What Books Were Popular Among Catholics in 1849?

Dan Snow wraps up his internship working on the Jesuit book trade ledger with this post on the titles that the Jesuits most frequently purchased from East Coast and European publishers/wholesalers between May and September 1849.  Dan graduated last week an MA in History. We wish him well on the next stage in his intellectual journey!

During the last half of the spring semester, I transcribed the items imported by the Jesuits from East Coast and European publishers between October 1848 until September 1849. Earlier in the semester I transcribed the items that were sold by the Jesuits from May through September 1849. With this data in Excel spreadsheets, the accounts of the Society of Jesus can be explored in a more convenient manner. This information allows us to begin looking at the specific books and items involved in these transactions. Taking the titles we have now, we can begin to research their publishing information, content, authors, and other relevant data. Finding out more about the specific books the Jesuits bought and sold can help us think about how these books were used in contemporary Catholic culture.

Of the nearly 1,300 items listed in the 1849 exports, 354 were unique items. This means that the 1,291 transcribed listings were made up of only 354 distinct items (such as a Catechism). Of these 354 items, 185 were listed only once, accounting for 52. percent of all the individual titles. Only 14.7 percent of the unique items sold more than five times. Thus a relatively small number of items (52 out of 354) were among the most popular items sold by the Jesuits.

Listings Items Percentage
1 185 52.3
2 55 15.5
3 37 10.5
4 20 5.6
5 5 1.4
6-7 12


8-10 15 4.2
11-20 12 3.4
20-100 13 3.7

Removed non-textual objects and unidentifiable books reduces the list of most popular works even more. There are a number of devotional objects that the Jesuits sold. As I noted in my last post, “beads” could refer to various items. Crosses, medals, beads – these items require more extensive research of a different sort than the books in the ledger. I also did not try to research shortened titles which I felt were too general to be able to identify with confidence. Titles like “Gospels,” “Bible,” and “Catechism” are too vague to determine with exact certainty. It is likely that there was a popular, standardized Catholic version in use of each of these texts, but the presence of such a popular version of the Gospels would not necessarily mean that the Gospels listed in the ledger were that version. After removing these items, I was left with 30 titles from the original 52 items.

I took the shortened titles used in the ledger and tried to research the full title, author, publisher (by taking the title and checking the import records from October 1848 through September 1849), and purchasers (using my earlier research). Primarily using WorldCat for these searches, I hoped to establish some preliminary knowledge on what these 30 titles were.

To offer a few examples of these books, we can look at two items on the low end of the “over five appearances” list and two on the high end. On the low end (with six appearances each) were the “3rd Reader” and the “Monat Maria.”

Edward Dunigan’s 1852 Third Book of Reading Lessons

The 3rd Reader was likely The Third Book of Reading Lessons. This textbook was part of a series popular among Catholics at the time. (The “1st Reader” and “2nd Reader” were also commonly sold in the ledger.) The Third Book of Reading Lessons was originally published by the order of the Brothers of the Christian Schools (the De La Salle Brothers, or the Frères des écoles chrétiennes, using the post-nominal F.S.C.). Fielding Lucas and Eugene Cummiskey both sold the textbook to the Jesuits between October 1848 and September 1849, and the book was also sold by other publishers (as this 1852 Edward Dunigan version shows). The Christian Brothers did have a presence in St. Louis and placed at least two orders with Jesuits in 1849. However, they never bought their own book. Instead, The Third Book of Reading Lessons was sold to Rev. Druyts, Rev. Schoenmakers, Rev. Burke, and the Sisters of the Visitation. All four worked in education: Rev. J. B. Druyts, S.J. was the Vice President of the Board of Trustees at St. Louis University; Rev. John Schoenmakers worked at a Jesuit mission in Osage County, Kansas; Rev. Thomas Burke, C.M. was the procurator at the Vincentian St. Mary’s Seminary in Perry Co., Missouri; and the Sisters of the Visitation had a convent and school in St. Louis. The “3rd Reader” was used in Catholic education throughout the Mississippi Valley and beyond during the mid-century. It was a useful text in a broad variety of environments.

