Montagu, Mary Wortley: General Commentary

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SOURCE: Grundy, Isobel. "The Politics of Female Authorship: Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's Reaction to the Printing of Her Poems." The Book Collector 31, no. 1 (spring 1982): 19-37.

In the following essay, Grundy reviews Montagu's personal annotations of Dodsley's Collection of Poems, which included poems printed without her permission. In the marginalia, Montagu claims some poems and vehemently denies writing others, revealing her thoughts on the controversies of her publication. Grundy suggests that the annotations add to the portrait of Montagu as a reluctant writer, with mixed emotions about being published.

In the stormy career of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu the ambition of authorship played a large but mostly secret part. One of the earliest controversies to involve her was Edmund Curll's illicit publication of three more or less scandalous poems which she had been quietly circulating in manuscript among her friends; one of the latest was the feud that developed between her and the British Resident and British Consul in Venice,1 about which new information has recently come to light. Each episode brings out the period's feeling that it was not fitting for a well-born woman to publish verses except in circumstances of the most careful decorum and discretion. When Curll scooped the three eclogues which appeared as Court Poems, 1716, various aristocratic women had already published their poems; Lady Winchilsea had put her name on title-pages, though Lady Chudleigh had not. But in Curll's pamphlet the first poem satirized the Princess of Wales—and must have appeared, to those readers who failed to appreciate Lady Mary's irony, to satirize her a good deal more heavily than it in fact did—and the resulting furore was such that Pope felt justified in taking the emetic vengeance he described in A Full and True Account of a Horrid and Barbarous Revenge by Poison, on the Body of Mr Edmund Curll, Bookseller, and in A Further Account of the Deplorable Condition of Mr Curll.2 By the time Lady Mary, now settled in Italy, encountered John Murray in the late 1750's, something of a revolution was occurring in England, with a flood of books, mostly novels, issuing from the pens of women. Lady Mary had already remarked that the Italians, unlike her own countrymen, respected literary or learned women; she had also received evidence of the revolution at home, in the boxes of books sent her by her daughter; but she probably felt as much differentiated by her class from the new ranks of writing Englishwomen as she felt by nationality from the female professor of mathematics at Bologna.3 Among the English at Venice, to be known as an authoress was still a liability. So when she discovered, apparently for the first time, that an appreciable number of her poems had been for ten years in print in the century's most popular anthology, she does not seem to have been pleased. Her enmity with Murray and his satellites, though political in foundation, was exacerbated by the natural antipathy between a rake praised by Casanova as 'prodigieusement amateur de beau sexe' and as having always 'les plus jolies filles de Venise', and an old woman, one of the 'most despicable creatures alive', as she wrote bitterly during an early phase of the quarrel, whose penchant for writing provided the readiest handle for attack and derision.4

New information on these affairs, albeit rather sparse and dubious is contained in a set of Robert Dodsley's A Collection of Poems … By Several Hands, annotated by Lady Mary in Venice in 1758. Each of the six volumes, handsomely bound in contemporary vellum, bears the engraved book-plate of 'Joseph Smith British Consul at Venice'.5 This is odd for two reasons. Firstly, Smith's then existing collection of books was bought en bloc by George III in 1765 and now 'form[s] an important part of the king's library in the British Museum', so that his set of Dodsley's Collection must somehow have separated itself from the rest, if only to join those books which Smith continued to amass after the King's purchase, and which were sold after his death.6 Secondly Lady Mary had disliked Smith even during her first stay in Venice 1739-40, and disliked him more strongly since he had married in 1757 at past the age of eighty, the sister of John Murray the Resident.7 She wrote satirically about the marriage in May 1758; she said nothing in her letters, then or later, about the Collection. Her motives for annotating volumes owned by Smith therefore remains matter for speculation. Whether he gave her the set while they were still on speaking terms, whether she borrowed it and never returned it as a consequence of their growing hostility, or whether some other person was responsible for Smith's loss of it, we cannot now know. Very many of Lady Mary's own books were scattered before her surviving library was offered for sale at Sotheby's on 1 August 1928, so the non-appearance of the set in the catalogue of that sale tells us nothing.

