Elizabeth Montagu
and the Bluestocking Circle
         is Funded by the AHRC

Research Blog Post 5 – 13.05.16

In accordance with my new resolution not to leave staggering gaps in this Blog and attempt to fill in months at a time, welcome to this new fixture, weekly updates at least once every two weeks, but hopefully every Friday, where I’ll  tell you a little bit about how the editorial work on the Montagu letters is going. I hope to have a letter a week under my belt, so there should be plenty to go on each time. This week’s letter (although really the last 2 weeks, it’s a long letter) is one from Montagu to the Scottish poet and essayist James Beattie (1735–1803). Montagu patronised Beattie, and assisted in collecting subscriptions for the publications of his Essays and poems. This letter, from 1774, describes her successes in eliciting support from notables such as the Archbishop of York and Provost of Eton, not only in subscribing themselves to Beatties Essays (1776), but in recommending subscription to others.  It is one of Montagu’s side points which I’d like to focus on for this blog entry, however.

In the second half of the letter, Montagu discusses A philosophical analysis and illustration of some of Shakespeare’s remarkable characters (1774), a philosophical and literary treatise by the Glaswegian Professor of Humanities William Richardson (1743–1814). Her review of it was less than glowing:

[Richardson] has sent me his analysis of the characters of Shakespear, it is not a work of criticism but of moral philosophy. He shews ye operations of ye passions by Shakespears characters, as some do ye effect of effect of distempers on ye parts of ye body by reading lectures over waxwork figures. I believe ye Doctor is very ingenious but I cannot accept of ye substitute he gives me for Creatures of Flesh & blood. He does not at all consider the characters in a dramatick light, & instead of comparing them with reality & imitation he makes them ye originals. I follow his character of Hamlet through 6 pages endeavouring to catch it as Macbeth does ye imaginary dagger, at last I abandond ye vision, weary of idle exercises, & to tell you ye truth, I have not opend ye book since.

What Montagu takes such exception to in Richardson’s analysis is the degree to which he uses Shakespeare’s characters as mere models upon which to base his moral philosophy and speculations. See this extract from within the 6 pages Montagu claims she gave up on, and see whether you agree with her:

In [Hamlet’s] first appearance, he discovers grief, aversion, and indignation. These emotions are in themselves indifferent: they are neither objects of censure nor of applause: They are of a secondary nature, and arise from some antecedent passion or affection. To judge, therefore, of their propriety, we must examine their motives, and the temper or state of mind that produces them. For we may grieve for the loss of a vitious gratification, no less than for those that are virtuous: And we may conceive aversion at worthy characters no less than at their opposites.

 (Richardson, A philosophical analysis and illustration of some of Shakespeare's remarkable characters, pp.89–90)

Montagu does appear to be right in diagnosing Richardson’s text as a work of philosophy rather than criticism, this introduction to Hamlet lays out a schema of emotions and their moral status, which will go on to be applied to the characters in Hamlet as a selection of case studies for his theory. Compare this with Montagu on Horatio’s response to the Ghost of Hamlet’s father:

At the solemn midnight hour, Horatio and Marcellus, the schoolfellows of young Hamlet, come to the sentinels upon guard, excited by a report that the ghost of their late monarch had some preceding nights appeared to them. Horatio, not being of the credulous vulgar, gives little credit to the story, but bids Bernardo proceed in his relation.


BERNARDO: Last night of all,

When yon same star, that's westward from the pole,

Had made his course t'illume that part of heav'n,

Where now it burns, Marcellus and myself,

The bell then beating one —


Here enters the ghost, after you are thus prepared. There is something solemn and sublime in thus regulating the walking of the spirit, by the course of the star: It intimates a connexion and correspondence between things beyond our ken, and above the visible diurnal sphere.

 (Montagu, Essay on Shakespeare, p.164)

Montagu’s focus is on the effect which Shakespeare’s poetry and stagecraft has on the audience, conveying meaning through the combination of characterisation, dramatic tension, and imagery. She sets the scene, establishes the relationships between the characters, and then deconstructs the impact of the bard’s lines on the emotions of the viewer. Her disagreement with Richardson’s philosophical, dehumanising reading of Shakespeare parallels her critique of Samuel Johnson (1709–1784), whom she also accuses of approaching the plays the wrong way. In a letter to her sister Sarah Scott (1720–1795) in 1766, she had criticised the preface to Johnson’s edition of Shakespeare:


[Johnson] appears to me extreamly deficient [in] his examen of the plays in which he neither enters into the conduct of the drama nor character of the persons in a critical manner, and sometimes ascribes things to them which seem to me totally unjust.

For Montagu, the ‘conduct of the drama’ is fundamental to an interpretation of Shakespeare’s characters and the overall meaning of his plays. Ignore the dramatic effect, and emotional impact on an audience, and you will misinterpret any other meaning the plays might contain!


Thank you for reading.










