Cultures of Knowledge and the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
Sarah Chapone (1699–1764)
Sarah Chapone (née Kirkham) is best known for her feminist activities and works. Born on 11 December 1699, the second child of the Reverend Lionel Kirkham and Damaris Boyse, at Stanton in Gloucestershire, she developed early a close — and what proved to be lifelong — relationship with the artist and letter writer Mary Delany (née Granville). In December 1725 she married the Reverend John Chapone (d. 1759) and, remaining in Stanton for the following nine years with their five children, ran a boarding school until financial difficulties propelled the family into a state of upheaval and a succession of local house moves. It was not until 1745, when John Chapone took up the appointment as vicar of Badgeworth, near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, that this unsettled lifestyle came to an end.
Chapone is credited with authoring The Hardships of the English Laws in Relation to Wives, which was published anonymously in May 1735 and then reprinted in part in the Gentleman’s Magazine that same May and June. The work is an analysis of female subjection and most likely is the manuscript to which Mary Delany referred when she commented that, once the author had rectified the legal sections in her book, it would be ‘fit for the press and the perusal of the smartest wits of the age‘.1 In addition to her published work, Chapone composed a circular letter with the intention of obtaining financial support for Elizabeth Elstob, the Anglo-Saxon scholar, then living in obscurity in Evesham, Worcestershire.
Chapone’s contemporaries praised her highly: Samuel Richardson found her to be ‘a great Championess for her Sex’,2 while Delany wrote that Chapone ‘would shine in an assembly composed of Tullys, Homers, and Miltons’.3 Sarah Chapone represents a vital conduit, through Elizabeth Elstob, between the work of the feminist writer Mary Astell (d. 1731) and younger writers of the the Bluestocking circle. She died, and was buried on 24 February 1764, in Stanton.
Partners and Additional Contributors
The metadata for this catalogue was incorporated initially into EMLO by Cultures of Knowledge in 2010 as part of the Bodleian card catalogue. In January 2016 the entries were checked and enriched (with details of paper size and people mentioned within the text) by Oxford history student James Harrison, who in his second year as an undergraduate took the Further Subject ‘Writing in the early modern period’ under the direction of Professor Giora Sternberg. This was the first time that a student worked as part of a course to enhance records and to create a catalogue, and it is hoped that EMLO will be used in a similar manner for teaching purposes over the years to come.
Cultures of Knowledge would like to thank EMLO Digital Fellow Katharina Herold for her help to prepare the metadata for upload, and Callum Seddon for his work to check and edit the transcriptions.
At present, the catalogue contains thirty letters, all written in English between 11 January 1735 and 25 July 1753. The letters are from Sarah Chapone to George Ballard and relate broadly to the publication of the latter’s work Memoirs of Several Ladies of Great Britain who have been Celebrated for their Writings; Chapone offered fulsome advice and engaged herself extensively in procuring subscriptions and patronage for the book. A recurring theme throughout the correspondence is the place of women within society.
This catalogue of letters comes at present in its entirety from the Bodleian Library at the University of Oxford. It is contained within a folio of 140 letters sent to George Ballard by eminent women in the period.
Scope of Catalogue
Further letters of Sarah Chapone may be found in the Gloucestershire Record Office, and among Samuel Richardson’s correspondence at the Victoria and Albert Museum National Art Library (Forster Library), London. Letters from Chapone to John Wesley are printed with the latter’s correspondence.4 It is hoped the metadata for these additional letters will be entered into Sarah Chapone’s catalogue in EMLO at a future date.
As part of his work with Chapone’s correspondence, James Harrison transcribed five of the letters, and his transcriptions, edited by EMLO Digital Fellow Callum Seddon, have been mounted for consultation in the catalogue.
Women’s Early Modern Letters Online [WEMLO] project page