Calling prospective Postdoctoral Research Associates: ‘Networking Archives’ Project

For those who missed the initial announcement (or for those who did not but would appreciate a reminder), it is worth noting that just two weeks remain until the closing date for applications for a post-doctoral position with the AHRC-funded project ‘Networking Archives: Assembling and analysing a meta-archive of correspondence, 1509–1714‘.

Launched just a year ago and led by Professor Howard Hotson (PI, University of Oxford), Professor Ruth Ahnert (Co-I, Queen Mary University of London), and Dr Sebastian Ahnert (Co-I, University of Cambridge), this exciting initiative involves working with metadata taken from a combination of the correspondence to be found in the Tudor and Stuart State Papers (courtesy of Gale Cengage Learning and the State Papers Online) and relevant correspondence within the union catalogue Early Modern Letters Online. The project team, of which the post-doctoral research associate will form an integral part, is combining quantitative network analysis with a traditional research approach to investigate the ways in which ‘intelligence’—both of a political and of a scholarly nature—was communicated. The successful applicant will be based in Oxford for eighteen months and will work under the guidance of Professor Howard Hotson to ‘study the intersection of political and intellectual ‘intelligencing’ in mid-seventeenth-century England, with particular reference to the genesis of the English half of the “circle” documented in the papers of Samuel Hartlib’.

Unlike the early modern employers authoring or receiving many of the letters with which members of the project team are working at present, those on the selection panel do not expect relatives to write with requests for the position on an applicant’s behalf, nor are petitions welcome . . . and as for ‘presents’ delivered in expectation of appointment, well, they’re also a straight ‘no’—no ginger, no wine, no oranges, no duck, no venison, no Dutch cheese, and no promise of significant financial return from a future venture! (These are just a few of the fascinating seventeenth-century recruitment bribes glimpsed recently during the disambiguation work on the Stuart State Papers metadata.)

However, scholars wishing to know more about the position will find further details on the Networking Archives project News page, and may download full details of the posting and the application process. Applications for the post should be uploaded online by 12.00 noon on 14 October 2019.

Details of letters in the Stuart State Papers, The National Archive UK, SP 29/408, fl. 13 and SP 29/166, f. 45. (Images courtesy of Gale State Papers Online)


A Call for Papers: ‘Between the Labyrinth and the Way of Light—Early Modern Metaphors of Knowledge and Johannes Amos Comenius’

A call for papers has been issued by the Department of Comenius Studies at the Institute of Philosophy, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague, for an international conference entitled ‘Between the Labyrinth and the Way of Light: Early Modern Metaphors of Knowledge and Johannes Amos Comenius’. Scheduled to run between 30 September and 3 October 2020, this conference will take place at the Institute of Philosophy, where it will be organized and hosted by the Department of Comenius Studies together with the German Historical Institute Warsaw. Keynotes will be delivered by Professor Paula Findlen (Stanford University) and Professor Howard Hotson (University of Oxford). Abstract proposals for papers should be submitted by 31 October 2019. Further details may be downloaded in a pdf format, or consulted below.

‘Between the Labyrinth and the Way of Light: Early Modern Metaphors of Knowledge and Johannes Amos Comenius’
30 September – 3 October 2020
Institute of Philosophy, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague
Organizer: Institute of Philosophy, Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague
Co-organizer: German Historical Institute Warsaw
Keynotes: Paula Findlen (Stanford), Howard Hotson (Oxford)
Abstract submission deadline: 31 October 2019

In his ‘baroque’ novel The Island of the Day Before, Umberto Eco devoted a chapter to a debate about metaphors. A learned Jesuit, Padre Emanuele, praises metaphors as ‘the most acute and farfetched among Tropes’, as the very quintessence of ingenium, which consists ‘in connecting remote Notions and finding Similitude in things dissimilar’ and produces Wonder, while enabling us to learn ‘new things without effort and many things in small volume’.

