Elizabeth Thomas (poet)

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Elizabeth Thomas (1675 – 1731) was a British poet.

Early years[edit]

Elizabeth Thomas was born in London, the only child of Elizabeth Osborne (died 1719), aged 16, and lawyer Emmanuel Thomas (d. 1677), aged 60.[1] Her father died when she was an infant, leaving Osborne to take care of her. Osborne and Thomas faced many financial difficulties while living in Surrey, but, after they returned to London to live in Great Russel Street.[1] She was educated at home, was well read, and learned some French and Latin.


Thomas educated herself by buying books and reading, and by her mid twenties, she was a confident poet, which lead her to sharing her poetry with literary men.[1] As an impoverished gentlewoman, she was dependent on others for patronage, and she was fortunate to be part of an illustrious artistic and literary circle which included Lady Mary Chudleigh, Mary Astell, Judith Drake, Elizabeth Elstob, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, John Norris, and painter Sarah Hoadly, wife of Benjamin Hoadly. She sent John Dryden, an English poet, two poems not long before his death, and he responded, "your Verses were, I thought, too good to be a Woman's."[2] Dryden then compared Thomas to Katherine Philips, another female poet. John Dryden was also who gave her her nome de plume, "Corinna". Her first known publication was an elegy, "To the Memory of the Truly Honoured John Dryden, Esq", published anonymously in the collection Luctus Britannici (1700).

Thomas was engaged for sixteen years to Richard Gwinnett (1675–1717). The couple was not in a financial position to get married until 1716. Thomas later postponed the marriage in order to nurse her terminally ill mother. Gwinnett died the next year, and although he left Thomas a legacy, his family suppressed his will. After litigation, Thomas could not cover her legal costs. During their engagement they had maintained an extensive correspondence, much of which was published in Pylades and Corinna (1731–2) and The Honourable Lovers (1732; repr. 1736).

Thomas was active and had a reputation in London and Bath literary circles. She experimented with a wide range of literary forms including lyrics, panegyrics, pastorals, polemics, religious meditations, and satires. Much of her poetry dealt with women's issues, particularly women's right to education, as women were in her time "still deny'd th'Improvement of our Mind."[3] Her work initially circulated in manuscript, but due to financial necessity she published Miscellany Poems on Several Subjects anonymously in 1722, and thereafter sought publication.

Her friend Henry Cromwell some time earlier had given Thomas some letters he had received from Alexander Pope. Needing money, Thomas sold these letters to Edmund Curll in 1726. Curll promptly published the letters in Miscellanea in Two Volumes (1726), much to the irritation of Pope. For this infraction he lampooned Thomas in The Dunciad as "Curll's Corinna" (II 66). A minor revenge was attributed to her by Pope — the publication of Codrus, or, 'The Dunciad' Dissected (1728) — though she was incarcerated at the time it was published. Her reputation was severely damaged by the notoriety, and she was long believed to have been Cromwell's mistress though there is no reason to believe that she was.

Thomas continued to publish through the 1720s, but was unable to meet her debts and was jailed in the Fleet prison in 1727 for three years. Within a year of her release, Thomas died and was buried at St Bride's, Fleet Street in 1731.


Elizabeth uses the theme of sarcasm multiple times throughout her poems to convey the importance of her message. For example, in her poem of "On Sir J- S- saying in a Sarcastic Manner, My books would make me Mad. An Ode" MS? LION RL (1722) By changing her voice and taking on the role as a man in her poem. The reader can conclude that Thomas is using sarcasm to emphasize that fact women she be involved in [4][1]

Selected works[edit]

  • "To the Memory of the Truly Honoured John Dryden, Esq", Luctus Britannici (anon., 1700)
  • Miscellany Poems on Several Subjects (anon., 1722); rpt. Poems on Several Occasions (1726)
  • Codrus, or, ‘The Dunciad’ Dissected (attrib., 1728)
  • Metamorphosis of the Town (anon., 1730, repr. 1731, 1732; under her own name, 1743)
  • R. Gwinnett and E. Thomas, Pylades and Corinna, 2 vols. (1731–2)
  • The Honourable Lovers (1732; repr. 1736)
  • "On Sir J- S- saying in a Sarcastic Manner, My books would make me Mad. An Ode" MS? LION RL (1722)
  • "To Almystrea [Mary Astell], on Her Divine Works" RL


  1. ^ a b c Thomas, Elizabeth (1989). Lonsdale, Roger, ed. Eighteenth Century Women Poets An Oxford Anthology. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 32–33. 
  2. ^ Greer, Germaine. Kissing the Rod: An Anthology of 17th-Century Women's Verse. London: Virago, 1988. 429. Print.
  3. ^ Virginia Blain, et al., eds, "Thomas, Elizabeth," The Feminist Companion to Literature in English (New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1990. 1075).
  4. ^ A sudden line of poetry


  • Blain, Virginia, et al., eds. "Thomas, Elizabeth." The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. New Haven and London: Yale UP, 1990. 1075-1076.
  • Greer, Germaine, et al., eds. "Elizabeth Thomas." Kissing the Rod: an anthology of seventeenth-century women's verse. Farrar Straus Giroux, 1988. 429-438.
  • Mills, Rebecca. "Thomas, Elizabeth (1675–1731)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. 13 May 2007.