Ross and Elizabeth B. Lester
The fiction of the early nineteenth century
is well known as a minefield for author attribution. According
to data compiled for a new Bibliographical Survey of
Prose Fiction Published in the British Isles, in two
volumes (1770-99 and 1800-29), 
in the case of novels published 1800-29 less than 44% of
new titles were directly acknowledged on their title-page
by an author. Since then the authorship of approximately
another 34% of these titles have become identifiable, at
least roughly speaking so, either through the authors themselves
later acknowledging earlier anonymous/pseudonymous work
or (more frequently) through subsequent bibliographical
research. One of the main tools available to modern researchers
is the string of earlier works 'by the author' which are
often found on title-pages. But this can be a double-edged
weapon, capable of creating new confusion as it apparently
solves old problems. Title-pages were generally set and
printed last in the process of production, often without
full authorial assent, and in the general disorder and rush
to complete mistakes were naturally made. A notable instance
is the Minerva Press's title-page attribution of Amelia
Beauclerc's Eva of Cambria; or, the Fugitive Daughter
(1811) to Emma de Lisle [the pseudonym of Emma Parker]:
a mistake which might well have gone unnoticed had Emma
Parker lacked the clout which allowed her to observe the
mistake in the Preface of her Fitz-Edward; or, the Cambrians
It is necessary here to observe, that
this Work would have appeared many months since; but,
owing to a mistake, another manuscript, the production
of another author, was sent to the press instead
of mine, and, through inadvertency, printed under
a similar supposition. This has already been explained
as far as it was possible; and I have only here to add,
that the following Work is that which was
announced some months ago, as being about to be published
under the title of Eva of Cambria; but as
another person's Novel has, through an error, been published
under that name, it was necessary to give a new title
to the present Work.
occasions, the desire to boost an author's credentials apparently
involved both authors and publishers in extending the list
of cousin titles beyond the bounds of veracity. This kind
of licence probably helps explain a complicated chain of
some twenty novels, stretching between The Aunt and the
Niece (1804) and The Revealer of Secrets (1817)the
latter 'by the author of Eversfield Abbey, Banks
of the Wye, Aunt and Niece, Substance and
Shadow &c. &c.'components of which have
been variously and implausibly attributed to Mrs E. M. Foster,
James Henry James, or Mrs E. G. Bayfield. A comparable kind
of mayhem could stem from identical or similar-looking titles
being used by different authors. Integrally connected with
the previous mix-up is the confusion between A Winter
in Bath , 'by the author of two popular novels'
and Mrs E. G. Bayfield's A Winter at Bath (1807),
opportunistically retititled from Love as It May Be
by its publisher J. F. Hughes (and evidently the main reason
why the Mrs Bayfield's 'chaste pen' ever got associated
with the chain of potboilers mentioned above). Modern cataloguers
have also had to cope with three works of fiction titled
Decision which came out within fifteen years of each
other: The Decision; a Novel (3 vols, 1811), 'by
the author of Caroline Ormsby'; Decision. A Tale
(3 vols, 1819), identifiable as by Anne Raikes Harding;
and Barbara Hofland's single-volumed Decision. A Tale
(1824). Yet it is the presence of another The Decision
(1821), a first work by the Evangelical writer Grace Kennedy
(1782-1825) and written in the form of a play, which has
proved the real fly in the ointment in this case. The title-page
description of Willoughby, or the Reformation (1823)
as 'by the author of The Decision, Caroline Ormsby
[etc.]' has led to this novel and its two associated titles
being attributed to Kennedy in some catalogues. At a time
when new reputations are being forged from the mass of fiction
in this period, there is a need for caution perhaps before
singular authoresses are freshly discovered and claimed.
A tale of
caution can found in the case of the pleasant-sounding and
allegedly ubiquitous Mrs Ross. According to the entry in
the excellent Feminist Companion to Literature in
English (1990), this 'obscure but remarkable author'
produced 'at least 13 novels and groups of stories, 1811-25'.
list of titles is not given, but the following works of
fiction (all held by the Corvey Library, and available in
CME) are almost certainly those in mind.
