Elizabeth Carter in Pope’s Garden: Literary Women of the 1730s

  • E. J. Clery
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the Enlightenment, Romanticism and Cultures of Print book series (PERCP)


Mary Wortley Montagu had been warned by Addison not to cultivate a friendship with Pope, whose ‘appetite to satire’ would inevitably lead him to play her ‘some devilish trick’.1 She ignored the advice, no doubt confident that she was capable of handling anything the poet could throw at her. Twenty years later Elizabeth Carter too, at the start of her literary career, was warned against Pope. Sir George Oxenden, a courtier and Member of Parliament friendly with her father, wrote to him that ‘there is hardly an instance of a woman of letters entering into an intimacy or acquaintance with men of wit and parts, who were not thoroughly abused and maltreated by them, in print, after some time; and Mr. Pope has done it more than once’.2 She became only distantly acquainted with the poet, but one day in July 1738, during a walk with friends in the meadows between Richmond and Twickenham, she found herself in his renowned garden. Carter explained in a letter that they had gained entry ‘by the interest of his celebrated man John’ and that ‘of all the Things I have yet seen of this sort none ever suited my own Fancy so well’.3


Woman Writer Female Author Literary Woman Female Writer Print Culture 
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  1. 1.
    Cit. Isobel Grundy, Lady Mary Worthy Montagu (Oxford, 1999) 273.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    All four of the poems appear in GM 8 (August 1738) 429. James M. Kuist, The Nichols File of ‘The Gentelman’s Magazine’: Attributions of Authorship and Other Documentations in Editorial Papers at the Folger Library (Madison, Wisconsin, 1982) throws no light on the identity of ‘Alexis’, or of ‘Sylvius’ mentioned below, pp. 85–6.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Maynard Mack, Alexander Pope: A Life (New Haven and London, 1985) 652 and 914 n.Google Scholar
  4. 7.
    On the continuity of imagery and enduring relevance of the South Sea Bubble in the early 1730s, particularly in connection with the crisis over Walpole’s Excise Bill in 1733–34, see Vincent Carretta, ‘Pope’s Epistle to Bathurst and The South Sea Bubble’, Journal of English and Germanic Philology 77 (1978) 212–31;Google Scholar
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    See Robert Halsband, The Life of Lady Mary Worthy Montagu (Oxford, 1956) 101–4; Grundy, Montagu, 204–7; Mack, Pope, 388.Google Scholar
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    For an indication of the resonance of such a scenario in the imagination of the period, see the apocryphal Life of Pamela (1741 or 1742) written in the third person by a hack intent on capitalizing on Richardson’s success, which gives the date of Pamela’s marriage as 1726 and states that her parents lost their fortune in the South Sea Bubble; T.C. Duncan Eaves, and Ben D. Kimpel, Samuel Richardson: A Biography (Oxford, 1971) 140.Google Scholar
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    The clergymen of Kent were a notable class of contributor. See Anthony D. Barker, ‘Poetry from the provinces: amateur poets in the Gentleman’s Magazine in the 1730s and 1740s’, in Alvaro Ribeiro and James G. Basker, eds, Tradition in Transition: Women Writers, Marginal Texts, and the Canon (Oxford, 1996) 241–56; 251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Bertrand A. Goldgar, Walpole and the Wits: the Relation of Politics and Literature, 1722–1742 (Lincoln and London, 1976) 127. The Earl of Peterborough had first publicly alluded to her under the name of ‘Sappho’ ten years earlier, in his poem ‘I said to my heart’;Google Scholar
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    The writer was John Duick; for identification of pen names, see Albert Pailler, Edward Cave et le ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ (Lille, 1975).Google Scholar
  22. 56.
    Jean E. Hunter, ‘The eighteenth-century Englishwoman: according to the Gentleman’s Magazine’, in Paul Fritz and Richard Morton, eds, Woman in the Eighteenth Century and Other Essays (Toronto and Sarasota, 1976) 73–88; Barker, ‘Poetry from the Provinces’, 253; BC, 124–5.Google Scholar
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  27. and Rebecca Ferguson, The Unbalanced Mind: Pope and the Rule of Passion (Brighton, 1986). White in particular draws attention to the borrowings from Mandeville. Louis I. Bredvold refers to the Essay’s ‘uncommon optimism’ when compared with the accustomed Patriot emphasis on decline in ‘The gloom of the Tory satirists’, in James L. Clifford and Louis A. Landa, eds, Pope and His Contemporaries (Oxford, 1949) 1–19; 3.Google Scholar
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    Harry M. Solomon, The Rape of the Text: Reading and Misreading Pope’s ‘Essay on Man’ (Tuscaloosa and London, 1993).Google Scholar

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© E. J. Clery 2004

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