It is no coincidence that Eco attributes a keen interest in metaphors and their close connection with the field of knowledge to his seventeenth-century characters. His fiction reflects the early modern boom of practical and theoretical interest in metaphor as an effective, though in a certain sense problematical, instrument of the imagination. The entirety of early modern scholarly discourse is imbued with a multitude of metaphors that denote different segments of the culture of knowledge, involve various methods of its production, organization and administration, and help to capture the nature of the new knowledge and the meaning of new theories. The terms labyrinth, path, light, darkness, tree, gate, theatre, mirror, garden, and other metaphors are poetic, and at the same time cognitively effective, instruments for representing knowledge. However, the rhetorical nature of the metaphor made it also a subject of criticism. Many members of the early modern scholarly community dissociated themselves from the use of metaphors altogether and created an image of the new science as something separate, set at an ostentatious distance from such rhetorical figures. What emerges is a particular situation in which metaphors are simultaneously desired and not desired, and in which they function not only as an effective means of explicating knowledge and theories but also as a means of self-definition and self-presentation.

The aim of this conference is twofold. Its first purpose is to discuss and analyse metaphors representing scholarship, learning, and knowledge in early modern scholarly discourse. We would like to focus on their multiplicity, function, and ambivalent standing. A possible starting point is the well-known cognitive concept of metaphor according to which this trope is not only a linguistic adornment of poetic language but also an important tool of cognition. However, we do not want to prevent participants from using other interpretative frameworks; indeed, interdisciplinary approaches to the topic are highly encouraged.

As its second aim, the conference will focus on Johannes Amos Comenius and his works in order to mark the 350th anniversary of his death. Comenius, like his contemporaries, enjoyed making use of rich figurative language. In his texts he employed a number of metaphors through which he conceptualised knowledge, learning, memory, the universe, and other things. Some of his book titles are themselves metaphorical and indeed became emblematic (Theatrum/Amphitheatrum universitatis rerum, Via lucis, Lux in tenebris, Labyrinth of the World, Janua linguarum, Vestibulum latinae linguae). As the author of theoretical writings from the fields of poetics and rhetoric, he also dealt with the nature of metaphors and parables and their place in contemporary rhetoric.

We welcome contributions related to Comenius and/or to broader topics of early modern knowledge, focusing on the following thematic groups:

1) What do metaphors and the scholarly strategies which use or refuse them reveal about early modern cultures of knowledge? In what way are they connected with the systematisation of learning and its division into disciplines? Were metaphors universally shared in the common literary and scholarly space of the respublica litteraria or are they tied to specific social environments, scholarly networks, fields of knowledge, or languages?

2) To what extent do changes in the cultures of knowledge correlate with changes in using metaphors? Is there a tendency for figurative language to reaffirm established images (the continuity of medieval metaphors), or is it rather an instrument that creatively transforms models of thinking, producing new meanings for old metaphorics?

3) How does language react to a changing audience, to the emergence of new communication media and to the transformed functions of text in a society whose literateness is steadily increasing? And in what way do these developments prepare the ground for the use of figurative language in post-eighteenth-century discourses of knowledge?

4) Do metaphors function as an instrument for creating grand narratives? Do self-legitimation narratives, for instance, use specific figurative tools?

5) How does figurative language reflect denominational and religious differences? For example, does the extent, to which metaphor is used in the Catholic milieu and in the Protestant one, differ? Can such a comparison be valid in relation to Jewish or Muslim scholarly texts, if we know that different religious currents had radically different attitudes towards metaphorical/non-metaphorical interpretations of their sacred texts?

6) Early modern natural science discourse abounded in proclamations about the need to eliminate metaphors. To what extent are these bold statements connected with a departure from the tradition of philosophical rhetoric that was based on ancient philosophy? What was the relationship between these proclamations and new experimental practices?

7) Do new types of non-elitist knowledge related to crafts and arts produce new metaphors? And what place do these metaphors occupy in cultures of knowledge?

8) In general, what is the role of the construction of similarity and the transfer of meaning in the scholarly discourse of the 17th century? How is a metaphor (on the lexical level) connected with the construction of similarity on the syntactic level or even on the level of larger textual units?

