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Paper trails and eloquent objects: bluestocking friendship and material culture.

Friendship is a serious affection; the most sublime of all affections, because it is founded on principle, and cemented by time. The very reverse may be said of love.

Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) (1)

Mary Wollstonecraft's description of friendship's moral strength and durability suggests her profound investment in the concept, which she elevated to the level of principle. She went on to explain that 'it is not against strong, persevering passions but romantic wavering feelings that I wish to guard the female heart by exercising the understanding: for these paradisical reveries are oftener the effect of idleness than of a lively fancy'. (2) Wollstonecraft believed that women needed to be educated and occupied in order to escape the degradations and vanities of romantic love. She valued friendship as a state that might incorporate reason, virtue, and equality. In her Vindication of the Rights of Woman, her radical vision of sexual revolution was to advocate chastity in men, as well as women, in order to eliminate the sexual double standard that had impeded women's social and intellectual progress for so long. As her biographers have remarked (starting with Godwin, her friend, lover and finally husband), Wollstonecraft rarely exercised a strict distinction between the categories of platonic and sexual love, and expressions of both can be found in her passionate rhetorical commitment to reason. (3) Nonetheless, she clearly had a political impulse to define friendship, and particularly friendship between women, against heterosexual love, as an alternative realm that might offer women a measure of independence and dignity denied by the social institution of marriage. As Susan Lanser has argued, the long eighteenth century can be seen to be a period during which 'the publication of female friendship ... coincided with the emergence of women as a self-conscious constituency, a potential body politic'. (4)

Wollstonecraft's reflections on friendship have been explored by scholars working in a number of different intellectual contexts: classical, religious, and philosophical. (5) Here I want to argue that her rigorous definition of friendship as a rational virtue can be interpreted as the culmination of a long tradition of feminist thought that found its liveliest manifestation in the bluestocking circle, an Enlightenment intellectual network or 'republic of letters' that flourished in mid-eighteenth-century Britain. (6) Here women's moral and intellectual independence was fostered through dialogue, correspondence, and exchange and developed through the shared pleasures of occupation, reading, and employment. The bluestocking circle was built on the foundation of intimate friendships but developed and extended through the social networks of patronage, correspondence, and conversation, all carried out within the context of a fashionable and exuberant salon culture. By perceiving a direct connection between private and public virtue, arguing that manners must change if reason and morality were to triumph, the bluestockings formed important precursors to their more radical successor Mary Wollstonecraft.

The eighteenth century has long been interpreted as a period during which the tenacity of feudal and contractual relationships loosened as a new commercial society emerged--a situation that enabled friendship to flourish more freely across traditional boundaries of class and station. Historians have shown how the social rituals of an increasingly 'polite' society reflected the energy, competition, and appetite of an economically thriving culture in which new public spaces brought people together to enjoy entertainments such as masquerades, plays, balls, and assemblies. (7) While the contemporary enthusiasm for mixed conversation between the sexes in metropolitan society undoubtedly allowed women more opportunity for self-improvement (and the more open expression of intimacy), it is important to remember that many restrictions remained on women's freedom of behaviour, particularly in relation to the question of education. As Frances Harris has argued in her compelling study of the friendship between John Evelyn and Margaret Godolphin, in post-Reformation England the spiritual and intellectual woman could no longer seek the refuge of the convent. While men could follow a collegiate life in the universities, there was no such prospect for women, whose only option was marriage. While arguably growing more companionate in emphasis, the institution of marriage remained a resolutely patriarchal one, in which a woman became her husband's property. (8) As Harris observes, 'in any society of rigidly prescribed and unequal social roles, friendship was likely to be highly valued for the freedoms and emotional satisfactions it offered.' (9) For the bluestockings, close female friendships often formed a substitute for (or release from) marriage, providing a means of self-expression that was free from the pressures of an institutionalized union, so often made on pragmatic rather than emotional grounds. Friendships between the blues were not entirely exempt from awkward questions of hierarchy and influence, of course, but they were more commonly founded on choice--and more easily dissoluble--than marriages. Most importantly, female friends could relish a sense of shared independence not possible within marriage. Some years after her husband's death, the bluestocking hostess Elizabeth Montagu wrote to her close, unmarried friend Elizabeth Carter, to convey her disbelief at the prospect of a mutual friend's remarriage in later life: 'We are not so perfectly of ye rib of Man as Woman ought to be. We can think for ourselves, & also act for ourselves.' (10)

Wollstonecraft's description of friendship reveals the important connection between its status as an ideal, 'founded on principle', and its existence as something made, in a practical sense, 'cemented by time'. In thinking about the history of friendship, it is important to pay attention not just to its articulation as an abstract concept but also to the more tangible stuff of friendship, the material that bridges the distance (real and metaphorical) between individuals. For the bluestockings, the circulation of ideas was intimately connected to the circulation of objects and the shared matter of friendship. Women's relationship to the politics of location--and their social control of space--also played a central role in shaping contemporary attitudes to female education, as well as influencing sociability more broadly. (11)

The means by which the bluestockings forged and sustained relationships--primarily through letters, conversation, and patronage--were relatively ephemeral and elusive. Traditionally, historians have tended to overlook or undervalue such evidence, associating women's letters with feminine accomplishment and frivolity, and treating them, at best, as supportive to (but, at worst, as extraneous to) the central narratives of the age. Moreover, many of the forms in which bluestocking women chose to express their artistic, literary, and scientific ambitions have been neglected or demeaned for similar reasons. While some of the most prominent bluestockings intervened in formal, traditionally male, literary genres, including classical translation and Shakespeare criticism, many women expressed their intellectual ambitions through the more conventional media of female 'accomplishment', such as cut-paper work, needlework, and feather and shell work. (12) These activities formed an integral part of everyday sociability and could be carried out within the domestic sphere, often in productive parallel with individual scholarship or the shared pleasures of conversation. While many of these pursuits were carried out within the context of intimate relationships between two or three individuals, they frequently acquired a more public audience. I hope that by illuminating some of the material detail of the bluestockings' culture of exchange, transaction, and display I will show that ink, paper, shells, plants, and feathers provided far more than a means of passing the time of day. Bluestockings self-consciously crafted emblems of friendship that might survive the mortal relationships whose life they embodied. In the following three sections of this essay I will address various material objects of friendship: first, a 'friendship box', then letters and feathers, and finally, botanical illustration in the form of paper cuts. In doing so, I hope to show how bluestocking women frequently engaged with the categories of nature and art in ways that highlighted the simultaneously spontaneous and constructed nature of friendship itself.

Friendship in a Box

Your praises of my friend, and friendship pleased me extremely; I admire my friend [the Duchess of Portland] above all people, and friendship above all things; it has all the tenderness of love without its weaknesses, and its ecstasies without its jealousies; it is founded in Reason and strengthened by time: a friend is the better for wearing, and I think the greatest happiness this World can bestow is to have a friend and be a friend.

Elizabeth Montagu to Ann Donellan, Bulstrode, 1741 (13)

Recent historiography of the eighteenth century has focused on the potential of individual stories to reveal something about the spirit of the age, to encapsulate broader social and political transformations. Biography, or the more broadly defined field of 'life-writing', can reveal the interconnectedness of lives and themes as well as allowing scholars to reach broader audiences. (14) Much recent work by historians and cultural geographers has personalized the process of globalization through the resources of life writing, alive to detail while alert to general patterns. (15) Moreover, scholars are increasingly aware of the power of artefacts to convey ideas, both within and beyond the bounds of their own time. Linda Colley's popular study of Elizabeth Marsh, 'a woman in world history', used as its cover image an evocative photograph of a contemporary hand holding an eighteenth-century pocket globe. Yesterday's fashionable accessory becomes today's means of unravelling the mindset of a past in which the world seemed more graspable, even something to be pocketed.

