Elizabeth Bentley

Elizabeth Bentley to John Walker, 23 July 1790; Gentleman's Magazine 60 (Supplement, 1790) 1167.

July 23, 1790.

Rev. Sir.

In compliance with your request, I write the few particulars of my life, which are as follows: — I was born at Norwich, in the parish of All Saints, in November, 1767, and was the only child of my parents. My father's name was Daniel Bentley, by trade a journeyman cordwainer; who, having received a good education himself, took upon him to teach me reading and spelling, but never gave me the least idea of grammar. Being naturally fond of reading, I used to employ my leisure hours with such books as were in the house; which were chiefly a spelling-book, fable-book, dictionary, and books of arithmetick, and with such little pamphlets as I could borrow of my neighbours. When I was about ten years of age, my father was afflicted with a paralytic stroke, which took from him the use of one side, and disabled him from working at his business; but still retaining the use of his right-hand, and his disorder not affecting his mental faculties, he taught me the art of writing, from copies in the spelling-book. My father was now obliged to go about selling garden-stuff for a living, till, a few months before his death, he obtained the place of book-keeper to the London coach, which then set out from the King's-head, in the Marketplace. His lameness continued till his decease, which happened, by a second stroke of the same disorder, on the 25th of January, 1783, in the 48th year of his age, I being then about fifteen years old. My father died in the parish of St. Stephen, in which place my mother and I have continued ever since. About two years after my father's death, I discovered in myself an inclination for writing verses, which I had no thought nor desire of being seen; but my mother shewing my first productions to some acquaintances, they encouraged me to proceed. Soon after I purchased a small grammar-book, second hand, from which I attained the art of expressing myself correctly in my native language. My mother's maiden-name was Lawrence; her father, when living, kept a cooper's shop in St. Stephen's parish.

This, Sir, is the short history of my life; from which you will be pleased to select such passages as you may judge proper for the information of the publick. I remain, with gratitude and respect, your obliged servant,

Elizabeth Bentley.