- The Letters of Sarah Scott ed. by Nicole Pohl
Scholars interested in the Bluestockings have long awaited these volumes of letters by Sarah Scott (1721–1795), the first author to articulate fully what Gary Kelly has called the “Bluestocking programme” of social reform. Scott for the most part lived a retired rural life, but she was connected to important sociocultural networks through her established family and powerful friends and was therefore well positioned to comment on social, cultural, and political events, as well as to critique social mores and gender roles. She created a multifaceted and integrated utopian vision in her popular novels Millenium Hall of 1762 (edited by Gary Kelly for Broadview Press, 1995) and its sequel The History of Sir George Ellison of 1766 (ed. Betty Rizzo, University of Kentucky Press, 1996). The Letters of Sarah Scott, carefully edited by Nicole Pohl and spanning Scott’s entire adult life, offers scholars a window on the simultaneously personal and political sources of her published contributions to early British feminism, women’s history, and Enlightenment reform discourses, even as the correspondence provides a lively idea of an uncommon woman’s country life in the second half of the eighteenth century. Here we view the quotidian origins of reformist ideas.
To begin, Pohl has discovered and published the first pictures we have of Sarah Scott, who until now was known only by the orderly penmanship of her manuscript letters or by the published works themselves. Volume 1 opens with an Edward Haytley portrait of Scott in her twenties, seated, fashionably attired, looking confidently at the viewer and holding a book; this picture is followed a few pages later with a family conversation piece: Scott and her sister Elizabeth Montagu stand on either side of Montagu’s seated husband Edward, outdoors at the Montagus’ Sandleford Priory estate. Well-dressed servants in the background appear to be making hay, and an attendant in the foreground responds to a gesture by Elizabeth, who clearly runs a tidy, well-organized, peaceable operation.
The handsome volumes consist of an introduction, an explanation of “editorial principles,” a bibliography, and then four sections of letters organized chronologically: “Adolescence and Marriage 1740/1–52”; “A Literary and Charitable Life 1753–65”; “A Nomadic Life 1765–84”; and “Final Years in Norfolk 1785–95.” After presenting the 396 letters, Pohl offers a full calendar of the correspondence—a crucial feature, since many of the manuscript letters were saved and numbered out of chronological order. Pohl has painstakingly classified and arranged them, based on internal and biographical evidence. The culminating index is clear and extremely useful.
The edition offers us the fullest biography we have of Scott to date: it begins with Pohl’s introduction, continues in the prefaces launching each of the four sections of the letters, and moves on into the detailed footnotes to the letters themselves. This biographical material helpfully situates Scott’s literary and philanthropic activities among historical events and the endeavors of family members and friends. Relationships, blood ties, chronologies, and geography, some of which have hitherto remained obscure, are explicated at the outset and extensively in the notes; the mystery of Scott’s 1752 separation from her husband of a few months, George Lewis Scott, for example, is elucidated to the extent possible, given the meager available evidence. Pohl also explains the organization and financing of Scott’s [End Page 543] utopian Hitcham experiment (1767–68), modeled on the project depicted in Millenium Hall, and proffers likely reasons for its dissolution. Scott’s correspondence is discussed in the introduction as an example of eighteenth-century epistolarity more generally and as a means of clarifying the networks that developed among the Bluestockings. Sadly for us, Scott’s request that her executor and niece Mary Arnold destroy her letters upon her death was respected; consequently, the great majority of missives we read have come from one source: the collection of Elizabeth Montagu, the enterprising Bluestocking hostess, who evidently did not share her sister’s anxiety about the consequences...