9) How is the language of science used in other segments of early modern textuality? And particularly, in what way do early modern poetic and theological texts use ‘scientific’ metaphors?

10) How do metaphors of learning apply in early modern fine art, architecture, and festivities, and how can one study the relationship between their artistic and textual representation?

We also welcome case studies devoted to individual metaphors (such as cognition as light, ignorance as darkness, method as a path, lack of a system of information as a labyrinth) or to sets of metaphors in such fields as book printing, agriculture, craft, mechanics, optics, or cartography.

Conference fee: 50 EUR; 30 EUR for students.

An abstract (250–300 words) and a brief CV should be sent via email to the main organizers no later than 31 October 2019: Vladimír Urbánek (,  Lenka Řezníková (, and Petr Pavlas ( Applicants will be notified by 15 January 2020. The organizers plan to publish selected contributions in a peer-reviewed SCOPUS journal or edited volume.

New catalogues, new opportunities, and forthcoming work

With autumn approaching, followers of this blog might like to consider a small catalogue that slipped into EMLO while many were enjoying a summer vacation, that of the Socinian writer Martin Ruar [Ruarus] (1589–1657). Compiled from the metadata drawn from the edition published in 1681 by Ruar’s son David, this catalogue consists at present of records for one hundred letters and is a correspondence for which additional contributions would be welcome. Indeed, it is one of a number of ‘starter catalogues’ that will be listed shortly on EMLO as correspondences only partially collected thus far in the union catalogue which are ripe for expansion. Details concerning these catalogues will be set out in a future post. In the meantime, there is much to look forward to as a cluster of inventories takes shape for release, including a number of key history of science correspondences and a selection of scholarly, theological, and neo-Latin catalogues.

Whilst writing of opportunities, I should like also to draw attention to two post-doctoral openings being advertised at present with Cultures of Knowledge’s Networking Archives project. The closing date for applications for the Queen Mary University of London position is 23 September; for the Oxford University position it is 14 October. Details for both may be found available on the Networking archives website.

‘Vivre heureux’ et ‘faire des heureux’: the correspondence of Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d’Holbach

Who would not welcome a hearty dose of hope and of happiness? The work of the philosopher whose correspondence listing is the latest to be added to EMLO provides us with one potential path: ‘live happily’ and ‘make others happy’ were two tenets, according to Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d’Holbach (1723–1789), that individuals should keep close and hold dear.

Portrait of Charlotte Suzanne d’Aine (left) and Paul-Henri Thiry d’Holbach (right) by Louis Carmontelle. 1766. Water-colour. (Musée Condé, Chantilly; source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

The inventory of d’Holbach’s correspondence, released to coincide with ‘Enlightenment Identies’, the ISECS International Congress on the Enlightenment 2019, which took place earlier this month at the University of Edinburgh, has been compiled by Dr Ruggero Sciuto of Hertford College, Oxford. Together with the Voltaire Foundation, and with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Dr Sciuto is preparing a digital edition of the complete works of the German-born, but French-naturalized, philosopher. As work on the edition progresses and further letters come to light, this listing will be enlarged and the metadata in EMLO expanded and enhanced, and updates will be showcased in future posts on this blog.

Details of all the papers and round-tables that took place at the Congress in Edinburgh may be found online (where the eagle-eyed will spot an appearance by the Cultures of Knowledge project director Professor Howard Hotson, who took part in a discussion entitled ‘Expanding digital eighteenth-century studies’). And over the coming months, here at EMLO, we look forward to following the progress of the Digital D’Holbach project.

The humanist, biblical scholar, and hebraist Benito Arias Montano, and ‘Reassembling the Republic of Letters in the Digital Age’

As the volume describing the discussions and conclusions of the inter-disciplinary community drawn together under the aegis of the COST-funded ‘Reassembling the Republic of Letters‘ initiative is made available online,1 it is particularly fitting to celebrate in tandem the publication in EMLO of a correspondence catalogue for a Spanish humanist compiled by a scholar at the heart of this Action’s pan-European community. The inventory of the letters of Benito Arias Montano has been contributed to EMLO by Antonio Dávila Pérez, Professor of Latin Philology at the University of Cadiz and editor of the scholarly research project Benito Arias Montano: Epistolario.