The Cousins; or, a Woman's Promise
and a Lover's Vow. A Novel. 3 vols. 1811. [Anon].
The Marchioness!!! or, 'the Matured
Enchantress', by Lady --. 3 vols. 1813. CME
The Strangers of Lindenfeldt; or,
Who is my Father? A Novel. By Mrs Ross. 3 vols. 1813.
The Modern Calypso; or, Widow's Captivation.
A Novel. By Mrs Ross. 4 vols. 1814. CME
The Family Estate; or Lost and Won.
A Novel. By Mrs Ross. 3 vols. 1815. CME
PairedNot Matched; or, Matrimony
in the Nineteenth Century. A Novel. By Mrs Ross. 4
vols. 1815. CME 3-628-48554-1.
The Balance of Comfort; or the Old
Maid and Married Woman. A Novel. By Mrs Ross. 3 vols.
1816. CME 3-628-48551-7.
The Bachelor and the Married Man,
or the Equilibrium of the 'Balance of Comfort'. 3
vols. 1817. [Anon]. CME 3-628-47089-7.
The Physiognomist. A Novel. 3 vols.
1818. CME 3-628-48435-9.
Hesitation; or, to Marry, or, not
to Marry? 3 vols. 1819. CME
Tales of the Imagination. 3 vols.
1820. CME 3-628-48863-X.
The Woman of Genius. 3 vols. 1821-2.
Fire-Side Scenes. 3 vols. 1825. CME
of these titles has been catalogued individually as by Mrs
Ross at some point, it hard to find a single source that
identifies all of them as by her. The English Catalogue
of Books 1801-1836 (ECB) lists Items 1-7 under Ross
(Mrs); but Items 8-13 are given under title without author
Allibone lists just 1-4 and 6.  The
British Library holds and attributes to 'Ross, Mrs, Novelist'
1, 3, 5, 6 and 7; but treats The Bachelor and the Married
Man (8) and such of its successors as it holds as unidentifed
works. Summers in A Gothic Bibliography includes
1-4, 6 and 7 under his author entry, while somewhat opaquely
cross-referring from 8 to 7 in the main listing of titles.
Andrew Block's The English Novel 1740-1850 lists
all of Items 1-7 under Mrs Ross, and also brings in The
Bachelor and the Married Man, or the Equilibrium of the
'Balance of Comfort' (as such).  The
most generous attributer of works to Mrs Ross by far is
the National Union Catalog (NUC). This itemises (from
contributing libraries such as Harvard and University of
Illinois, Urbana) all of the titles in the above check-list,
with the exception The Modern Calypso (4), which
is apparently very rare (it is also absent from the Nineteenth-Century
Short-Title Catalogue).  NUC
is likewise fertile as a source of American editions of
the claimed Mrs Ross titles, listing early reprints in the
case of Items 7-10. In fact, it is possible that it was
in America that the first blurring of Items 7 and 8 took
place: the 1819 New York edition of Hesitation (Item
10) evidently claimed on its title-page authorship 'By the
author of The Balance of Comfort, The Bachelor
and Married Man, &c.'. 
point in Mrs Ross's alleged output is to be found at the
juncture between Items 7 and 8, two titles which looked
at casually give the impression of being companion works.
In the forthcoming Bibliographical Survey, the entry
corresponding to Item 7 will appear much as follows:
OF COMFORT; OR THE OLD MAID AND MARRIED WOMAN. A NOVEL.
IN THREE VOLUMES. BY MRS. ROSS, AUTHOR OF THE MARCHIONESS,
THE COUSINS, FAMILY ESTATE, MODERN CALYPSO, PAIREDNOT
London: Printed at the Minerva Press for A. K. Newman
and Co. Leadenhall-Street, 1817.
I 269p; II 279p; III 282p. 12mo. 15s (ECB, ER, QR).
ER 27: 536 (Dec 1816); QR 16: 283 (Oct 1816).
