1800 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elizabeth Montagu

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 70 (September 1800) 904.



At her house in Portman-square, in an advanced age, Mrs. Montagu, relict of the late Edward M. esq. of Denton castle, co. Northumberland, grandson to the first Earl of Sandwich, daughter of Matthew Robinson, esq. late of West Layton, co. York, and of Horton, in Kent, sister to the present Lord Rokeby, and distinguished for her benevolence to the poor chimney-sweepers, whom she annually entertained with roast beef and plumb pudding every May-day, on the lawn before her house, and who will have great reason to lament her death, though it can hardly be doubted but she has made some provision for this pitiable race, for she most sincerely felt the genuine impulse of "Charity which glows beyond the tomb." Mrs. M. was an excellent scholar, ad possessed a sound judgment and an exquisite taste. Her Essay on the Writings and Genius of Shakspeare, in answer to the frivolous objections of Voltaire, must always rank with the best illustrations of the transcendent powers of our great English Poet. It is not an elaborate exposition of obscure passages, but a comprehensive survey of the sublimity of his genius, of his profound knowledge of human nature, and of the wonderful resources of his imagination. This essay is, we believe, the only work of which Mrs. Montagu publicly avowed herself to be the author; but it is well known that she assisted the first Lord Lyttelton in the composition of his Dialogues of the Dead; and some of the best of those dialogues, by his Lordship's own acknowledgment, were the efforts of her pen. Lord L. was very much attached to her; and, if he had been free from matrimonial connexions, she might have commanded his title and fortune. Mrs. M. however, it was imagined, was attached to Pulteney, the famous Earl of Bath. She accompanied this nobleman and his lady on a tour through Germany. Mrs. Montagu peculiarly excelled in epistolary composition; and her letters, in point of learning, judgment, and elegance, far exceed those of her namesake, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, even supposing that the latter was really the author of the letters attributed to her, which, however, have long been known to be in a great measure fictitious. Mrs. Montagu was a near relation of the celebrated Dr. Conyers Middleton, to whose care she devolved in early life, and who superintended her education with parental fondness. It is said that she made so early a display of her tendency to literature, that she had transcribed the whole of the Spectators before she was 8 years of age. Incredible as this story seems to be, it has been attested by the best authority, and was always solemnly affirmed by the late Dr. Monsey, physician of Chelsea college, a particular friend of Dr. Middleton, and of Mrs. Montagu, during her tour in Germany, and, indeed, through the whole of their intercourse for upwards of 30 years, affords proofs of uncommon talents, original humour, and acute observation on both sides. We sincerely hope that these letters, at least those of Mrs. Montagu, will be submitted to the world, as they contain nothing but what would tend to impress mankind with high reverence for her capacity, her attainments, and her virtues. In private life, Mrs. Montagu was an example of liberal discretion and rational benevolence. Her hand was always extended to the protection of Genius, and the relief of Distress; but she was careful to distinguish the objects, and not to lavish her bounty upon false pretensions. Her magnificent mansion was the resort of the most distinguished characters of her time; and all were emulous to testify their esteem, and pay homage to the endowments of her mind, and the amiable qualities of her heart. Her estates, about 10,000 per annum, devolve to her nephew, Mr. M.