London: Printed for J. Dodsley... 1769. First edition. Some rubbing to spine and extremities, as usual. Red speckled edges. Marbled endpapers. Ink signature of a James Ford (1849) to preliminary blank, along with a quote by William Cowper copied out in ink. Aside from some toning to first few leaves, a remarkably clean and fresh copy. Correspondence between Montagu and James Beattie also transcribed in ink onto two terminal blanks (probably by Ford). A very good, bright, and attractive copy of this work by one of the most important woman critics of her day. Contemporary calf. Gilt spine with red morocco label. Octavo. , 288 pp. Item #17000
A widely-read and respected critical work on Shakespeare by the eminent Bluestocking Elizabeth Montagu (1720 – 1800), which she wrote in response to Voltaire’s contemptuous references to Shakespeare. Her friend, Samuel Johnson, was said to have disliked it, though the essay had unequivocal admirers in Joshua Reynolds, Lyttleton, Thomas Warton, and Lord Greville. Cowper wrote of it: “I no longer wonder that Mrs. Montagu stands at the head of all that is called learned, and that every critic veils his bonnet to her superior judgement…The learning, the good sense, the sound judgement, and the wit displayed in [the Essay] fully justify not only my compliment, but all compliments that either have been already paid to her talent or shall be hereafter,” (Hayley, Life of Cowper, quoted in Oxford DNB).
In the 1760s, Montagu and Elizabeth Vesey (1715 – 1791) began organizing the assemblies that would earn them renown as the “Queens” of the Bluestockings (ODNB). These assemblies offered a space for literary, philosophical, and artistic discussion for such figures as Elizabeth Carter, Anna Laetitia Barbauld, Sarah Fielding, Hannah More, Samuel Johnson, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Edmund Burke, David Garrick, James Beattie, and Horace Walpole.