Dodsley's Collection of Poems had begun in three volumes published on 15 January 1748.8 The third volume included twelve poems by 'L. M. W. M.', all except three of them from Six Town Eclogues. With some other Poems. By the Rt. Hon. L. M. W. M., which Horace Walpole had printed without her permission the previous year. Walpole wrote in his set of the Collection that Dodsley had printed Lady Mary's poems (which he found 'too womanish') 'from my Copy', and another owner wrote in his that 'Dodsley affirms the Collection was pict out by Mr. Spence'.9 Evidence of both these statements, insofar as the second refers to Lady Mary, is provided by a transcript, apparently made in Rome in 1741 from Lady Mary's own holograph album, in a scribal hand with corrections in that of Joseph Spence, who met Lady Mary at the same time as Walpole, and who recorded information about her both in his Anecdotes and in his letters, where his dazzlement with her comes through most engagingly.10 The transcript of her poems which he had made is endorsed in a late 18th-century hand 'The Book of Ly M's Verses at Dodsley's?'11 Lady Mary liked both Walpole and Spence, with a liking which she might well have modified if she had seen them as not only admirers but also potential publishers of her poems.

The success of Dodsley's Collection was such that he issued a 'Second Edition' in December of the same year, 1748.12 Lady Mary's poems seem to have been associated with his success, since he transferred them in the second edition from volume iii to volume i. Joseph Smith acquired his first three volumes of the Collection in their fourth edition, 1755, presumably together with the fourth volume, which came out that year. Volumes v and vi were published in March 1758,13 the year that Lady Mary made her notes. Smith's copies of these last volumes contain no notes by her, and since letters seem to have taken anything from a month to four and a half months to make the journey from England to Venice, though 'all the Shops are full of English Merchandize',14 it seems probable that the set which she annotated consisted of four volumes only.

When the Collection first appeared, Lady Mary had already been nine years resident abroad—if 'resident' is the word to describe her unsettled sojourns, first in Venice, then (after a year-long tour of Italy and a winter in Geneva and Chambéry) in Avignon, then in the remote village of Gottolengo near Brescia in North Italy. This last move cut her off, more than the War of the Austrian Succession had already done, from English travellers. She was not cut off, however, from all news from home. She had been exchanging increasingly brief and dull letters with her husband since her departure from England, letters—equally far from her best—with Lady Oxford since 1744, and was by 1748 well launched on the much livelier correspondence with her daughter, from whom as recently as 1740 she had been still estranged.15 Lady Bute had moved from Scotland to London, where news was more readily available, in 1746; her husband began his rise to power not long afterwards, meeting the Prince of Wales in 1747 and becoming Lord of the Bed-chamber to him on 30 September 1750.16 It seems, however, that if Lady Mary's correspondents in England noticed the appearance of her poems, first in Walpole's publication and then in Dodsley's, they thought it better to keep silent. Lady Mary's first note in Consul Smith's set claims, implicitly, that she had remained ignorant of her appearance in print for ten years. Beside the title 'An Epistle from a Lady in England, to a Gentleman at Avignon' (i.63) she wrote 'I renounce and never saw till this year 1758.'17 Apparently someone had spoken of this poem as hers. If the second part of her note is true, it follows that she had not seen either the anthology or her own verses until after her move, in 1756, back from Gottolengo to Venice and Padua.



The Sultana Hafife is what one would naturally expect to find a Turkish Lady, willing to oblige, but not knowing how to go about it, and tis easy to see in her Manner that she has liv'd excluded from the World. But Fatima has all the politeness and good breeding of a court, with an air that inspires at once Respect and tenderness; and now I understand her Language, I find her Wit as engaging as her Beauty. She is very curious after the manners of other countrys and has not that partiality for her own, so common to little minds. A Greek that I carry'd with me who had never seen her before (nor could have been admitted now if she had not been in my Train) shew'd that Surprize at her Beauty and manner which is unavoidable at the first sight, and said to me in Italian: This is no Turkish Lady; she is certainly some Christian. Fatima guess'd she spoke of her, and ask'd what she said. I would not have told, thinking she would have been no better pleas'd with the Complement than one of our Court Beautys to be told she had the air of a Turk. But the Greek Lady told it her and she smil'd, saying: It is not the first time I have heard so. My Mother was a Poloneze taken at the Seige of Caminiec, and my father us'd to rally me, saying he beleiv'd his Christian Wife had found some Christian Gallant, for I had not the Air of a Turkish Girl. I assur'd her that if all the Turkish Ladys were like her, it was absolutely necessary to confine them from public view for the repose of Mankind, and proceeded to tell her what a noise such a face as hers would make in London or Paris. I can't beleive you (reply'd she agreably); if Beauty was so much valu'd in your Country as you say, they would never have suffer'd you to leave it.