Corvey; CME 3-628-48551-7; ECB 503; NSTC 2R17990 (BI BL,
O; NA MH).
ECB dates Nov 1816.
Further edns: 2nd edn. 1817 (NSTC); 3rd edn. 1817 (NSTC);
4th edn. 1818 (NSTC); New York 1817 (NSTC); French trans.,
1818 [as Le Pour et le contre, ou la vieille fille
et la femme mariée (BN)].
It will noticed
that the works listed as 'by the author' here link this
title with Items 2, 1, 5, 4 and 6. The missing link in the
chain, The Strangers of Lindenfeldt (3), on its own
title-page, identifies itself as 'by Mrs Ross, author of
the Cousins &c.'; and Strangers of Lindenfeldt
also features as a work by the author on the title-pages
of 4 and 5. All these novels were published by A. K. Newman
at the Minerva-Press, and there is nothing to suggest that
Mrs Ross had ever been anything other than a Minerva author.
Apparently alone among these titles in being followed by
a subsequent British edition, The Balance of Comfort
clearly represented the one striking success by the author,
helped on perhaps to some degree by an eye-catching title.
Generically however it bears a strong resemblance to its
predecessors. All these novels are filled with racy fashionable-seeming
incidents, address domestic issues in a tolerant wordly-wise
way, and offer prudential but good-humoured concluding morals.
The Balance of Comfort has a title-page epigraph
from Cowper; while the chapter mottoes found here and in
most earlier titles indicate a range of reading from Shakespeare
to more (though not-so) modern writers such as Pope, Thomson
and Young. The final sentence of The Balance is indicative
of an author who recognises the value of a good sound-bite,
and who has just about got the Minerva formula right: 'If
lovers of both sexes could be induced to add esteem, prudence,
deliberation, and attention to character and temper, we
might then, and not till then, hope to see a different inclination
of the Balance of Comfort (III,
281-2). There is little hint of a religious bent, nor any
sign of special knowledge of the Classics or of foreign
1. The Balance of Comfort
2. The Bachelor and the Married Man
cannot be said of The Bachelor and the Married Man,
which in the forthcoming Bibliographical Survey will
appear as follows (albeit with a new author identification
and a long explanatory note attached):
THE BACHELOR AND
THE MARRIED MAN, OR THE EQUILIBRIUM OF THE BALANCE
OF COMFORT. IN THREE VOLUMES.
London: Printed for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown,
I 254p; II 207p; III 216p. 12mo. 16s 6d (ECB); 16s 6d
ER 29: 512 (Feb 1818); QR 18: 256 (Oct 1817); WSW I: 14.
Corvey; CME 3-628-47089-7; ECB 34; NSTC 2B1385 (BI BL,
ECB dates Jan 1818.
As will be seen, the title-page description
gives no idea of the author or indication of an authorial
track-record. Allusion is plainly made, directly and indirectly,
to Mrs Ross's still high-profile title, but there is nothing
to suggest actual kinship. In fact, the relationship between
titles matches a fairly familiar practice of re-cycling
through gender switching (as in Maturin's Wild Irish
Boy (1808), in the wake of Sydney Owenson's Wild
Irish Girl (1806)). It is noteworthy too that this title
appeared not as a Minerva novel but under the imprint of
the more up-market publishers Longmans (a distinction reflected
in the different pricing), and that according to the listings
in the Edinburgh and Quarterly Reviews (ER,
QR) about a year elapsed between the two publications (not
untypically as a Minerva publication, The Balance of
Comfort appears to have been post-dated on its title-page).