In a similar spirit I would like to take a particularly eloquent object as the starting point from which to try and piece together the history of a collective relationship. One of the most intriguing insights into the nature of female friendship in the mid-eighteenth century can be found in the form of an oval 'friendship box' commissioned in the early 1740s by Margaret Cavendish Bentinck, Duchess of Portland (1715-85) to commemorate her relationship with three close female friends. The Duchess was famous in her lifetime as a formidable collector of art and natural history specimens. On her death Horace Walpole wrote, 'Few men have equaled [sic] Margaret Cavendish Holles Harley ... Duchess of Portland, in the mania of collecting, and perhaps no woman. In an age of great collectors she rivalled the greatest.' (16) She was born Margaret Cavendish Harley, daughter of Henrietta Cavendish and Edward Harley, later Earl of Oxford, whose collection of manuscripts and books forms a central part of the British Library's collection. In this early item from her collection, four miniature portraits in enamel by Christian Friedrich Zincke (1683-1767) are encased in a gold and enamel setting to form an exquisite and luxurious item that is more akin to a piece of jewellery, appealing on the grounds of its novelty and delicacy rather than its usefulness (see Plate 1).

The portraits depict the Duchess herself, Elizabeth Robinson (1718-1800; soon to become Elizabeth Montagu on her marriage to Edward Montagu in 1742), the botanist Mary Pendarves (1700-1788; soon to become Mary Delany on her marriage to Patrick Delany in 1743) and, it is believed, Mary Howard, Lady Andover (1717-1803), a correspondent to all three. The intimate friendship between these four women formed an important foundation for the development of the metropolitan bluestocking circle around the figure of Elizabeth Montagu, who was later christened 'Queen of the Blues' by Samuel Johnson, in honour of her role in bringing together a constellation of contemporary writers and artists. Here I am particularly interested in recovering the cultural practices of the women portrayed, each of whom experimented in various processes of collecting, as well as working in collage, or 'mosaic work', using the different media of paper, shells, and feathers.

Zincke's enamels were highly fashionable and expensive at the time the box was made, and the gold setting increased their value. The oval miniatures are only 4.5 centimetres (1 3/4 inches) high, so need to be held close to the eye to be appreciated. In order to see all four portraits the viewer must open the box, thus experiencing a kind of physical intimacy that evokes the bond between its subjects. Once opened, a small and enclosed space, in which two internal portraits face each other in secret darkness, is transformed into an open structure. The portraits are mounted in an interdependent relationship that is highly suggestive of the close connection between these four women, bound together by their interests in natural history, literature, and the arts. (17) As a physical object the box commemorates the spirit of friendship in a surprisingly direct and compelling fashion. Its particularity evokes some of the more general and often productive tensions that characterize the history of bluestocking intellectual networks. The box suggests some of the complex dynamics of friendship: the relationship between dependence and independence, intimacy and publicity, that which is concealed and that which is revealed.

The portrait of the Duchess of Portland in a blue dress and fur stole forms one of the interior images of the box. She chose never to be portrayed without her pearls, a traditional symbol of wisdom and natural purity, which form earrings and strands in her hair as well as trimming her dress. (18) As a young girl, Margaret lived at Wimpole Hall near Cambridge, where her father, Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford (1689-1741), kept his valuable and extensive library. His librarian, the Cambridge classical scholar Conyers Middleton (1683-1750), happened to be Elizabeth Montagu's step-grandfather. The friendship between Edward Harley and Conyers Middleton brought the two young girls together. Lady Margaret was seventeen and Elizabeth twelve when the two girls met. The elder encouraged the younger to write and the two formed an immediate bond, which they kept up through a vivacious and often mischievous correspondence. Margaret nicknamed Elizabeth 'Fidget' in honour of the liveliness of her mind and body. Their surviving letters contain salacious gossip as well as more serious discussions of their reading and visits to the theatre. Elizabeth forms one of the exterior images on the box, wearing the black Tudor costume of Anne Boleyn, a queen famous for her learning and vivacity, and particularly respected by the bluestockings for her role as mother of Elizabeth I, who formed a compelling example of female power and patronage. (19)

Lady Margaret moved to Bulstrode, a large estate in Buckinghamshire with elegant park, menagerie, and gardens, on her marriage to the Duke of Portland in 1734. Here she became, like her father, a passionate collector of books, 'natural curiosities', and classical art. One of her most treasured possessions, the classical Portland Vase, was loaned to the British Museum in 1810 by a descendant and has remained there ever since. Equally significant, the Duchess's 'herbarium', a collection of rare botanic specimens from around the world, was given to Kew Gardens on her death. Her fondness for botany brought her into contact with Joseph Banks (1744-1820), who visited her after his return from Captain Cook's first voyage to the South Pacific (1768-71). In her youth she satisfied her desire for collecting feathers and shells by asking her naval brothers to bring back specimens from their travels. Lady Margaret and Elizabeth took great pleasure in arranging shells into ornate grottoes and feathers into decorative collages. When Elizabeth Montagu spent her first summer at Bulstrode in 1740, she wrote to her cousin William Freind, 'The agreeable freedom I live in and the Rural beauties of the place would perswade me I was in the Plains of Arcadia.' She admitted that her pastoral bliss was lacking in a 'Pastor Fido' or 'languishing Corydon', but that these male accessories were unnecessary to 'a heart taken up, and sufficiently soften'd by friendship.... in my opinion, friendship is preferable to love'. (20)

On the reverse of the Duchess of Portland's portrait is that of Mary Pendarves (nee Granville, later Delany) in a russet dress with a blue ribbon in her hair. Her family had been favoured in the reign of Queen Anne but fell on hard times when George I came to the throne and banished Tory nobility from the court and parliament. She had been married at the age of eighteen to the fifty-seven year old MP Alexander Pendarves, in 1718, when her family believed the match might secure her a fortune. The marriage seemed to have been a strategic alliance from all sides but was deeply unhappy for both partners. In the 'autobiographical memoir' that Mary began in the early 1740s--and included in her letters to her friend the Duchess of Portland--she referred to her wedding day thus:
   I was married with great pomp. Never was woe drest out in gayer
   colours, and when I was led to the altar, I wished from my soul I
   had been led, as Iphegenia was, to be sacrificed. I was sacrificed.
   I lost, not life indeed, but I lost all that makes life desirable.
   (21)


The sudden death of Pendarves in 1725 released Mary from what she experienced as a form of imprisonment, but left her penniless. To her family's great shock Pendarves had failed to provide for her in his will. For the next eighteen years Mary lived in London, under the protection of her family friends, the Stanleys. Her wit and vivacity attracted many suitors but she appeared to enjoy her independence from marriage and forged some of the most important friendships of her life during this period, including that with the Duchess of Portland. She spent a great deal of time at Bulstrode, and it was here that she first developed in earnest her interests in drawing, shell work, and painting.

Mary eventually re-married in 1743, soon after Zincke's box was finished. Her new husband, Dr Patrick Delany, an Irish Anglican cleric whom she had met in Dublin, was a friend and companion who recognized and encouraged his wife's talents. Elizabeth Montagu wrote to Mary, when she and her new husband were staying at Bulstrode with the Duchess of Portland, to congratulate Dr Delany's good taste in making such a match:
   Dr. Delany is happy in a companion like you, to take a
   philosopher's and an artist's part in the natural world; to a
   mind that comprehends you have a hand that records and represents
   its beauties. Your drawing-room boasts of eternal spring--nature
   blooms there when it languishes in gardens; and not only
   prospects and landscapes are represented by your art, but even
   human passions and fugitive thoughts are expressed and fixed by
   the strokes of your pencil. (22)


Montagu praised Delany's botanical and landscape drawings, admiring her ability to transform nature into an art that surpassed nature. Moreover, in this letter she makes a rare acknowledgement of the role of 'human passions and fugitive thought' as being 'expressed and fixed' by Delany's pencil. Montagu went on to admit her envy of the society gathered at Bulstrode, where she remembers being so happy that she 'never counted an hour there'. (23) Several of Montagu's letters suggest the importance of Bulstrode in bringing together a network of like-minded friends. (24) Later, during her second widowhood, Delany spent all her summers at Bulstrode, where she invented her method of cutting intricate paper collages of plants. These images, about which I will say more in the final section, were astonishingly accomplished in their botanical accuracy and vivid design.

