“one of the finest Sights in the Universe”

In her commonplace book MILCAH MARTHA MOORE transcribed the following passage from the travel journal that ELIZABETH GRAEME (1737-1801) kept in which she describes being at sea and seeing the setting sun. The complete journal has not been found.

Remarks—on the Passage from Phila:a. to Liverpool June 1764.

I could not help observing, that whatever way the Ship moved she appeared to be in the Centre of a Circle, for the Sea seems to be a perfect Circle, surrounded by the Clouds, that look as if they bent down at the Edges to join it, so that our own Eyes form the Horizon, & like Self-Love, we are always placing ourselves in the Middle, where all Things move round us.—I saw the Sun set clear, for the first Time, I was reading Priam’s Petition to Achilles, for the Body of Hector, I think my Eyes were engaged in one of the finest Sights in the Universe, & my Passions, interested in one of the most pathetic that History or Poetry can paint.—

Graeme was reading a passage from the Iliad. When she returned from England she took up residence at the family home, Graeme Park, outside of Philadelphia. A noted hostess she held literary “attic salons” where many noted Philadelphians gathered—she met her husband-to-be, Hugh Henry Fergusson, at one of these. Fergusson worked for the British during the occupation of Philadelphia. When the British evacuated the city he went to England and urged his wife to join him there. But she had inherited Graeme Park when her parents died and was loath to give it up. Unfortunately, according to colonial law of “feme covert,” a wife’s property became her husband’s after their marriage. Because Fergusson was a Loyalist, Graeme Park was confiscated by the Pennsylvania government. After two years of petitioning Elizabeth finally regained the family home in 1781. But the upkeep proved to be such a financial burden that she was obliged to sell. She lived with friends, writing and publishing poetry, translating classical works, and sharing commonplace books with other women. She died in 1801.

Milcah Martha Moore’s Book: A Commonplace Book from Revolutionary America edited by Catherine La Courreye Blecki and Karen A. Wulf (University Park, Pennsylvania: Penn State University Press, 1997), pp 200-201. Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson’s commonplace book can be examined HERE. Note the use of quotation marks for passages she has copied.


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