Mary Scott (1751–93)

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


Mary Steele’s life and poetry may have been veiled by anonymity and obscurity, but Mary Scott and her major poems, The Female Advocate (1774) and Messiah (1788), have been known for more than two centuries. Nevertheless, Scott’s identity and biography have likewise suffered from misidentification and numerous inaccuracies. Commentators on Scott have relied heavily on information taken from nine letters by Anna Seward (1747–1809) to Scott and one by Seward to her friend William Hayley, all composed between 1786 and 1793 and published in Archibald Constable’s six-volume edition of The Letters of Anna Seward (1811).1 Seward’s letters provide important background about Scott’s reading and literary interests, as well as her health, courtship, and marriage to John Taylor (1752–1817), but Seward’s assertion to Hayley on May 10, 1788, that Scott’s “Father was a Clergyman of the Church of England” (NWW 4: 290) set later commentators on an erroneous path. In the mid-1980s, nearly two hundred years after her death, when Gae Holladay and Moira Ferguson began the pioneering work of resurrecting Mary Scott as a significant eighteenth-century feminist writer, they still used Seward’s letters as a starting point for Scott’s life. To Holladay, Mary Scott was, like Seward, an Anglican Bluestocking “enjoying a literary life among a small circle, composing poems for private circulation or subscription publication, contributing to miscellany volumes … overseeing editions of [her] works, or contributing poems to one of many editions of Poems by Eminent Ladies (1755) or Dodsley’s Collection of Poems (1748)” (iii–iv).


Female Friendship Woman Writer Literary Circle Subscription Publication Divine Grace 
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© Timothy Whelan 2015

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