1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elizabeth Montagu

John Taylor Esq., in Records of my Life (1832) 1:92-93.



Dr. Monsey and the celebrated Mrs. Montague lived long in intimate friendship, and kept up a sort of ludicrous gallantry with each other. I remember I once had the pleasure of meeting her at Dr. Monsey's, and of handing her to her carriage. I said, as we went down stairs, "Are you not afraid, madam, of being known to visit a gentleman in his chambers?" "Why, yes," said she, "considering my youth and beauty, and the youth of the gallant. I hope the meeting will not get into The Morning Post."

The published letters of this lady are admirable, and her Essay on Shakspeare is a valuable vindication of our great bard from the strictures of Voltaire. It was supposed that at an early period of her life, she had been attached to the venerable Lord Lyttelton, beyond the limits of platonism; but Monsey, who would not credit any imputation upon her moral character, said that, if such a supposition could possibly have any foundation, it rather applied to Lord Bath, with whom and his lady she made a tour in Germany. There was something remarkably shrewd and penetrating in her eyes, tending to disconcert those towards whom they were particularly directed. Dr. Monsey gave me two of her letters, of which I permitted copies to be taken for a periodical literary vehicle, no longer in existence, and which I may introduce in the present work.

Mrs. Montague, in the early part of her life, was so fond of having various colours in her attire, that Lord Chesterfield always called her IRIS. Her letters are throughout excellent, and I understand were written without any hesitation. In the "Dialogues of the Dead," written by Lord Lyttelton, there are two written by Mrs. Montague, which, in all respects, are much superior to those of his lordship. The unfavourable manner in which Dr. Johnson mentions Lord Lyttelton, in his "Lives of the Poets," induced her to relinquish all intercourse with him. She was indebted for some part of her education to the celebrated Dr. Conyers Middleton, and it is said, that such was the precocity of her powers, that she had copied the whole of "The Spectator" before she was eight years of age; but whatever might have been the maturity of her mind at that early age, it is hardly possible to give credit to the report.