Eighteenth-Century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology

By Roger Lonsdale | Go to book overview

MARY, LADY CHUDLEIGH (née LEE) (1656-1710)

She was the daughter of Richard Lee of Winslade, Devon. In 1674, at the age of 17, she married George Chudleigh, the 30-year-old son of Sir George Chudleigh of Ashton in Devon to whose baronetcy he succeeded in 1691. She had two sons, the elder of whom became the 3rd baronet in 1719, and a daughter, Eliza Maria, whose early death she laments in one of her poems. Although she corresponded with Mary Astell, John Norris of Bemerton, and Elizabeth Thomas (see nos. 24-32), she evidently led a lonely life in Devon. She admired Astell's early feminist writings and addressed a poem 'To Almystrea' (an anagram of her name). Influenced by Astell's Some Reflections on Marriage ( 1700), she published The Ladies Defence ( 1701), the prefatory address to which was signed 'M -- y C ---- ', in response to The BrideWomans Counsellor ( 1699), a sermon preached at a wedding at Sherborne by the Nonconformist John Sprint, which advocated the total subordination of women to their husbands. Her poem is a verse-debate in which Melissa argues vigorously about female education, male attitudes, and the duties of a wife with three variously prejudiced men, representative of those who, according to her preface, had 'express'd an ill-natur'd sort of Joy' at seeing women ridiculed by Sprint.

The Ladies Defence was admired by Elizabeth Thomas, who addressed a poem to her and corresponded with her for some years. As she explained to Thomas in October 1701, 'I was troubl'd to see [women] made the Jest of every vain Pretender to Wit, and expos'd by a Scurrilous Pamphlet, rather than a Sermon, to the Malicious Censures of invidious Detracters, of Men, who think they cannot be obedient Wives, without being Slaves, nor pay their Husbands that Respect they owe them, without sacrificing their Reason to their Humour'. She was diffident about her literary abilities and urged Thomas to 'undertake the Quarrel, and do us Justice'. She also complained that interference by the printer had rendered her preface incoherent. In a later letter, inviting Thomas to visit her in Devon, she referred to the 'rough and unpolished life' at Ashton. Her Poems on Several Occasions appeared in 1703, her preface explaining that they were 'the employment of my leisure hours, the innocent amusements of a solitary life'. Letters to Elizabeth Thomas in the same year confirm that 'the great Part of my Time is spent in my Closet; there I meet with nothing to disturb me, nothing to render me uneasy; I find my Books and my Thoughts to be the most agreeable Companions'. Without them, 'perhaps I should have been as unhappy as any of my Sex. Later she stated that 'Life is what I have for many Years had no reason to be fond of, and a Grave has appeared to me the happiest and best Asylum'. The Ladies Defence was added without her permission to the second edition of her Poems ( 1709; later editions, 1713, 1722, 1750), as she complained in her Essays upon Several Subjects in Verse and Prose ( 1710), a collection of pious and moral writings.

She died at Ashton in 1710, 'having long laboured under the pains of a rheumatism, which had confined her to her chamber a considerable time before her death'. She left some unpublished plays and translations. Verses in her memory were published by Elizabeth Thomas and Martha Sansom (see nos. 59-63), and short accounts of her appeared later in Ballard Memoirs ( 1752), Shiells' Lives of the Poets ( 1753), and Poems by Eminent Ladies ( 1755).

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Eighteenth-Century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Eighteenth-Century Women Poets i
  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements v
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction xxi
  • Mary, Lady Chudleigh (née Lee) (1656-1710) 1
  • Sources and Notes 515
  • Index of Titles and First Lines 541
  • Index of Authors 554
  • Index of Selected Topics 556
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