Montagu, Mary Wortley. Letter to Lady Mar, 10 March 1718. From The Collected Letters of Mary Wortley Montagu, Vol. 1, edited by Robert Halsband, pp. 386-87. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967.

It is another oddity that she did not know this 'Epistle'. It was in fact by Thomas Tickell, and in Dodsley's Collection firmly associated—as 'By the Same'—with other well-known poems of his, and quite separate from the poems identified by Lady Mary's initials. It had been published anonymously in 1717 (during another of Lady Mary's absences from England) and reached five editions that year.18 Whoever accused her of writing it probably did so as a joke, perhaps a hurtful one; but they did so not without apparent evidence: that of a London and Dublin reprint, also 1717, of Tickell's epistle 'To which is added Court Poems. Part II. The second edition.'19 So something which Curll's piracy had by implication attributed to Lady Mary had once appeared between the same covers as Tickell's poem.

Lady Mary's need to 'renounce' this poem shows how vulnerable she was to the campaign of Murray the Resident, now Smith's brother-in-law, to bring her into mockery and disrepute. Real political differences existed between them: William Pitt had formed a joint Ministry with Newcastle in October 1756 (another Minister in it was Holdernesse, the relation to whom Murray owed his position), and Lady Mary, though she compared the resulting coalition to 'Arlequin's Coat', looked on Pitt as the chief hope for peace and national renewal, while Murray was full of 'zeal for the contrary faction'.20 But the real issues were overshadowed by exaggeration and fantasy. Lady Mary's attitude progressed rapidly from an affectation of amusement that she should be taken for a politician (in February 1758), through admission that Murray's 'political Airs' made her wish she had 'settled in some other part of the World' (in April), to writing of his contempt and low malice. Three years later she self-mockingly resolved to perish if necessary in maintaining her ground 'with the true spirit of old Whiggism'.21 Murray almost immediately expanded his basic charge against her—that of] supporting Pitt—into the larger and vaguer one of being 'in the Interest of Popery and Slavery' because of the friendship which she struck up, on their arrival in Venice in May 1758, with Sir James and Lady Frances Steuart, exiles on account of Sir James's Jacobite politics whom Murray refused to receive. It was an intellectual friendship, with Lady Mary reading and discussing Sir James's works, including part of the important but as yet unpublished Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy.22 Her letters throw out many dark jesting hints that she was suspected of witchcraft—traditionally the accusation levelled at undocile old women—but this may have been chiefly because Sir James was interested in the supernatural.23 To her daughter she shows a touching defensiveness: 'I am afraid you may think some imprudent behaviour of mine has occasion'd all this ridiculous persecution', and again

Do not tell your father these foolish squabbles; it is the only thing I would keep from his knowledge. I am apprehensive he should imagine some misplac'd Railery or vivacity of mine has drawn on me these ridiculous Persecutions. 'Tis realy incredible they should be carry'd to such a height without the least provocation.24

The modern reader, instinctively sharing the 18th century's low opinion of old women, is likely to wonder at first how much Lady Mary is exaggerating. One answer is provided by Lord Bute's kinsman General Graeme: although a friend of Murray's, he nevertheless wrote 'I do think the resident ought to show some more respect than he has done of late to a woman of her birth and country.'25 Her birth and country, precisely the things which forbade her to be a published female writer, were her only possible hope for enforcing respect in the face of sneers about her excessive reading and writing.26

In this atmosphere it would not be difficult to make an insinuation that would rankle about Tickell's poem, in which an imaginary lady laments her banished Jacobite lover with insurrectionist fervour which transforms itself gradually but not very convincingly to acceptance of the status quo and to the hope that her lover will after all follow her in submitting to prosperity-bringing 'Brunswick'. At about the time that she read it, Lady Mary was writing, 'It is very remarkable that after having suffer'd all the rage of that Party at Avignon for my attachment to the present reigning Family, I should be accus'd here of favoring Rebellion, when I hop'd all our Odious Divisions were forgotten.'27 Though Tickell's poem voices Jacobite sentiments at its beginning, it is clear to the least literate reader that the author must be a Whig; nevertheless I think it likely that Lady Mary's indignant repudiation of it had something to do with the scandal given by her welcome to the Steuarts.