There is little within The Bachelor and the Married Man
to suggest that it was consciously written as a companion
or counter-title to The Balance of Comfort, except
perhaps for a concluding discussion which ends with the
reader being advised to 'remember what preserves the equilibrium
of the balance of comfortequanimity of temper,
and rectitude of principle' (III, 216). As this might suggest,
the old Johnsonian chestnut as to whether 'more happiness
is to be found in connubial than in single life' is subsumed
by a kind of moral severity quite unlike anything found
in the earlier novels mentioned: 'If the dictates of conscience,
and, consequently of religion, were regarded as they ought
to be, what state could be unhappy' (III, 216). It is not
implausible that Longmans suggested the the title of this
work to the author as a means of attracting sales after
the main manuscript had been submitted to them (there are
several comparable cases in the Longman Letter Books). Unlike
most of the preceding Mrs Ross titles, there are no mottoes
in this work. The author however seems confident with Latin
phrases (Suus cuique mos est on page two!), and the
text is flecked with French expressions (tant mieux,
entre nous etc.).
and the Married Man, in turn, subsequently became the
root title by which the remaining parts of the 'Ross' chain
are identified by association. Tales of the Imagination
(Item 11) has on its title-page 'by the author of The
Bachelor and the Married Man, The Physiognomist,
and Hesitation'; Fire-Side Scenes (13) has
'by the author of The Bachelor and the Married Man'.
The Woman of Genius (12) mentions no other titles,
but in a List of 'Popular Novels' by Longmans found at the
end of the second volume of the Corvey copy of Fire-Side
Scenes this work is advertised as 'By the Author of
the Bachelor and Married Man . Just
as Items 1-7 were all published by Newman, 8-13 each appeared
under Longmans' imprint. At no point is there any crossover
between the two groupings in terms of claimed titles 'by
the author'. Items 9-13 moreover share several attributes
with The Bachelor and the Married Man: Latin quotations,
a serious 'literary' tone with touches of melodrama (similar
in some respects to Amelia Opie), and a (deepening) Evangelical
tone. Fire-Side Scenes, essentially a collection
of cameo stories and essays, includes some fairly lengthy
'Serious Reflections' (II, -141] on Catholic Emancipation,
warning against any relaxation of limitations: 'A Roman
Catholic cannot be free: his confessor is his master'
(II, 126); Catholics should be allowed 'the rights of citizenshipbut
no more!' (II, 130). A far cry from jolly Mrs Ross!
So are we
to believe that, some time in 1817, Mrs Ross left the Minerva
fold for Longmans, adopted an Evangelical air, and took
to quoting Latin? Or are two separate authors
involved? Owing to a recent discovery in the
Longman Letter Books these questions can be answered with
some confidence. On 1 April 1818, Longmans addressed the
following to 'Miss E. B. Lester':
We have looked over the Physiognomist and will
with pleasure put it to press on the same terms as were
arranged for the Bachelor & Married Manyour
early answer will oblige. (Longman Archives, Reading University,
I, 100, no. 239) 
On 20 November the same year they wrote again
to 'Miss Lester', apparently referring to yet another novel:
Agreeably to your request we now send you a
copy of the opinion & suggestions of our literary
friend and by adopting them we have no doubt you will
add greatly to the interest of the Novel. We do not think
the Title a happy oneif you could give us several
we would point out the one we thought best. Our friend
suggest [s] Isadora or the Force of First Love. The Batchelor
[sic] & Married Man was an excellent titleas
soon as we hit upon a good title the work should be announced.
(Longman I, 100, no. 248)
Isadora Argyle is the heroine of Hesitation;
or, to Marry, or, not to Marry?
, and it is plainly this
novel that is under discussion. (Longmans' concern for the
title, as suggested earlier, is fairly characteristic.) Interestingly
Ledgers also in the Longman Archives provide a record of
impression numbers and sales for each of Items 8-13. In
the case of The Bachelor and the Married Man
edition of 750 was issued in December 1817, followed by
a second edition of 500 in June 1818265 of which were
left unsold June 1820. The overall picture points to a declining
popularity: of 500 copies printed of Fire-Side Scenes
in December 1824, 143 remained unsold in September 1825.
the Miss E. B. Lester mentioned in the Longman Letter Books
was Elizabeth B. Lester, the named author of The Quakers;
a Tale, which will appear in the Bibliographical
Survey much as below:
THE QUAKERS; A
TALE. BY ELIZABETH B. LESTER.
