well as an ornate gilt spine. The pages between these covers are comprised of 38 leaves (including the endpapers) of colored paper, with five poems, twelve watercolors, and thirty pencil drawings. The poems are in the same hand in ink, the drawings and watercolors by various hands, most unsigned, a few signed “ECE,” “Anna H. Embury,” or “AHE.”
Embury’s name appears in an unattributed hand on the front free endpaper, and three of the watercolors are initialed “ECE.” While the name “Anna Embury” appears in contemporary manuscript on the rear pastedown and in the lower margin of one watercolor, the remaining watercolors are all similar in style to those initialed by Emma Embury and are presumably by her. Most of the pencil sketches are unsigned; a few are initialed “AHE.” None of the poems are signed. Four of the five poems appear opposite pencil sketches of their main subject, always a British landmark.
Given the sentimental tone of the poems in this item, it is likely they were written close to 1828, the year Embury was married and published her first volume of poetry. A collected edition of her poems was published in 1869, though none of those poems are included in this commonplace book.