‘The noblest commerce of mankind’: Conversation and Community in the Bluestocking Circle
Hannah More’s ‘Bas Bleu, or Conversation’ provides a distilled description of the social practice and moral beliefs of the bluestocking circle, a rare monument to the nature of their achievement. Dr Johnson considered the work to be ‘in my Opinion a Very Great performance’, adding that ‘there is no name in poetry, that might not be glad to own it’.2 First published in 1786, by Horace Walpole’s Strawberry Hill printing press, ‘Bas Bleu’ was probably written in the middle of the 1770s, when More first met Elizabeth Montagu, ‘Queen of the Bluestockings’.3 More’s poem is a celebratory memorial of a particular intellectual community, first formed in the 1750s around the prominent hostesses Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Vesey (to whom More’s poem is addressed) and Frances Boscawen. The bluestockings continued to meet well into the 1780s with a second generation of hostesses and societies appearing in London and the provinces. The phrase ‘bluestocking’ was originally used to abuse Puritans of Cromwell’s ‘Little Parliament’ in 1653. It was revived in 1756 when Benjamin Stillingfleet appeared at one of Elizabeth Montagu’s assemblies wearing blue worsted stockings, normally the garb of working men.4 The term ‘bluestocking’ came to be applied more generally to all Montagu’s visitors, who included the self-made Dr Johnson, clergyman’s daughter Elizabeth Carter, James Boswell, Edmund Burke, David Garrick, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Horace Walpole, Lord Lyttleton, the Earl of Bath and later Frances Burney, Anna Barbauld and Hannah More.
KeywordsEighteenth Century Public Sphere Civic Virtue Sexual Prejudice Woman Writer
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- 5.Nicole Pohl and Betty Schellenberg, eds, Reconsidering the Bluestockings (San Marino, California: Huntington Library Publications, 2003), Introduction, p. 2.Google Scholar
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