London: Printed for Baldwin, Cradock, and Joy, Paternoster-Row,
269p. 12mo. 6s (ECB, ER); 6s boards (QR).
ER 29: 512 (Feb 1818); QR 18: 256 (Oct 1817); WSW I: 370.
Corvey; CME 3-628-48038-8; ECB 339; NSTC 2L12419 (BI BL,
Further edn: New York 1818 (NSTC).
This Opie-esque tale bears a number of
clear similarities with items 8-13, not least in its use
of Latin and French quotations, confident-seeming literary
style, and broad Evangelical emphasis. The central character,
Kezia, a young Quakeress, strays and becomes vulnerable
through vanity but then returns to the religious fold and
a happy marriage. It seems difficult to tell whether the
author herself was a member of the Society of Friends, but
her sympathies clearly lie in that direction as towards
good Anglicans: the religious villains of the piece are
the 'nominal Christians' living it up in the rectory. In
the light of all the available evidence, it is appears fairly
indisputable that the last six titles sometimes connected
with Mrs Ross were in fact authored by Elizabeth Lester.
University Press, forthcoming, general editors Peter Garside,
James Raven and Rainer Schöwerling.
Feminist Companion to Literature in English, edd. Virginia
Blain, Patricia Clements and Isobel Grundy (London: Batsford,
1990), pp. 9223.
English Catalogue of Books, Preliminary Volume, 18011836,
edd. Robert Alexander Peddie and Quintin Waddington (1914;
New York: Kraus Reprint Corporation, 1963).
Austin Allibone, A Critical Dictionary of English Literature,
and British and American Authors (London and Philadelphia,
185971; 3 vols), II, 1870.
Montague Summers, A Gothic
Bibliography ( ; London: Fortune Press, 1969),
pp. 164, 220.
Block, The English Novel 17401850 (1939, rev.
1961; London: Dawsons, 1968), p. 201.
Nineteenth-Century Short-Title Catalogue, Series I:
180115 (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Avero Publications, 1984-6;
6 vols); Series II: 181670 (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Avero
Publications, 1986-95; 56 vols); CD-ROM version, 1996.
in the National Union Catalog (Pre-1956 imprints),
based on the copy in the Boston Public Library (not seen
by present writer).
are due to Reading University Library for allowing access
to the Longman archives lodged there, and in particular
to Michael Bott and Frances Miller for answering queries
concerning material in the Letter Books.
Longman Archives, Divider Ledger D2, pp. 73, 92, 143,
112, 195; Impression Ledger 6, ff. 124v, 169.
This article is copyright © 1999 Centre for Editorial
and Intertextual Research, and is the result of the independent
labour of the scholar or scholars credited with authorship.
The material contained in this document may be freely distributed,
as long as the origin of information used has been properly
credited in the appropriate manner (e.g. through bibliographic
Referring to this
P. D. GARSIDE. Mrs Ross and Elizabeth B. Lester: New
Atributions, Cardiff Corvey: Reading the Romantic
Text 2 (June 1998). Online: Internet (date accessed):
Peter Garside (MA Cantab., PhD Cantab., AM Harvard) is Professor
of English Literature at Cardiff University and Chair of
the Centre for Editorial and Intertextual Research. As well
as specialising in Romantic and Augustan literature, he
has recently completed work on a Bibliographical Survey
of Prose Fiction Published in the British Isles (with
James Raven and Rainer Schöwerling; OUP forthcoming),
and is currently editing James Hoggs Private Memoirs
and Confessions of a Justified Sinner.
His other involvements include
participation in the advisory board of the Edinburgh Edition
of the Waverley Novels (from 1985) and the Stirling/South
Carolina Edition of the Collected Works of James Hogg (from
1991), as well as editing for both projects. He has published
widely in the field of Scottish fiction, publishing history,
and Romantic literature, and recent publications relevant
to fiction of the Romantic period include a chapter on Romantic
Gothic, in Literature of the Romantic Period,
ed. Michael ONeill (Oxford, 1998), pp. 31540.
19 September, 2005
This document is maintained by Anthony Mandal