Thursday, February 11, 2016

Digital Humanities eighteenth century projects

Grub Street Project (Canada)

 "David Garrick and the mediation of celebrity”

Early Modern Books Metadata in Google Books

Old Bailey Online and Zotero (US/UK/Canada) collaborated on a project funded by Digging into Data Challenge.

Mapping the Republic of Letters  

Digital Defoe ( journal)

ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640-1830 -

Locating London's Past:
Connected Histories:
And the recent Digital Panopticon

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Robert Walpole Sr (1st Earl of Orford) - married Catherine and had
Robert Jr (2nd Earl of O) and Horace (4th Earl of O)
and then married Maria Skerritt and had
Robert and Maria were commemorated as Macheath and Polly in Gay's Beggar's Opera.

Sr was minister for a while, then impeached and sent away. As a whig he came back with George I who did not trust the Tories. He got in trouble over the south sea bubble but survived and helped protect some others. Then he resigned to be in opposition with Townsend. He was on the side of the Prince of Wales and helped fix a reconciliation in 1720. When George II took the throne in 1727 Walpole's power reached its zenith. He reigned for a long time, partly with the help of Queen Caroline, his friend.

The year 1737 was also marked by the death of Walpole's close friend, Queen Caroline . Though her death did not end his personal influence with George II, who had grown loyal to the Prime Minister during the preceding years, Walpole's domination of government continued to decline. His opponents acquired a vocal leader in the Prince of Wales, who was estranged from his father, the King. Several young politicians, including William Pitt the Elder and George Grenville , formed a faction known as the "Patriot Boys" and joined the Prince of Wales in opposition.
Walpole's failure to maintain a policy of avoiding military conflict eventually led to his fall from power.
Walpole attempted to prevent war, but was opposed by the King, the House of Commons, and by a faction in his own Cabinet. In 1739, Walpole abandoned all efforts to stop the conflict, and commenced the War of Jenkins' Ear (so called because Robert Jenkins, an English mariner, claimed that a Spaniard inspecting his vessel had severed his ear).
In 1742 he was made Lord Orford and resigned to take his place in the house of lords.
Lord Hervey sided with Robert Sr.

Horace - lived at Strawberry Hill, wrote the Castle of Otranto, wrote lots of letters (to the Berry sisters among others). May have been gay. Very ambivalent toward MWM ...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Elizabeth Carter 1717 - 1806

Carter, Elizabeth (1717–1806), poet, translator, and writer, was born on 16 December 1717 at Deal in Kent, the first child and eldest daughter (claims Judith Hawley, but records are not entirely clear since I do not have birth dates for Nicholas or James - who could be listed as Richard) of the Revd Nicolas Carter (1688–1774), perpetual curate of Deal Chapel, and one of the six preachers at Canterbury Cathedral, and his first wife, Margaret (d. c.1728), only daughter and heir of Richard Swayne of Bere Regis, Dorset. Margaret, who married with a fortune of £15,000, died when Carter was about ten. Montagu Pennington, Carter's nephew and biographer, says Margaret's death was hastened by the loss of her fortune in the South Sea Bubble, but if so, as the Bubble burst in 1720, it seems a delayed reaction. In the seventeenth century members of the Carter family were active in the parliamentary cause in the civil war; in the eighteenth they were loyal supporters of the monarchy.


Nicolas Carter (1688-1774)
Margaret neé Swayne (daughter and heiress of Richard Swayne) (?-1728)
    Married 6 August 1716, Bere-Regis, Dorset (according to
Nicolas ( - )
Elizabeth (1-1-17)
Richard (26-2-1718)
John (25-10-1725 - 1810) Married to Frances Underdown Obituary in Gentlemen's Magazine

  Married Mary Bean, 2-4-1729 St Leonard's, Deal
Mary (10-11-1730)
Sara (24-6-173)
Henry (10-9-1739) married to Ann Wilhelmina BENJAMIN
Ann  (12-9-1741)
Most of this information is from AJ on

Education and early career

Nicolas Carter, an accomplished linguist who published several pamphlets and sermons, educated all his children, both boys and girls, to a high standard. Elizabeth, however, was at first such a slow learner that he advised her to give up classical languages. Yet by dint of application she became so expert at Greek that, as she used to relate, ‘Samuel Johnson had said, speaking of some celebrated scholar, that he understood Greek better than any one whom he had ever known, except Elizabeth Carter’ (Pennington, 1.13). She also prepared her half-brother, Henry (son of her father's second marriage, to Mary Bean), for Cambridge in 1756, much to the consternation of the fellows of Corpus Christi College. In order to persevere with her studies she resorted to various extreme measures. She used to employ a sexton to wake her between 4 and 5 a.m. by pulling a string attached to a bell hanging at the head of her bed. To keep herself awake late at night she used to wrap wet towels about her head, chew green tea, and take snuff, until she was both addicted to snuff and painfully vulnerable to debilitating headaches for the rest of her life. By these means she first learned Latin and Greek, then Hebrew, French, Italian, and Spanish. Later in life she also taught herself Portuguese and Arabic. When she was about twenty she studied German on the recommendation of her father and his friends who wanted her to seek a place at court. Although she decided that court life was not for her, she liked the language and towards the end of her life enjoyed conversations about German literature with Queen Charlotte, who lent her German books. To a less advanced level she studied astronomy, mathematics, and Greek history and geography under the antiquarian and natural philosopher Thomas Wright, to whom she alludes in her poem ‘While clear the night, and ev'ry thought serene’. Through him she met one of her most important friends, Catherine Talbot, who lived in the household of Thomas Secker (then bishop of Oxford, later dean of St Paul's, and afterwards archbishop of Canterbury). In order to learn more ‘feminine’ accomplishments, she boarded for a year in Canterbury at the house of a refugee French minister, M. Le Suer, and learned needlework, which she busied herself with throughout her life, as well as drawing and music which she claimed were not her forte. While her scholarship was outstanding by any standards, and certainly prodigious for a woman of her time, her proficiency in domestic skills to a large degree saved her from the general censure directed against learned ladies. Samuel Johnson's remark upon hearing a lady commended for her learning crystallizes contemporary attitudes:
A man is in general better pleased when he has a good dinner upon his table, than when his wife talks Greek. My old friend, Mrs. Carter, could make a pudding as well as translate Epictetus from the Greek, and work a handkerchief as well as compose a poem. (Works of Samuel Johnson, ed. J. Hawkins, 1787, 11.205)
It is by this ‘intended compliment’, as Roger Lonsdale says, that she is ‘perhaps doomed to be best remembered’ (R. Lonsdale, ed., Eighteenth-Century Women Poets, 1989, 167). The study of religion was one of Carter's chief concerns throughout her life, and her piety no less than her domestic science helped her gain a wider acceptance than most women writers in her day.

Carter first came to notice as a writer in the poetry pages of the Gentleman's Magazine, whose proprietor, Edward Cave, was a friend of her father's. Her first published poem, a riddle on fire (GM, 1st ser., 4, 4 November 1734), printed above the name Eliza, prompted a reply from Sylvius (GM, 5 June 1735). Her youth, talent, and sex made her something of a sensation; various epigrams, riddles, and verses celebrated her as a prodigy. With her father's encouragement she went to London to establish a literary career, spending some part of each winter from 1735 to 1739 in the city, mostly staying with her merchant uncle in Bishopsgate, or her friend Mrs Rooke. She joined Cave's circle of (mostly minor) writers, and through him she got to know Thomas Birch, Jane Brereton, Moses Browne, Mary Masters, Richard Savage, and the as yet little-known Samuel Johnson. Johnson, who remained her friend until his death in 1784, celebrated her in Greek and Latin epigrams, and together with Cave and Birch fostered her talents, suggesting projects and promoting her publications. In 1738 Cave printed a slim quarto pamphlet of her poems, Poems on Particular Occasions. The following year he printed her translations, An Examination of Mr. Pope's Essay on Man, from the French of M. Crousaz and Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophy Explain'd for the Use of the Ladies, from the Italian of Francesco Algarotti. All three works appeared anonymously and were not prized by Carter when she later became famous for her Greek scholarship. Birch's attentions were assiduous. After encouraging Carter to translate Algarotti, he unsuccessfully tried to secure for her the patronage of Frances, countess of Hertford, through the agency of her secretary, John Dalton, and then gave the translation a glowing review in the History of the Works of the Learned (1 June 1739). (Although the countess declined to accept a dedication, she began a correspondence with Carter. Dalton ten years later became Carter's suitor, but she rejected him for some real or imagined impropriety in his behaviour.) Birch's persistence suggests an amorous as well as intellectual interest and it may have been an unwanted proposal of marriage from him which led to Carter's abrupt departure from London in June 1739.

It is commonly supposed that Carter spent the next decade in Deal in retreat from marriage and from writing. She certainly devoted much time to her female friends in Kent during the 1740s, but not only does she record in her letters frequent and flirtatious attendance at balls and parties, she was also still writing poetry. When Cave wrote to her in 1746 complaining that he had not received any poems from her for a couple of years, she had already contributed over twenty poems to his magazine. She published riddles, odes, epigrams, and poems in the Augustan mode. Some of her poems were circulating in manuscript, which is how Samuel Richardson came across her ‘Ode to Wisdom’. He inserted it in his novel Clarissa (vol. 2, 1747), attributing it to a lady, not knowing its author. This piracy caused Carter some distress, which was alleviated by the authorized publication of the corrected poem in the Gentleman's Magazine (17 December 1747; actually appeared January 1748), and by a public apology from and private reconciliation with Richardson. She joined his circle of readers and advisers but was never as admiring of him as his other female friends. To her annoyance some of her poems also appeared without her permission in anthologies such as Robert Dodsley's Collection of Poems by Several Hands (1748, 1755–8).