The other cover of the box portrays, it is believed, Mary Howard, Lady Andover. She is depicted in profile and wearing a white dress decorated with a garland of flowers, picked up in the narrow body of the gold box, which is enamelled with white flowers and green foliage. The Duchess left the portrait box to Howard in her will, where she refers to it as 'my Snuff box with the four Enamel pictures by Zincke'. The will also refers to designs in 'cut paper' done by Howard (like Delany, she was an amateur artist). (25) Mary Delany received an example of Howard's art as a gift in 1752, when she was living at Delville, Dr Delany's country estate outside Dublin. She described it in a letter to her sister as:
   the finest thing I ever saw of the kind--a landscape in an oval and
   a wreath round it of oak branches. This was packed in a book, and a
   box came with it, which I supposed a frame and glass, and opened it
   with the utmost caution for such: it was a frame indeed, but made
   by the same delicate fingers that composed the picture--it is of
   card, with embossed flowers in imitation of carving, most
   exquisitely done. (26)


Delany goes on to describe the care she takes in preserving this intricate work within a plainly framed glass case, in order not to compete with what is displayed within:
   I cannot give you a notion of it by my description, but the frame
   is worthy of the picture. I have bespoke an ebony frame, or rather
   case, with a glass to secure it from the dust--the frame to be as
   narrow as possible; it would be an impertinence to attempt
   ornamenting it. I shall take it with me when I go to England, as
   it is small, and then your eyes can see what my pen cannot
   describe. (27)


Delany's description gives insight into the value that she placed on Lady Andover's ingenuity and skill, which she cherished, preserved, and displayed. (28)

While historians have concentrated upon the role of female accomplishment in the marriage market as a means of advertising female charms to potential male suitors, few have acknowledged the profound importance of the circulation of objects, many of them self-crafted, between women. From the everyday utilities of paper and ink, to more exotic and extraordinary items, including feathers and shells, silk, fossils, diamonds, medals, and rare porcelain, bluestockings delighted in exchanging gifts. Emotional attachment was frequently cemented by concrete proof of that attachment, often in the form of highly articulate and individual objects. Mary Delany recorded her affection for her many friends in her detailed list of bequests included in her will, where she left to Lady Andover some examples of her own amateur art: 'the portrait of King Charles the First, after Van Dyke, and the landscape, after Salvator Rosa'. She left to Lady Andover's daughter, Frances Howard 'the amber box full of carmine, which was turned and given to me by the late Duke of Portland'. (29) Her will asked that all recipients of her bequests should be sent a piece of paper stating her intention that 'these much esteemed friends may sometimes recollect a person who was so sensible of the honour of their friendship, and who delighted so much in their conversation and works'. (30) Objects thus take on an endowed significance beyond the lifetime of their original owners, extending and embodying human relationships in defiance of mortality. Zincke's 'snuff-box', left to Lady Andover by the Duchess of Portland, is, of course, a powerful case in point, its meaning transforming over time, as it is transferred from one to another. A much later full-size portrait of Delany believed to by Benjamin West depicts her holding a snuff box in her hand, one of two left to her by the Duchess of Portland in her will, further evidence of the important significance of intimate objects in embodying emotional ties, acknowledging debts and recording networks of patronage. (31)

Economic anthropologists have explored the value of material objects within non-capitalist societies, revealing the various contexts (family, ritual, the sacred) in which gifts have meaning, or do a certain kind of 'work'. As the anthropologist Mary Douglas has argued, in her reading of Mauss's classic study of gift exchange in archaic societies: 'a gift that does nothing to enhance solidarity is a contradiction'. (32) Bluestocking 'solidarity' had both an intimate and a public aspect. The private love between individuals was developed into a more public pursuit of charity--'philia' became 'philanthropia', to borrow the classical terms that so influenced the bluestockings in their adherence to reason and virtue as the foundation of all good friendships. The bluestocking Elizabeth Carter translated the Stoic philosophy of Epictetus to great acclaim. (33) Carter and her fellow bluestockings were attracted to the Stoic belief that mankind could be united by reason and humanity, and several women wrote of the central role of benevolence in a just society. Susannah Dobson, for example, perceived friendship as 'the most likely of all dispositions to promote general, as well as particular felicity'. (34) An earlier, anonymous author and 'well-wisher to her sex' proclaimed in her Thoughts on Friendship (1725):
   Since then a State of Friendship and Amity is absolutely
   necessary to the wellbeing of Societies in general; and since all
   Communities are made up of several Particulars; It follows, that
   what constitutes the Happiness of the Whole, must be necessary to
   every Individual? (35)


Elizabeth Montagu's sister, the novelist Sarah Scott, celebrated this aspect of female friendship in her novel Millenium [sic] Hall, in which she developed the earlier feminism of Mary Astell's Serious Proposal to the Ladies, offering a utopian vision of a harmonious group of women who, secluded from the public gaze, develop a cottage industry through various arts, manufactures, and acts of charity. (36) In Scott's definition of society, bonds of rational friendship are conceived as the foundation of collective happiness:
   However fortune may have set us above any bodily wants, the mind will
   still have many which would drive us into society. Reason wishes for
   communication and improvement; benevolence longs for objects on
   which to exert itself; the social comforts of friendship are so
   necessary to our happiness, that it would be impossible not to
   endeavour to enjoy them. In sickness the languor of our minds makes
   us wish for the amusements of conversation; in health the vivacity
   of our spirits leads us to desire it. (37)


Scott's vision of an ideal society presented female friendship as the origin of an intensely active benevolent community, in which the union of labour and affection seemingly achieves a perfect balance.

Returning to the Duchess of Portland's friendship box, we see how the stories behind Zincke's miniature portraits establish a sense of the multiple intersections and shared interests within a network of female friendship. While this 'friendship box' was clearly a personal, luxury object, commissioned to commemorate the Duchess's closest female friends, it can also be seen as the private analogue to contemporary dictionaries that celebrated learned and virtuous women in a more public fashion. The Duchess's governess from 1739 was Elizabeth Elstob (1683-1756), a pioneering Anglo-Saxon scholar who had published the first Anglo-Saxon grammar with scholarly apparatus in English rather than in Latin. (38) She was also an adviser to George Ballard when he compiled his Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain who Have Been Celebrated for Their Writings or Skill in the Learned Languages, Arts and Sciences (1752), the second part of which he dedicated to Mary Delany, 'the truest judge and brightest pattern of all the accomplishments which adorn her sex'. Here we see how eighteenth-century women themselves could become specimens in contemporary collections, held up for scrutiny by virtue of their moral exemplarity but also in homage to their rarity.

One might argue that Zincke's box similarly fixes its subjects as an exceptional group to be prized and wondered at, their achievements the equivalent of jewels. In the remaining portion of this essay I will concentrate more fully upon surviving examples of these women's own acts of artistic representation, firstly in the form of letters to each other and then in more self-consciously aesthetic works that aspired to the realms of art and science. The work of bluestocking collectors and artists interrogated the relationship between nature and art in original and sometimes provocative ways, frequently complicating the traditional (and highly gendered) distinction between an unruly, feminine nature and a controlling, masculine culture. (39) I will argue that the material character of these works frequently suggests that an individual woman's sense of the expansive possibilities of self was inseparable from her sense of belonging to a group providing mutual support, identity, and friendship.

