A Note on Online, Library and Bookseller Catalogue Misattributions

In the work of many women writers who have never had a full separate biography written about them taken from archival sources, and in whose work few have taken serious scholarly interest, misattributions begin to appear.

At least three works regularly attributed to Isabelle de Montolieu in library, online and bookseller's catalogues are not by her. The Enchanted Plants and The Festival of the Rose are the work of Maria Henrietta Montolieu. The Fables of Flora are not by Isabelle de Montolieu either.

  1. I am indebted to Stephen Massil of Sir John Sloane's Museum for the following card catalogue information:

    Montolieu, Maria Henrietta (b. 1765)

    The enchanted plants. Fables in verse. Inscribed to Miss Montolieu, and Miss Julia Montolieu. Second edition.

    London: printed by Thomas Bensley, 1801

    [viii], 95, [1] p., engr. frontis.; 16.6 cm. (8º)

    Anonymous. By Maria Henrietta Montolieu. First published in 1800. The second paragraph of the author's advertisement on p. [v] reads: 'The few notes she wrote for her children, [i.e. the Misses Montolieu] and which may be of use to young readers, will be found at the end of the book'. Maria Henrietta Montolieu was the wife of Louis Montolieu, FSA (1761-1817). In the èBiographical Dictionary of the Living Authors’, 1816, she is also recorded as the author of The Festival of the Rose, 1802 and her collected works in 1812. Her daughter Julia married firstly William Wilbraham, RN (died 1824) and then Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Edward Bouverie (1783-1854), Governor of Malta (see: Huguenot Library. Henry Wagner Pedigrees). Engraved frontispiece by L. Schiavonetti after William Hamilton. A series of moral verses on subjects such as gambling, scandal, vulgarity etc., drawing on the inspirational qualities of plants.

  2. I own a copy of The Enchanted Plants bound together with The Fables of Flora. From my reading of this book Maria Henrietta Montolieu seems to be an Englishwoman. She expresses pride in the connection of her family to Switzerland in vague language which gives little exact information about who she is or how her particular group is connected to the Montolieu clan: "From Switzerland's romantic heights,/Spring our exotic race,/Whom now this gentle soil delights,/Who British gardens grace." Nowhere is there any sign this is a translation from another language; it is written in weak English verse whose complicated syntax, stanza forms, and inversions are wholly unlike Isabelle de Montolieu's in her verse. It is clear that the author of The Enchanted Plants is living in England. The Fables of Flora included in the book are attributed to "Dr Langhorne." Some of the poems in this book are dedicated to men with English names which never turn up anywhere in writing about Isabelle de Montolieu. I have found no recognizable reference to names, people or specific places connected to Isabelle de Montolieu. In one poem in this book the author addresses Julia as her daughter. There is a New York Public Library catalogue entry for a copy of The Enchanted Plants and Fables of Flora which is recorded as "inscribed to two daughters (Miss Montolieu and Miss Julia Montolieu)." Isabelle de Montolieu never had any daughters. (See my The Framework (1751-1786).
  3. There are editions of Enchanted Plants and Fables by Flora bound together with the similarly titled poem, The Festival of the Rose; this second title published "with other poems" is also found (wrongly) attributed to Isabelle de Montolieu in the catalogue of the National Library of France, but the only place and publisher recorded are: "London : print. by T. Bensley, 1802." The Enchanted Plants, Fables of Flora and Festival of the Rose are found as a combined book all (again wrongly) attributed to Isabelle de Montolieu in library catalogues and online booksellers' advertisements.

The problem seems to be that there were two women with the same last name writing around the same time, one in England and the other in Switzerland. Both shared the same tastes, and Maria Henrietta Montolieu may have translated too. Accordingly, I would also be suspicious of any books in verse never cited in French and attributed to Isabelle de Montolieu where the name of the author appears as "Mrs. Montolieu" or "Madame Montolieu." For example, "The Gardens: A Poem," is recorded in the National Library of France catalogue as "a translation from the French of the Abbé de Lille" by "Mrs Montolieu." However, the publication information only shows it published in London: "London : printed by T. Bensley, 1798." This is the same place and publisher for Enchanted Plants, Fables of Flora, and Festival of the Rose, and other poems.

Two further English texts regularly cited as translations from French texts by Isabelle de Montolieu may well find their source in her work, but the first rouses suspicion, and the second needs more confirmation. An entry from the British Library reads: "The avalanche; or, The old man of the Alps, a tale translated from the French. Joint author/editor: Montolieu, Isabelle de. 1751-1832. Clapham. printed and published by H. N. Batten; and sold by Simpkin and Marshall, Darton and Harvey, and Hailes, London. 1829." However, another entry in the same catalogue, which reports that the text is "an account of the avalanche of Bergemoletto in 1755," also says that this text may be by "anonymous." This item does not appear in French in any catalogue I have seen. Anther similarly titled tale is The Old Cobler of the Village said to be translated from "Madame Montolieu" by "Mrs Sherwood" (Martha Sherwood) in 1835. Sometimes The Old Cobler is found with another text whose title is The Idler. There is a "Marcel; or, the Cobbler of the Cottage" listed as one of the translations from Montolieu's short pieces by Mrs Plunkett (published 1811, see Working Bibliography), and Sherwood's may be another translation of the same tale. The source could equally be other late 18th century writers of romantic/sentimental "contes" set in Switzerland (e.g., Marmontel).

For further information see my Working Bibliography.


Page Last Updated 26 May 2003