Lady Mary then came to her own poems. Beside the heading of the Six Town Eclogues 28 she noted 'mine wrote at 17'. The first word of her note was a response to a long-standing controversy about their authorship. Curll, by prefixing to his piracy a quibbling identification of the writer either as 'a LADY of QUALITY', or as John Gay, or as given as the opinion of a thinly-disguised Addison—as Pope himself,29 had drawn public attention to a recent and no doubt indiscreet literary friendship of the young Lady Mary. Gay reinforced his association with the eclogue series by including in his Poems on Several Occasions, 1720, a poem called 'The Toilette. A Town Eclogue', 106 lines long, of which 43 lines are precisely the same as in Lady Mary's 'Friday. The Toilette' in her 78-line holograph copy.30 His version makes something light, whimsical and wistful out of Lady Mary's more embittered heroine. It is easy to appreciate the quality of Gay's additions but impossible to tell how much he contributed to the lines common to his and Lady Mary's copies, or indeed which of the two friends conceived the poem's original idea. Pope, who continued to believe 'Friday' to be 'almost wholly Gay's', also kept among his own papers a manuscript copy of 'Thursday' which caused some later editors to ascribe this eclogue to him; and in the beautiful handwritten transcript of the 'Eclogs' which he made for Lady Mary31 he gave the concluding lines of 'Wednesday' in an entirely different form from that of her own manuscript. No wonder, then, that the 67-year-old Lady Mary should wish to establish her authorship of all six eclogues, for any readers of Consul Smith's volumes, with 'mine'. Her 'wrote at 17' is harder to justify. The earliest eclogue, 'Monday', dates from 'the coming over of the Hanoverian family' in 1715; the last, 'Satturday' describes Lady Mary's own recovery from smallpox, which was complete by January 1716. She was born on 26 May 1689. One can only hope that '17' (which it is not possible to misread) was a slip of the pen for '27' rather than a deliberate untruth.

Beside the first couplet of 'Epistle from Arthur Grey, the Footman after his Condemnation for attempting a Rape', printed as 'By the Same',32 Lady Mary wrote 'I confess it'. She was indulging in a touch of self-dramatization, for there is little in this romantic, Ovidian poem that calls for confession, nothing to embarrass the victim of the assault, her erstwhile friend Mrs Griselda Murray (no relation)—except an erotic passage, which six years later Lady Mary's old flame Francesco Algarotti was to imitate in Italian in a poem of his own.33 What Mrs Murray had indignantly charged upon Lady Mary thirty-six years before were 'vile ballads' on the same subject, and these Lady Mary had, by implication, denied writing, though one of them is almost certainly by her and has now been printed as such.34 At this moment the scornful gossip about her 'sudden liking' for Sir James Steuart made it particularly unsuitable for her to be known as an erotic poet.

Dodsley printed Lady Mary's 'The Lover: A Ballad' as 'To Mr. C——', 35 no doubt following Horace Walpole, who believed, with Spence, that this description of the ideal lover was addressed to Richard Chandler (1703?-69), with whom Lady Mary was supposed to have had an affair. The identification says more for Walpole's nose for gossip than for his ear for literature. The speaker of this poem explains, to a friend who has blamed her for 'stupid Indifference', that she is not kept back from loveaffairs by 'Nature, [by] fear or [by] Shame'; she can imagine a combination of qualities that would win her love, but has not yet found it: and 'till this astonishing Creature I know / As I long have liv'd Chaste I will keep my selfe so.' The amorous advances of 'Lewd Rake' and 'dress'd Fopling', she says, push women into a metaphorical experience of Ovidian metamorphosis: 'We harden like Trees, and like Rivers are cold.' The whole tone of the poem (confidential complaint of the inadequacies of modern men as lovers) suggests, what the 'We' of the last line reinforces, that it is written by a woman to a woman, about a lover but to a friend. This impression is borne out by Lady Mary's holograph in her album, where the second line of the poem reads 'Molly'—the nickname of Maria Skerrett, mistress of the Prime Minister and a close friend of hers. In Consul Smith's copy Lady Mary altered 'C——' in the second line to read 'M', and expanded this in the margin to 'Molly'. The subtitle 'To Mr. C——' she replaced with 'to a Lady, to the Tune of My Time O ye Muses' —a ballad by John Byrom which had been printed in Spectator No. 603.