Jack Orchard Research Blog Post 4: April-March 2016 – Electronic Enlightenment 2


From late March to mid April this year I had my second round of Digital Humanities training at Electronic Enlightenment at the Bodleian. Where last time the primary focus was on getting me au fait enough with html to successfully tag Montagu letters  in accordance with the Electronic Enlightenment style sheet, and produce an accurate metadata inventory on Microsoft Excel, this time I was able to move on to the use of a mocked-up version of the EE inventory database itself on Filemaker Pro, inputting data, tagging, and annotating directly into the same interface that I will use online when I contribute directly to EE, alongside my fellow ERM Network members.


In addition to this I transcribed and annotated another whole block of material, identifying the key letters which will form the mini-edition for my PhD thesis, and annotating them in as much detail as I could. I also wrote a short miscellany for EE, on Visual Impairment in the Enlightenment, inspired by a letter which I transcribed from Anna Williams to Elizabeth Montagu, which discussed William’s failed application to the Rev. Hetherington’s Charity for the Blind in 1775. Click here for this Miscellany.


I was also given some more insight into the behind-the-scenes workings of EE, such as the use of html tags to aid future development of large-corpus data analysis, and the TIFFF functionality and tiling behind the image hosting facilities on the website.


By the end of my visit I was able to showcase one letter on a temporary preview of EE, complete with MS Image, editorial notes, glossary notes, textual notes, all fully hypertextual, for which I had participated in every stage from the letter’s existence as an untranscribed manuscript.


To make all this a bit more comprehensible, I’ll go through the process for the letter I focused on for my showcase.




The letter that I focused on was one from Elizabeth Montagu to Lady Mary Catherine Knollys, Viscountess Wallingford, (C.1711-1790) from the 21st of February 1742. A lesser-known member of the Duchess of Portland’s Bullstrode Circle, Lady Wallingford was the illegitimate daughter of the noted financier John Law (bap. 1671, d. 1729) (ODNB – John Law). She makes a relatively slight appearance in the Montagu corpus overall, with only 8 letters appearing in the Catalogue for the Elizabeth Montagu Collections at the Huntington, and a scattering of published and unpublished letters elsewhere. The scarcity of letters between her and Montagu is a shame, as this letter reveals the young Elizabeth to have had a warm, intellectually playful friendship with her in her youth, very much like the friendship she had with the Duchess of Portland herself.  The letter I have been examining is primarily a discussion of the   political fervour sweeping the country after the removal of Walpole earlier that month. After the usual apologies for delayed letters, Montagu gives a spirited catalogue of satirical figures responding to the political crisis, before engaging a little London Beau Monde gossip from the safety of her Kentish home of Mount Morris.



I think I covered most of the specifics on metadata when I last discussed it. Here the main tasks were first identifying the recipient of the letter, and then writing in the updated xl/xp tags for advanced searchability by future researchers and the respective notecalls for editorial, textual, and glossary annotations. xl/xp span tags were written into the letter to identify names of people,  (with span names indicating that persons formal name as in an EE bio), and locations, meaning that if someone in future were to conduct a large corpus search into the use of particular name forms , for example, then the database would be able to recognise names as such. Editorial and Textual notes I had used before, but glossary notes were a new discovery, flagged up in the text by this symbol (¤). Other than this, and a new run of mistakes to be corrected (ps inside spans, double spacing within tags, etc.) this process went ahead as smoothly as last time.  



This was the fun part, naturally. With my new found enthusiasm for hypertexts, and appreciation for the scale of the EE enterprise when it comes to binding digital resources together, I approached the notes.


3a – Textual Notes: These were not the most earth shatteringly exciting part of the editorial process, but as with everything on EE, the primary focus was consistency and usefulness. Every time there was a hole in the page, or a reading that was in any way conjectural due to missing letters, I was to identify the inserted text as an editorial comment, and include a textual note detailing why there was missing text.


3b – Glossary Notes: Engaging deeply with the meanings of the complex or technical terminology Montagu used in this letter revealed not only the degree to which she was already, at the age of 21, constructing a vocabulary from a wide variety of different sources, and constantly playing with puns and alternating meanings, but also (and this is something I’m increasingly encountering in 18th Century women’s letters as a whole) the degree to which the mid-18th century represents a period of general lexical flux. I gave glosses for four words in this letter. ‘Remove’, ‘Sauce Robert’, ‘Salmigondi’, and ‘Pigmy’. ‘Sauce Robert’ was a fairly uncomplicated definition, although Montagu’s use of the term, to describe a Patriot’s outrage at being offered a French sauce, is amusing. ‘Remove’ is a little more complex. Montagu is using the term in the context of dining ‘ordered a Remove’. However,  the reference to ‘a Remove’, seems to indicate that the conventional definition, of the ‘Remove’ being the period of time during which the crockery of one course were removed to make the way for the next, is not quite appropriate. Montagu’s usage appears to exist between an earlier definition, in which a Remove was a dish itself to be brought between courses, and the act of replacing the tableware. Her usage is further complicated by the fact that she is also alluding to the political meaning of ‘Remove’, I.e. removal from office, which had taken place in the case of Robert Walpole shortly before this letter was written. ‘Salmigondi’ too, dances between its earlier meaning, literally a type of stew, and its later meaning, of a general mixture. Montagu refers to ‘an Enemy to a coalition of parties would not touch so undistinguish’d a mixture as a salmigondi’. Interestingly, the figurative meaning of salmigondi, which obviously resonates beneath Montagu’s satirical image, is first identified by the OED in 1761, meaning that her usage precedes it by 20 years. 