‘Benito Arias Montano: Epistolario’, Univeristy of Cadiz. (See: <>)

This project, which focusses on Arias Montano’s correspondence and is working towards a complete edition, was founded in 1995 by Professor J. Gil and Professor J. M. Maestre Maestre, and it has been developed within the Research Group ‘Elio Antonio de Nebrija‘ at the University of Cadiz.

Benito Arias Montano (c. 1525/7–1598), a key figure in the religious and cultural history of the sixteenth century, is best known today for his editorial oversight of the Biblia Regia (often described as the ‘Antwerp Polyglot’), which was commissioned by Philip II from the printer Christophe Plantin. Amongst Arias Montano’s correspondents a number of key humanists are to be found, including Justus Lipsius, Carolus Clusius, Laevinus Torrentius, and Adrianus Junius, as well as Plantin himself. Professor Dávila Pérez proved an invaluable member of the scholarly community that engaged in the wide-ranging discussions held over the four years between 2014 and 2018 under the aegis of the COST ‘Reassembling the Republic of Letters’ Action, and his significant contribution to EMLO, which may be viewed now alongside growing clusters of Iberian correspondence metadata, is appreciated greatly.

A formal launch for the COST Action’s volume will showcase the fruits of these recent years of discussion and is being planned for October this year (details, when available, will be posted in a forthcoming blog). In the meantime, the volume has been made available online. Judging from conversations taking place in King’s College, Cambridge, this week at the Training School arranged by the Networking Archives project (in which, of course, both Cultures of Knowledge and EMLO both play crucial roles), the publication is proving indispensable already to those interested in the potential of transnational digital infrastructure to facilitate multilateral collaboration in the reassembly of scattered documentation. And, of course, metadata for this scattered documentation are precisely what scholars require to chart the shapes and patterns within the early modern scholarly communities we have under investigation.


  1. Howard Hotson and Thomas Wallnig, eds, Reassembling the Republic of Letters in the Digital Age: Standards, Systems, Scholarship (Göttingen, 2019). {See: <>)

SKILLNET project catalogues in EMLO: the scholars Willem Surenhuis and Adriaan Reland

As this post is written and released, the conference to which it refers is well underway and the launch of the catalogues with which it is concerned is due to take place this very afternoon. The conference in question, ‘The Mishnah in Early Modern Europe: Jewish Law for Christians and Jews‘ is the concluding event in a six-month international research project led by Piet van Boxel and Joanna Weinberg and based at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. On the concluding day of this conference, at 2.55 p.m. today, Dirk van Miert, the director of the SKILLNET project with which Cultures of Knowledge works in close partnership, will celebrate publication in EMLO of the metadata of two key scholarly correspondences: that of Guilielmus Surenhusius [Willem Surenhuis] (61 letters) and Adriaan Reland (212 letters).

Considerable team work has taken place to draw this metadata together, with Tobias Winnerling of the MSCA project ‘The Fading of Remembrance. Charting the process of getting forgotten within the humanities, 18th–20th centuries‘ contributing the calendar of correspondence for the Reland catalogue, which was in turn set out for upload to EMLO by SKILLNET team member Milo van der Pol, while Dirk van Miert, who has been in Oxford as a Polonsky Fellow for the past term based at St Anne’s College, has collated (with assistance once again from Milo back at ‘home base’ in Utrecht) the metadata for the correspondence of Surenhusius.

Would that there were a live stream for us to witness this launch (the grape vine has it that a red curtain is involved!). But given there is not, we urge followers of this blog to read the introductory pages to this brace of catalogues, to explore the correspondence metadata, and to follow the links provided therein to a range of relevant online resources, as well as to track the continuing and inspiring work in Utrecht of our partners at SKILLNET.