In the 1750s Carter published several short works arising out of personal relationships. Her friendship with Johnson led her to try to keep his Rambler going by recruiting both readers and contributors. She encouraged Hester Mulso Chapone and Talbot to write for it and herself contributed two papers which were both imaginatively lively and morally improving (Rambler, 44, 1750, and 100, 1751). Another short anonymous publication is also attributed to her in some library catalogues and evidences less happy circumstances: Remarks on the Athanasian Creed ‘by a Lady’ (probably 1753). It is an intervention in an acrimonious dispute between Nicolas Carter on the one hand, and the Revd Mr Randolph and the mayor and corporation of Deal on the other. The dispute concerning the extent of Nicolas Carter's powers and privileges arose over his refusal to read the Athanasian creed because he disagreed with the doctrine of the divinity of Christ. The matter was finally settled by a donation from his brother which enabled him to hire a clerk to read the creed in his place. The tone of the Remarks is much more contentious than the sober reasonableness of Carter's other religious writings—marginalia, prayers, letters, and ‘Answers to objections concerning the Christian religion’—first collected in Pennington's Memoirs.

Translating Epictetus

In 1749 Carter was encouraged by friends to undertake two translations. William Duncombe sought her involvement in his translation of the complete Odes of Horace. She declined to be a major contributor, but in 1751 completed a translation of book 1, ode 15, which was published in Duncombe's The Works of Horace in Several Hands (1757). More importantly Talbot encouraged her to translate the works of the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus. It is this work which brought her fame and lasting respect. She worked on the translation under the supervision of Secker and Talbot from 1749 to 1756, but always interrupted her work when domestic responsibilities such as the education of her stepbrother made a stronger claim on her sense of duty. In 1755 she complained: ‘Whoever that somebody or other is, who is to write the life of Epictetus, seeing I have a dozen shirts to make, I do opine, dear Miss Talbot, that it cannot be I’ (Pennington, 1.186). Secker advised her principally on matters of style and Talbot on issues of interpretation. Talbot was chiefly concerned about conflicts between Stoic philosophy and Christian teaching and, when it was decided that the work should be published, insisted that Carter warn her readers against the potentially dangerous influence of Epictetus's doctrines, especially his lack of belief in an afterlife, and apparent recommendation of suicide. Carter followed her friend's advice and added an introduction and footnotes stressing the superiority of Christianity, even though she believed that, while deists found support for their beliefs in Epictetus, most readers would be intelligent enough not to be led astray by his teaching. She herself did not agree with the Stoics' suppression of all feeling.

In 1758 All the Works of Epictetus which are now Extant was published by subscription by Andrew Millar, John Rivington, and Robert and James Dodsley in a handsome quarto volume, priced at 1 guinea. It was prefaced by an ode to Carter by Hester Mulso Chapone, and was the first of Carter's works in which her name appeared on the title-page. Although 1018 copies were printed by Samuel Richardson, this was not sufficient for her subscribers and another 250 copies were printed. A Dublin edition appeared in the following year and there were further London editions in 1766 and 1768. Pennington prepared a posthumous edition in 1807, incorporating a few additions and corrections made by his aunt in her own copy. Selections were included in various works and the text was the basis of several popular editions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The translator of the Loeb Classical Library edition of Epictetus, W. A. Oldfather, acknowledges his debt to Carter's ‘vigorous and idiomatic reproduction’ (Epictetus, The Discourses as Reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments, trans. W. A. Oldfather, vol. 1, 1926, xxxvii). The significance of Carter's achievement should not be underestimated. While several translations of the Enchiridion or Manual existed, and, as she acknowledged, she benefited from a French translation of the works and John Upton's parallel Latin/Greek text (1739), Carter was the first to translate the complete works of Epictetus into English. Oldfather considered it ‘a very respectable performance under any conditions, but for her sex and period truly remarkable’ (Contributions toward a Bibliography of Epictetus, 1927, 15). Her contemporaries were both lavish and patronizing in their praise. The Monthly Review proclaimed that Carter proved that ‘France can no longer boast of her Dacier, but must be compelled to own that our women excel theirs in Sense and Genius, as far as they surpass them in Modesty and Beauty’ (Monthly Review, 18, 1758, 588).

Epictetus made a material difference to Carter's life. Pennington estimates that she made a profit of 1000 guineas. She became less dependent financially on her father and was able most years to winter in London, taking lodgings at 20 Clarges Street, always dining out with friends, and often attending gatherings of what became known as the bluestocking circle. Later she leased a group of houses in South Street, Deal, which in 1763 she had refurbished so that she and her father could live independently but together—Nicolas Carter actually renting his accommodation from her. The leases were held by Secker but he would take no money for them (he also made her gifts totalling £200).

Epictetus was also the means of introducing Carter to Elizabeth Montagu, ‘the queen of the bluestockings’, and thus increasing her horizons in other ways. Through Montagu she met William Pulteney, Lord Bath, and together they made a leisurely excursion to Spa, Germany, in 1763. Excerpts from the many letters Carter wrote home are printed in Pennington's Memoirs. When Bath failed to leave her anything at his death in 1764, though Carter insisted that she had not expected anything because of Bath's generosity when alive, his descendants William and Francis Pulteney settled on her an annuity of £100, later raised to £150. In 1782, though feeling the effects of age, she accompanied Miss Henrietta Pulteney, later countess of Bath, to Paris where Miss Pulteney was to spend some time in a convent.

On a visit to Tunbridge Wells in 1761 Montagu and Bath persuaded Carter to publish a volume of poems which, with a dedication to Bath (penned by Bath himself), and congratulatory verses by George, Lord Lyttelton, was published as Poems on Several Occasions in 1762. It included her Rambler papers but only reprinted two items from Poems on Particular Occasions. 1000 copies of the first edition were printed; it ran to five lifetime editions with six new poems and an inscription added to the third edition in 1776. Most of the poems in this collection are stanzaic in form and more lyrical or sentimental in tone than her earlier verse. Most of them are addressed to women, either her Kentish friends or her bluestocking associates. Also included is ‘On the Death of Mrs. Rowe’, a tribute to a poet she much admired (earlier versions of this poem appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine 7 (1737) and 9 (1739), and in a memorial edition of Rowe's works (1739)).

Personal relationships

Although Carter continued to write poetry from time to time, this collection is her last original publication in her lifetime. Because of her dislike of public exposure and fear of censure, it took the insistence of friends to persuade her into print. However, her cultural significance did not cease with her last publication. She was indefatigably active as a correspondent, conversationalist, and supporter of her friends' literary endeavours. In the 1760s she encouraged and assisted Montagu in writing her Essay on … Shakespear (1769), and in 1772 published a posthumous edition of the works of Catherine Talbot at her own expense. Because she never married, she had more liberty to develop both her friendships and her mind. The bluestocking circle—never a club with rules, but a network of like-minded people—allowed her to foster both. In her conversation and her voluminous correspondence she promoted women's education and participation in the world of letters, consciously creating a sense of female community, both high-minded and intimate. Pennington edited two volumes of her letters to Talbot and Elizabeth Vesey (1808), and another three volumes of letters to Montagu (1817), as well as including countless excerpts from letters to a wide range of correspondents in the Memoirs. They are for modern readers among her most satisfying productions, at once informal and literary. Witty gossip jostles with sublime philosophy, Christian piety is tempered by ironic insights, and weighty learning is accompanied by a delightful flirtatiousness which comes as a surprise to those only familiar with her Epictetus.

Carter's most significant relationships were with family and friends, although she was not without admirers. Thomas Birch, John Dalton, and Dr John Burton probably proposed marriage, and her letters in 1740, 1747, 1749, and 1758 allude to other suitors who were not seriously entertained. Rumours circulated that bishops Secker and Hayter were rivals for her affections. At some point, perhaps as early as 1743, Carter probably made a conscious decision not to marry in order to preserve her independence and her freedom to study and to write as she wished. Her literary fame and personal qualities brought her a wide circle of friends and acquaintances including, aside from those already mentioned, the Highmores and Chapones, William and John Duncombe, James Beattie, James Boswell, Edmund Burke, Eva Maria Garrick, the countess of Hertford, the countess of Holdernesse, Catharine Macaulay, Lord Monboddo, Hannah More, Sir George Oxenden, Hester Thrale Piozzi, Bishop Porteus, Joshua Reynolds, Elizabeth Vesey, and Horace Walpole. As her years increased and she lost loved ones (her father in 1774, Talbot four years earlier, Montagu and Chapone in 1800 and 1801), she continued as far as possible to live an active social life and to make the acquaintance of a younger generation of writers such as Fanny Burney and Jane West. In December 1805 she was determined to see her friends in London, probably knowing it would be her last opportunity. She had never fully recovered from an attack of what was probably St Anthony's fire (erysipelas) in 1797, and four years later she suffered another attack, which left her too weak to study or read for long periods. She died peacefully in lodgings in 21 Clarges Street, London, on 19 February 1806. She was interred in the burial-ground of Grosvenor Chapel, an appendage to St George's, Hanover Square, having requested in her will that she should be buried where she died and with as little expense as possible. A mural monument was erected to her memory in Deal. Her will divided her fortune among her relatives; she left £40 to each of her maidservants and various tokens to numerous friends (listed in Memoirs, 1.499–500). Her house in Deal she left to Pennington, who had lived there with her for the last twenty years of her life.

Fanny Burney in 1780 thought her ‘a really noble-looking woman; I never saw age so graceful in the female sex yet; her whole face seems to beam with goodness, piety, and philanthropy’ (Boswell, Life, 4.275), but Betsy Sheridan described her in 1785 as ‘rather fat and not very striking in appearance’ (Betsy Sheridan's Journal, ed. W. LeFanu, 1986, 40). Most of the known portraits were made after Epictetus had brought her fame and do indeed depict her as ‘rather fat’ (despite a lifetime of energetic walking), but beaming with the goodness and nobility appropriate to a translator of Greek philosophy.

Because of her remarkable talents countryfolk in Kent, Carter reported, thought her ‘more than half a witch’. Yet she was widely viewed with respect as well as awe and celebrated for her modesty and genius in, for example, John Duncombe's Feminead (1757). She was also immediately seen as a pioneer; J. Swan stated that her translation of Algarotti taught women to ‘boldly tread where none had reach'd before’ (GM, 9, 1739, 322). In the early nineteenth century Pennington portrayed her as a rather pious old maid. More recently feminist critics have appreciated her strong-mindedness and independent spirit, and, reassessing the cultural significance of the bluestockings, have stressed how, although not fully professional herself, she helped make writing a respectable occupation for women.