3c – Editorial Notes:  Editorial Annotations on this letter, of which there were 12, ranged from simple identifications of other figures in Electronic Enlightenment through links to their extant Electronic Enlightenment Biographies, as in the case of the Duchess of Portland, Margaret Cavendish Bentinck, to long and complicated hypertextual annotations drawing in multiple resources from various locations. I’ll include one of these in full, just to give an idea of what I did. This is in response to a reference to the Aegean Stables:


In Greek mythology the fifth of the twelve tasks assigned to Hercules by King Eurystheus was the cleaning of the stables of King Aegeus in a single day, in exchange for a tithe of his cattle. Aegeus owned a legendarily large amount of livestock, so clearing out their accumulated dung in a single day would have been a superhuman feat. Hercules was able to achieve it only by redirecting a river to pass through the stables.

 For more information see the following from the Perseus Digital Library:

        • Pseudo-Apollodorus, Library. The copytext for this edition is Apollodorus, The Library, with an English Translation by Sir James George Frazer, F.B.A., F.R.S. in 2 Volumes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921 (includes Frazer's notes).


        • Pausanias, Description of Greece. The copytext for this edition is Pausanias, Description of Greece with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, M.A., in 4  Volumes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1918.


One of the ideas which I have taken most to heart in this visit to EE has been the prospect that people approaching my letter will be doing so from a wide variety of different angles, and that my annotations should reflect this. Given my background in literature, I have a general idea of what the Aegean stables refer to, but someone coming across this letter from a background in political history, for example, may not, so the notes should be as inclusive as possible, and by linking through to other resources, I am able to invite them to continue their investigation. It’s like being able to have the entire internet as appendices to my letter edition. The hyperlinks did provide one of the most significant object lessons for me, however. Links between websites are notoriously unstable, if the slightest thing changes in the destination website, a link can go dark and be useless. In order to combat this, I was always looking for, if possible, Digital Object Identifiers, which are maintained by a third party, guaranteeing that the link will always take the user to the object that has been identified. (EE & the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography both use these) Failing this, websites often identify their own stable links (as was the case here with the Perseus Digital Library), and at the last resort, urls with as little extraneous detail at the end as possible. See this google books  link for example, to the 1772 edition of Montagu’s Essay on Shakespeare:








This would be completely inappropriate as a hyperlink anchor. All of this -




genius%20of%20shakespeare&f=false  -

just identifies that I have searched for the title of the book, making it extraneous to linking to the book itself, and destabilising the link, should there be any change in the search function of Google, the whole link will collapse because of detail you didn’t need anyway.

This section - &pg=PA283& - identifies the page number found (in my case an arbitrary page with the title of the book at the top) also extraneous and therefore potentially destabilising. An appropriate link to the book would be this:




which as you can see, works fine:


Montagu’s Essay on Shakespeare, 1772





The next stage after all the notes, metadata, and transcription were imported into the database was the uploading of the letter image itself. In order to enable detailed investigation of letter documents (along with maps, and any other images which are hosted on the site) EE utilises a system of tiling, whereby the image is broken down into a cross section of small squares, which are then themselves broken down as well, etc. etc. until the image consists of hundreds of squares at various levels of magnification. This means that rather than loading the entire image, and only displaying a small selection when one zooms in, the website only hosts the relevant panel, at the relevant  zoom, and thus loads faster. What is more, this tiling structure allows for the retrieval of image fragments from multiple sources. At this stage the Montagu project’s images are all in one location, but as the project develops, there is the possibility of multiple fragmentary MS images arising in different sources, which can, with this system, be pulled together into a composite image, existing nowhere else but on EE.




This has been a rather more detailed breakdown of the editing experience than I had planned, but (and I know I said this before), but hopefully my next post will come rather sooner, and there will be less need for such length.
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Bluestocking Circle

The Bluestocking Circle was a group of writers, artists and thinkers who met in the London homes of Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Vesey and Frances Boscawen. These fashionable hostesses invented a new kind of informal sociability and nurtured a sense of intellectual community. The term "bluestocking" evolved from the scholar Benjamin Stillingfleet's decision to abandon formal evening dress and obey Vesey's call to "Come in your blue stockings." Guests included the leading literary, political and cultural figures of the day, including Elizabeth Carter, Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, David and Eva Garrick and later Hannah More and Frances Burney.

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