Exemplary collaboration: a new upload of metadata for the correspondence of Johannes Kepler

As we focus here in Oxford on work with the ARHC-funded Networking Archives project, it may seem as if the pace of the publication of catalogues in EMLO has slowed in recent months. Behind the scenes, however, the collation of epistolary metadata—both for fresh catalogues and for collaborative expansion of those in which basic metadata are already in place—continues unabated. At present we are working with colleagues at the Royal Society Library to publish in EMLO a listing of the Society’s incomparable Early Letters collection; we have in preparation correspondence calendars for a number of key early Fellows of the Royal Society, including Edmond Halley, John Locke, and Isaac Newton; we are collating metadata for the correspondences of certain peripheral figures within the circle of Samuel Hartlib; and we are working as proactively as ever with a wide range of partner scholars and projects.

The preparation of catalogues is not always as straightforward a task as those who have not tried their hand at it might think. It takes time to set out metadata for the letters and their associated people, places, repositories, shelfmarks, and bibliographic details in a format from which upload is possible. It takes time too to prepare records for the authors and recipients involved (and frequently the people mentioned), as well as for the places of origin and destination, identifying and attaching correctly those that exist in EMLO to the relevant letter and creating new people and place records for those entering the union catalogue for the first time. If a contributor is to conduct analysis on his or her data, and if the calendar is to be of use as a finding aid to researchers, this preparatory work cannot be rushed. Accuracy is key. The attachment of the wrong ‘John Smith’ as a letter’s author, or the wrong ‘Boston’ as a letter’s destination, for example, can create untold complications and confusion.

In this phase of the union catalogue’s development, we are delighted once again to be working with students, librarians, and scholars who volunteer to help, and we will be adding soon to the team page biographies for members of this flourishing and committed community. In addition, we shall be releasing a listing of early modern correspondences for which we are interested in compiling calendars and with which would welcome offers of help. While this list will include a number of correspondences already collected in modern editions, it will set out also a selection of ‘starter catalogues’ concerning early modern individuals for whom we have recorded already within EMLO a significant portion (but by no means the entirety) of his or her known correspondence, and on which further research and archival work is required. Some of these ‘starter catalogues’ might form the basis for a student research topic, and those in search of a ‘subject’ will be more than welcome to be in touch to discuss involvement. I shall write in detail about this scheme in a future post. In the meantime, should anyone find the prospect of working with letters appealing and be reading this blog as a potential volunteer, I’d like to suggest considering the catalogue of the correspondence of Johannes Kepler as an apposite example of how the contributions of scholars and students may be layered and brought together into a greater whole.

This past week has seen the release in EMLO of metadata based on the letters published in volume XVII of Max Caspar’s monumental edition of Kepler. Gesammelte Werke. The story of EMLO’s Kepler catalogue runs thus: whilst researching his Cambridge University Press monograph, Bearing the Heavens. Tycho Brahe and the Astronomical Community of the Late Sixteenth Century, Professor Adam Mosley assembled a significant quantity of metadata on astronomical correspondence from the later decades of the sixteenth and early years of the seventeenth centuries, including the basic metadata for the correspondence of Kepler. These metadata were, with the blessing of Professor Mosley, handed via EMLO to Dr Francesco Barreca of the Museo Galileo, Institute and Museum for the History of Science, Florence, for significant expansion. In particular, Dr Barreca focussed on the creation of abstracts, the addition of keywords, and links were inserted from each letter record to the Kommission zur Herausgabe der Werke von Johannes Kepler where, if users click on the relevant volume, a fully searchable PDF of the letter texts is available for download. Dr Barreca has identified also which letter was sent in reply to which, and this data (which cannot yet be set in place automatically in the union catalogue) will be added manually in the coming weeks by members of the wonderful EMLO volunteer team, who will be contributing thereby to this collaborative venture. When the work is complete, should scholars wish to make use of the data, I suggest they read one of Dr Barreca’s abstracts (that for the letter from Kepler to Wilhelm Schickard of 11 March 1618), bear in mind what it says, and write to us at EMLO!