Judith Hawley


J. Hawley, ed., Elizabeth Carter (1999), vol. 2 of Bluestocking feminism: writings of the bluestocking circle, 1738–1785, ed. G. Kelly [incl. bibliography of Carter's works] · M. Pennington, Memoirs of the life of Mrs Elizabeth Carter, with a new edition of her poems … to which are added, some miscellaneous essays in prose, together with her notes on the Bible, and answers to objections concerning the Christian religion, 3rd edn (1816) [with MS annotations by H. Carter Smith] · S. Harcstark Myers, The bluestocking circle: women, friendship, and the life of the mind in eighteenth-century England (1990) · All the works of Epictetus that are now extant. Translated from the original Greek by Elizabeth Carter. With an introduction and notes by the translator (1758) · A series of letters between Mrs. Elizabeth Carter and Miss Catherine Talbot … to which are added, letters from Mrs. Elizabeth Carter to Mrs. Vesey, ed. M. Pennington, 2 vols. (1808) · Letters from Mrs. Elizabeth Carter, to Mrs. Montagu, between the years 1755 and 1800, 3 vols. (1817) · [E. Carter], ‘Religion and superstition, a vision’, The Rambler, 44 (18 Aug 1750) · E. Ruhe, ‘Thomas Birch, Samuel Johnson, and Elizabeth Carter’, Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, 73 (1958), 491–500 · Boswell, Life, 1.122, 138–40, 203, 208, 242, 546; 3.43, 168; 4.246, 275, 494–5, 526 · C. Thomas, ‘“Th'instructive moral, and important thought”: Elizabeth Carter reads Pope, Johnson and Epictetus’, Age of Johnson, 4 (1991), 137–69 · C. D. Williams, ‘Poetry, pudding and Epictetus: the consistency of Elizabeth Carter’, Tradition in transition: women writers, marginal texts and the eighteenth-century canon, ed. A. Ribeira and J. G. Basker (1996), 3–24 · GM, 1st ser., 4–5 (1734–5) · GM, 1st ser., 7–9 (1737–9) · GM, 1st ser., 11 (1741) · GM, 1st ser., 14 (1744) · GM, 1st ser., 17 (1747) · L. H. Ewert, ‘Elizabeth Montagu to Elizabeth Carter: literary gossip and critical opinions from the pen of the queen of the blues’, PhD diss., Claremont College, California, 1967 · DNB · A. C. C. Gaussen, A woman of wit and wisdom: a memoir of Elizabeth Carter (1906) · W. A. Oldfather, Contributions toward a bibliography of Epictetus (1927) · Epictetus; the discourses as reported by Arrian, the manual, and fragments, trans. W. A. Oldfather, 2 vols. (1926) · Correspondence between Frances, countess of Hartford (afterwards duchess of Somerset) and Henrietta Louisa, countess of Pomfret, between the years 1738 and 1741, ed. W. Bingley, 3 vols. (1805) · W. P. D. Stebbing, typescript of, and notes for, various lectures given in Deal, and transcribed extracts from letters by E. Carter and from N. Carter to E. Carter, Deal County Library, Stebbing Collection


BL, letters, Add. MSS 4302, fols. 69–79; 4297, fols. 60–60b; 4457, fol. 112 [copies] · BL, letters and papers · BL, papers and copies of poems and epigrams, Add. MSS 4456, fols. 57–58b, 60; 4457, fols. 41–42b, 73,115, 123b; 48252, fol. 3 · Bodl. Oxf., corresp. and papers [incl. facsimiles] · Mitchell L., Glas., prayer from her pocket book · Wordsworth Trust, Dove Cottage, Grasmere, fragment of letter with engraved portrait and related items | BL, letters to Mrs Berkeley, Add. MS 39312, fols. 53, 183 · BL, letters in Latin to Thomas Birch, Add. MSS 4456, fols. 57–58b, 60; 4302, fols. 69–79 · BL, letters and copies of letters to Edward Cave, Stowe MSS 748, fols. 169, 171–77; Add. MS 4297, fols. 49–50b, 57–59, 61; Add. MS 4456, fol. 59 · BL, letters to Countess Spencer · Hunt. L., letters to Henrietta Pulteney, [Edward Jernyngham], Matthew Montagu, Dorothea Alison, HM 17023, 17024, JE 184, MO 703, HM 17025 · Trinity Cam., letters to Isaac Hawkins Browne, and notes on ‘De animi immortalitate’ · U. Aberdeen L., letters to Elizabeth Montagu, MS 30/29


attrib. J. Fayram, oils, 1738, priv. coll.; formerly in the possession of Mrs G. I. Barrett, Deal, in 1978 · attrib. J. Highmore, oils, c.1738, Deal town hall, Kent · J. Highmore, oils, c.1745, Dover Museum, Kent · K. Read, oils, c.1765, Dr Johnson's House, London [see illus.] · R. Samuel, group portrait, oils, c.1779 (The nine living muses of Great Britain), NPG · J. H. Hurter, oils, miniature, 1781; Sothebys, 1956 · J. R. Smith, mezzotint, pubd c.1781 (after J. Kitchingman), BM · T. Lawrence, pastel on vellum, exh. 1790, NPG · C. Watson, engraving, 1806 (after T. Lawrence), BM · Mackenzie, stipple, pubd 1807 (after cameo by J. Smith), BM, NPG · oil on enamel, 1860–99, Dr Johnson's House, London · C. Geertz, ivory miniature relief (after T. Lawrence); formerly in Deal town hall, Kent · J. Tassie, miniature relief (after cameo), repro. in Gaussen, Woman of wit · E. Walker, engraving (after T. Lawrence), repro. in Gaussen, Woman of wit

Judith Hawley, ‘Carter, Elizabeth (1717–1806)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 19 Jan 2009]

Elizabeth Montagu 1718 - 1800

Montagu [née Robinson], Elizabeth (1718–1800), author and literary hostess, was born at York on 2 October 1718, the first daughter and fifth child of Matthew Robinson (1694–1778) of Edgeley and West Layton, Yorkshire, and his wife, Elizabeth (c.1697–1746), daughter of Robert Drake, recorder of Cambridge, and his wife, Sarah Morris. A second daughter, Sarah (1720–1795) [see Scott, Sarah], three infants who did not survive, and three more living sons completed the Robinson family. The families of both parents were wealthy and well connected. Elizabeth's eldest brother, Matthew (1713–1800) [see Morris, Matthew Robinson-], succeeded his father's cousin, Richard Robinson, archbishop of Armagh, as second Baron Rokeby in the Irish peerage in 1794. Mrs Robinson's brother Morris Drake Morris inherited the large Kent holdings of their maternal grandfather, Thomas Morris, about 1717.

Early life and education

The Robinson family at the time of Elizabeth's birth lived for part of the year in York and the rest at Coveney, Cambridgeshire, a part of her mother's inheritance. In 1710 her grandmother Sarah Drake had married as her second husband Dr Conyers Middleton, a noted Cambridge classical scholar. The Middletons maintained a large house in Cambridge where the Robinson family often visited; the three youngest sons were born there. The Robinsons were not particularly involved or attentive parents: Elizabeth Robinson was obviously much involved with her pregnancies and childbearing; Matthew Robinson was an intelligent and well-educated man, although as he appears in his children's letters he was also very selfish. He preferred London and urban pleasures to those of the country; though comfortably off, he could not afford to live permanently in town. He expected entertainment from his family; young children were of little interest to him.

Between the ages of six and thirteen Elizabeth made long stays with Dr and Mrs Middleton in Cambridge. It was there presumably that she received her introduction to classical and English literature and history. Both she and her sister learned Latin, French, and Italian. Elizabeth and Sarah were very close as girls, so much so that they were sometimes referred to as the peas, although Elizabeth's was always the dominant personality. Elizabeth was also close to her older brothers, especially Morris (1715/16–1777) and Robert (1717–1756), the nearest to her in age. There was a gap of six years between Sarah and the three youngest sons; the girls were not much involved with them. Elizabeth and her brother Matthew corresponded in French while he was at Cambridge. Both in the Middleton household and with her parents she gained an appreciation for lively intellectual conversation and encouragement to participate in it.

Elizabeth's acquaintance with Lady Margaret Harley, the only surviving child of Edward Harley, second earl of Oxford, dated from the Cambridge years. Lady Margaret, lively and well-educated, was three years older than Elizabeth. The two girls began a friendship that brought Elizabeth into contact with a more exciting and glamorous world. She visited the Oxford household at Wimpole Hall where her vivacity won the nickname Fidget from the countess. When they were apart the girls corresponded regularly. After Lady Margaret married William Bentinck, second duke of Portland, in 1734, Elizabeth visited them in London and at the duchess's favourite country seat, Bulstrode. Through the duchess she met Mary Pendarves, later Mrs Delany, her sister Ann Dewes and friend Ann Donnellan, the poet Edward Young, and Gilbert West and his wife. The combination of aristocratic ambience and intellectual conversation by men and women participating equally was a model Elizabeth would recreate in her assemblies. Relations between Elizabeth and the duchess cooled in the late 1740s for reasons not now clear; their correspondence ceased in 1753. After 1760 they resumed their friendship; they corresponded and visited occasionally but never again on the intimate basis they had once enjoyed.

The family fortunes improved in the 1730s when Mrs Robinson inherited the Morris estate from her brother. Mount Morris at Monks Horton, Kent, became their chief residence. Elizabeth was not pleased with being isolated in the country; the amusements of Canterbury and Tunbridge Wells were pale in comparison to those being enjoyed by the duchess of Portland in London. By the late 1730s the family usually made a spring visit to London where she could visit the Portlands and her other friends, go to court, and attend the theatre and other entertainments. They also made at least one visit to Bath. These experiences helped clarify Elizabeth's notions of what she wanted and expected to achieve.