Next in order Lady Mary found a poem of hers which had first appeared in print in a newspaper (Aaron Hill's The Plain Dealer) on 27 April 1724 and was titled there 'The Lady's Resolve'. Since she claimed in her album that it was 'Written ex tempore in Company in a Glass Window', it might have reached Hill by various routes. In any case the printed version substituted 'He comes too near, that comes to be deny'd' for Lady Mary's manuscript 'Too near he has approach'd who is deny'd.' All Lady Mary's subsequent editors followed Hill instead of her holograph, even W. Moy Thomas in 1861, though he noted 'that this very line occurs in Ben Johnson's conversation with Drummond'.36 (It is actually in Sir Thomas Overbury's A Wife, Now A Widowe, 1614). In Smith's copy Lady Mary crossed out the Overburean line and wrote in her own, but did nothing about the other considerable textual corruptions of the printed version. She added to the printed title, 'wrote 2 months after my marriage'; her own album puts it 'the first year I was marry'd.' To an answer printed by Dodsley (and earlier by Hill) as 'The Gentleman's Resolve' she added the note 'Sir W.Y.'—a useful piece of information, since it has been attributed to Pope as well as to Sir William Yonge.37

Lady Mary claimed the next two poems, 'An Epistle to Lord B——t' and 'An Epilogue To Mary, Queen of Scots', with 'mine' in the margin by each title.38 In line 67 of the 'Epistle' she altered 'the' to 'has'—a change bringing the printed text into line with her manuscript, which reads 'O how unlike has Heaven my Soul design'd!' Lady Mary was remarking how differently Heaven had designed her soul from Bathurst's—not, as Dodsley's reading suggests, that Bathurst was unlike some ideal of manhood which she had designed as her heaven. 'A Receipt to Cure the Vapours' was Dodsley's (and earlier Spence's) title for the next poem, which Lady Mary's album calls simply 'Song'. 39 We know from the letters of Lady Mary's friend Lady Irwin that the song was addressed to her impromptu: nevertheless Lady Mary (shunning publicity?) has here heavily obliterated the sub-title 'Written to Lady J——n', as well as adding, 'to the Tune of, do not ask me charming Philis'. Perhaps it was to this tune that the verses, a witty argument against eternal constancy, were later (1781) sung at Ranelagh.

Having made some mark of annotation by each of her own poems in this volume, Lady Mary went on to comment on four poems which W. P. Courtney notes as all written by Lord Chesterfield to Lady Fanny Shirley.40 Lady Mary annotated 'Advice to a Lady in Autumn' with 'To Lady F. Sh. by Chester', 'Verses written in a Lady's Sherlock upon Death' with 'Chesterfield to Lady Tankerville', and two 'Songs' (beginning respectively 'When Fanny blooming fair' and 'Whenever, Chloe, I begin') with 'The same to F. Shirly' and 'The same to Miss Poultney'. Lady Mary had written mockingly about Chesterfield in the 1720s but admired his essays.41 She kept copies of the first of these poems by him, and another more risqué one to Lady Frances Shirley, in an album of miscellaneous verse.42 Lady Frances (1706-78), with whom Bonamy Dobrée says Chesterfield had 'a romantic attachment which went on for some years', was a former neighbour of hers (and still of her husband's) at Twickenham, and had played an important part (though probably unknown to Lady Mary) in Lady Bute's reconciliation with her parents.43 Of the other ladies to whom Lady Mary wished to reassign two of Chesterfield's verse tributes, one was Camilla (Colville) Bennet (1698-1775), Countess of Tankerville and Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Caroline in 1737, whom Robert Walpole apparently described as 'a very safe fool' for the purpose of a possible affair with the King.44 The other is harder to identify. In one of her albums of poetry Lady Mary obliterated six lines (those following line 56 of her epistle 'Miss Cooper to———')45 with an odd hotchpotch of scribbled words and names: what she wrote over the last line was apparently 'Poultney to [?] Lord Chesterfield I am not'. Since at least one other scribble on these lines seems to refer to a love-affair, Lady Mary was very likely associating Chesterfield here with the same Miss Poultney, rather than with either of the political Pulteneys, Daniel or William. The poem in question dates from 1723, but the scribblings from some time later than that.

At the beginning of Dodsley's volume ii Lady Mary added the writer's name, 'Ld Lyttleton', on the divisional title-page of his 'The Progress of Love. In Four Eclogues.' She had in the past disputed with George, later 1st Baron Lyttelton, on political subjects; he was now politically on the same side as her rising son-in-law. She seems not to have thought highly of his 'fine things wrote … for the good of Mankind', but she kept copies of his 'Jealousy. The Third Eclogue' and 'Advice to a Lady.'46 The latter poem, which in Dodsley occupies five pages, she had summarized in a satirical couplet:

Be plain in Dress and sober in your Diet;
In short my Dearee, kiss me, and be quiet.

