Macaria by Augusta J Evans Wilson
In this post, I am examining the identity, origin and provenance of my copy of Macaria, which was published by Miles and Miles and is shown in Figure 1 below.
Who was Augusta J Evans Wilson?
Augusta Jane Evans was born on 8th May 1835 in Columbus, Georgia in the USA, the eldest of eight children of Mathew R. Evans and Sarah Evans nee Howard. She was born into a wealthy and prominent family. There seems to be no record of her attending school, but she remarked later in her life that she had been a very early and prolific reader as a child. The family fortunes suffered when her father became bankrupt early in her childhood, forcing the family to move, first to Alabama and then, in 1845, to San Antonio, Texas, before returning to Mobile, Alabama in 1849. San Antonio was very much a military outpost in the 1840s following the US-Mexico war, and the romance of the military life inspired Augusta to write her first book, Inez, A Tale of the Alamo in 1850, when she was just 15. This set the tone of much of her writing in later life, when she became known as the sympathetic voice on behalf of the Confederate army during the American Civil War. Inez was published anonymously in 1855, and was followed by her second book, Beulah, which was published under her own name in 1859. The book was so successful that she was able to buy a house called Georgia Cottage with the proceeds.
It was in Georgia Cottage that she wrote her next two, and most famous books, Macaria, published in 1863 and St. Elmo in 1866. She followed this with Vashti, published in 1868, and then she married a retired Confederate Colonel, Lorenzo Wilson, who was more than 25 years older than she. All of her future books, and reprints of her earlier books appeared under the name Augusta J Evans Wilson.
Macaria was pure confederate propaganda, praising the sacrifices of Confederate women and glorifying the Confederate army. The Civil War caused difficulties with the publication of Macaria. It was first published in Richmond, Virginia, which was part of the Confederacy, but it was also published in New York, very much in Union territory, by the device of smuggling the manuscript from Alabama to New York via Havana in Cuba to beat the wartime blockade. Copies of Macaria were famously burned by some fervent Unionists.
Augusta Evans Wilson went on to publish several other book after her marriage, including Infelice in 1875 and At the Mercy of Tiberius in 1887, but none of her later books were as popular as Macaria and St. Elmo. A silent movie version of St. Elmo was made in 1914, but it has now been lost, except for a few promotional still images. Augusta Jane Evans Wilson died in Mobile, Alabama on 9th May 1909. She was reputed to be the first American woman to make more than $100,000 from her writing, a sum not surpassed until Edith Wharton became successful nearly 50 years later.
Three comments concerning the books of Augusta Evans Wilson
Firstly, an observation on Macaria. When I first bought the book, the title seemed familiar to me, but I could not quite work out why. Then I realised that it is mentioned in one of my all-time favourite books, Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons. Cold Comfort Farm was published by Constable in London in 1932. It is a brilliant parody of a then popular style of rural novel, that glorified a down-beat, romantically earthy and doom-laden picture of life in English villages and farms that was typified by Gone to Earth, The House at Dormer Forest and Precious Bane by Mary Webb, all set in rural Shropshire. In Cold Comfort Farm, the heroine, Flora Poste is looking around the farmhouse and we hear that…
“Flora pounced on some books which lay on the broad window-sill: Macaria, or Altars of Sacrifice… She liked Victorian novels. They were the only kind of novel you could read while you were eating an apple.”
Altars of Sacrifice is indeed the subtitle of Macaria, and the neglected novel was clearly not completely forgotten, at least not by Stella Gibbons in 1932.
Secondly, I have referred earlier to in these blogs to the list of 100 books published by Lever Brothers that was recorded by Janine Barchas in The Lost Novels of Jane Austen. Several of the books on the list were also published by Miles and Miles, apparently using the same stereotype plates. Macaria was not on that list, but I noticed that five other books by Augusta Evans Wilson were on the Lever Brothers list: Beulah, St.Elmo, Vashti, Infelice and At the Mercy of Tiberius. If all of the Lever Brothers books were printed on stereotype plates obtained from Routledge, as both Janine Barchas and I suspect, then there ought to be a record of these titles published by Routledge, probably in the period 1883-1900.
Thirdly, on the title page of my Miles and Miles copy of Macaria, the author is credited with being the author of “Beulah,” “St. Elmo,” “Infelice,” etc. If Macaria was printed by Miles and Miles from stereotype plates from Routledge, then you would expect these three titles to have been published by Routledge as well. A larger copy of that title page is shown below in Figure 3., together with a picture of Augusta Jane Evans Wilson.
Taking both of the last two observations together, one would expect there to have been at least six books by Augusta Evans Wilson published by Routledge; the five titles listed by Lever Brothers and Macaria. So the next questions are, were the works of Augusta Evans Wilson published by Routledge, and if so, which titles?
Was Augusta Evans Wilson published by Routledge?
This question was approached by the same method outlined in Price and Provenance 5 for a similar investigation of my Miles and Miles edition of Captain Cook’s Voyages. I searched both WorldCat and AbeBooks.
On WorldCat I found 17 editions of books by Augusta J Evans Wilson or Augusta J Evans listed as published by Routledge. These 17 books were various copies of Inez (1892), Beulah (1891, nd), Macaria (1892), St.Elmo (1891, 1893), Vashti (1890,1891), Infelice (1891, nd) and At the Mercy of Tiberius (1893). The years of publication by Routledge are given in brackets; nd means no date indicated. Clearly all of the books of interest, plus the author’s first book, Inez, were published by Routledge between 1890 and 1893.
The 1892 Routledge edition of Macaria was only noted as a single copy held at The British Library. Interestingly, another copy of Macaria was listed as published by Routledge after 1900 and printed by Billings and Sons at Guildford. In contrast to the 1892 copy, there were 334 different libraries listed as having a copy of this edition. Both this later edition and the 1892 edition were listed as 380 pages, the same page count as my Miles and Miles edition of Macaria.
The AbeBooks search, performed on 10th April 2020, found only five books. These were Inez (1892), Macaria (2 copies nd), St. Elmo (1891), and Infelice (1891). One of the copies of Macaria gave a page count which was again 380 pages. There were no images of any of these books on the AbeBooks site.
These two searches have confirmed that Routledge published seven titles of books by Augusta J Evans Wilson between 1890 and 1893, including all the titles listed by Lever Brothers in 1897 and all of the titles listed on the title page of my Miles and Miles edition of Macaria. All of the Routledge editions of Macaria had the same 380 page count as the Miles and Miles edition.
I am left to conclude that all the evidence is consistent with the idea that the Miles and Miles edition of Macaria was printed from the Routledge stereotype plates, after the publication of the Routledge editions. I will need to see a copy of a Routledge edition of Macaria to see if the text block is identical with the Miles and Miles edition.
In the next post, Price and Provenance 7, I now have a direct comparison between a very recently acquired Routledge edition of Macaria and the Miles and Miles edition.
In the following post, Price and Provenance 8, I will investigate the provenance of my copy of the Miles and Miles Macaria, and perhaps shed some further light on its date of publication.
Acknowledgement. The picture of Georgia Cottage and the photograph of Augusta J Evans Wilson were both obtained from Wikimedia Commons.