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Genuine Poetical Compositions, on Various Subjects (Norwich, by subscription, 1791)
Norwich, England, UK
|Died||1839 (aged 71–72)|
Norwich, England, UK
|Subject||Pastoral, Abolitionism, Animal welfare|
Elizabeth Bentley (1767–1839) was an English poet.
She was born in Norwich to Elizabeth Lawrence and Daniel Bentley. The latter, a journeyman cordwainer who had himself received a good education, educated Elizabeth, his only child. The family faced financial difficulties after he suffered a stroke in 1777 and was unable to work at his usual trade. He died in 1783, when his daughter was sixteen.
Two years later, Bentley reported a new-found desire to write poetry "which [she] had no thought or desire of being seen." Her first collection, Genuine Poetical Compositions (1791), had an impressive 1,935 subscribers, including literary notables Elizabeth Carter, Elizabeth Montagu, William Cowper, and Hester Chapone. As a labouring-class poet, Bentley—"content to be the last and lowest of the tuneful train"—adopted a humble stance towards her readers and let it be known that the venture was intended to establish an annuity for she and her mother. Both her collections, however, contained portraits of the author and accounts of her life; the account written in 1790 and published in the first volume is the source of most that is known of her. Her poetry celebrates the countryside and engages in public debates on topics such as abolitionism and cruelty to animals. Cowper compared her favourably with Mary Leapor, a labouring-class poet of the previous generation, citing her "strong natural genius."
After the publication of her first volume, Bentley kept a small boarding school and did not publish much—some poems for children; an ode on the Battle of Trafalgar (1805)—for three decades. This hiatus ended with the publication of her Poems in 1821.
She died nine years later in an almshouse.
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