Beside its title she noted 'to Mrs Pit'—that is, Anne Pitt (1721-81), sister of the Pitt whom Lady Mary admired. Lyttelton's instructions to Miss Pitt included the prohibition:

Make not dang'rous Wit a vain pretence,
But wisely rest content with modest Sense;
For Wit, like wine, intoxicates the brain,
Too strong for feeble woman to sustain.

Despite her naturally strong desire to protest against this, Lady Mary seems to have shared Lyttelton's opinion of Anne Pitt, whose promotion at Court in 1751 she deplored without fully stating her reasons 'She has Wit but——'.48 Beside Lyttelton's song beginning 'Say Myra, why is gentle Love' (p. 57), she wrote 'To Lady Buck'. It is not easy to know who she meant. Possible candidates are the widow of Sir Charles Buck, Bt (Anne, née Sebright, c. 1701-64); the sister-in-law of George II's mistress Lady Suffolk, who was from 1746 Countess of Buckinghamshire (whose family house in Norfolk Lyttelton visited);49 or even Mary Boughton, née Greville (d. 1786), who was however Mrs not Lady, and who is generally identified as Lyttelton's Delia, now Myra. Lady Mary made and kept a copy of this poem, labelled as by Lyttelton, in which she writes 'Delia' for 'Myra', so it is possible she knew the facts.

In volume iv Lady Mary found three more poems ascribed to 'Lady M. W. M.'.50 In line 24 of her 'An Answer To a Love-Letter' she altered 'love' to 'Truth', eliminating a repetition of the idea already conveyed in 'fondness', emphasising that a return of sincerity is what the writer seeks, and of course restoring her original text. 'In Answer to a Lady Who advised Retirement' called from her the unimportant correction of 'court' for 'courts' in line 3. She also deleted 'my' in line 8, which read 'And wait for my dismission without fear', an insufficient change which left a halting line without restoring the way it should have read: 'And wait Dismission without painfull Fear'. She found nothing to change in 'Verses written in a Garden.' Nor, disappointingly, did she make any comment on what Dodsley printed as 'Answer to the foregoing Lines. By the late Lord Hervey',51 following 'Elegy to Miss Dashwood. In the Manner of Ovid' by James Hammond. Although Dodsley so confidently ascribed it to Hervey, it had already appeared in print as 'By a Lady, Author of the Verses to the Imitator of Horace'. Since the balance of evidence tends to make Lady Mary chief author of the Verses Address'd to the Imitator of Horace, published the same month as this poem, March 1733,52 and in view of the 'Answer' 's pithy style and feminist approach to its subject, it is far more likely to be by Lady Mary than by Hervey. Her failure to claim it as her own in Consul Smith's Dodsley is disappointing, but can perhaps be accounted for by the general atmosphere of defensiveness in which she made her notes. It would not have helped her position to become known as the author of one more poem of feminine complaint against men and against society.

She made only one more comment in the set. On p. 227 of the fourth volume she noted that 'On Sir Robert Walpole's Birth-day' is 'by Dr Young'—although it is printed as 'By Mr. D——ton' and accepted by Courtney (p. 39, following the DNB) as by Bubb Dodington. She might have been misled by memory of Edward Young's several other poems extolling Walpole; but she must have been familiar with his works, since she had been his patron in the 1720s;53 her attribution at least needs to be seriously considered.

I have already concluded from the lack of notes by Lady Mary in Smith's fifth and sixth volumes that these, published in March 1758, were probably not available to her at the time when she saw the others. One reason for thinking this is the presence in volume vi of another of her poems, printed in circumstances calculated to cause her extreme annoyance, and unlikely to have been passed over in silence.54 A burlesque rejection of an older woman by a younger man, which she said she herself had written to put into the mouth of Lord William Hamilton, whom Lady Hertford was indecorously pursuing, appeared here as the work of the William Yonge mentioned above, and as a riposte on his part to advances from none other than 'Lady Mary W*****' herself. The misattribution was richly ironical. If Lady Mary's account of the story is true then she, so often a literary champion of her own sex in its dealings with the other, had for once permitted herself, in verse, the kind of tough-minded and brutal put-down of feminine foolishness which was not uncommon in her conversation.55 She had attacked not only a woman, but a woman who was, like herself, subject to attack for intellectual interests; pure chance (presumably) not only put her at the receiving end of her own attack, but put at the delivering end a man who had particular cause to seek poetical revenge upon her. Yonge (c. 1693-1755), a man universally and it seems with good reason disliked by his contemporaries, had in 1724 divorced his wife for her adultery, notwithstanding his own notorious extramarital affairs, and had recovered costs and damages of £1500 from her lover and the bulk of her considerable fortune for himself. Lady Mary had on that occasion voiced her indignation in an 'Epistle From Mrs Y[onge] to her husband'. 56 All this past history must have made more bitter the picture given in Dodsley's sixth volume of Yonge rejecting advances from herself. She wrote furiously to her daughter about this 'new story' in November 1758; it seems to have touched off further teasing from Murray's circle and more remarks about witchcraft.57 The same incident probably provoked her to label the verses concerned, and some other questionable ones in her album which contained poems both by herself and others, with the possessive initials MWM, and to add more detail to some titles and ascriptions elsewhere in the album (Harrowby MS 255).

