Mary Steele (1753–1813) and the Call to Poetry

Part of the Nineteenth-Century Major Lives and Letters book series (19CMLL)


In 1843, John Holland, in The Psalmists of Britain, boasted, “There are few names of more certain occurrence in modern collections of Psalms and Hymns than that of Mrs. Steele—but still fewer, there is reason to believe, of whom less has been known, even by the majority of those persons who have adopted her compositions.” His reference is to Anne Steele (she never married, despite Holland’s use of “Mrs.”), whose poetry, he adds, “veiled under an assumed name [Theodosia], was comparatively unknown beyond the circle of her personal friends” (2: 223).1 Holland had only a slight understanding of the quality and breadth of the coterie of male and female writers surrounding Anne Steele. Otherwise, he would have known that she was neither “veiled” nor “unknown” in the second half of the eighteenth century, though by 1843 both her poetry and her literary circle were indeed not widely known. Holland’s information on Steele came mostly from Hugh Russell, the minister at the Broughton Baptist Church (1809–49) where the Steele family had worshiped since the late 1600s. Holland did discover one fact during his visit to Broughton that was not known in 1843 beyond the small “circle” familiar with the Steele family, and that was that Anne Steele was not the only talented poet to emerge from her family in the eighteenth century.


Eighteenth Century Female Friendship Baptist Church Female Advocate Natural Retreat 
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© Timothy Whelan 2015

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