Royal Crescent, Bath BA1 2LR, Regno Unito
Elizabeth Montagu (2 October 1718 – 25 August 1800) was a British social reformer, patron of the arts, salonist, literary critic, and writer who helped organize and lead the Blue Stockings Society.
Her parents were both from wealthy families with strong ties to the British peerage and intellectual life. She is sister to Sarah Scott, author of A Description of Millenium Hall and the Country Adjacent. She married Edward Montagu, a man with extensive holdings, to become one of the richer women of her era. She devoted this fortune to fostering English and Scottish literature and to the relief of the poor.
In London, Elizabeth began to be a celebrated hostess. She organized literary breakfasts with Gilbert West, George Lyttelton, and others. By 1760, these had turned to evening entertainments with large assemblies. Card playing and strong drink were forbidden from these convocations, which were now known as blue stocking events.
By 1770, her home on Hill Street had become the premiere salon in London. Samuel Johnson, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke, David Garrick, and Horace Walpole were all in the circle. For writers, being introduced there meant patronage, and Montagu patronized a number of authors, including Elizabeth Carter, Hannah More, Frances Burney, Anna Barbauld, Sarah Fielding, Hester Chapone, James Beattie, and Anna Williams. Samuel Johnson's hostess, Hester Thrale, was also an occasional visitor to Hill Street. Among her persistent admirers was the physician Messenger Monsey. Among the blue stockings, Elizabeth Montagu was not the dominant personality, but she was the woman of greatest means, and it was her house, purse, and power that made the society possible. As a literary critic, she was a fan of Samuel Richardson, both Fieldings (Henry Fielding and Sarah Fielding), and Fanny Burney, and she was pleased to discover that Laurence Sterne was a distant relation. She was related to Laurence Sterne through the Botham family. Sterne entrusted her with the disposition of his papers upon his departure for France. He was in ill health and the prospect of his dying abroad was real. She was a supporter of Bishop Percy's Reliques of Ancient English Poetry.
She also held similar events at her residence in the centre house (#16) of the Royal Crescent, Bath.
Royal Crescent, Bath
Elizabeth was a bluestocking. Called the "Queen of the Blues", Elizabeth Montagu led and hosted the Blue Stockings Society of England from about 1750. It was a loose organization of privileged women with an interest in education, but it waned in popularity at the end of the 18th century. It gathered to discuss literature, and also invited educated men to participate. Talk of politics was prohibited; literature and the arts were the main subjects. Many of the bluestocking women supported each other in intellectual endeavors such as reading, art work, and writing. Many also published literature.
Elizabeth Montagu published two works in her lifetime. George Lyttleton in 1760 encouraged Elizabeth to write Dialogues of the Dead, and she contributed three sections to the work anonymously. (Her authorship is testified elsewhere.) It consists of a series of conversations between the living and the illustrious dead, and works as a satire of 18th century vanity and manners. In 1769, she published An Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakespear. In it, she proclaims Shakespeare to be the greatest English poet, and in fact the greatest poet of any nation. She also attacks Samuel Johnson's Preface to Shakespeare from 1765 for not having gone on to praise Shakespeare's plays enough. While Johnson had dealt with text, history, and the circumstances of editing, Montagu wrote instead about the characters, plots, and beauties of the verse in Shakespeare and saw in him a championing of all things inherently English. When the book was initially published anonymously, it was thought to be by Joseph Warton, but by 1777 her name appeared on the title page. Johnson, for his part, was estranged from Montagu at this point.
In the late 1760s, Edward Montagu fell ill, and Elizabeth took care of him, although she resented giving up her freedom. He died in 1775. In 1776, she adopted her nephew, the orphan of her brother. Matthew Robinson, the child, kept his family name, but he was named Elizabeth's heir. At that point, the coal and landholdings Montagu passed on to Elizabeth accounted for an income of £7,000 a year. She managed her wealth and estates well, and by her death her coal income was worth 10,000 pounds a year.
In 1777, she began work on Montagu House in Portman Square in London, moving in in 1781, on land leased for 99 years. She also expanded Sandleford Priory in the 1780s, and had Capability Brown design its garden and alter the park. She died in Montagu House in London on 25 August 1800 and left Sandleford and all of her money to Matthew Robinson, her nephew.