A Residence in France, by LADY, an English, possibly BIGGS,…

once thought to be by Helen Maria Williams and clearly inspired by her
LADY, an English, possibly BIGGS, (Rachel) Charlotte Williams (d. 1827).
GIFFORD, John, pseud. ie John Richards Green (1758-1818), editor.

A Residence in France, during the Years 1792, 1793, 1794, and 1795; described in a Series of Letters from an English Lady: with General and Incidental Remarks on the French Character and Manners. Prepared for the Press by John Gifford... In two volumes. Second Edition. Vol. I [-II]. London, Longman, 1797.

Second Edition. Two volumes, 8vo (216 x 120 mm), pp. [ii], xxxvi, 456; [ii], 476, tear through top margin of I 341, with loss of two letters of running title, in later half calf over pale marbled boards, joints cracking, spines damaged and rather unattractive, lively blue marbled endpapers, with the contemporary ownership inscription of James Williams on the second title-page.

A popular eye-witness account of 1790s France, once thought to be by Helen Maria Williams and clearly inspired by her. This fascinating source book is now thought to be the work of (Rachel) Charlotte Biggs, née Williams. With all these Williams attributions and connections, it is tempting to think that this is a family owned copy, with the contemporary inscription of James Williams. There is also a school of thought that attributes the work to the so-called editor, John Richards Green, who changed his name to John Gifford at the age of 23. A political writer, active Tory and ardent monarchist, Gifford was involved at this time in writing a number of histories of France and the French Revolution. Whatever the truth of the authorship, the subject matter, the epistolary nature of the composition and the attribution to an ‘English Lady’ are clearly influenced by Helen Maria Williams’ series of Letters written in France, the first of which was published in 1790: the author and publisher of the present work were also quite possibly trying to benefit from the reflected marketing.

‘I am every day more confirmed in the opinion I communicated to you on my arrival’, the text begins, ‘that the first ardour of the revolution is abated. - The bridal days are indeed past,and I think I perceive something like indifference approaching. Perhaps the French themselves are not sensible of this change; but I who have been absent two years, and have made as it were a sudden transition from enthusiasm to coldness, without passing through the intermediate gradations, am forcibly struck with it. When I was here in 1790, parties could be scarcely said to exist - the popular triumph was too complete and too recent for intolerance and persecution, and the Noblesse and Clergy either submitted in silence, or appeared to rejoice in their own defeat. In fact, it was the confusion of a decisive conquest - the victors and the vanquished were mingled together; and the one had not leisure to exercise cruelty, nor the other to meditate revenge. Politics had not yet divided society; nor the weakness and pride of the great, with the malice and insolence of the litte, thinned the public places. The politics of the women went no farther than a few couplets in praise of liberty, and the patriotism of the men was confined to an habit de garde nationale, the device of a button, or a nocturnal revel, which they called mounting guard’.

ESTC t72016, listing a handful of copies in the UK and New York Historical Society, Delaware, Iowa and Minnesota.

Keywords: French Revolution
Print this page View basket Price: £300.00