Quills and Other Feathers: From Correspondence to Collage

Reviewing Helen Maria Williams' Letters written in France, in the Summer, 1790, to a friend in England; containing various Anecdotes relative to the French Revolution soon after their publication, Mary Wollstonecraft referred to the eighteenth-century tradition of letter-writing and suggested that, through circumstance, women occupied a privileged position in regard to the genre:
   Women have been allowed to possess, by a kind of prescription, the
   knack of epistolary writing; the talent of chatting on paper in
   that easy immethodical manner, which renders letters dear to
   friends, and amusing to strangers. Who that has read Madame
   Sevigne's and Pope's letters, with an unprejudiced eye, can
   avoid giving preference to the artless elegance of the former;
   interested by the eloquence of her heart, and the unstudied
   sallies of her imagination; whilst the florid periods of the
   latter appear, like state robes, grand and cumbersome, and
   his tenderness vapid vanity. (40)


Sevigne's loving and introspective letters to her daughter, first translated into English in 1727, were extremely popular amongst the bluestockings. Her example was important to them in validating their intimate and open letters. (41) As ever, Wollstonecraft is alert to the role of social construction in forming ideas of femininity--the 'natural' talent of the female letter-writer has always been 'a kind of prescription'. Nonetheless, it is one that women writers have turned to their advantage, either employing 'artlessness' with an ironic precision and parodic wit, or developing such 'artlessness' into an authenticity of feeling denied the male sex.

Recent critical work on eighteenth-century epistolary culture has emphasized the profound artfulness of the form, establishing the full complexity of a genre too long neglected, albeit one that received fresh attention in the eighteenth century, when letters formed the chief form of social communication, bearing knowledge, instruction, and pleasure. (42) Historians have explored the extent to which the letter as a form can complicate notions of private and public experience, as well as traverse the traditional boundaries of genre, finding a place in a variety of different literary publications, from newspapers, periodicals, travel accounts, and histories to novels, educational tracts, philosophical treatises, and religious instruction manuals. The bluestockings were variously involved with the letter as a form of literary expression and their contrasting publications reveal a cross-section of the period's numerous authorial personae invoked for different occasions.43 Members of the bluestocking circle frequently shared, copied, and circulated letters, a remarkable number of which have survived in manuscript form. (44)

While there are numerous contexts in which to consider the significance of bluestocking letters, here I want to convey the extent to which women drew attention to the manual labour of writing itself and were highly sensitive to the status of letters as part of a broader material culture of friendship. Bluestocking correspondents were highly self-conscious of the materiality of letters, often drawing attention to the inadequacy, expense, or limitations of paper as a medium of communication. Elizabeth Montagu wrote to the Duchess of Portland in July 1746 complaining that she had sent her a letter of a mere one page:
   Tho the paper was as valuable as paper can be yet it falls very
   far short of any of those qualities that distinguish the Duchess
   of Portland. A sheet of paper may contain a finished system of
   morality, rules for conversation and regulation for wit but the
   nice touches and elegant strokes are inimitable and can be found
   only in such originals as my friend. Nature has felicities that
   art cannot so much as describe. (45)


Here the material presence of the letter is inadequate, calling attention to the contrast between the real Duchess and her pale imitation. Montagu admits that even if her friend had written at more length, there is a sense in which it could never have been enough. The letter's inevitable 'art' cannot compensate for the absence of its author. In another letter, to her sister, Montagu wrote:
   If I did not always write very ill I should make some excuse for
   this letter, my pen has been an ancient inhabitant of the
   Standish, it has defaced much white Paper and been long the
   Engine of Industry and the Secretary of diligence, it has given
   flight to as much foolishness as when it was in the wing of a
   Goose, but it sings its last so melodiously one would imagine it
   was taken from a swan, it shall however ere I consign it to
   ignoble rest squeek & scrawl me, your Grace's very Humble Servant
   E Robinson. (46)


Montagu would frequently summon an image of the tangible scene of writing as a means of countering the absence of her letter's recipient. She wrote to the Duchess of Portland in 1739:
   in spight of the love of gadding I shall be brought to confess that
   at home with an inexhaustible ink bottle, and indefatigable pen,
   and an unlimited sheet of paper with permission to write to your
   Grace I have means of the greatest happiness your absence will
   allow in my own hands. (47)


Furthermore, the gifts of friendship were kept close to the scene of writing, in order to relieve the solitary confinement of the study or closet. Montagu wrote to the Duchess of Portland from a farm in Kent, where she had been 'banished' in order to escape the danger of smallpox: 'I have brought the gold bag and basket, & my tooth pick case, and the Egg, and we converse every day, and indeed they are very good company.' (48)

While the very materiality of the letter as a form of communication could either frustrate or console, its potential fragility subjected intimacy to the uncertain and arbitrary realm of fate. In another letter Elizabeth Montagu fantasized about the journey of a mislaid letter, imagining how it might disappear in a puff of smoke:
   I cant help thinking if my last letter was sensible, what a
   terrible taking it would be, that instead of having the honour to
   kiss your hands, it must lie confined in the footmans pocket, with
   greasy gloves, rotten apples, mouldy nuts, a pack of dirty cards
   and the only companion of its sort, a tender epistle from Doll,
   truth till Deth: perhaps by its situation, kicked by his Master
   every morning at the time of dressing, till at last, by kicking, &
   keeping rude company, worn too thin for any other use, it may make
   its exit in lighting a Tobacco pipe. (49)


Paper was a potentially precarious material on which to rely for the exchange of intimate thought. While here Montagu jokingly conjures an image of conflagration, she frequently included precise instructions to the Duchess of Portland to burn her letters after reading, in case the gossip contained might incriminate her. (50)

Montagu ended her reverie on the mislaid letter with the crisp admission, 'I believe the fellow who lost my letter knew very well how ready I should be to supply it with another.' (51) Her indefatigable appetite for letter-writing assumed the level of vocation. Her boundless stream of letters seems to form a campaign for intimacy--intimacy with friends but also with the more quotidian details and duties of her existence. On a practical level, the daily business of letter-writing could incorporate a wide spectrum of experience. Elizabeth Montagu's responsibilities, for example, developed through marriage and widowhood to incorporate a vast and varied network of correspondents. In 1780 she referred to the labour of 'epistolary commerce':
   In the course of two posts I had letters from a Polish Prince, a
   great dealer in Cattle, one of the most distinguished of our
   Literati, my Northern Steward, a great Scotch Philosopher, my head
   Carpenter in Portman Square, the sweet Minstrel Dr Beattie, an
   artist at Birmingham, my Baillif at Sandleford & many characters
   between these extremes. (52)


Writing was an integral part of Montagu's existence, fundamental to her identity and she wrote to her sister, 'I don't see how a sociable Being can live without writing.' (53)

Bluestocking letters frequently contained small items such as feathers and flowers, fabric or drawings--tokens of affection that both supplemented the emotional relationship expressed and worked to strengthen other networks of exchange in which these women were involved. There was a close proximity between the Duchess of Portland's scientific interests and the decorative and artistic pursuits of her female friends, all of which formed part of the social fabric of life at Bulstrode. In 1738 the Duchess wrote to Montagu, 'My amusements are all of the Rural Kind--working, Spinning, Knotting, Drawing, Reading, writing, walking & picking Herbs to put into an Herbal. Let me hear from you so Dear Fidget & a Long Letter.' (54) As a young woman, Montagu strove to be of use to her friend by supplying shells and feathers for her ever-growing collection of natural history specimens. She wrote from Kent in 1741, 'I would catch you some butterflies, but I have not seen any pretty ones. I have order'd people upon all our Coasts to seek for shells, but have not yet got any pretty ones.' (55) In another letter she described the sacrifice of a bird for its feathers:
   Your Grace told me that when I was in Town you wanted the feathers
   of a King's Fisher, and after long desiring one my Pappa shot me
   one and sent it me here, and I have pluck'd the feathers very
   carefully, and if you have any immediate use for them I will send
   them to you, either in a letter or by my Brother who will be in Town
   next Month on his way to the Bath, if I had wings my self I should
   make use of them to fly to you, & the remorse I have for killing
   this Creature makes me desirous to honour his remains, and to
   attone for the loss of the pleasure of his life by the honour of
   his death. (56)


In her desire to please her friend, Montagu solicited the help of several male relatives, including her naval brother and even an unpopular cousin, the extravagant Sir Thomas Robinson, who became Governor of Barbados in 1741. Montagu believed he should atone for his moral failings by supplying the Duchess with new shells:
   He shall get some shells for your Grace. He should pay you the
   homage of old when the conquered Nation sent some of their Earth
   and water to their Conquerors; he ought to do your Grace homage
   in every Element where he has any command, and if you want either
   fish, beast, or bird, give him your orders, and with more than
   the power, take the style, of a Queen. (57)