Lady Mary was not, at the time she discovered herself figuring in Dodsley's earlier volumes, a virgin muse. Her experience included reacting with indignation at Curll's Court Poems in 1716 and at Anthony Hammond's inclusion of her 'Constantinople, To——' in A New Miscellany, 1720, and probably at various newspaper printings of single poems.58 On her own account, however, she had contributed to the Spectator and published nine numbers of her own political journal, The Nonsense of Common-Sense, in 1737-38. She may at least have connived at the printing of her two outrageous lampoons, Verses to the Imitator of Horace, 1733, and The Dean's Provocation For Writing the Lady's Dressing-Room, 1734.59 She must have known about her friend the Abbé Conti's inclusion of seven of her poems in Italian versions in his Prose e Poesie, 1756, though she probably did not know that the London Magazine had been printing poems by her, in ones and twos to the number of ten, in 1749, 1750 and 1754. Dodsley's was, however, the most considerable body of her verse that she had ever seen in print. It came to her notice at a time when her friendship with Sir James Steuart and her enmity with Murray made her especially conscious of her poetic ambitions and acutely aware of the way in which they made her vulnerable to mockery. To the Steuarts she recalled how her poem on Constantinople had been 'miserably printed', though in terms which suggest covert boasting; she repeatedly alluded to herself as a poet, but in a sinister manner: she is haunted 'by the Daemon of Poesie', or by those 'real Devils', the nine Muses. Even to the Steuarts she emphasizes that 'All my works are consecrated to the fire for fear of being put to more ignoble uses, as their betters have been before them'; she never refers to Dodsley but with contempt and disapprobation; and to her daughter she comments revealingly on Horace Walpole's inclusion of Queen Elizabeth I in his Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors. If Walpole has treated the Queen's character with disrespect, she writes, 'all the Women should tear him to pieces for abusing the Glory of their Sex.' But even without intending disrespect it seems he has done the Queen an injury: 'Neither is it Just to put her in the list of Authors, having never publish'd any thing, thô we have Mr. Cambden's Authority that she wrote many valuable Pieces'.60 Walpole wished to serve Queen Elizabeth's reputation, just as he, Spence, and Dodsley wished to serve that of Lady Mary; unhappily the battles in which she was involved as an old woman made her too insecure to accept willingly the role of published poet.


