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seated lady with book

Alida
by Amelia Stratton Comfield

In classical literature, there is a form called the cento. This does not mean a hundred of anything; it’s simply the Latin word for patchwork. In its original form, the cento takes small pieces of familiar works such as the Aeneid and reassembles the segments—ranging from a few words to two full lines—into a new text. The result can be anything from saints’ lives to outright obscenity.

With rare exceptions, Alida cannot be called a cento. While some borrowings involve single phrases, most range from one or two paragraphs to entire chapters. I first stumbled across the book while searching for the originals of some quoted passages in Alonzo and Melissa. This novel turns out to have been one of Alida’s major donors—the word “source” isn’t strong enough—contri­uting a solid six-chapter block as well as many shorter segments. (Appropriately, Alonzo and Melissa was itself pirated; its credited author did not actually write the book.) Conversely, a number of Alida’s other donors were formally copyrighted—sometimes in the self-same New York office where the copyright of Alida was filed.

Alida: text only

Alida: text with sources

The Author

I know next to nothing about Amelia Stratton Comfield, the author of Alida . . . except what she looked like in 1852, when her portrait (further identified as “Mrs. John F. Comfield”) was painted by David Rogers:

portrait of author

I’ve tweaked the picture to align horizontals and verticals, and to highlight the two copies of Alida (on bookcase behind subject, and in her hand). The original is currently available online at the Smithsonian collection.

Published Stratton family histories offer an Amelia Stratton from Long Island who married an Englishman named John Comfield—but this Amelia was born in the early 1780’s, and the subject of the portrait is manifestly not seventy years old.

“Our” Amelia Stratton Comfield may have been related to Southern writer and educator Catherine Stratton Ladd (1808–1899), who wrote under a number of pseudonyms—including “Alida”.

Chronology

The chronology of Alida is internally consistent: that is, the passage of time based on descriptions of seasons agrees with datable external events. This is true even in the part of the story that draws heavily on Alonzo and Melissa—a pretty impressive feat, I have to say. The war of 1812 officially ended in December 1814; evidently the news reached New York before it reached New Orleans.

Formalities

This etext is based on the 1841 third edition (New York).

Typographical errors—which are surprisingly rare—are shown in the text with mouse-hover popups, and are listed again at the end of the text-only version. French and Italian quotations are shown as printed, retaining obvious errors. Most English spellings are unchanged, including:

The use of “filial” for “parental” and the random variation between “meantime” and “mean time” are also unchanged. In Chapter XXVII, “team-boat” is not an error.

Finally: I have left out the poems because, well, bad poetry doesn’t get any better when you steal it. If you really want to see what you’re missing, the full text, in HTML and other formats, is available as Project Gutenberg etext 33647.

Alida
 

Having read the new work entitled “Alida,” or Miscellaneous Sketches of Occurrences during the late American War, which abounds with elegance of language, sublime poetry, and useful lessons—as an American, I have a pride in saying, that our press has seldom been honoured with a work as improving and interesting to the reader, and as well written as any to be found either among the older or modern authors.

J. H. Hardenbrook.

It may be here proper to rectify a slight mistake in two of the complimentary pieces written on the contents of Alida, in which the work was innocently stated to have been expressly written for the aid of benevolent purposes; instead of which it should have read [expressly printed] for the aid of benevolent purposes. The truth is, some part was written as a journal of incidents, and to amuse leisure hours somewhat usefully; other parts to commemorate some particular facts for the gratification of the author and near relatives, not expecting any other eye to meet a single line of it. But on being looked over by an affectionate pious friend, the author was solicited to allow it to be printed. It was at length acceded to, on the ground that the proceeds, however little over the expenses attending it, should be appropriated to charitable purposes.

It is but just to embrace this opportunity to express the reciprocal kind feelings of the author, not only for the friendly and encouraging encomiums above alluded to, with other kind approvals which have appeared in print,—but for the call of a third edition so soon, being within the first year of its appearance. The favourable reception which the former editions of this work has met with from the public, in these trying times (when so many valuable works are permitted to lay useless on the shelves of the book-sellers,) encourages the editor to attempt the publication of another edition. The author has embraced the opportunity carefully to revise and correct the typographical mistakes in the former editions, and to enlarge the work with additional prose and poetry, which it is humbly hoped will be found both pleasing and useful.

seated lady with book

ALIDA.

“Optimum vitæ genus eligito nam consuetudo faciet
jucundissimum.”

ALIDA:

OR,

MISCELLANEOUS SKETCHES

OF

INCIDENTS

DURING THE LATE AMERICAN WAR.

FOUNDED ON FACT.

WITH POEMS.

 

BY AN UNKNOWN AUTHOR.

 

If I could gain, howe’er so little, to improve,
I’d give it to the world for benefit.

 

Third Edition, revised and improved.

 

NEW-YORK:
 
Printed for the Author, and for sale by the Booksellers.


M DCCC XLI.

The proceeds of this work, over the expenses of publishing, to be appropriated to charitable purposes.


 
 

Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1840,

BY HENRY LUDWIG,

In the Clerk’s Office of the Southern District of New-York.

H. LUDWIG, PRINTER,
72 Vesey-st., N. Y.

THIS WORK
IS RESPECTFULLY INSCRIBED
TO THE
AMIABLE, SENSIBLE, AND PIOUS
MISS CAROLINE SISSON,
NIECE TO HIS EXCELLENCY,
CHARLES COLLINS, GOVERNOR OF RHODE-ISLAND,
WHOSE HIGHLY EXEMPLARY CHARACTER,
WITH THAT OF HIS
EXCELLENT LADY,
MUST DESERVEDLY GAIN FOR THEM APPLAUSE AND RESPECT
WHEREVER THEY ARE KNOWN,
AND FROM PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE OF THIS MOST WORTHY FAMILY,
THE AUTHOR HAS REASON TO SUBSCRIBE HERSELF
THEIR VERY MUCH OBLIGED,

AFFECTIONATE FRIEND.

