Thomas, Elizabeth (1675–1731)

views updated

Thomas, Elizabeth (1675–1731)

British poet. Name variations: (pseudonym) Corinna. Born in 1675 (one source cites 1677) in England; died on February 5, 1731, in London, England; daughter of Emmanuel Thomas (a lawyer) and Elizabeth (Os-borne) Thomas.

Selected writings (under pseudonym Corinna):

Miscellany Poems on Several Subjects (1722); Codrus, or the Dunciad Dissected (1729).

British poet Elizabeth Thomas was born in 1675, the daughter of Elizabeth Osborne Thomas and Emmanuel Thomas, a respected lawyer. Emmanuel's death in 1677 left the family with few financial resources, and Elizabeth, though she did have some tutors, apparently was mostly self-taught in languages and literature. When she was a young adult, her middle-class birth allowed her to join a circle of London writers and to correspond with patrons and poets across England, including the feminist writers Mary Lee Chudleigh and Mary Astell , with whom she exchanged poems. At age 24, Thomas impressed the celebrated poet John Dryden when she sent him several verses, and they began a long correspondence. It was Dryden who suggested to Thomas the pen name "Corinna," which she would use the rest of her life. Her first published poems appeared in 1700 in Luctus Britannici, a collection of elegies on Dryden's death. Her other literary acquaintances included the poets Henry Cromwell and Alexander Pope. Thomas was published little during her life and was never financially successful, depending on gifts from admirers to support herself and her ailing mother. She never married, although she was engaged for many years to lawyer Richard Gwinnett of Gloucestershire. On his death in 1717, he bequeathed Thomas a small sum of money; she used the money, albeit ineffectively, to reduce some of the debt of her recently deceased mother.

In 1722, a book of her Miscellany Poems on Several Subjects was published. Four years later Henry Cromwell, who may have been her lover, gave Thomas some original letters written by Alexander Pope; she made the mistake of selling them to Pope's enemy, the libelous publisher Edmund Curll, who immediately published them. Pope was infuriated at Thomas; his enmity cost her much of her literary reputation in London, and she lost some patrons, even spending time in debtors' prison at Fleet in 1727. He also attacked her in his satirical The Dunciad the following year, and in response she published Codrus; or The Dunciad Dissected (1729) in which she and Curll in turn attacked Pope. In 1730, she published two new works, a fictionalized account of Dryden's death in Charles Wilson's Memoirs of William Congreve and The Metamorphosis of the Town; or A View of the Present Fashions. Elizabeth Thomas died in poverty and seclusion in February 1731, at age 55. Later that year, friends of Gwinnett and Thomas edited and published two volumes of their correspondence and poems under the title Pylades and Corinna, or Memoirs of the lives, amours, and writings of Richard Gwinnett, which included Thomas' partial autobiography, The Life of Corinna, written by Herself.


Mack, Maynard. Alexander Pope: a Life. NY: W.W. Norton, 1985.

Shattock, Joanne. The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California

About this article

Thomas, Elizabeth (1675–1731)

Updated About content Print Article