Montagu's inflated rhetoric may be playful but it strongly conveys the extent to which women could manipulate their capacity for display in order to assert power over others in a more or less benign fashion. Later in her life, when famous as 'Queen of the Bluestockings', a formidable salon hostess, and patron of the arts, Elizabeth Montagu developed her interest in feathers, first inspired by the Duchess, into an ambitious and very public art form. Soon after becoming a widow in 1775, Montagu commissioned the building of a large mansion in Portman Square, Mayfair, where she installed a series of feather screens. The screens were built over a period of ten years (1781-91) at Montagu's country estate in Berkshire, supervised by Montagu's forewoman, Betty Tull, and later transported to London. Montagu's friends were asked for contributions of feathers to apply to large canvas mounted frames to form decorative collages of landscapes that included flowers, birds, and beasts of every variety and shade. (58) Montagu wrote to Elizabeth Carter in 1781, 'From ye gaudy peacock to ye solemn Raven, we collect whatever we can.' (59) She described Tull's talent in glowing terms: 'Maccoas she has transformed into Tulips, Kings fishers into blue bells by her so potent art.' (60) After receiving a bundle of feathers in the post from her sister Sarah, Elizabeth thanked her and contrasted--and linked--the use of feathers as quills for writing with their role as tools for her 'mosaic':
   My very dear Sister,

   The grey goose quill, under your guidance, produces more
   interesting & pleasing things than ye richest plumage of ye
   feathered race by all ye art of that great artist Elizabeth
   Tull; so I will first thank you for your letter, & then for
   ye beautiful Canary bird, whose feathers since yesterday morning
   have been metamorphosed into ye leaves of an Anemony & it would
   be difficult to say whether they looked better in their former
   animal or present vegetable appearance. (61)


Indeed, the final results were spectacular. William Cowper's poem for the Gentleman's Magazine conveyed the exuberance of the feather-screens, their joyful ostentation:
   The Birds put off their ev'ry hue
   To dress a room for Montagu,
   The Peacock sends his heav'nly dyes,
   His rainbows and his starry eyes;
   The Pheasant, plumes which now infold
   His mantling neck with downy gold;
   The Cock his arch'd tail's azure show,
   And, river blanch'd, the Swan, his snow.
   All tribes beside of Indian name,
   That glossy shine, or vivid flame
   Where rises and where sets the day,
   Whate'er they boast of rich and gay,
   Contribute to the gorgeous plan,
   Proud to advance it all it they can. (62)


James Barrington wrote to Montagu in a similar spirit of gallantry,
   I will collect all the Peacocks feathers, as well as others for
   Mrs Montagu; it is the only comfort I have at the death of a
   beautiful bird, to think that their plumage will have the
   honour of shining as a Constellation in the exalted situation of
   Mrs Montagu's Palace at Portman Square. (63)


Montagu received the ultimate accolade in June 1791, when Queen Charlotte and the royal princesses came to honour the featherwork. (64) While the original screens themselves have long perished, it is possible to trace the history of their construction in the leaves of Montagu's correspondence and to track the records of a collective endeavour. Montagu boldly wove a record of her myriad friendships into the walls of her salon, where the feather screens incorporated offerings from an ever-expanding circle of influence and acquaintance--a shimmering fabric of metropolitan sociability.

Nature and the Art of Friendship

For the bluestockings, then, the possession of knowledge was frequently expressed by the possession, circulation and, perhaps most significantly, the creation of works of art and the collection of natural history specimens. The public display of ingenuity by Montagu at the height of her literary career owed an enormous debt to her early friendship with the Duchess of Portland, who first exposed her to a collaborative environment of spirited enquiry and shared with her the intellectually provocative world of her collection. In 1741, at the age of twenty-two, Montagu wrote to the Duchess with a witty description of her own unformed mind, which she compared to the disorderly contents of the Duchess's closet. Here material objects provide metaphors for the internal workings of Montagu's mind (as we have seen, the act of letter-writing frequently dramatized this relation between internal and external worlds). She made a direct connection between the exterior and interior spaces of knowledge, commenting upon the shifting relationship between what is concealed and what is revealed by any individual's collection:
   Pray do not compliment my head; such as it is it is at your
   Service. It is not a head of great capacity, but a great part of the
   space is unfurnished. I only beg if you furnish it, it may be with
   a little more order than your Closet; for with heads as with
   drawers, too full one can never find any thing when one looks for
   it. A head made up with the variety of your Closet must be excellent
   for making dictionaries, writing grammars, for all the languages
   spoken at Babel, or a natural History of the Creature in Noah's
   Ark, or for drawing plans for the Labyrinths of Dedalus. What a
   cunning confusion, and vast variety and surprising Universality
   must the head possess that is but worthy to make an inventory of
   the things in that closet. So many things there made by Art and
   Nature, so many stranger still, and very curious, hit off by
   chance and casualty. Shells so big and so little, some things so
   antique, and some so new fashioned, some excellent for being of
   much use, others so exquisite for being of no use at all;
   accidental shapes that seem formed on purpose; contrivances of
   art that appear as if done by Accident. But how should I describe
   it? (65)


Montagu's letter is strongly aware of the Duchess's capacity to blur the distinction between nature and art in a playful, visual performance of knowledge. As Maria Zytaruk has pointed out in her fascinating essay on the topic of Mary Delany's cabinet of curiosities, 'Montagu captured how the cabinet extended lusus naturae (the sport of nature) by exhibiting figured stones and patterned shells alongside examples of human ingenuity, notably the Portland Vase.' (66) She also understands the sheer intellectual challenge of trying to organize or interpret the full significance and variety of the Duchess's collection, a challenge experienced even more acutely by the authors of the sale catalogue made after her death, who referred to the vast numbers of shells, porcelain, and works of art as a 'promiscuous assemblage'. As Horace Walpole recounted, the sale was ordered by the Duchess for benefit of her children and took thirty-eight days to be dispersed at auction. The collection made -10,965, 10 shillings and sixpence. (67) An annotated copy of the sale catalogue at the British Library reveals the dispersal of objects amongst institutions such as the British Museum and Royal Society but also individuals, including Josiah Wedgwood, Joseph Banks, and Joshua Reynolds. The combined interest of these figures suggests the range of her collection but also the shared ground that existed between the decorative and high arts, and the world of natural history. The dispersal of the Duchess's collection paradoxically represents both the range of her influence and the fragile identity of her collection, which was inevitably lost when it was sold.

The Duchess had been an important patron to several leading men of science who met and shared ideas with her female friends. She gave the naturalist John Lightfoot a living as a curate, for example, but his main task was to spend three days a week caring for her large collection of plants and shells. From the middle of the century, until the Duchess's death in 1785, Bulstrode acted as an intellectual hub for the meeting of scientific men and women, many of whom owed their livelihood to the Duchess's patronage. Jean-Jacques Rousseau spent a few months with the Duchess in 1766, and accompanied her on a tour of the Peak district to gather wild plants. (68)

From 1768, following the death of her second husband Dr Delany, Mary Delany spent every summer with the Duchess at Bulstrode and it is her letters that give the most vivid sense of its distinctive atmosphere of intellectual debate and practical experiment. While the main emphasis was the intellectual labour of categorizing, recording, and displaying curiosities and natural history specimens to best effect, this was often balanced by other types of work. Here, in a letter to her friend Mrs Port, from 1771, Mary Delany describes a typical scene at Bulstrode:
   I cannot tell you how busy we have been in examining the varieties
   of stalactites, selenites, ludus helmontii, &c, &c. Much learning
   have I heard, some of which I hope I have retained; the Duchess
   of Portland has fine acquisitions of pictures, sparrs, minerals,
   &c., which have enriched her dressing-room and cabinets. She
   desires her kind compliments to Mr. Granville and her spinning
   mistress, and bids me enclose the remains of her lock of wool,
   to show you how near she spins it of, and makes not waste of ends,
   all which she hopes you will approve of. In the midst of her
   philosophical studies she used to start up and go to her wheel for
   a quarter of an hour's relaxation, and intends that spinning shall
   be one of her employments, and chief amusements when she goes to
   town; her last wheel and reel stand in the anti-chamber of her
   great dressing room. (69)


