Send at once $3.00 for year's subscription to The Cosmopolitan, $1.00 for year's subscription to The Literary Northwest and 50 cents for a set of memoirs - $4.50 in all - to which add postage on the particular set of memoirs selected.


The noun, "memoir", is counted as a "set"?

We usually say, "She published a new memoir."

3 Answers 3


There are two ways to describe a book of this genre:

Memoirs is used as a fixed plural form, to indicate that it involves not just a single memory, but several ones.

She published her memoirs last year.

Memoir is also used to describe the same, but it is descriptive of the whole book, the collection of memories.

She published her memoir.

Interestingly, the two forms to describe "person's written account of his life" are almost contemporary to each other according to etymonline. For memoirs, there is a bit wider definition of "personal record of events", where the events do not have to span a person's lifetime.

Now, your source is a book from 1892, and it seems that here we have a third form. A memoir would be seen as just a single memory, and in a book you would have several of those. To indicate that plural, instead of using the (as far as I know, now common) memoirs, the authors chose to refer to them as a set of memoirs. You can read set of memoirs as "a collection of personal records of events".

Compare also to what happened to a pair of jeans, it is common to read she wears jeans.

  • Wondering if the downvoter would care to share their concerns?
    – oerkelens
    Commented Jun 16, 2014 at 12:15

The use of set is occasioned by the plurality of the term Memoirs for works of this sort.

If you look at the main part of this advertisement you will see that what is being offered is

The two splendid volumes of Grant's Memoirs [...]
  If however you have Grant's books this offer will permit you to take instead

... and there follows a list of four alternatives: Sherman's Memoirs (2 vols.), Sheridan's (2 vols.), McClellan's (1 vol.) or Lee's (1 vol.)

And after the passage you have quoted the publisher tells you to

add postage on the particular set of memoirs selected.

The publisher is understandably reluctant to specify this indefinite offering as one Memoirs or a Memoirs —that's very awkward English. He's equally reluctant to speak of bare Memoirs, lest he be understood as offering multiple works. And he cannot offer you one book, because some of the offers comprise two books.

He therefore settles on designating each of the alternatives a set of memoirs, of which some have two volumes, others only one.


Memoir (noun)

  1. an essay on a learned subject: "an important memoir on Carboniferous crustacea"

They could be using memoirs as a synonym for essays, with set being used for collection.

Also, and this is conjecture, they could be using set in conjunction with memoirs to mean the individual memoirs of multiple authors.

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