Anne Lister eagerly looked forward to her tour of North Wales in July 1822 – a tour made in the company of a dear aunt, and whose principal highlight would be a visit to Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, the celebrated Ladies of Llangollen. Ten days prior to her departure, Lister received a letter from her friend, Isabel Dalton, reassuring her that apparently ‘no introduction’ to the Ladies would be necessary: “Any literary person especially calling on them would be taken as a compliment.” Butler and Ponsonby were accustomed to receiving visits from the best of ‘literary persons’, including William Wordsworth, Caroline Lamb, Edmund Burke, and Sir Walter Scott. While Lister lacked such illustrious renown, she was certainly qualified to make the visit. Her diaries reveal that Halifax Library was one of her regular haunts, that she kept careful note of her reading, regularly perused literary reviews, and enjoyed performing favourite book passages and songs to friends and family. She relied on her literary knowledge to further her amorous intrigues, was generous in her presentation of bound books as gifts and love tokens, and confided in a select few of her ‘ambition in the literary way’ and related wish for ‘a name in the world’. Unsurprisingly then, the Ladies of Llangollen’s ‘rustic library’ made an immediate impression on Lister, who warmly admired their ‘little bookcase with 30 or 40 little volumes [of] chiefly poetry, Spenser, Chaucer, Pope, Cowper, Homer, Shakespeare, etc. –’. For their part, Butler and Ponsonby were ‘always reading’; or, in their own words, indulging in ‘the exquisite pleasures of retirement and the luxury of purchasing books’.
Valladares, S. (2013). ‘“An Introduction to the Literary Person[s]” of Anne Lister and the Ladies of Llangollen’. Literature Compass, 10(4), 353-368. https://doi.org/10.1111/lic3.12054