Manual labour, or what we might term 'craft', is here shown to be an important counterpart to 'philosophical studies', and the task of spinning takes place in a room connected to the Duchess's 'great dressing room', where she would have entertained her visitors. Delany's letter goes on to describe recent events:
   I believe I wrote you word that the book published of George's
   Land (or Otaheite) was not by Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander's
   direction, but they are preparing an account of their voyage;
   but the Natural History will be a work by itself, entirely at the
   expense of Mr. Banks, for which he has laid by ten thousand. He
   has already the drawings of everything (birds, beast, plants, and
   views) that were remarkable; the work to be set in order, that is,
   the history written, by Mr. Hawkesworth, under the inspection of
   Mr. Banks and Dr. Solander; it will hardly come out in my time, as
   it will consist of at least fourteen volumes in folio. As this
   was private talk, perhaps it should not be mentioned in general.
   Our little friend, Mr. Lightfoot, made no small figure in the
   group, and always desires his compliments to you; they all went
   away last Saturday. Mr Lightfoot comes again next week, when we
   shall go over the lesson of last week by a re-inspection, which
   will enable me to set my own humble collection in order. (70)


One can sense Delany's excitement at being party to the discussion of a planned publication of such scientific and cultural importance. The botanical artist George Ehret had been working at Bulstrode since 1768 and Banks and Solander were presumably keen to involve him in their project. They had recently accompanied Captain Cook to the South Pacific, where they had searched for new plants that would be of economic benefit to Britain, Banks recording them in his herbarium while the botanist Solander collected and stored them. Shortly after the meeting described by Delany, she and the Duchess visited Banks's collection in London.

The following year Mrs Delany, in her early seventies, began her cutpaper flowers--a new art form that she invented and described as a form of 'paper mosaic'. (71) Over the next ten years she created a collection of nearly one thousand pictures of plants, all of cut paper, occasionally with pieces of plants added, on black backgrounds, with her own borders. The British Library has a copy of a list made of Delany's works, printed and owned by Banks: A Catalogue of Plants copyed from Nature in Paper Mosaick, finished in the year 1778, and disposed in alphabetical Order according to the Generic and Specific names of Linnaeus. This catalogue includes some notes in its margins, in Banks's hand, which suggests that he used her work as a point of reference and a means of recording new and interesting specimens.

Delany collected her work in a series of albums that now belong to the British Museum. (72) The collection was intended as an imitation of a Hortus Siccus, a collection of dried flowers. However, unlike such a collection, in which the natural pigment would inevitably blanch with time, her mosaics used specialist papers that have scarcely faded. Through effects of layering and by making use of a contrasting, deep black background, she brought out the full vibrancy of the plants' original, natural colours. Her earliest works are on paper washed with black iron gall ink, but in 1774 a newly established paper mill in Hampshire provided her with a paper which she could wash with Indian ink to give a better matt surface. The coloured papers were obtained from examples being brought back from China at the time, sometimes provided by friends, as well as from paper-stainers who supplied wallpaper, and occasionally she dyed the paper herself or touched up the picture with watercolours. Delany's skill at cutting paper had been honed by a lifetime of practice in more conventional forms but here she devised something highly original. As her niece Lady Llanover described:
   her invention of this uncommon method of imitating nature ... was
   admitted by Sir Joshua Reynolds and all the best judges of the
   art of drawing and painting to be unrivalled in perfection of
   outline, delicacy of cutting, accuracy of shading and perspective,
   and harmony and brilliancy of colours; while at the same time they
   were the admiration of botanists such as Sir Joseph Banks, Dr.
   Solander, &c &c. Indeed Sir Joseph Banks used to say that Mrs.
   Delany's representations of flowers 'were the only imitations of
   nature that he had ever seen, from which he could venture to
   describe botanically any plant without the least fear of
   committing an error'. (73)


Sometimes whole petals or leaves were cut from one piece, with additional smaller ones laid on top for shading. Individual pieces of paper were built up to form the stamens, calyx, and veins of leaves. Although she took care to cut the correct number of stamens and styles and used the Linnaean system of classification, she did not reproduce the various stages and individual parts of a plant, and only rarely included bulbs or roots, as found in the botanical publications of the time. While each image is botanically accurate, it is also a work of bold design and aesthetic invention.

One of her most stunning collages is the 'Cactus Grandiflorus, Melon thistle' or Selenericereus grandiflorus.' (see Plate 2). The overall effect is extraordinarily life-like and recreates the plant's vigour, spikiness, and strength with astonishing confidence. There is something remarkable about the combination of the pattern's overall visual, almost abstract, force and the delicate level of detail involved in its execution. As Ruth Hayden has observed: 'The bloom is made up of 190 parts and 399 spines protrude from the stem, which is itself composed of ten shades of paper.' (74) What is all the more remarkable is that Delany cut her flowers freehand, guiding her scissors as she observed her subject, without the need of any intermediary drawings. Her great-niece Lady Llanover concluded a very technical description of Delany's working method with an expression of wonder:
   But that part of the work which appears likely ever to remain a
   mystery, because no other person possesses the same gift, is the
   way in which by the eye alone the scissors could be directed to
   cut out the innumerable parts necessary to complete the outline and
   shading of every leaf, flower, and stem, with such exactness that
   they all hung together and fitted each other as if they had been
   produced instantaneously by the stroke of a magic wand, and
   yet without a fault in perspective or in the most difficult
   foreshortening. (75)


Delany's instinctive visual interpretation of each plant resulted in a botanical catalogue that had both scientific and artistic value, responding to a number of different visual registers--each image appears simultaneously decorative and objective, sensual and controlled, natural and artificial, fragile and strong.

Delany herself was characteristically modest about her new art form, which attracted attention from a variety of quarters (literary, scientific, and royal). It seems that she viewed her collages above all as a homage to friendship. Each paper cut was carefully inscribed on the verso with its identification and where she obtained the model, as well as the date and place where she had worked the picture, thus recording the social networks that lay behind each image (many of the plants she depicted were gifts from friends and eighty-four were provided by Banks from the Queen's garden at Kew). (76) She dedicated her album to the Duchess of Portland and one of the last flowers she cut was the 'Portlandia grandiflora', (see Plate 3), dated at the back by herself, "Bulstrode, 9th August, 1782, Kew". The specimen had been sent to Delany from Kew. She included a scholarly description of the plant, taken from Brown's History of Jamaica (1756):
   The leaves are large; smooth and opposite, of an oval form, and
   entire at the edges; the flowers are white, pretty open and long;
   and the fruit, a moderate lignous capsula, crown'd with five
   distinct leaves, and divided into two cells, adorned with five
   longitudinal ridges. This plant is called by the name of
   'Portlandia,' after the present Duchess of Portland, who is a
   great lover of botany, and well acqainted with the English plants.


Alongside these scholarly notes, Delany wrote her own short poem in praise of her subject:
   Fair flower! that bears the honoured name
   Of HER whose fair and spotless fame

   Thy purity displays.
   Emblem of Friendship's sacred tie,
   Thy form is graced with dignity
   Superior to all praise.


For Delany, her friend's character is represented by the flower named in her honour, which becomes an 'emblem' of 'friendship's sacred tie'. Delany's collage, in turn, preserves this sacred tie, becoming an emblem and gift of friendship that appears at once spontaneous and constructed, and is expressive in a number of different languages, including the scientific, the aesthetic, the emotional, and the spiritual. As Elizabeth Montagu had remarked, Delany combined empathy with objectivity, passion with reason. Not only did she possess 'a mind that comprehends' and 'a hand that records'; her work had the power to express 'even human passions and fugitive thoughts'. (77)

Following the paper trails left behind by the bluestocking circle, it is possible to recover a sense of the central role played by material culture in constructing and recording friendship. As Mary Wollstonecraft argued, friendship thrives upon the dialogue between the real and ideal aspects of human nature. Bluestockings made friendships from the materials available to them. And yet, within a society that placed what we might perceive to be severe limitations on female subjectivity, they achieved a remarkable exuberance and generosity of expression, managing to preserve a fluidity of exchange between the various worlds they inhabited. In reading the material culture of bluestocking friendship--paper, ink, letters, and feathers--we encounter a spirit of dialogue between the intimate and the public, nature and art, labour and love.