And should anyone following this blog this wish to volunteer to work with EMLO, a universe of letters awaits …

Tycho Brahe and Johannes Keper, Hradčany, Prague. (Source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

‘Mijnheer ende broeder’: letters from Cornelis de Witt to his brother Johan

Once again the dedicated and industrious Johan de Witt project team, based at the Huygens ING in Amsterdam under the direction of Dr Ineke Huysman, has been hard at work, and the latest instalment of correspondence metadata to be added to the Johan de Witt catalogue in EMLO consists of a listing of four-hundred-and-twenty letters sent to Johan by his elder brother Cornelis de Witt (1623–1672). Publication of this section of the catalogue has been orchestrated to coincide with the opening of an exhibition on the De Witt brothers, De Gebroeders De Witt. Iconen van de Gouden Eeuw, at the Historisch Museum Den Briel.

At the heart of this exhibition, which has been guest curated by Dr Ronald Prud’homme van Reine, stands the gold and enamel goblet presented to Cornelis de Witt by the States of Holland in 1668. Created by Nicolaas Loockemans (d. 1673), this cup celebrates the actions of Cornelis in June of the previous year when he was selected to accompany Michiel de Ruyter in the infamous (in the Netherlands at least—it tends to be somewhat downplayed in this country) raid by the Dutch navy on the Medway. During this particularly embarrassing episode for the Stuart navy, the Dutch fleet sailed to the coast of Kent, captured the fort at Sheerness, breached the English defensive chainline across the estuary, made their way up the Medway to Chatham—where they burned or captured a number of ships—and left unscathed with both the fourth rate ship the ‘Unity’ (which had itself been captured from the Dutch just two years previously) and the English flagship the ‘Royal Charles’ in tow. (And, if you’re interested, do read about the subsequent fate of this symbolic prize as a tourist attraction!). The exhibition brings together a complementary selection of paintings, prints, drawings, medals, and portrait busts, and from a regional perspective considers the role of Cornelis as ‘ruwaard’ (prosecuting attorney) of Putten, the court for which was in Gervliet, just five kilometres from Brill.

As with all the correspondence published thus far in the Johan de Witt catalogue, users are able to follow the link provided in each individual letter record to a digitized image of the relevant manuscript. Access to these images is proving invaluable for scholars, and Dr Huysman, the Johan de Witt team, and the directors and heads of the Dutch libraries and archives involved are to be thanked and commended in equal measure for making this possible.

Detail of the goblet created by Nicolaas Loockemans and presented to Cornelis de Witt. (Musée national de Moyen Age-Musée de Cluny. Déposé au Musée du Louvre, OArt Paris. Photo © RMN-Grand Palais, Musée du Louvre/Jean-Gilles Berizzi.) The goblet is on display in the ‘De Gebroeders De Witt. Iconen van de Gouden Eeuw’ exhibition at the Historisch Museum Den Briel between 16 June and 8 September 2019.

Closing date reminder: Paris-Oxford Research Fellowship in Digital Humanities

A brief reminder for all who intend to apply for the three-year fully funded fellowship at the Sorbonne University (Paris, France) that the closing date is tomorrow, Friday, 14 June 2019. Applications should be sent to Alexandre Guilbaud ( For further details about the opportunity, please see the post published on this blog last April.

Un bref rappel à tous ceux qui ont l’intention de soumettre une candidature pour la bourse de recherche de trois ans à l’Université de la Sorbonne (Paris, France) que la date de clôture est demain, vendredi 14 juin 2019. Les candidatures doivent être envoyées à Alexandre Guilbaud ( Pour de plus amples renseignements sur cette opportunité, veuillez voir le post publié en avril dernier.

