GASKELL William (1805-1884). Unitarian minister, author and husband of Elizabeth Gaskell.

GASKELL William 1805-1884. Unitarian minister, author and husband of Elizabeth Gaskell


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Autograph Letter Signed (“Wm Gaskell”) to “My dear Mr Ashton” [Thomas Ashton, cotton manufacturer and Beatrix Potter's great-uncle], 4 pages 8vo, Plymouth Grove, 12 January 1871.

A letter written from the Gaskells house at Plymouth Grove, Manchester with a strong Mancunian interest. William Gaskell, Unitarian minister, author, and husband of Elizabeth Gaskell, writes to Thomas Ashton, offering some guidance to one of Ashton’s daughters (possibly Margaret Ashton) “in pursuing the study of our literature.” After mentioning Spalding’s History of English Literature, the “manual” he uses “with [his] students at the Home Missionary Board”, as a good place to start her education, he mentions a number of other all-encompassing works on English literature including those by Chambers, Hallam and Gaskell’s friend Henry Morley, before concluding: “What I should recommend Miss Ashton to do is, to read Spalding first, and get what information she can from the other books which I have specified, and then throw what she has gleaned into her own form. She will thus impress what she has learned more deeply on her memory, and at the same time be exercising herself in English composition. I should feel ashamed of having been so long in fulfilling my promise had the fault lain with myself; and am sorry that now I am obliged to content myself with the few hints which I have given. If, however, Miss Ashton finds that there are any points, as she proceeds, in which she thinks I can help her with hints as to sources of information, or by the loan of books, I need hardly say I shall be most happy to do so [. . .]”

Thomas Ashton had three sons and six daughters with his wife Elizabeth and, although it is not made clear to which Miss Ashton this letter refers, it is very tempting to presume that it is Margaret Ashton (1856-1937) who would have been fifteen at the time of this letter. Margaret Ashton was a politician and philanthropist who campaigned, in particular, for the rights of women, children and the poor. She was the first woman to be elected to the Manchester city council and during her time as councillor she campaigned for an improvement in the conditions of employment for women and was also instrumental in effecting a number of health reforms. She was one of the founders of Manchester Babies’ Hospital which she also supported financially and continued to work for throughout her life. She once said ‘I owe everything to Manchester’, but given her tireless work for that city it has been suggested that equally, Manchester owes much to her.

Stock Code: 217076

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