(1) Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Men with A Vindication of the Rights of Women andHints, ed. Sylvana Tomaselli (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 151.

(2) Wollstonecraft, A Vindication, p. 153.

(3) See Cora Kaplan's essay, 'Wild Nights: Pleasure/Sexuality/Feminism', in her Sea Changes: Essays on Culture and Feminism (London: Verso, 1986), pp. 160-83.

(4) 'Befriending the Body: Female Intimacies as Class Acts', Eighteenth-Century Studies, 32.2 (1998-99), 179-98 (p. 180).

(5) See Sylvana Tomaselli, 'The Most Public Sphere Of All: The Family', in Women, Writing and the Public Sphere, 1700-1830, eds E. Eger and others (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 239-56; Barbara Taylor, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); and Virginia Sapiro, Vindication of Political Virtue: The Political Theory of Mary Wollstonecraft (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1992).

(6) See Sylvia Harcstarck Myers, The Bluestocking Circle: Women, Friendship and the Life of the Mind in Eighteenth-Century England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990); Reconsidering the Bluestockings, eds Nicole Pohl and Betty Schellenberg (San Marino: Library Press, 2003); and Elizabeth Eger, Bluestockings: Women of Reason from Enlightenment to Romanticism (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). For the visual culture surrounding the bluestocking circle, see Elizabeth Eger and Lucy Peltz, Brilliant Women: 18th-Century Bluestockings (London: National Portrait Gallery, 2008).

(7) See John Brewer, The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century (London: Harper Collins, 1997).

(8) For further discussion of this question, see Anne Kugler, 'Constructing Wifely Identity: Prescription and Practice in the Life of Lady Sarah Cowper', Journal of British Studies, 40 (2001), 291-323.

(9) Transformations of Love: The Friendship of John Evelyn and Margaret Godolphin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), p. 4.

(10) MO 3530, Elizabeth Montagu to Elizabeth Carter, July 11th 1782. This and all subsequent MO references refer to the collection of Montagu correspondence held by the Huntington Library, California. I am grateful for the library's permission to quote extensively from this material.

(11) See Deborah Heller, 'Bluestocking Salons and the Public Sphere', Eighteenth-Century Life, 22.2 (1998), 59-82.

(12) See Anne Bermingham, Learning to Draw, Studies in the Cultural History of a Polite and Useful Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000) and 'Elegant Females and Gentleman Connoisseurs: The Commerce in Culture and Self-Image in Eighteenth-Century England', in The Consumption of Culture 1600-1800, Image, Object, Text, eds Anne Bermingham and John Brewer (London: Routledge, 1995), pp. 489-514.

(13) The Letters of Elizabeth Montagu, ed. Matthew Montagu, Esq, 4 vols (London: 1809), I, p. 115, and MO 809, Elizabeth (Robinson) Montagu to Anne Donnellan, Aug 21 1741.

(14) See, for example, Natalie Zemon Davies's groundbreaking The Return of Martin Guerre (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1983), or Jenny Uglow's The Lunar Men: The Friends Who Made the Future (London: Faber, 2002).

(15) Miles Ogborn, Global Lives: Britain and the World, 1550-1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008) and Linda Colley, The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh: A Woman in World History (London: Harper Collins, 2007).

(16) The Duchess of Portland's Museum, with an introduction by W. S. Lewis (New York: The Grolier Club, 1936), p. v.

(17) See Marcia Pointon, '"Surrounded with Brilliants": Miniature Portraits in Eighteenth-Century England', Art Bulletin, 83.1, March 2001, 48-71 (p. 63). See also her Strategies for Showing: Women, Possession, and Representation in English Visual Culture 1665-1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), and Gold Boxes and Miniatures of the Eighteenth Century, eds Serge Grandjean and others (London: National Trust and Office du Livre, 1975).

(18) For the significance of jewellery see Marcia Pointon, 'Women and their Jewels in Eighteenth-Century England', in Women and Material Culture, eds Jennie Bachelor and Cora Kaplan (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), pp. 11-30, and her major study, Brilliant Effects: Gems and Jewellery as Agency in History, Literature and the Visual Arts (Yale University Press, 2009).

(19) See Letters, ed. Matthew Montagu, I, p. 120, letter from Elizabeth Robinson to her sister, Sarah Robinson, Whitehall, 1740: 'I sat for my picture this morning to Zinck; I believe it will be like. I am in Anne Boleyn's dress.' In the original manuscript we can see her detailed instructions to her sister to send her fabrics for her costume (omitted by Mathew Montagu in his edition): 'I sat for my picture to Zinx this morning I believe it will be like I am in Anna Bullen's dress. I desire you to send me up my work'd facing & robing my point some lutestring the Cambrick for my ruffles which was taken by mistake & if there is enough of my Chints it w be better than white Callico because of the expense of washing I could face it with some painted Linnen pray let me have these things as soon as possible' (MO 5526 A, Elizabeth (Robinson) Montagu to Sarah (Robinson) Scott, May 29 1740, London).

(20) MO 1002, Elizabeth (Robinson) Montagu to William and Grace (Robinson) Freind, June 24 1740, Bulstrode.

(21) The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, ed. Lady Llanover [first series], 3 vols (London: Richard Bentley, 1861), I, pp. 28-29.

(22) The Autobiography, ed. Llanover [first series], II, pp. 231-33.

(23) The Autobiography, ed. Llanover [first series], II, p. 233.

(24) See Harcstarck Myers, The Bluestocking Circle, Chapter 1.

(25) I am grateful to Clare Barlow for this information.

(26) The Autobiography, ed. Llanover [first series], III, pp. 175-76.

(27) The Autobiography, ed. Llanover [first series], III, p. 176.

(28) The editor of Delany's letters, her descendant Lady Llanover, adds a note explaining that Lady Andover's collage 'is still uninjured, though 108 years old, and is in the Editor's possession in the frame here described. The cutting is more delicate than the finest lace.' See The Autobiography, ed. Llanover [first series], III, p. 176.

(29) The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs. Delany, ed. Lady Llanover [second series], 3 vols (London: Richard Bentley, 1862), III, p. 484.

(30) The Autobiography, ed. Llanover [second series], III, p. 487.

(31) See Ruth Hayden, Mrs Delany: Her Life and Flowers (London: British Museum Press, 1980), p. 168

(32) Marcel Mauss, The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, trans. W. D. Halls, foreword by Mary Douglas (London: Routledge, 1990), p. vii. Mauss's book was first published in French in 1950.

(33) All the Works of Epictetus, which are now Extant; Consisting of His Discourses, preserved by Arrian, in Four Books, The Enchiridion, and Fragments. Translated from the Original Greek, With an Introduction, and Notes, by the Translator (London: Printed by S. Richardson, 1758).

(34) A Dialogue on Friendship and Society, by the Translator of the Life of Petrarch (London: T. Beckett, 1777), p. iii.

(35) Thoughts on Friendship, By way of Essay; For the Use and Improvement of the Ladies by a Well-Wisher to her Sex (London: J. Roberts, 1725), p. 11.

(36) See Mary Astell: A Serious Proposal to the Ladies: Parts I andII, ed. Patricia Springborg (Ontario: Broadview Press, 2002). Astell's Proposal was first published in London, 1694 and went through four new editions by 1701. For a comparison of four eighteenthcentury utopian novels, see Ruth Perry, 'Bluestockings in Utopia', in History, Gender and Eighteenth-Century Literature, ed. Beth Fowkes Tobin (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1994) pp. 159-78. See also Mary Peace, '"Epicures in Rural Pleasure": Revolution, Desire and Sentimental Economy in Sarah Scott's Millenium Hall', Women's Writing, 9.2 (2002), 305-15.