The life, the letters, and the legacy of Mary Wortley Montagu

Mary Wortley Montague was certainly not the first European to observe medical practices in Constantinople. Nor was she the first visitor in the city to arrange variolation against smallpox for a child (her own son, Edward Wortley Montagu the younger). But she is thought to have been the first to encourage the practice when she returned to London, enabling the procedure to be carried out on a second child (her daughter Mary, later countess of Bute) and playing an active role to raise awareness of the potential for widespread immunity against the disease. At the time, such advocacy of variolation made her well-enough known for members of the public to ‘hoot at her as an unnatural mother’, for predictions to be voiced of ‘failure and the most disastrous consequences’, and for the clergy to decry ‘the impiety of thus seeking to take events out of the hand of Providence’.1

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu with her son, Edward Wortley Montagu, and attendants, attributed to Jean Baptiste Vanmour. c. 1717. Oil on canvas. (© National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 3924)

Smallpox was a killer. Many, including Voltaire, wrote of the fearsome mortality rate for those who caught the disease at that time. Early modern individuals fortunate enough to survive infection were scarred for life. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, born Mary Pierrepont in 1689, lost her brother to smallpox; she herself contracted the virus not long after she had moved to London as a young wife, and her looks were ruined—she claimed she was left with ‘tokens of its passage, for it deprived her of very fine eye-lashes; which gave a fierceness to her eyes that impaired their beauty’.2

None of this prevented Lady Mary from pursuing a life of adventure, however, and from travelling through Europe first to accompany her husband, the diplomat Edward Wortley Montagu (1678–1761), on his embassy to Constantinople and later, once her children were older, through France and Italy in the hope of arranging a rendezvous with the young man who was at that point the elusive object of her considerable attention: none other than Venetian polymath Francesco Algarotti (1712–1764). As can be seen from the calendar of her correspondence, which was published last week in EMLO, these romantic yearnings were not to be realized but, fortunately for us, Lady Mary wrote with constancy and at length as she travelled. An array of fascinating acquaintances may be found among her correspondents, including the English poet Alexander Pope (with whom she had an infamous ‘parting of ways’); the bishop of Salisbury and historian Gilbert Burnet; the Italian mathematician and writer Antonio Conti; and the French playwright Jean-Baptiste Rousseau. Thanks to the careful work of Robert Halsband, on whose three-volume edition this calendar is based courtesy of our partners Oxford Scholarly Editions Online [OSEO] at Oxford University Press, we are able to consider within her correspondence the curious body of letters known as ‘the Embassy letters’ that date from her husband’s two year posting in Constantinople.3

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, by Achille Devéria, printed by François Le Villain, published by Edward Bull, published by Edward Churton, after Christian Friedrich Zincke. Hand-coloured lithograph, 1830s. (© National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG D34619)

Do explore the life, the letters, and the legacy of this remarkable early modern woman. The texts of all the letters in Robert Halsband’s edition may be consulted within a subscribing library or institution via links from EMLO’s letter records, as may the entries on Lady Mary and members of her family—as well as many of her correspondents—in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [ODNB]. It is worth following the unfortunate career of Mary’s son Edward, who underwent inoculation as a child and thus was spared death or maiming by smallpox. Much good this did him: despite election as a Fellow to the Royal Society, he has come down to posterity classified as a ‘traveller and criminal’ (causing one of my colleagues, who shall remain nameless, to comment: ‘just look at the types they were electing to the Royal Society in the eighteenth century!’). The fact that young Edward contested the Will of his father, the elder Edward, in 1761 was the reason Lady Mary, herself terminally ill, set out from Venice to return for the final time to her homeland. A pioneering and independent woman, she died in London the following summer and was buried in Grosvenor Chapel, South Audley Street.

  1. See Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: essays, poems and ‘Simplicity: a comedy’, ed. R. Halsband and I. Grundy (1976), ‘Biographical Anecdotes’, written by her granddaughter Lady Louisa Stuart, pp. 35–6.
  2. Ibid, p. 35.
  3. For an explanation of the status of ‘the Embassy letters’, see The Complete Letters of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, ed. Robert Halsband, 3 vols (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), vol. 1, pp. xiv–xvii.