Like most females of her class Elizabeth Robinson expected to marry, although she did not have a particularly high opinion of men or the institution of marriage. Writing to the duchess of Portland in 1738 she admitted that she ‘never saw one man that I loved’, and she could not imagine being able to find all the qualities one wanted in a single husband. What did she want?
He should have a great deal of sense and prudence to direct and instruct me, much wit to divert me, beauty to please me, good humour to indulge me in the right, and reprove me gently when I am in the wrong: money enough to afford me more than I can want, and as much as I can wish; and constancy to like me as long as other people do. (Johnson, 40–41)
She wished to live in London and move in the great world, to be known and acknowledged for her accomplishments and social position. The twenty-year-old who began to form such ambitions had never known passion and could not imagine throwing away her life for love. For the remaining fifty years of her life, these views did not change. Marriages were made for prudent and rational reasons, for financial independence and social position; her own certainly illustrated this view.

On 5 August 1742 Elizabeth Robinson married Edward Montagu (1692–1775). They had probably met in London during the previous year. Montagu was a fifty-year-old bachelor, a grandson of Edward Montagu, first earl of Sandwich, the owner of coalmines and estates in Northumberland, Yorkshire, and Berkshire, with scholarly interests, particularly in mathematics. He was a member of parliament for Huntingdon, a family seat, from 1734 to 1768. Their son, John, called Punch, was born on 11 May 1743 in London. Elizabeth had a long recovery from childbirth but was much pleased with her apparently sturdy child. Her letters about him are among the most intimate and personal that she wrote. The family spent time at their Berkshire estate, Sandleford Priory, near Newbury, as well as at Allerton, Yorkshire, where the young boy died unexpectedly in September 1744. Elizabeth was devastated. During the next few years she also experienced the deaths of her mother, who had suffered from cancer for several years, and of her brother Thomas. She made long stays at Sandleford and visits to Bath and Tunbridge Wells. She and her husband were frequently apart; they remained friendly but there were no more children.

After 1750 the Montagus established a routine that lasted until his death. They lived in their London house in Hill Street, Mayfair, with visits to Sandleford in the spring and summer. He went nearly every year to Yorkshire and Northumberland, where he had a house near his colliery at Denton, outside Newcastle; she accompanied him on some of these visits. From time to time she took the waters at Bath or Tunbridge Wells, places which Edward Montagu did not enjoy. In London her reputation as a hostess grew during these years as she brought together such acquaintances as Gilbert West, George, first Baron Lyttelton, Elizabeth Vesey, and Frances Boscawen.

The bluestockings

Elizabeth Montagu's parties began as literary breakfasts but by 1760 had become large evening assemblies or conversation parties at which card playing and heavy drinking were barred. Guests were encouraged to exchange witty conversation on literary and philosophical subjects. The success of these parties attracted many famous names; Samuel Johnson, Sir Joshua Reynolds, who painted her portrait, Edmund Burke, David Garrick, and Horace Walpole could be seen at Mrs Montagu's house, the closest parallel in England to contemporary French salons. Literary visitors to London were brought to Hill Street; Elizabeth Carter became close friends with Montagu after their introduction in 1758. In 1760 William Pulteney, earl of Bath, became another of Montagu's inner circle. By the 1770s an introduction to Hill Street could be the route to securing patronage from its wealthy, assertive, and respected hostess. James Beattie, Hannah More, Frances Burney, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Sarah Fielding, Hester Chapone, and Anna Williams were recipients of Montagu's bounty. Hester Thrale was also introduced to Hill Street, but she and her hostess were more often rivals than friends.

Elizabeth Montagu has been called the ‘queen of the blue stockings’, although Elizabeth Vesey is probably as deserving of the title. Together the two women created the assemblies; Vesey seems to have been the personality who made them successful. But as Montagu had a large house and the money to pay the expenses, and was never loath to take the credit, she was at the time and later perceived as the leading figure among that group of friends often called the bluestockings. In fact she was probably less dominating in that group than in any other. With such women as Vesey, Carter, and Boscawen and such men as Lyttelton, Bath, and West, she generally functioned as an equal; these were people who sometimes allowed her to lead but were not dependent on her. The origins of the term bluestocking are obscure; by the 1760s Montagu, Vesey, and others referred to their group of friends as the bluestocking philosophers. Vesey seems to have started the usage; bluestocking was probably meant to describe the informality of the assemblies and the emphasis placed on wit and conversation rather than on dress and etiquette. The wearing of blue stockings at the gatherings may first have been associated with the botanist Benjamin Stillingfleet. The original bluestocking circle included members of both sexes, although the women were at its centre.

In 1763 Montagu visited Paris for several weeks; she impressed the Paris literati and deeply appreciated their admiration. In the same year—accompanied by her husband, Elizabeth Carter, and Lord and Lady Bath—she toured the Rhineland and the Low Countries. They enjoyed new experiences and new sights but remained convinced that England and English ways were best. Montagu made an extended visit to Scotland in 1766, visiting Henry Home, Lord Kames, at Blair Drummond, touring the highlands, and meeting all the Edinburgh celebrities. Dr John Gregory, professor of medicine at Edinburgh University, whose late wife was a Montagu connection, was her host and guide for the northern trip.

There is little evidence of devotion to or appreciation of music or art in Montagu's correspondence. The theatre was her preferred public entertainment, but above all literature of all varieties found in her a great consumer and promoter. Like most of her contemporaries she delighted in the novels of Samuel Richardson, John and Sarah Fielding, and Frances Burney. She enjoyed the works of Laurence Sterne and was pleased to find him a distant connection of her family. Older literature found in her a champion; she was an early subscriber to Thomas Percy's Reliques of Ancient Poetry and wrote enthusiastically about Spenser's works. Both ancient and modern history were favourite subjects for her reading. She also read widely in Latin, French, and Italian.

It was apparently Lyttelton who encouraged Montagu herself to write for publication. He added three selections by her to his Dialogues of the Dead (1760), a series of critiques of modern society. In dialogue 26 Montagu portrayed Hercules and Cadmus discussing the meaning and value of virtue. In dialogue 27 Mrs Modish is so occupied with countless worldly diversions that she cannot go with Mercury to the Elysian Fields; in 28 a modern bookseller tells Plutarch how much money he has lost on a new edition of the Roman author's Lives because modern readers of both sexes want only to be entertained. These were common mid-eighteenth-century criticisms of society and its standards. Less conventional was her other publication, An Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespear (1769), written at the urging of Elizabeth Carter. This work was the result of several years of study of both drama and criticism. Full of nationalistic pride, the Essay defended Shakespeare against the attacks of foreign critics such as Voltaire, comparing him with classical Greek and more modern French dramatists, none of whom had all of his virtues. Another particular target was Samuel Johnson, whose Preface to Shakespeare had appeared in 1765. Montagu argued that ‘he should have said more or have said nothing’ (Clarke, 141); in concentrating on the historical context in which the plays were written and their subsequent treatment by editors and critics, he had failed to engage with the texts of Shakespeare's plays and to use them to argue for Shakespeare's superiority as a dramatist. The Essay sought to remedy what Montagu argued was Johnson's neglect of Shakespeare's ‘dramatic genius’ (ibid.). It was praised by a number of reviewers and translated into French and Italian, but on a personal level permanently injured her friendship with Johnson. Like the Dialogues, the Essay was first published anonymously. Some reports attributed it to Joseph Warton and other men, but within a few months of publication Montagu was recognized as the author, and her name appeared on the title-page by the fourth edition in 1777.

Although it was apparently never a primary subject of discussion at her assemblies, Elizabeth Montagu was always interested in politics. Edward Montagu was listed by John Stuart, third earl of Bute, in December 1761 as a tory, but his attendance in parliament was irregular. She took an active part in the management of her husband's interest in Newcastle upon Tyne. During the campaign of 1760 she visited Northumberland ladies and entertained the wives of the members of Newcastle corporation at tea, as well as attending local society occasions. After her husband's death she continued to keep close watch on political developments in Newcastle, and deployed her influence in favour of her chosen candidate in parliamentary elections. She exchanged correspondence and visits with Hester, wife of William Pitt the elder, and her politics before the 1770s were probably close to his, although by 1777 she seems to have become a supporter of Lord North's administration and backed Sir John Trevelyan, a government supporter, in Newcastle. She was always loyal to the crown and opposed threats to the status quo, from Jacobites to supporters of John Wilkes and the American revolutionaries.

Widowhood and family

By the late 1760s Edward Montagu was in very poor health. His wife conscientiously cared for him, though she sometimes fretted at the loss of her independence. She took more and more responsibility for the management of the collieries and estates. The continuing support of such friends as Carter and Boscawen and the resumption of relations with the duchess of Portland and Mary Delany helped her deal with the deaths of Lord Bath in 1764 and Lord Lyttelton in 1773, as well as the restrictions imposed by her husband's condition. Edward Montagu died in London on 12 May 1775. He left his entire estate to his wife except for £3000 left to Matthew Robinson (1762–1831), the second son of Elizabeth's brother Morris. Matthew was adopted by his aunt and took the surname Montagu in 1776. Elizabeth Montagu's inheritance from her husband was reported to be worth £7000 a year.

Montagu was now in the most advantageous position possible for a woman in the eighteenth century. She was a wealthy widow; no person could legally exercise any control over her and there were no financial limitations which could stand in her way. She continued to manage her business affairs with considerable success. She visited the Northumberland and Yorkshire properties from time to time, paid close attention to the economic circumstances of the coal industry, and stayed in constant correspondence with her managers. She was a generous employer, so long as her orders were followed, and like other ladies of great estates she took measures to alleviate the poverty of her employees and tenants, through customary measures such as annual feasts and providing basic education. By the time of her death in 1800 her coal was the most popular on the market, and her estate was said to be worth £10,000 a year. She also used her wealth to aid her friends when in need. After her husband's death she established annuities for Elizabeth Carter and Anna Williams. Among her charities was an annual May day entertainment for climbing boys.

Throughout her life Montagu remained close to most of her family. Her father moved to London after his wife's death in 1746, setting up an establishment with his housekeeper as his mistress. His children were all horrified but had no success in changing his conduct. Robinson was reluctant to spend any more money than he had to on his children. When Sarah's marriage to George Lewis Scott broke down, not only would he not give her an adequate settlement, but he also refused to allow Elizabeth and Morris to advance her any money. Elizabeth with the support of her husband had succeeded in getting her younger brothers properly educated. William Robinson (bap. 1727, d. 1803), later a clergyman, and John (1729–1807) were sent to Westminster School and afterwards to Cambridge. Charles (1731–1807) was sent to sea with his older brother Robert, a captain with the East India Company. Several of the Robinson brothers were trained as lawyers, including the legal writer Thomas Robinson (d. 1747). Morris was a solicitor in chancery in Ireland. Charles left the sea after a few years and read law at the inns of court. He became recorder of Canterbury and represented that borough in parliament from 1780 to 1790. John fell victim to mental illness while still at Cambridge; he was in custodial care for the remainder of his life. Robert died at sea.

