Elizabeth Montagu (1718-1800) was famous in her lifetime as a Shakespeare critic, salon hostess and champion of women’s writing.
Christened “Queen of the Bluestockings” by Samuel Johnson, Montagu attracted the leading writers, politicians and artists of her day to her sparkling London assemblies, where she placed a new emphasis on conversation as a pleasurable and enlightened pursuit. Her guests included Joshua Reynolds, George, Lord Lyttelton, David and Eva Garrick, William Pulteney, Earl of Bath, Horace Walpole, Edmund Burke, Elizabeth Carter and Samuel Johnson, and later Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Hannah More and Fanny Burney.
In her richly decorated London homes, Montagu aimed to bring together sensual and intellectual pleasure, and to allow talents of many kinds to flourish. Her salon became sought out as a shrine that was supposedly free from the party politics that dominated court culture. Here Montagu nurtured a rising generation of metropolitan intellectuals, writers and artists. She was a public figure within eighteenth-century culture, whose achievements not only illuminate the history of several important aspects (and locations) of her age but also bring together a number of connected lives. She placed herself at the heart of several important networks of the age, with the ability to bestow favour in a regal manner.
As she wrote in a letter to her fellow bluestocking hostess Mrs Vesey in 1781,
We have lived with the wisest, the best, and the most celebrated men of our Times, and with some of the best, most accomplished, most learned Women of any times.
(MO 6566, Sep 21, 1781, Elizabeth Montagu to Elizabeth Vesey, Huntington Library).
Read more about eighteenth-century women’s writing at
The Material Culture of Eighteenth-Century Women’s Writing