(37) A Description of Millenium Hall, ed. Gary Kelly (Ontario: Broadview Literary texts, 1995), p. 111.

(38) As Joanna Devereux has recently pointed out, Elstob was an admirer of the works of Mary Astell and it is arguable that she would have discussed Astell's work with the Duchess of Portland and her friends. See 'A Paradise Within? Mary Astell, Sarah Scott and the Limits of Utopia', Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 32.1 (March, 2009), 53-68.

(39) See Sherry B. Ortner, 'Is Female to Male as Nature is to Culture?', in Woman, Culture, and Society, eds M. Z. Rosaldo and L. Lamphere (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1974), pp. 68-87, and Ludmilla Jordanova, 'Natural Facts: A Historical Perspective on Science and Sexuality', in Nature, Culture and Gender, eds Carol P. MacCormack and Marilyn Strathern (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), pp. 42-70.

(40) Mary Wollstonecraft, The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, eds Marilyn Butler and Janet Todd (London: Pickering and Chatto, 1989) VII, p. 322. For critical biographies of Madame de Sevigne, see Anne Thackeray, Madame de Sevigne (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1881) and Charles G. S. Williams, Madame de Sevigne (Boston: Twayner Publishers, 1981).

(41) See Bruce Redford, The Converse of the Pen: Acts of Intimacy in the Eighteenth-Century Familiar Letter (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1986).

(42) For an invaluable and comprehensive 'cultural poetics' of letter-writing, see Clare Brant, Eighteenth-Century Letters and British Culture (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).

(43) Compare, for example, Catharine Macaulay's Letters on Education (1790) with Elizabeth Griffith's Letters between Henry and Frances (1757).

(44) A collection of over 6000 letters between Elizabeth Montagu and her circle, held by the Library in California, gives invaluable insight into the various modes of bluestocking sociability. For a succinct overview of the history and provenance of the collection, see Mary L. Robertson, 'The Elizabeth Robinson Montagu Collection at the Library', Library Quarterly, 65.1-2 (2002), 21-23 (p. 21).

(45) MO 403, Elizabeth (Robinson) Montagu to Margaret Cavendish (Harley), after Bentinck, Duchess of Portland, July 2 1746, Dover Street, London.

(46) MO 280, Elizabeth (Robinson) Montagu to Margaret Cavendish (Harley), after Bentinck, Duchess of Portland, August 15 1739, Canterbury.

(47) MO 277 A, Elizabeth (Robinson) Montagu to Margaret Cavendish (Harley), after Bentinck Duchess of Portland, July 18 1739, Horton, Kent.

(48) MO 296 A, Elizabeth (Robinson) Montagu to Margaret Cavendish (Harley), after Bentinck, Duchess of Portland, April 8 1741, Horton, Kent.

(49) MO 246, Elizabeth (Robinson) Montagu to Margaret Cavendish (Harley), after Bentinck, Duchess of Portland, Oct 20 1734, Horton, Kent.

(50) For example, after joking about her step-grandfather's scholarly ambitions she wrote to the Duchess of Portland, 'Pray burn this letter it might be of very bad and terrible consequence to have it thrown about' (MO 300, Elizabeth (Robinson) Montagu to Margaret Cavendish (Harley), after Bentinck, Duchess of Portland, May 13 1741, Horton, Kent).

(51) MO 246, Elizabeth (Robinson) Montagu to Margaret Cavendish (Harley), after Bentinck, Duchess of Portland, Oct 20 1734, Horton, Kent.

(52) MO 4061, Elizabeth Montagu to Sir William Weller Pepys, Nov 16 1780, Bath.

(53) MO 5875, Elizabeth Montagu to Sarah Scott, 25 January 1768.

(54) MO 176, Margaret Cavendish (Harley), Duchess of Portland to Elizabeth (Robinson) Montagu, June 30 1738, Bulstrode.

(55) MO 297, Elizabeth (Robinson) Montagu to Margaret Cavendish (Harley) Bentinck, Duchess of Portland, May 5 1741, Horton, Kent.

(56) MO 282, Elizabeth (Robinson) Montagu to the Duchess of Portland, Sep 19 1739,

Hatchlands, Kent.

(57) MO 317, Elizabeth (Robinson) Montagu, to Margaret Cavendish (Harley) Bentinck, Duchess of Portland, Jan 27 1741/2.

(58) See Mrs Montagu, 'Queen of the Blues': Her Letters and Friendships from 1762 to 1800, ed. Reginald Blunt, 2 vols (London: Constable, 1923), II, p. 202.

(59) MO 3517, Elizabeth Montagu to Elizabeth Carter, September 25 1781, Sandleford, Berkshire.

(60) MO 2975, Elizabeth Montagu to Elizabeth Charlton Montagu, December 17 1788.

(61) MO 6118, Elizabeth Montagu to Sarah Scott, October 27 1785, Sandleford.

(62) Gentleman'sMagazine, 58 (June 1788), p. 542. Cowper wrote his poem 'On Mrs Montagu's Feather Hangings' in the hope of attracting 'Minerva's' attention. She later supported the publication of his translation of the Iliad, adding her name to the list of subscribers and sending the poet a warm letter of encouragement.

(63) MO 156, James Barrington to Elizabeth Montagu, December 16 1790, Oxford.

(64) MO 3686, Elizabeth Montagu to Elizabeth Carter, June 1791, Portman Square.

(65) MO 317, Elizabeth Montagu to Margaret Cavendish Bentinck, Duchess of Portland, January 27 1741/2, See also Matthew Montagu, ed., 4 vols, The Letters of Mrs Elizabeth Montagu (London, 1809-13), II, pp. 134-35.

(66) 'Mary Delany: Epistolary Utterances, Cabinet Spaces, & Natural History', in Mrs Delany andHer Circle, eds Mark Laird and Alicia Weisberg-Roberts (New Haven: Yale Centre for British Art and Sir John Soane's Museum in association with Yale University Press, 2009), pp. 130-49 (p. 136).

(67) The Duchess of Portland's Museum; and A Catalogue of the Portland Museum, lately the property of The Duchess Dowager of Portland, Deceased: Which will be sold by auction by Mr. Skinner and Co. On Monday the 24th of April, 1786, and the thirty-seven following days, at twelve o'clock, Sundays and the 5th of June, (the Day his Majesty's Birth-Day is kept) excepted, at her late dwelling-house, in Privy-Garden, Whitehall, by order of the acting executrix. To be viewed Ten Days preceding the Sale (London, 1786).

(68) See Alexandra Cook, 'Botanical Exchanges: Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Duchess of Portland', European History of Ideas, 33.2 (2007), 142-56.

(69) The Autobiography, ed. Llanover [second series], I, p. 371.

(70) The Autobiography, ed. Llanover [second series], I, pp. 371-72.

(71) There has been renewed interest in Delany's botanical work in recent years. For an interesting study of the 'queer' resonances of Delany's work, see Lisa Moore, 'Queer Gardens: Mary Delany's Flowers and Friendships', Eighteenth-Century Studies, 39.1 (2005), 49-70. For the broader cultural context of Delany's work see Charlotte Grant's anthology, Flora, vol 4 of Literature and Science, 1660-1834, gen. ed. Judith Hawley, 4 vols (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2003), particularly her 'Introduction', pp. ix-xxiv. Unfortunately the catalogue to a forthcoming exhibition on Delany's art had not yet been published at the time of completing this article: Mrs Delany andHer Circle, eds Laird and Weisberg-Roberts.

(72) Delany's paper cuts can be viewed electronically via the freely accessible British Museum's research database: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/search_the_collection_ database.aspx.

(73) The Autobiography, ed. Llanover [second series], III, p. 95.

(74) Hayden, Mrs Delany, p. 146.

(75) The Autobiography, ed. Llanover [second series], III, p. 97.

(76) See Hayden, Mrs Delany, Chapters 7 and 8.

(77) The Autobiography, ed. Llanover [first series], II, pp. 231-33; see n. 22, above.

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