How many readers have prizes on their bookshelves they received at Sunday School, primary and high school or even University? Each book will have a story associated with it. It could be a title that never held appeal and was not read or it could be well thumbed through and treasured. Maybe you had to work incredibly hard to achieve the result and it was a just reward or you were taken by surprise that an award came your way. More often then not however these book awards are removed from our collections and will often turn up in secondhand shops which results in a disconnection to the person and context.
Book plates and inscriptions always raise my curiosity and from time to time a book will arrive at the Archives which we can connect with. It is this connection that begins to bring something of the recipient to life in the present, particularly the connection with someone you know. The inscription of Lavina Kelsey on two books that popped up in the Archives did just that.
I had discovered that Lavinia Kelsey taught two of my antecedents at her private infant school in Dunedin in the 1880s. She is also known for the establishment of the Kindergarten movement in Dunedin working closely with Rachel Reynolds and the Rev. Dr. Rutherford Waddell two of my favourite personalities within the Presbyterian Church.
The first book with just her name inscribed may seem a little ‘dry’ 130 years on until we place it in the context of her life and the popularity of the author. Lavinia was the daughter of a Congregational Minister from London.and Frederick Robertson was a very popular minister from Brighton who died in his prime at the age of 37 in 1857. It is a book of Sermons preached by the Rev. Frederick W. Robertson at Trinity Church, Brighton between 1847 and 1853.
The second is The Life and letters of Fred. W. Robertson Vol 1 Edited by Stopford A. Brooke, 4th edition, 1877. Inside the inscription reads “Miss Kelsey. A parting gift from G & P S J. With love and every good wish. November, 1883.” In a different hand, on the inside cover, is a poem written by Emily Dickinson, (1830-1886) is it Lavinia’s hand? How does the poem relate to the content of the book?
Read -- Sweet -- how others -- strove -- Till we -- are stouter -- What they -- renounced -- Till we -- are less afraid -- How many times they -- bore the faithful witness -- Till we -- are helped -- As if a Kingdom -- cared! Read then -- of faith -- That shone above the fagot -- Clear strains of Hymn The River could not drown -- Brave names of Men -- And Celestial Women -- Passed out -- of Record --- Into Renown!
Lavinia moved to Christchurch in early 1883 and then onto London to visit her father. Was the book given by friends in Christchurch or in England? When did it leave her care? Parts of the story will remain untold at present. Somewhere I am sure will be a traces or footprints to inform us.