1750 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elizabeth Thomas

Anonymous, "Account of the Family of Mrs. Thomas" 1750 ca.; Works of Pope, ed. Bowles (1806) 4:27n.



[Editor's note: The following Account of the Family of Mrs. Thomas, the Mistress of CROMWELL, who sold POPE' LETTERS which were first published, was transcribed by D. P. OKENDEN, Esq. from a Manuscript in the leaf of a book in Trinity College Library, Cambridge. As it is curious, it is presented to the Reader in its native simplicity. This account is literally as follows. — Of the truth of it I can say nothing, or of the time or person when, and by whom, it was written.]

MRS. THOMAS, the mother of Corinna, was born in the year 1675. Her father died when she was two years old; and her mother, not finding her pecuniary circumstances such as she had reason to suspect, sold her house, and retired with her daughter to country-lodgings. In the same town lived Dr. Glysson, at that time (1683) one hundred years of age, with a sound judgment, and a "clear and extensive memory." The Doctor frequently visited Mrs. Thomas, and once in her presence drew on, with great appearance of respect, a pair of rich Spanish gloves, fringed and embossed with gold. Mrs. T. could not help expressing her curiosity to know the history of these gloves. He answered, "Madam, I venerate these gloves; for the last time I had the honour of approaching my Royal Mistress, Queen Elizabeth, she pulled them from her own Royal hands, saying 'Here, Glysson, wear them for my sake.' I have done so, and never drew them on but when I had a mind to honour those I visited, and since you love the memory of my Royal Mistress, take them, and preserve them carefully, when I am gone." The Doctor then presented the gloves to Mrs. Thomas, and died in a few days.

Deprived of this friend, Mrs. Thomas was without a companion; and having formed an intimacy with a physician, was by him cheated out of 300 on pretence of prosecuting the discovery of the philosopher's stone. Ashamed of having reduced her fortune, and impoverished her children, by this wild scheme, Mrs. T. returned to London, and, by the advice of the Duke of Montague, took a house, and let a part of it as lodgings.

Tired of this line of life, she applied to the Duke, and stated that her mind was above the dealings with occasional tenants, and that unless she could let her house to one family, she should resign it. "I take you at your word," said his Grace, "and I will become your soul tenant: nay, don't smile, for I am in earnest; I love a little more freedom than I can enjoy at home, and may come sometimes and eat a bit of mutton, with four or five honest fellows whose company I delight in." The bargain was struck, and his Grace was to pass for a Mr. Freeman of Hertfordshire.

In a few days he ordered a dinner for his friends Jack, Tom, Will, and Ned, as his Grace called them. They came at the time appointed; but how surprised was the wido when she saw the Duke of Devonshire, the Lords Buckingham and Dorset, and Sir William Dutton Colt, under those feigned names. After several meetings at this Lady's house, the noble persons, having a high idea of her integrity, intrusted her with the grand secret, which was nothing less than the prospect for the REVOLUTION.

The REVOLUTION being effected, the Noblemen quitted Mrs. Thomas's house with great promises of providing for her: but, alas! courtly promises have no foundation, and they thought no more of their zealous landlady. The Duke of Montague, indeed, made offers of service, and being Captain of the Band of Pensioners, promised to provide for a Mr. Gwynnet, who at that time paid his addresses to Mrs. Thomas's daughter, on condition, that she sacrificed her honour; but this insult was rejected with disdain. This daughter of Mrs. Thomas was the Corinna of Pope; a name originally given her by Dryden. She was courted in marriage by Mr. Gwynnet of the Middle Temple, and had the magnanimity to refuse his first proposal, on the score of her impoverished circumstances. Mr. Gwynnet, however, having obtained a part of his paternal estate, renewed his addresses; but her mother being then in a weak state of health, Corinna declared she could not leaver her, and begged a delay of six months; adding, that as she had waited sixteen years for Mr. Gwynnet, he could not think six months long to wait for her. He replied with a deep sigh, "Six months, my Corinna! is more now, than sixteen years have been. You put it off now, and God will put it off forever!" It proved as he had foretold: he next day went into the country, sickened, made his will, and died April 16, 1711; leaving his Corinna a bequest of 600.

After the death of her lover, she was barbarously used: his brother stifled the will, which compelled her to have recourse to law. After much delay, she agreed to a composition, and consented to receive 200 instantly, and 200 at the end of a year. The first payment was made; but when the second became due, Mr. G. the elder refused to comply. She again had recourse to law; and after paying the expences attending her law-suit, she only cleared from her second 200 the sum of 13 16s. Her creditors now became clamorous, and Corinna was hurried to gaol by the treachery of a false friend. Amongst her other misfortunes, she laboured under the displeasure of Mr. Pope, who placed her in his Dunciad, as Curll's Corinna. Mr. Pope once paid her a visit, in company with Henry Cromwell, Esq. whose Letters by accident fell into her hands, with some of Pope's Answers. After Mr. Cromwell's death, Curll found means to wheedle them from her, and printed them: this so enraged Pope, that he never forgave her. Some few months after her release from prison, Corinna took a small lodging in Fleet-street, where she died, Feb. 3, 1730, aged 56; and was two days after buried in St. Bride's church. Some Poems, written by her, were published after her death by Curll; and two volumes of Letters, that passed between her and Mr. Gwynnet.

[Editor's note: Pope, so far from paying her a visit once, was very intimate with her; as appears from one of his Letters, where he speaks of being at Bath with her, by the name of Mrs. T.

The idea of the Revolution being settled in Mrs. Thomas's lodging is ridiculous; but the persons mentioned, the Duke of Devonshire, Lord Dorset, the Duke of Montague (evidently meant for Montagu Duke of Manchester), were deeply concerned. Sir William Colt was appointed Envoy by William to Hanover. See Letters to him, in Tindal's Continuation. Lord Buckingham means Sheffield Earl of Mulgrave, created afterwards Duke of Buckingham in 1703. He had most likely considerable share in the Revolution, as he was made Privy Counsellor immediately on the succession of William. Mrs. Thomas, speaking of him when he was Duke of Buckingham, naturally calls him by his then title. It is likewise remarkable, and a corroboration of the above, that Mrs. Thomas calls the Duke of Devonshire by that title, though he was, at the time alluded to, only Earl of Devonshire, and not created Duke till 1694.]