Notes and Corrections: Preliminary Section

Printed for the Author, and for sale by the Booksellers
text has by the Rooksellers
[Really. But this pales by comparison with the early-18th-century book whose Dedication page proclaims, in vast letters, “HER HAJESTY” the Queen.]

243

Subscribers’ Names

Allison, Mr.

Allison, Miss Elizabeth,

Allison, Miss Mary,

Allison, Henry,

Alfa, John,

Alfa, Miss Victorine,

Bradford, Hersey,

Blake, Mrs. Ira,

Burke, Miss Julia A.

Brooks, Miss Margaret,

Brown, T.

Belknap, J.

Belknap, Miss Anna,

Belknap, Miss Mary,

Brown, Miss Sarah B.

Blackwell, S.

Broom, Mr.

Bosworth, Mrs. Charlotte,

Bosworth, Miss Clementina,

Clayton, Mrs. Mary,

Clayton, Miss Emma,

Covert, Miss Mary,

Clarkson, Mr.

Colgate, Miss Catharine,

Crosby, Mrs. J.

Crosby, Mrs.

Clement, Miss Elizabeth,

Clement, Mrs. Mary,

Clement, Miss Sarah E.

Clement, Miss Mary,

Collins, Charles, Governor of Rhode Island.

Douglass, N. A.

Delaplane, Mr.

Ely, Mrs. Ann,

Everson, Miss,

Everson, Mrs.

Elliott, James,

Elliott, Mrs. Elizabeth,

Foster, Miss Martha C.

Filby, T. E.

Frances, Edward,

Frances, Miss Anna,

Ferris, J.

Ferris, Miss Ann Eliza,

Ferris, Miss Amanda,

Gracie, Mrs. Anna,

Gillett, Miss Mary L.

Garretson, G. R.

Griffin, Mrs. L.

Gracie, Mrs. William,

Greenoak, Samuel,

Goodwin, Rev. F. J.

Greenwood, Mrs.

Glover, Mrs.

Glover, Miss,

Hamilton, Miss M. T.

Hazard, Rowland R.

Herriman, James, Esq.

Hatfield, Mrs.

Higby, Washington,

Higby, Mrs. Washinaton,

Hobbs, Mrs. Helen M.

Hasell, Mrs.

Hackett, Mrs.

Hawks, Rev. Doct.

Howland, Mrs. Gardenfer,

Hardenbrook, Mr.

Hardenbrook, Miss Mary,

Hasbrook, Miss Caroline,

Halsey, A.

Howard, Mr.

Howard, Miss Ellen,

Hall, Edward,

Hurlbeck, Mrs. Eliza,

Hurlbeck, Miss Maria,

Hadden, Mrs. David,

Johnson, Rev. William,

Johnson, Mrs. Mary,

Johnson, Henry,

Jones, Mrs. Ann,

King, Mrs. John,

244

King, Miss Ellen,

Kimber, Miss Anna,

King, Mr.

Kissam, Dr. L. H.

King, Mrs. Joseph,

Lawrence, Mrs. Elizabeth,

Lawrence, William A.

Lawrence, Mrs. Catharine,

Lawrence, Mrs. H. S.

Lamberson, Judge David,

Lawrence, Mrs. Effingham,

Lowe, Miss Amelia,

Lanius, Mrs. Henry,

Limmor, William L.

Lyman, Mr.

Lyman, Miss Rebecca,

Laidlaw, Miss Elizabeth,

Mitchell, G. G.

Mitchell, Mrs. M. E.

Mills, Mrs. Sarah,

Mitchell, Mrs. M. A.

Mitchell, Wm. Augustus,

Miller, Miss Mary L.

Mikell, Mrs. J. C.

Maxwell, Mr.

Montgomery, J.

Mitchell, Miss Rosalie A.

Mitchell, Mrs. M. A.

Nicholls, Percival,

Penington, Mrs. Ann,

Pell, L. H.

Pell, Mrs. L. H.

Prescott, W.

Quarterman, Mrs. Elizabeth,

Rider, James, Esq.

Roe, George B.

Riker, Mr.

Riker, Miss Eliza,

Rayburg, Miss Sarah,

Reeve, Lorenzo,

Sisson, Miss Caroline,

Shelton, Dr. Nathan,

Shelton, Dr. Jolm D.

Smith, John, Esq.

Sandford, William,

Sandford, Mrs. William,

Smith, John C. Esq.

Stryker, Mrs. Elizabeth,

Silliman, Miss Sarah,

Smith, Mrs. Amelia T.

Savage, Mrs. William,

Sanford, Charles,

Schoonmaker, Rev. Dr.

Schoonmaker, Miss,

Southgate, Miss Emma,

Stevenson, Mr.

Stratton, Mrs. Robert M.

Torrey, Mrs. C. C.

Trulock, Mrs. Eliza,

Vanzandt, Mrs. L. B.

Volk, Mrs. John,

Vanzandt, Mrs. Mary L.

Welling, Miss Victoria,

Warren, A.

Walkling, Mrs. Anna,

Weeks, Miss Sarah Elizabeth

Wells, Mrs., of Brooklyn,

Watrous, Charles L.

Winter, William,

Winter, Mrs. G.

The original of this text is in the public domain—at least in the U.S.
My notes are copyright, as are all under-the-hood elements.
If in doubt, ask.