Benzigers’ 1878 Der Monat Maria. By 1878, Benziger had established itself in New York, Cincinnati, and St. Louis while in 1849 the Jesuits still ordered from Einsiedeln, Switzerland.

The “Monat Maria” or Der Monat Mariä oder fromme Übungen zur Verehrung der göttlichen Mutter auf alle Tage des Monats Mai (The Month of Mary or Pious Exercises for the Worship of the Divine Mother on All the Days of May) was used with a specific population: the rising numbers of German immigrants to the Mississippi and Missouri valleys in the 1840s and 1850s. This devotional manual was published under a variety of authors, editors, and publishers throughout the nineteenth century. The Switzerland-based Benziger brothers sold the “Monat Maria” in the late 1840s (and were still publishing it in 1878). It is likely that the Jesuits sold the version created by Francis Xavier Weninger, S.J. (1805-1888), an Austrian Jesuit who came to the U.S. after the 1848 revolutions. The Jesuits sold the “Monat Maria” to several priests, including: Rev. William Wheeler at St. Patrick’s Parish in St. Louis; Rev. Schoenmakers, Rev. Arnold Damen, S.J. at Francis Xavier Parish, St. Louis; Rev. Joseph Melcher, the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of St. Louis; and Rev. Florian Sautois, S.J., also at Francis Xavier with Damen. The devotional manual would have proven useful to parish priests looking to support the devotional lives of German immigrants, providing them with a familiar language in their adopted country.

John Murphy’s 1848 St. Vincent’s Manual

The “3rd Reader” and “Monat Maria” were at the low end of the appearance spectrum for 1849 exports. The “Ursuline Manual” and “St. Vincent’s Manual” were at the top with 32 and 30 listings, respectively. The Jesuits bought copies of St. Vincent’s Manual: Containing a Selection of Prayers and Devotional Exercises, Originally Prepared for use of the Sisters of Charity in the United States of America from both John Murphy and Fielding Lucas in 1849.  In fact, as Murphy’s 1848 edition notes, the manual was “sold by all the principal Catholic Booksellers throughout the United States.” In turn, the Jesuits sold the Manual to 22 different individual purchasers in 1849. The “Ursuline Manual” enjoyed a similarly wide range of purchasers. The Ursuline Manual: or, A Collection of Prayers, Spiritual Exercises … was written by the Ursuline Sisters in Ireland as a devotional manual “for forming youth to the practice of solid piety.” It was a popular work, like St. Vincent’s Manual, and published by multiple firms. The Jesuits purchased copies from Edward Dunigan, Fielding Lucas, and John Murphy. They sold the Ursuline Manual to 20 different individuals, ranging from lay persons to Jesuit professors.

Edward Dunigan’s 1857 The Ursuline Manual

These devotional manuals were highly adaptable books that could be used by a variety of Catholic audiences. All found them a helpful guide to the Catholic Mass, celebrated in Latin. The laity could use them for fraternal organizations or within their own homes. Parish priests could use them within their schools, as could the educators at convents or seminaries. The books would have been helpful for creating a sense of Catholic identity, providing a set of prayers and customs to be carried out in a systematic way. When a priest was not readily available – which was the case for many new parishes which shared a priest with nearby congregations – the books could provide faith instruction outside the walls of the church. The institutional Church backed the publication of these devotional manuals, as Dunigan’s 1857 version of The Ursuline Manual shows approval from the powerful Archbishop John Hughes of New York. All of these reasons likely helped the Ursuline Manual and St. Vincent’s Manual become two of the most popular works in 1849.

In closing, there is still much more work to be done on the books and devotional objects sold in 1849. These examples are just four of more than 350 items that can be researched and contextualized within nineteenth-century American Catholicism. Each can offer some insight on Catholic culture and society of the time. Moreover, each book has a place within this world. The overall story of this market; of this trade; and of the books, institutions, and people who made it work speaks to the nature of Catholicism and the American frontier at mid-century. I have been happy to play a small role in this project and hope that some of the work I have done will be useful for my fellow (and future) project members. The Jesuit Libraries Provenance Project has and will continue to offer a fascinating look at the power of books within faith and community.


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