Montagu maintained friendships with many distinguished men and women over a number of years, but she can never have been an easy person to live with. She expected to rule her household and seldom seemed to make any accommodation for those who were dependent on her. Like many women of her class, she often had a female companion to fetch and carry, to accompany her out, to do her bidding. Such a person was not a servant but was certainly a dependent. Her sister Sarah sometimes acted in this position between their mother's death and her own marriage in 1752. There seems good reason to think that Sarah made this unsatisfactory marriage, which lasted not quite a year, in part to escape from Elizabeth. In 1772 seventeen-year-old Dorothea Gregory, daughter of Dr John Gregory of Edinburgh, was taken by Montagu to live as her ward. Gregory travelled with her benefactor in Britain and to France, was introduced to society, and treated almost as a daughter. Montagu's dream was that Dorothea would ultimately marry Matthew Robinson, who was eight years younger. However, Gregory fell in love with and became engaged to Archibald Alison (1757–1839), an altogether worthy though penniless young man. Montagu, who never believed in marrying for love, stormed and threatened to no avail. After her marriage in 1782 Dorothea was cast off; the two women were only partially reconciled several years later. Montagu was particularly annoyed when several of her friends supported the couple and helped Alison find employment. Elizabeth Montagu always wanted to be in charge and to have her opinions prevail. She befriended the shoemaker poet James Woodhouse and became his patron for twenty years. But disagreements with him over religious and political matters led her to dismiss him from his post as steward at Sandleford in 1788. He at least had the satisfaction of delineating his unflattering version of her character in his autobiographical poem, The Life and Lucubrations of Crispinus Scriblerus.

During her early years Montagu's immediate family members do not seem to have had any strong religious beliefs, though they were nominally members of the Church of England. There are no references to churchgoing, to religion, or theological reading and discussion in her earlier letters, although she would no doubt have said she was a Christian. Edward Montagu would not have admitted to that, a fact which came to worry his wife. In the years following the death of her son Elizabeth began to take a greater interest in religion; her friendship with Gilbert West was important in her developing this aspect of her studies. West had been a nonbeliever but by the time he and Montagu became acquainted he had become a practising Anglican. They corresponded about religion and exchanged books on religious topics. Montagu was not ostentatious in her religious observances and there are seldom any references to them in her letters. But she was one of the friends who worried about Elizabeth Vesey's having no faith, and surely it was her own faith that was one of the links in her most significant friendships with Carter, Lyttelton, and Bath.

Sandleford and Montagu House

After her husband's death Montagu engaged in a programme of building, enlarging the house and improving the grounds at Sandleford as well as building a great new mansion in London. She had remodelled and redecorated the Hill Street house several times. In the early 1750s with the help of Gilbert West she fitted out her great dressing-room in the fashionable chinoiserie style. A decade later she hired Robert Adam, who brought classicism into fashion, to design a new ceiling, carpet, and furnishings for the chamber which was, despite its name, a large room where the assemblies were held. In the early 1770s the walls of this room were decorated with flowers and cupids; it was often referred to as her Cupidon Room. Elizabeth and Edward Montagu had also employed Adam to build an addition to Sandleford in 1765. Clearly she always wanted to be in style, to have the most currently fashionable architect and decoration.

Shortly after her husband's death Montagu signed a ninety-nine-year lease on a plot on the north-west corner of Portman Square. In 1777 she contracted with James ‘Athenian’ Stuart to build her new house. Stuart was not a very satisfactory employee in terms of finishing on schedule. She had hoped to occupy her new mansion in the spring of 1779; it was not until late 1781 that she was able to move in. Montagu House was large and impressively decorated. Angelica Kauffman and Biago Rebecca painted panels for the interior, some of which represented scenes from Shakespeare's plays, an allusion to the owner's book. The building process seemed to go on and on. Montagu wrote in 1790:
things of these kinds are tedious in their process, my House is full of Carvers, Guilders, Carpenters etc, which is certainly no very agreable circumstance … As I pay the workmen as fast as they proceed, one should think they wd be more expeditious. (Blunt, 2.242)
The ballroom was completed by Joseph Bonomi from Stuart's original designs in 1791. It featured scagliola columns in antique vert and a decorated ceiling probably by Giovanni Battista Cipriani. A special room also completed in 1791 contained Montagu's feather work. This was a large tapestry designed by James Wyatt and the Wright family, the royal embroiderers; it was made entirely of feathers of all kinds by Montagu and a number of other women who had worked for years on this project. The feathers were collected from friends and correspondents; they were stored and worked in a large room at Sandleford. The feather tapestry seems to have been Montagu's only effort at handicrafts; it was visited and praised by Horace Walpole. Queen Charlotte accompanied by five of her daughters made a visit to Montagu House to see it. The house passed into the possession of Matthew Montagu after his aunt's death. In 1874 the lease reverted to the ground landlord, and the structure became known as Portman House. It was badly damaged by bombing in 1942, and the remnants of the walls were pulled down after 1945.

Sandleford was the favourite country house of both Edward and Elizabeth Montagu. It was not too far from London and was about halfway along the road to Bath. She regarded the enlargement by Adam, however, as only sufficient to house a few friends; a house party of any size would require more space, especially for dining. She had suggested making the house more Gothic in the 1760s in keeping with its origins as a priory and the few remaining medieval elements, but Adam had convinced her and her husband that it would cost too much. Her dream persisted; in 1780 she requested James Wyatt to make a proposal for a rebuilt house in the Gothic style. They agreed on the plan, but the reshaping of the house was not finally completed for some years. Montagu found that Wyatt was as dilatory as Stuart, but she ultimately enjoyed the former chapel converted to a salon with a Gothic window, a new eating chamber, and her own apartment. More satisfactory was the remaking of the grounds. In 1781 Montagu hired Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown to make plans for her landscape; Sandleford was the great gardener's last major commission before his death in 1782. Montagu and all her friends agreed that his work enhanced the house and produced in visitors the proper thoughts of the beautiful and sublime.

Death and lasting reputation

In her last years Montagu found comfort and company in her nephew Matthew and his family, although they did not share her house except for visits to Sandleford. In 1785 Matthew Robinson Montagu married Elizabeth Charleton, a suitable and amiable heiress; they had ten children. He sat as a member of parliament for various boroughs from 1786; in 1829 he succeeded his brother Morris as fourth Baron Rokeby. Elizabeth Montagu died at Montagu House on 25 August 1800. Her entire estate was left to Matthew.

Like others among her contemporaries Montagu was a great letter writer, in terms of both quantity and quality. She wrote regularly to family members and friends; the letters are lively, full of gossip, comments on her reading, news of others, and of what she was doing. Her letters, like those of Horace Walpole and Mary Delany, are among the most important surviving collections from the eighteenth century. Unlike Delany, she seldom wrote of domestic details, handiwork, art, or music. Montagu's ambition, her awareness of her own success, and her domineering personality are seldom disguised in her letters. Readers often do not like her. To her closest friends she did not hesitate to describe her jaundiced view of marriage and of most men, and about what women can do if given the opportunity. A letter to Elizabeth Carter in 1782 summed up many of these opinions. Commenting on the second marriage of a friend, she wrote:
I always thought her the perfection of the female character, formed to become the domestick situation and disposed to obedience. She could not stir till she received the word of command. … She would have preferred her husband's discourse to the angels. I am afraid you and I dear friend should have entered into some metaphysical disquisitions with the angel. We are not so perfectly the rib of man as woman ought to be. We can think for ourselves, and also act for ourselves. When a wife I was obedient because it was my duty, and being married to a man of sense and integrity, obedience was not painful or irksome, in early youth a director perhaps is necessary if the sphere of action is extensive; but it seems to me that a new master and new lessons after ones opinions and habits were formed must be a little awkward, and with all due respect to the superior sex, I do not see how they can be necessary to a woman unless she were to defend her lands and tenements by sword or gun. (Blunt, 2.119–20)
Fortunately a very large part of Montagu's correspondence has survived; the bulk of it is at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, and there are smaller collections elsewhere. Some of the letters, or edited parts of them, have been published in various biographies of her, in accounts of the bluestocking circle, and works on eighteenth-century women. Two volumes of the correspondence were published in 1809 and two more in 1813 by her nephew. They were not particularly well received then; Montagu belonged to an earlier age. They were still being denigrated through the nineteenth century; Sidney Lee in the Dictionary of National Biography, for example, characterized them as having ‘too much prolixity to be altogether readable’. More recent scholars, however—especially those interested in women and their lives—have found Montagu's letters, written over nearly seventy years, a major source for any study of the eighteenth century.

