This first version of the Bluestocking Corpus consists of 243 manuscript letters, written by the ‘Queen of the Blues’ Elizabeth Montagu between the 1730s and the 1780s. Elizabeth Montagu (née Robinson, 1718-1800) was one of the key figures of the learning-oriented Bluestocking Circle in eighteenth-century England. She was a literary hostess, coal mine owner and patron of arts who published a popular essay in defense of Shakespeare against Voltaire’s criticism. In its current form the corpus contains 183,000 words, and it will later come to include letters by other Blues and people in Elizabeth Montagu’s family and friendship circles. The letters can be downloaded as txt and xml files, and they can be browsed and read on this site.
The letters of the 1730s and the early 1740s represent the period of Montagu’s youth and the early years of her marriage. They offer a interesting and entertaining perspective into the life of a lively and ambitious young woman. Lady Margaret Harley, the Duchess of Portland, was an important friend and confidant who made it possible for Elizabeth to spend time in the company of women of scholarly pursuits and to enjoy what London had to offer. Elizabeth married the wealthy MP and mathematician Edward Montagu in 1742 and thereafter had the means to set up her own salon.
The Bluestocking circle originates from casual breakfast meetings at Tunbridge Wells and other spa towns in the 1750s; by the 1770s the meetings had grown into resplendent assemblies. The 1750s represent the beginnings of these friendships for Montagu. The letters of this period include correspondence with the scholar Elizabeth Carter, the sprightly Elizabeth Vesey whose Blue Room was an important meeting place for the circle, Frances Boscawen, another notable Bluestocking hostess, George, Lord Lyttelton, a Whig politician and historian who would be Montagu’s co-author, and the botanist Benjamin Stillingfleet, whose homely socks may have given the name to this group. In the early 1760s, Montagu befriended the elderly Whig statesman William Pulteney, the Earl of Bath.
The bulk of the letters are from the the 1760s. In 1760, Montagu collaborated with Lyttelton on the Dialogues of the Dead, contributing three dialogues to this collection of conversations that take place in the Greek underworld. In 1769 she published An Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespear. Many of the letters from this period deal with these literary projects, but there are also travel letters from Scotland, Belgium, France, and the Netherlands.
In the 1770s and 1780s, Montagu was a sought-after patron of arts and something of a celebrity. The death of her husband in 1776 made her independently wealthy, and in 1777 she began the building project of the Montagu House in Portman Square. The Bluestocking circle had gone through changes with the deaths of Bath, Lyttelton, and Stillingfleet and the emergence of a new generation of women, such as Hannah More, who are often named as Bluestockings (though the term is elusive). Much of the correspondence from this period consists of family letters and letters to Elizabeth Carter, but there are also individual letters to Frances Reynolds and Richard Berenger.
In addition to Bluestocking correspondence, the corpus includes a wealth of family letters to Montagu’s sister Sarah Robinson Scott, her parents Matthew and Elizabeth Robinson, her husband Edward Montagu, and her sister-in-law Mary Robinson.
In time, the corpus will be expanded by roughly 70,000 words to include letters of (for example) Sarah Scott, Frances Boscawen, Lady Margaret Harley, the Duchess of Portland, Elizabeth Vesey, Lord Lyttelton, Lord Bath, Benjamin Stillingfleet, Hannah More, Dorothea Gregory, Edward Montagu, Matthew Montagu, and Elizabeth Rokeby Montagu. People wishing to access these letters before that are welcome to contact me at anni.sairio at helsinki.fi.
Notes on the letters
I’ve retained the orthographical features of these letters as closely as possible in order to enable the analysis of spelling variation. It’s of course nearly impossible to reproduce original orthography as it really was, and for example the long s has not been retained. The COCOA encoding system has been used for the letters on this site and and for the downloadable txt files, and the xml files are encoded following the TEI system. The transcription methods and encoding principles are explained in the Letters page.
The main source of material is the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino, CA, which hosts roughly 7,000 letters in the Montagu Collection. I am very grateful to the Huntington Library, Houghton Library, and British Library for providing me access to the letters in their collections. I am happy to have had the chance to work in their archives, and these trips have been among the highlights of my academic life. Being part of the Elizabeth Montagu Letters network has also been invaluable for my work, and I owe a great deal to these scholars for their friendship and generosity.
This work has been funded by several Academy of Finland projects at the University of Helsinki, and most recently by the STRATAS project. Thanks to this funding I have been able to make archive trips, order images of the letters, and hire research assistants. Hanna Jokela and Laura Hekanaho worked with sometimes nearly illegible pdf images, and assembled the social metadata from a wealth of sources. I owe my deepest thanks to Dr Ville Marttila for his meticulous xml encoding and for patiently pointing out (on several occasions, I have to admit) that I’ve encoded certain things in many different ways over the years. This should all be fixed now, more or less. Lassi Saario set up this website. Thank you, Lassi! You’re the best.
How to cite:
The Bluestocking Corpus: Private Correspondence of Elizabeth Montagu, 1730s-1780s. First version. Edited by Anni Sairio, XML encoding by Ville Marttila. Department of Modern Languages, University of Helsinki. 2017. [date of access] http://bluestocking.ling.helsinki.fi/
- anni.sairio at helsinki dot fi
(C) Anni Sairio, 2017