Elizabeth Culman (1818-1833)

While researching the more exotic publication places we mapped from Stainforth’s library catalog, we discovered that he collected a book by Elizabeth Culman (1816-1833) published in St. Petersburg, Russia. 

The “Wants” portion of the catalog indicates that he wanted to collect Culman’s Works published in 1834, the year after her death. He did not cross off the title in his Wants list, which leads us to believe that he did not manage to acquire the title.

This makes us feel better because we were unable to find much about the author or the title even with the help of the Internet. We could not find Culman’s titles in Worldcat or digital editions of them on the web in general. She is not profiled in Orlando, she has no record in VIAF (which would list records from any major national library such as the LOC or BL), and no entry in the ODNB.

Using Google Books, we did find that she has an entry in Sarah Hale’s title Woman’s Record: Or, Sketches of All Distinguished Women (1853). This is the only snippet of information we were able to find about her, and it turns out she was an incredible intellectual and author for one so young.

CULMAN ELIZABETH Is worthy of a place beside Lucretia Davidson; she died when only seventeen years old. Miss Culman was born in the year 1816 at St Petersburg. She was already a prodigy of learning at an age when other children only commence their education. In her fourteenth year she was acquainted with ancient and modern Greek, the Latin, German, English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese languages and literature and had then already translated the Odes of Anacreon into her vernacular. But just when her mind gave promise of becoming one of the greatest ornaments of her country, death removed her to a higher state of existence. She died, in 1833, at St Petersburg; and a year after her death her writings making three volumes were published in that city. (278)

In his catalog, Stainforth puts a question mark between the city and the publication date, but the short biography of Culman I found indicates that this book was published in that city. Perhaps Stainforth also read this short biography, since it was published before his death.

The same entry appears in A Cyclopaedia of Female Biography (also edited by Hale as well as Henry Gardiner Adams, 1857) on page 221.

I was able to find this descriptive biographical stub thanks to Jane Stevenson’s footnote in Women Latin Poets: Language, Gender, and Authority from Antiquity to the Eighteenth Century (Oxford UP, 2005).

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