  1. The Resident was John Murray (c. 1715-75); the Consul was Joseph Smith (c. 1675-1770), famous as a collector of art and of books.
  2. See Robert Halsband, 'Pope, Lady Mary, and the Court Poems ', PMLA, 68 (1953), pp. 237-50; and The Life of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 1956, pp. 53-4.
  3. Complete Letters, ed. R. Halsband, 1965-7, iii. 39.
  4. Letters, iii. 127 n.4, 189.
  5. Each bears also the same note: '15s/6d: for six Volumes—C. Hurt jun: Winksworth: May 6-1830—'.
  6. DNB. The Bibliotheca Smithiana …, Venice, 1755, does not mention Dodsley's Collection, nor does it appear in the Catalogue of the Remaining Part of the Curious and Valuable Library of Joseph Smith, issued by James Robson in 1775. The set's most recent resting place was the Pforzheimer Library, New York
  7. Letters, iii. 18, 146-7.
  8. R. Strauss, Robert Dodsley, 1910, p. 334.
  9. Walpole, Correspondence, ed. W. S. Lewis et al, xiii, 1948, p. 234; his copy of Dodsley, BL C.117, aa. 16; Notes and Queries, 2nd Series, i. 1856, p. 237.
  10. Spence (1699-1768), Observations, Anecdotes, and Characters of Books and Men, ed. J. M. Osborn, 1966, i. 303-12; Letters from the Grand Tour, ed. S. Klima, 1975, pp. 356-62.
  11. Cornell University Library, Ithaca, N.Y.: MS E6004.
  12. Straus, p. 337.
  13. Gentleman's Magazine, p. 134.
  14. Letters, iii. 115.
  15. Mary (Wortley Montagu) Stuart (1719-94), Countess of Bute. Lady Mary began writing to her in 1740, but only two letters survive from before 1748, and nine from that year (Letters, ii. 162-3, 200, xvi.)
  16. Letters, ii. 369 nn., 397 n. 4, 470 and n.1.
  17. In transcribing Lady Mary's hand I have expanded abbreviations and lowered raised letters. Her annotations have been printed, in their catalogue A1115, Autumn 1978, p. 9, by Blackwell's Rare Books, to whose staff I am indebted for much help and kindness.
  18. W. P. Courtney, Dodsley's Collection of Poetry, Its Contents and Contributors, 1910, p. 8; David Foxon, English Verse 1701-1750, 1975.
  19. Foxon, English Verse, T280.
  20. Letters, iii. 113, 116, 137 and n.5, 140.
  21. Letters, iii. 140, 142, 277.
  22. Letters, iii. 145-6, 149, 181 and n.4.
  23. Letters, iii. 157, 188-9.
  24. Letters, iii. 151, 160.
  25. Letters, iii. 206.
  26. Letters, iii. 216-17.
  27. Letters, iii. 146.
  28. One for each day of the week except Sunday: Dodsley, i. 84-106; Lady Mary Essays and Poems, ed. R. Halsband and I. Grundy, 1977, pp. 182-204.
  29. Court Poems, 1716, pp. i-ii.
  30. Harrowby MSS Trust, Sandon Hall, Stafford, 256 ff. 35-7.
  31. Reproduced in facsimile as Court Eclogs Written in the Year, 1716, ed. R. Halsband, 1977.
  32. Dodsley, i. 107-11; Essays and Poems, pp. 221-5.
  33. Opere, Leghorn, 1764-5, viii. 134.
  34. Essays and Poems, pp. 216-21.
  35. i. 111-13; Essays and Poems, pp. 234-6.
  36. Lady Mary, Letters and Works, 3rd ed., ii. 431 note.
  37. P. 114. For Yonge see further below.
  38. Dodsley i. 114-19; Essays and Poems, pp. 242-4, 240-1.
  39. Dodsley, i. 120-1; Essays and Poems, pp. 257-8.
  40. Dodsley, i. 334-8; Courtney, pp. 15-16.
  41. Letters, ii. 37-38, iii. 146.
  42. Harrowby MS 255, [ff. 62-4].
  43. Chesterfield, Letters, 1932, i. 76; Lady Mary, Letters, ii. 369 and n.2.
  44. Lord Hervey, Some Materials Towards Memoirs of the Reign of King George II, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1931, ii. 490-1.
  45. Essays and Poems, p. 229; Harrowby MS 81, f.42.
  46. Letters, ii. 481, iii. 232; Harrowby MS 81, ff. 32-3, 210-13.
  47. Dodsley, ii. 43-8; Essays and Poems, p. 264.
  48. Letters, ii. 490.
  49. Rose Mary Davis, The Good Lord Lyttelton, 1939, p. 179.
  50. Dodsley, iv. 196-8; Essays and Poems, pp. 300-1, 244-6, 258-9. The hand which identified 'An Epistle from S. J. Esq' as by Soame Jenyns (iii. 125) was not hers.
  51. Dodsley, iv. 79-82; Essays and Poems, pp. 270-2.
  52. See I. Grundy, 'Verses Address'd to the Imitator of Horace: A Skirmish between Pope and Some Persons of Rank and Fortune', SB, xxx, 1977.
  53. Letters, ii. 34-6, 61.
  54. 'Sir W***** Y*****'s Answer', vi. 230-1; Essays and Poems, p. 263.
  55. E.g. Robert Halsband, The Life of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 1956, p. 119.
  56. Essays and Poems, pp. 230-2. See also I. Grundy, 'Ovid and Eighteenth-Century Divorce: An Unpublished Poem by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu RES, n.s. xxiii, 1972, pp. 417-28.
  57. Letters, iii. 186-91.
  58. The Plain Dealer, 17 April 1724; The Weekly Journal or Saturday's-Post, 26 December 1724; The Gentleman's Magazine, June 1735, and others which were merely reprints.
  59. Essays and Poems, pp. 69-74, 105-49, 265-70, 273-6.
  60. Letters, iii. 169, 170, 183, 190, 191, 185.

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Montagu, Mary Wortley: General Commentary

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