Barbara Brandon Schnorrenberg


B. Rizzo, Companions without vows: relationships among eighteenth-century British women (1994) · S. Harcstark Myers, The bluestocking circle: women, friendship, and the life of the mind in eighteenth-century England (1990) · Elizabeth Montagu, the queen of the blue-stockings: her correspondence from 1720 to 1761, ed. E. J. Climenson, 2 vols. (1906) · Mrs Montagu, ‘Queen of the Blues’: her letters and friendships from 1762 to 1800, ed. R. Blunt, 2 vols. (1923) · R. B. Johnson, ed., Bluestocking letters (1926) · DNB · B. Rizzo, ed., The history of Sir George Ellison (1996) · L. B. Namier, ‘Montagu, Edward’, HoP, Commons, 1754–90 · R. S. Lea, ‘Montagu, Edward’, HoP, Commons, 1715–54 · E. H. Chalus, ‘Women in English political life, 1754–1790’, DPhil diss., U. Oxf., 1997 · N. Clarke, Dr Johnson's women (2000)


BL, family corresp., Add. MS 40663, RP2393 · Hunt. L., corresp. and papers · Princeton University, New Jersey, corresp. · Yale U., Farmington, Lewis Walpole Library, letters from her | BL, corresp. with Lord Lyttleton, RP2377 [copies] · BL, letters to Messenger Monsey, RP1277 [copies] · BL, Portland Loan · BL, corresp. with Frances Reynolds, RP196 [copies] · Bodl. Oxf., letters to Elizabeth Carter [copies] · Hants. RO, letters to Lady Wallingford · JRL, letters to Hester Lynch Thrale · Longleat House, Warminster, letters to duchess of Portland · NA Scot., letters to Lord and Lady Kames · letters to Lord and Lady Chatham, PRO 30/8/50 · U. Aberdeen L., corresp. with James Beattie · U. Nott. L., letters to duchess of Portland · V&A NAL, corresp. with David Garrick


A. Ramsay, portrait, 1762, priv. coll. [see illus.] · Wedgwood medallion, 1775, Wedgwood Museum, Stoke-on-Trent · J. R. Smith, mezzotint, pubd 1776 (after J. Reynolds), BM, NPG · line engraving, pubd 1776 (after T. Holloway), BM, NPG · R. Samuel, group portrait, oils, exh. 1779 (The nine living muses of Great Britain), NPG · W. Lowry, line engraving, pubd 1787 (after unknown artist), NPG · W. Ridley, stipple, 1800 (after Rivers), BM, NPG; repro. in Lady's Monthly Museum (1800) · T. Cheesman, stipple, pubd 1809 (after J. Reynolds), BM, NPG · R. Cooper, stipple, 1809 (after C. F. Zincke), BM; repro. in Wraxall, Memoirs · C. Townley, stipple (after F. Reynolds), BM, NPG

Wealth at death

£10,000 p. a.: DNB

Barbara Brandon Schnorrenberg, ‘Montagu , Elizabeth (1718–1800)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 19 Jan 2009]


In 1769 Mrs. Montagu published anonymously her "Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespeare." This work once widely famous, may still be read with pleasure. It was written in reply to Voltaire's grossly indecent attack on our national poet. . . . The greatest praise which the essay received was awarded to it by Cowper, many years after it was published. Writing in May 27, 1788, to Lady Hesketh, Cowper said: "I no longer wonder that Mrs. Montagu stands at the head of all that is called learned, and that every critic veils his bonnet to her superior judgment. I am not reading and have reached the middle of her essay on the genius of Shakespeare--a book of which, strange as it may seem, though I absolutely forgot the existence. The learning, the good sense, the sound judgment, and the wit displayed in it, fully justify not only my compliment, but all compliments that either have been already paid to her talent, or shall be paid hereafter. Voltaire, I doubt not, rejoiced that his antagonist wrote in English, and that his countrymen could not possibly be judges of the dispute. Could they have known how much she was in the right, and by how many thousand miles the Bard of Avon is superior to all their dramatists, the French critic would have lost half his fame among them."

Hester Thrale / Piozzi 1741-1821

Piozzi [née Salusbury; other married name Thrale], Hester Lynch (1741–1821), writer, was born on 16 January 1741 at Bodfel Hall, near Pwllheli, Caernarvonshire, the only child of Hester Maria, née Cotton (1707–1773), and John Salusbury (1707–1762) of Bachegraig, Flintshire. Her parents (who were cousins) were both descended from Catrin of Berain, ‘Mam Cymru’ (‘Mother of Wales’) , and were thus connected with many of the leading families of north Wales, an ancestry of which Hester was remarkably proud. Much of the Salusbury property was mortgaged and money was a constant problem, but Hester became the focus of her parents' love and intellectual aspiration: ‘I was their Joynt Play Thyng, & although Education was a Word then unknown, as applied to Females; They had taught me to read, & speak, & think, & translate from the French, till I was half a Prodigy’ (Autobiography, 2.10).

Hester early learned the arts of pleasing and performing as her parents' genteel poverty encouraged them to use their daughter's precocious charms to gain an inheritance. They briefly lived with Hester's childless maternal uncle, Sir Robert Cotton, at Lleweni Hall, Denbighshire, and subsequently at his London house, but he died intestate in 1748. In the following year the restless John Salusbury set out to repair the family fortunes as part of Lord Halifax's expedition to Nova Scotia, while Hester's mother turned her attention to Sir Thomas Salusbury, Hester's childless paternal uncle. Eventually established at Offley Park, Hertfordshire, Hester, at seventeen, outgrew even the considerable educational resources of her mother and aunt (Lady Salusbury encouraged her to translate Spectator articles into Italian), receiving tuition in philosophy, rhetoric, and Latin from Dr Arthur Collier, and in French literature from Dr William Parker. Collier's taste for the speculative and the combative exercised a formative influence upon the growth of his pupil's mind, and his circle of friends, including Sarah Fielding, to whom he had taught Greek, and James ‘Hermes’ Harris, encouraged her literary endeavours, which were frequently sent to the London newspapers. Her early poems, like her translations from the Romance languages, demonstrate an intriguing blend of imitation and individuality; her ‘free Translation’ of Racine's Épitres sur l'homme (1747), which she entitled ‘Essay on man’, displays growing confidence as she combines the French poet's earlier criticism and the Twickenham poet's own words to critique her beloved Pope. She later recalled the impact of her reading of the first part of Joseph Warton's Essay on the Genius and Writings of Pope (1756): ‘this—shall I call it unlucky Volume … made a Writer & Critic of H:L:P’.

No early portraits exist, but Hester claimed to have been the teenage model for Hogarth's painting The Lady's Last Stake. She was slight in stature, only 4 feet 11 inches, with chestnut brown hair, sensitive grey eyes, and rather angular features; a later portrait by Reynolds and a miniature by Cosway reveal, as she herself was aware, a rather deceptive serenity (Thraliana, 1.471–2). Her attractive vivacity and intellectual accomplishments, added to the fact that she was regarded as the acknowledged heir of Sir Thomas, enticed local admirers such as the talented poet James Marriott, who was frightened off by the disapproval of her father, now returned unsuccessful from Nova Scotia, a virtual dependant on his brother. The death of Lady Salusbury and Sir Thomas's subsequent remarriage were to blight Hester's prospects of independence. A suitor, eulogized as ‘a Model of Perfection’, was introduced by her uncle and approved by her mother; her father's determination that his daughter should not be ‘exchanged for a barrel of Porter’ (Autobiography, 2.20) counted for little, and his sudden death in December 1762 removed the impediment. The visions of romance were over, and her final poem as an unmarried woman, ‘Imagination's Search after Happiness’, published in the St James's Chronicle of 10 September 1763, vainly recommended the consolation of piety. Details of dowry and jointure were settled, and a month later, on 11 October, in St Anne's Soho, at the age of twenty-two, she was ‘bartered’ to the handsome but bourgeois Henry Thrale (1728–1781), a wealthy London brewer.

The entertaining mistress of Streatham

It was a loveless match which deeply embittered Hester. She also resented the endless pregnancies, thirteen between 1764 and 1778, producing twelve children, only four of whom survived to maturity. When not actively seeking a male heir, Thrale was distant, somewhat severe, and prone to womanizing if his wife was not available; a man about town, he valued his wife primarily as a woman who did not object to his town house in Deadman's Place, Southwark, and ultimately as a vivacious and ornamental hostess at his Streatham Park estate. Revealing a certain social insecurity, the sportsman Thrale forbade as too masculine her favourite outdoor activity of riding, restricted her participation in London social life, and even denied her management of household and culinary affairs. Shut away from the world, she lived, as Johnson later remarked, like Thrale's kept mistress. Her study was a solace and a retreat from the nursery, and her writing supplied both an intellectual and an emotional outlet.

Thrale, though stolidly unmoved by his wife's poetic attempts to win his affection, numbered a popular dramatist among his friends, and Hester was delighted to make the acquaintance of Arthur Murphy. The playwright was also a friend of Samuel Johnson, and on 9 January 1765 the Great Cham himself came to enliven dinner at Deadman's Place. Mr and Mrs Thrale soon became intimate with Johnson, who became a regular dinner guest. Thrale was no great talker, finding, as Frances Burney later recalled, ‘a singular amusement in hearing, instigating, and provoking a war of words, alternating triumph and overthrow, between clever and ambitious colloquial combatants’ (Memoirs of Dr. Burney, 2.104–5). Mrs Thrale revelled in such combative conversation, and her effervescent volubility encouraged, and provided a perfect foil for, Johnson's erudite pronouncements. Johnson more than filled the place of Hester's former mentor Collier; she was flattered by the attentions of this literary lion who took her sufficiently seriously as a poet not only to praise and criticize her efforts, but also to suggest collaboration. With Johnson she was soon translating Boethius's Consolations of Philosophy, and for another of Johnson's projects, the Miscellanies in Verse and Prose of his lodger, the blind Welsh poet Anna Williams, Hester contributed a translation from Boileau, ‘Epistle to his Gardener’, and wrote her best-known poem, ‘The Three Warnings’ (1766). Subsequently she assisted him in the preparation of his Journey to the Western Islands, and Johnson acknowledged that several of the lives in his Lives of the Poets, completed at Southwark and at Streatham, owed as much to her conversation as to her skills as amanuensis.

In the autumn of 1765 Thrale stood for parliament to represent Southwark, and his wife, though heavily pregnant, took part in canvassing the electors, and collaborated with Johnson in the writing and proof-correction of election addresses. Thrale gained the seat, but Hester lost the child, under two weeks old, to infantile diarrhoea. In the following year Johnson's emotional breakdown led the Thrales to make over to his use rooms at both Southwark and Streatham, and for the next sixteen years his life was transformed by the affection, care, stability, and comfort of a couple to whom he referred as his ‘Master’ and ‘Mistress’. There was little danger of emotional or intellectual stagnation for Hester, because the magnet of Johnson attracted Turk's Head members and other distinguished figures to her dining-table and tea-urn. Johnson presided with Hester Thrale over this new Streatham salon, which she saw as ‘a sort of Receptacle for Wits & Writers’, and Thrale's library was subsequently adorned with portraits he commissioned Sir Joshua Reynolds to paint of their eminent guests: Oliver Goldsmith, Garrick, Burke, the philosopher and poet James Beattie, the Italian scholar Joseph Baretti, Sir Robert Chambers, Vinerian professor of law at Oxford, Reynolds himself. Membership of the Thrale coterie betokened social and cultural arrival; having made his reputation as a historian of music, Charles Burney was delighted at his invitation, and so was his daughter Frances when critical acclaim of her Evelina, or, A Young Lady's Entrance into the World (1778) secured her entrée into what had earlier been an almost exclusively male preserve. Hester became acquainted with the influential Elizabeth Montagu as her coterie rivalled that of the lively ‘queen of the blues’ in celebrity.

The private Mrs Thrale

Despite the glamour, the wit, and the repartee, however, Johnson was an exhausting house guest, demanding, beyond attention to his various physical ailments, a mother love to compensate for his own rather austere upbringing. Behind the public face of her performance as brilliant hostess, Hester's nurturing powers were drained not only by her own children, but by the overgrown child Johnson, who required psychological fostering of his creative powers. Her various journals record the many and various demands upon her: the ‘Children's book’ (1766–78) charts her children's growth and intellectual attainments, but also their ailments and deaths. Working with only French models, Hester's Thraliana effectively constitutes the first English collection of anecdotes of friends, the famous, and the obscure, poems, treasures of wit culled from books or conversation, random thoughts on a multitude of topics, fragments of lived experience: in short, the juxtaposition of the ordinary and the extraordinary. The six leather-bound volumes, the gift of Thrale, represented more than a safe and secure repository; they became a confidante as she recorded the history and development of her family.

Brewing and touring

Hester was drawn into taking an active managerial role in the family business by Thrale's increasingly reckless speculation. In 1772 his eagerness to vanquish rival London brewers such as Calvert and Whitbread involved him in the ruinous schemes of an incompetent chemist to brew beer without malt or hops, and to produce a wood preservative for ships' bottoms. Johnson rallied round in the counting-house, and Hester, again expecting another child, tirelessly set about averting the threatened bankruptcy by raising money from family friends and from her mother, placating regular customers, and regaining the loyalty of a demoralized workforce at the brewery who ‘declared they would not live with Mr Thrale, but they would do anything for me’ (Thraliana, 1.313). As she continues: ‘Women have a manifest Advantage over Men in the doing Business; every thing smooths down before them’; her spirit and common sense had saved the brewery, but her eighth child lived only ten hours.

Meanwhile Hester's mother was dying of cancer at Streatham and her husband's womanizing in the Borough was featuring in the Westminster Magazine; it was beyond Hester's powers to ‘smooth down’ such scandal, which spread to indecent insinuation concerning her own relationship with Johnson. While Hester was tending Mrs Salusbury and consulting physicians, the appallingly self-centred Johnson reprimanded her for neglecting him; with characteristic patience and tact she recommended him to take his long-planned trip to the Hebrides: ‘I believe Mr. Boswell will be at last your best Physician’.

In the summer of 1774, her domestic tragedies temporarily put behind her, Hester set out on a tour of Wales in the company of her husband, her ten-year-old eldest daughter, and Johnson. Her ardent hopes of impressing the men in her life with the beauties of her homeland seemed doomed to failure; Wales, it would seem, could not measure up to the western islands. Memories of emotional security contrasted all too strongly with present feelings of being unloved. She attempts to reconcile these personal difficulties in her journal of the tour, in which conventional travel narrative is overshadowed by self-analysis. Her motherland focuses her sadness at the recent loss of her mother and the death of her favourite daughter, the four-year-old Lucy, her maternal concern for her eldest daughter's health, her lack of female companionship, and her isolation and vulnerability. Johnson and Thrale, she wrote, ‘have too much philosophy for me. One cannot disburthen one's mind to people who are watchful to cavil, or acute to contradict before the sentence is finished’ (‘Journal of a tour to Wales’, Broadley, 193–4).

‘Notwithstanding the Disgust my last Journey gave me’, Hester soon had the preparations in hand for another; this time to the continent with the addition of Baretti as a knowledgeable guide, and a maidservant to help care for her daughter. The party set out in September 1775 and the ‘French journal’, in its increasingly confident balance of the subjective and the objective, the personal and the documentary, represents a further experiment in the genre of travel writing. Plans for a third tour—to Italy—where Hester might further indulge her passion for the Italian masters were abandoned on account of a further domestic emergency, the illness of the Thrales' only son and male heir. The sudden death, on 23 March 1776, of the nine-year-old Harry subjected the mother to a distracted grief which intensified her concerns for the health of her remaining children, subject, as she came to see it, to some inherited taint of the Thrale blood. Thrale was submerged in a black melancholy, recurrent bouts of which were exacerbated by venereal disease, and only alleviated by hunting parties, extravagance, a suicidal over-indulgence at the table, and flirtation with the beautiful scholar of Greek, Miss Sophia Streatfeild. The demise of the ‘Southwark Macaroni’, at the age of fifty-two and after a series of strokes, came as little surprise; the simple statement ‘Mr Thrale died on the 4th April 1781’ was written on an otherwise blank page of Thraliana.

The European Mrs Piozzi

Hester's grief was augmented by the revival of gossip concerning the wealthy widow's future plans; the day after the funeral was not too soon for Boswell to pen an ‘Ode by Samuel Johnson to Mrs Thrale upon their supposed approaching nuptials’. Partnership with ‘Dictionary Johnson’ was, however, limited to the sharing of managerial duties at Southwark, and, anxious to remove all unfashionable traces of ‘Borough Dirt’, Hester completed her liberation by concluding the sale of the brewery to David Barclay for £135,000. A gentlewoman once more, established for the London season in Harley Street, Hester's pre-eminence as a lady of fashion seemed assured. Scandal replaced celebrity, however, when in 1784, three years after the death of Thrale, she made a love match of her own. Against the advice of her forceful eldest daughter, Hester Maria [see Elphinstone, Hester Maria]—aptly nicknamed Queeney—and the violent opposition of Johnson, whose ill health increased his self-absorption, and to the dismay of almost all her fashionable and bluestocking friends, she married the Italian musician Gabriel Mario Piozzi (1740–1809). Having ‘married the first Time to please my Mother’, she came close to avoiding marriage to please her daughter, but ultimately she determined to brave society's prejudice against an Italian, Roman Catholic singer husband. They were married in London by a Catholic priest on 23 July, and two days later in an Anglican service at St James's, Bath. Hester Lynch Piozzi not only secured her own happiness but also, free from the inhibiting presence of Johnson (‘in Johnson's intellect mine was swallowed up and lost’), found her own feet as a writer.

With Piozzi she travelled for three years through France, Italy, and Germany, her creativity nurtured not so much by contentment as by determination to answer the malicious reports circulating at home, and to establish ‘that I was not lost to the world’. She contributed some poems and the preface to the influential Florence Miscellany (1785) in collaboration with the ‘Della Cruscan’ poets, Robert Merry, William Parsons, and Bertie Greatheed. Her preface celebrated the self-conscious sensibility of these literati in exile, placing less emphasis upon the liberal politics which united the group with Italian patriots. In many ways, however, the continent proved a personal and cultural liberation, suggesting answers to the question of how femininity is constructed when divorced from domesticity. Learning in Milan of Johnson's death, Hester was removed from the accusations of Mrs Montagu and others that she had shortened his life (she was blamed for deserting her maternal duties to her daughters and to Johnson), and provided with the necessary distance to produce a critical perspective on the great man. She completed her first book, Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson (1786), a candid and generically ground-breaking biography, which sold out on the first day of publication. The English Review judged Mrs Piozzi's the best ‘of the nine lives of this giant in learning’ (6, 1786, 255), and Peter Pindar (Dr Walcot) capitalized upon public fascination with the feuding biographers in his popular and pointed lampoon ‘Bozzy and Piozzi, a town eclogue’ (1786). Although some contemporary critics accused her of a self-justifying stress upon Johnson's foibles and failings, Hannah More's recognition that this was ‘new-fashioned biography’ has been endorsed by modern criticism, which sees her as anticipating Boswellian biographical innovation (his Life of Johnson was published in 1791) while supplying an irreverent corrective.

For a decade Hester had been Johnson's principal correspondent, and it was natural that she should wish to produce an edition of his letters. This project necessitated her return to England in March 1787 to retrieve those she had deposited in a bank vault and to collect others from mutual friends. Letters to and from the Late Samuel Johnson (1788), representing the first publication and canonization of a large body of his correspondence (some 338 letters), also sold well, attracting some justified abuse from Boswell, who detected some manipulative editing, and less deserved rancour from the disgruntled Baretti. Arthur Murphy declared that the edition revealed the great man ‘in the undress of his mind’ (Monthly Review, 78, 1778, 326), and her editorial practice has largely been vindicated by modern editors who reserve their disapproval for the self-conscious over-dressing of her own revised letters to Johnson.

Having been satirized as a diminutive creature riding to literary acclaim on the gigantic shoulders of Johnsonian erudition, Hester herself was only too aware of the anxiety of influence. In the entertaining and important travel journal Observations and Reflections made in the Course of a Journey through France, Italy, and Germany (1789), her first work not to fall under the long shadow of Johnson, she built upon previous experimentation by using an authoritative but conversational discourse, alive with present-tense immediacy, to erode the barriers between diary and travel narrative. Her delight in Piozzi and in Italy was everywhere apparent in the materials she included in this development of the genre, which subverted masculine tropes of the grand tourist as disillusioned and hard to please. Sympathetically depicting Italian life as a ‘demi-naturalized’ wife, she substituted involvement for prejudice, and satirized (as a Welshwoman) the English habit of ridiculing that which it finds disconcertingly unfamiliar. By the middle of July the queen was reading Observations and Reflections to Frances Burney to their mutual delight.

Hester had her Streatham house redecorated in Italianate splendour in 1790 to house a renovated coterie including continental guests such as Ippolito Pindemonte, loyal friends of former days, and newer acquaintances such as Samuel Rogers the poet, the novelist sisters Harriet and Sophia Lee, Hannah More, Mrs Garrick, and the celebrated Mrs Siddons. Despite her radical politics, Helen Maria Williams was a frequent visitor. Hester's friendship with Sarah Siddons and John Kemble, and her experience of composing dramatical prologues and epilogues, encouraged her desire to write a play. These efforts turned out to be something of a blind theatrical alley. She produced two unpublished plays: ‘The Adventurer: a Comedy in Two Acts’ (c.1790), which contained some brilliant dialogue but was burdened with a clumsy and vapid plot; and ‘The Two Fountains, in the Manner of Milton's Comus’ (1789), an untheatrical dramatic poem, a revision of Johnson's fairy tale ‘The Fountains’. Having always shunned the novel as a genre which submerged women, as authors, readers, or characters, in a sentimental dream, she came to realize that her real strength lay in non-fictional prose; her aspirations were towards history and philology. Her sustained interest in languages, etymology, word play, and punning eventually bore fruit in British Synonymy, or, An Attempt at Regulating the Choice of Words in Familiar Conversation (1794). An ambitious work, recalling in its preface her own Welsh origins, it specifically addressed itself to those who, like her husband, found English taxing:
if I can in the course of this little work dispel a doubt, or clear up a difficulty to foreigners, who can alone be supposed to know less of the matter than myself,—I shall have an honour to boast, and like my countryman Glendower in Shakespeare's Henry the Fourth, have given our tongue an helpful ornament.
Her modest disclaimers and the protestations of ignorance remind us that she was acutely aware of encroaching into a male-dominated genre. Her deprecations seem to have done the trick with the British Critic, whose reviewer adjudged it ‘the best, if not the first, imitation of Abbé Girard's celebrated work on Synonymous Words’. Its discriminating definitions and characteristic excursions offer real insights into an eighteenth-century mind, and the kind of entertainment wholly absent from a dictionary of synonyms. Mrs Piozzi is ever anxious to vilify the French revolutionaries, and those elements such as dissenters, Paine-ites, or freethinkers whom she sees as attempting to further republicanism and foment revolution.

Welsh idyll

London society was beginning to pall, and having been delighted to discover, on various business trips to north Wales, that her husband loved the country of her birth as much as she had his, Hester decided to return home in 1795. At Brynbella, a villa they built near her ancestral home of Bachegraig, she lived contentedly with her caro sposo, a would-be gentleman farmer. Nursing Piozzi through increasingly severe attacks of gout, and feuds with her rather mercenary daughters, failed to diminish a zest for life apparent in her entertaining and visiting (the scholarly Thomas Pennant and the Ladies of Llangollen, Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, were firm friends); her poetry (some of her best verses were inspired by the grandeur of the north Welsh sublime, and the coast near Pwllheli); her political pamphleteering (her ‘Address to the females of Great Britain’ and Three Warnings to John Bull, 1798, focus upon the need for the rational and moral woman to aid national defence of mixed government); her good works with the poor (offering soup, or charity, or Hannah More's Village Politics which she had translated into Welsh); and, by no means least, her journal writing, which she continued to the very last.

Hester Piozzi's last major published work, Retrospection (1801), was based upon a novel and timely conception: to publish at the opening of the nineteenth century an anecdotal abridgement of the last eighteen hundred years. Although this was a work aimed at the general reader, she was conscious that in some ways she had overreached herself ‘in undertaking a Work wch. should be written in All Souls College Oxford’. Some of the reviews panned the book as ‘a series of dreams by an old lady’, or ‘history in dimity’; obviously she had once more intruded into what was perceived as a masculine genre. Her single female predecessor as historian was Catharine Macaulay, but Piozzi's principles were diametrically opposed to the republican line of Macaulay. Denying the optimism of whig progressivism, she provides an original and revisionary response to Gibbon's ‘infidel’ History. Retrospection proved a critical and commercial failure, but it has since been seen as a feminist history, concerned to show changes in manners and mores in so far as they affected women; it has also been judged to anticipate Marxian history in its keen apprehension of reification: ‘machines imitated mortals to unhoped perfection, and men found out they were themselves machines’.

One of the curiosities of Bath

Piozzi's death, of ‘slow-spreading Gangrene’ on 26 March 1809, occasioned the final entry in Thraliana: ‘my second Husbands Death is the last Thing recorded in my first husband's present! Cruel Death!’ The devastated Hester channelled her energies into arrangements for the naturalization and education of John Salusbury Piozzi, her husband's nephew whom they had adopted in 1798. Determined to make him her heir and continue the Salusbury line, in 1814 she generously made over Brynbella and all her Welsh property to her nephew as a wedding gift, establishing herself at Bath in somewhat reduced circumstances. The glamour of her connections and anecdotes continued to make her the centre of a circle of admirers including the writer Edward Mangin, and Sir James Fellowes, a retired naval doctor, both thirty years her junior, who became deeply attached to her. Perhaps unwisely, they encouraged her unsuccessful attempts to find a publisher for ‘Lyford Redivivus, or, A grandame's garrulity’, an abstruse collection of proper names with conjectural etymologies; as in British Synonymy her philological scholarship was seriously flawed. The devoted attentions of a young, unsuccessful actor, William Augustus Conway, compensated her for the coolness of her alienated daughters and the jealousy of her mercenary heir. Once more an impulsive search for affection was to create scandal; her effusive letters to her ‘Chevalier’ Conway were the subject of deliberate and salacious misinterpretation after her death. Hester's seventy-ninth birthday (she counted it her eightieth) was lavishly celebrated in January 1820 at the assembly rooms where over 600 guests admired the undiminished vigour of her intellect and the ‘astonishing elasticity’ of her dancing. Such expense dictated a year's retirement in economical Penzance, and it was on her return from this self-imposed exile that she suffered a serious fall. ‘[A]lways a blue’, she quipped, ‘now a black and blue’ (Autobiography, 2.462), but complications set in, and she died at 10 Sion Row, Clifton, on 2 May 1821. Two weeks later, on 16 May, she was laid to rest, according to her expressed desire, beside her dear Piozzi in the vault of Tremeirchion church in the Vale of Clwyd.

Modern criticism might be reluctant to underwrite Frances Burney's eulogistic comparison of Hester Piozzi with her other celebrated friend and salonnière Germaine de Staël, in terms of intellectual superiority, conversational brilliance, impulsive daring, ‘sportive gaiety’, and faulty morality (Journals and Letters, 9.208–9). Nevertheless her innovative writings and genre experimentation betray a refusal to accept the restrictions on female authors in her time, and her published works, traditionally of more specialized interest to Johnsonists and cultural historians, have a new and sympathetic audience as she is reassessed by contemporary feminism.

Michael J. Franklin


Thraliana: the diary of Mrs. Hester Lynch Thrale (later Mrs. Piozzi), 1776–1809, ed. K. C. Balderston, 2nd edn, 2 vols. (1951) · J. L. Clifford, Hester Lynch Piozzi, 2nd edn (1987) · W. McCarthy, Hester Thrale Piozzi (1985) · Autobiography, letters and literary remains of Mrs Piozzi, ed. A. Hayward, 2 vols. (1861) · A. M. Broadley, Doctor Johnson and Mrs Thrale (1910) · The Piozzi letters, ed. E. A. Bloom and L. D. Bloom (New Jersey, 1989–) · M. W. Brownley, ‘“Under the dominion of some woman”: the friendship of Samuel Johnson and Hester Thrale’, Mothering the mind, ed. R. Perry and M. W. Brownley (New York, 1984) · T. A. Dougal, ‘“Strange farrago of public, private follies”: Piozzi, diary and the travel narrative’, The Age of Johnson, 10 (1999), 195–218 · M. Hyde, The Thrales of Streatham Park (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1977) · F. A. Nussbaum, ‘Eighteenth-century women's autobiographical commonplaces’, The private self: theory and practice of women's autobiographical writings, ed. S. Benstock (Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1988) · Memoirs of Dr. Burney, 3 vols. (1832) · The journals and letters of Fanny Burney (Madame D'Arblay), ed. J. Hemlow and others, 12 vols. (1972–84)


Col. U. · Four Oaks Farm, Somerville, New Jersey, Hyde collection · Harvard U., literary journals · Hunt. L., letters · JRL, corresp., literary MSS, and papers · NL Wales, Bachegraig estate papers, incl. diaries and corresp. · Princeton University Library, New Jersey, letters · Trinity Cam., literary notes · Yale U., Beinecke L., letters | Bath Central Library, letters to Sophy Pugh · BL, corresp. with her daughter and others, RP 812, 5318 · BL, letters to Charles Burney and his family, M/440 · BL, corresp. with Frances Burney, Egerton MS 3695, RP 5318 · BL, letters to Alexander Leak, M/572, RP 766 [copies] · BL, letters to Clement Mead, RP 293 [copies] · Harvard U., Houghton L., letters, mainly to Mr and Mrs Edward Mangin · Herts. ALS, letters to Rice family of Tooting · JRL, letters to Williams family of Bodelwyddan · NL Wales, corresp. with Hugh Griffith · NL Wales, letters to John Lloyd · Som. ARS, letters to Sanford family · V&A NAL, letters to Williams family


W. Hogarth, oils, 1758–1759 (The lady's last stake), Buffalo Fine Arts Academy · R. Cosway, miniature, c.1780, Ransom HRC · J. Reynolds, double portrait, oils, c.1781 (Mrs Thrale and her daughter Hester (Queeney)), Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton, New Brunswick · Italian school, oils, c.1785, NPG · J. Sayers, caricature, etching, pubd 1786 (The biographers), NPG · J. Sayers, caricature, etching, pubd 1788, NPG; [for 2nd edn of Dr Johnson's Letters] · G. Dance, pencil drawing, 1793, NPG · J. Jackson, drawing, 1810, Dr Johnson's House, London [see illus.] · miniature, 1811, Johnson Birthplace Museum, Lichfield · S. T. Roche, miniature, 1817, NMG Wales · J. Thomson, engraving, 1820 (after Hopwood), Col. U., Rare Book and Manuscript Library · T. Holloway, line engraving (after R. E. Pine), BM, NPG; repro. in European Magazine (1786) · H. Meyer, stipple (after J. Jackson), BM, NPG; repro. in Contemporary Portraits (1811)

Wealth at death

Streatham Park estate; various bequests totalling £500: Autobiography, ed. Hayward

Michael J. Franklin, ‘Piozzi , Hester Lynch (1741–1821)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [, accessed 19 Jan 2009]