Biography of Elizabeth Bonhote by Karen Rodgers, May 1998
Mrs Bonhote was born Elizabeth Mapes in Bungay, Suffolk, 1744. Her father, James Mapes, has been variously described as a "grocer", a "leading tradesman" and a "baker" (1). E.A.Goodwyn adds that Mapes had also been a local churchwarden, and that one of his apprentices, Nathaniel Godbold, became the builder of Bungay Theatre and later "the highly successful promoter of "Godbold's Vegetable Balsam". Elizabeth was married between 1770 and 1774 to Daniel Bonhote, a local solicitor and clerk to the Houses of Industry at Shipmeadow and Heckingham (2). Mr Bonhote was a Captain of the 2nd Company of Bungay Volunteers from 1798, had been selected to the Gentleman's Club in 1773, and was Under Sheriff for Suffolk in 1790 and "an original member of the Bungay Book Society" (3). Although her father was essentially a trader, Bonhote was certainly a member of the local elite - Goodwyn mentions that her husband appeared in a local Directory, listed under "gentry" in 1786 (4).
He notes that Elizabeth Bonhote's first literary works were elegies, one written on the death of the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper's eldest daughter, and another written on the death of a Mrs and Rev. Thomas Wilson, vicar of Holy Trinity. Bonhote was a regular theatregoer and composed some Addresses for the visits of one particular company - Fisher and Co (5). The Feminist Companion to Literature in English mention Bonhote’s royalist feeling, and that she was "perfectly satisfied with our laws and constitution". They add that reviews treated her work with "liberality and candour", but that the majority of her work took on a "moralising" tone (6). She was "always ready to produce some verses for loyal occasions", such as the 'Ode on His Majesty's Happy Recovery', written to celebrate the recovery of George III in March, 1789 (7):
"Long live the King! May rosy health
Attend him through the toils of State:
May he, amidst increasing wealth
Ne'er breathe a sigh at being great:
In lieu of thorns may his bright crown
Be ever lin'd with softest down" -
And so on for another three verses with a chorus:
"With hands and hearts in union bound
This chorus let us sing
Long life and health to George the Third
For ever live the King"’
Goodwyn states that these verses made Bonhote into "a kind of local Laureate". The 'Ode' was presented at the Norwich Theatre that April and "universally applauded". He also refers to an Address given at the end of a season, probably a few years before 1790. "The Fob’s Fortune" and "Ways and Means" were well received, according to The Ipswich Journal, by a local audience (8). Unfortunately there seems to be no reference to these lines in other sources consulted, or in the catalogue at the British Library
Bonhote's first novels were published anonymously. The first appears to have been The Rambles of Mr Frankly, Published by His Sister in either 1772 or 1773. This novel describes the characters seen in a ramble in Hyde Park, where the protagonist "learns contentment from sentimentally observing others". This volume was translated immediately into German at Leipzig in 1773 (9). A second work, The Fashionable Friend was written in 1773, in the epistolary style, and has been described as "moralising" (10). Hortensia; or The Distressed Wife, was published in1777, and Olivia; or The Deserted Bride followed the next year. J.M.S. Tompkins comments that it was one of a number of female-authored novels at the time that show how "a woman can withdraw her affections from their [sic] first object and become perfectly happy in a second attachment, even although she may afterwards discover that she was separated from her first lover by treachery" (11). Tompkins describes Olivia as one of a series of "cruder books", in which the married heroine is "treated with melodramatic baseness, until a convenient fever sets her free to a second and more prosperous bridal" (12). Goodwyn notes that the latter work "tells how a dutiful and long-suffering wife is freed by her husband's death to make a second happier marriage", and cites reviews in The English Review ("This Novel abounds with just representations of nature, with surprising incidents and sudden vicissitudes of fortune, the characters virtuous and amiable.") and The Critical Review ("the cause of virtue is well preserved") (13).
In about 1788, while in bad health, even fearing for her life, Bonhote wrote what is considered to be one of her most serious works, The Parental Monitor. It is a collection of essays written for her children's guidance, and was also the first text to be published under her own name (14). Joanne Shattock describes it as a conduct book in two volumes, one addressed to girls, the other to boys: 'Intended as a guide to her children in the event of her death, it advocated acceptance of one’s lot and dependence on adults' (15). On the subject of the education of girls, Goodwyn notes that Bonhote shares similar views to Jane Austin, and the chapters cover subjects such as "Modesty, Happiness, Gratitude, the Importance of time, Dress and fashion, Ambition, Temperance, Pride, Politeness, Conduct to Servants, [and] Death". Goodwyn cites a passage in which Bonhote recommends politeness to her readers:
'Politeness signifies, if I am not mistaken in my ideas of it, that comfortable and elegant polish of manners, and graceful easiness’ of address, whereby people of a genteel and liberal education distinguish themselves from the vulgar: ‘tis improved, and often acquired, by mixing with persons of superior rank: in fact, ‘tis a kind of generous philanthropy refined by a desire to please, and rendered doubly charming by the ease and good humour with which it is accompanied: It ought to be inseparably united with the other graces of an accomplished mind. '
It is all moral suasion, interspersed with fables, anecdotes and quotations. The book was translated into German.(16)
The Feminist Companion notes that Bonhote states that women should remain within the home, but "advises one censured for 'scribbling' to ignore this common trial and persevere". The Parental Monitor was reprinted twice in 1796, once in London and once in Dublin. Bonhote became a Minerva best seller, and published Bungay Castle in 1796, dedicating the text to the Duke of Norfolk (17).
During 1804 only four years after they had moved to Bury, her husband Daniel Bonhote died. Bonhote's final works were written in 1810 - three poems written in June and published anonymously, on the loss of Bungay's 1692 Corn Cross, and finally the "ambitious" 'Feeling, or Sketches from Life: a Desultory Poem', which was published in Edinburgh. She died in Bungay aged 74 in July 1818 (18). Mann remarks that Bonhote bore two daughters, and The Town Recorder mentions a daughter, also called Elizabeth, who married the Rev. Richard Dreyer, Rector of Thwaite and a former Curate of St Mary’s Church. She founded a number of Almshouses for elderly women and the widows of poor traders that stand to this day, and died in 1849 (19).
(1) [RETURN] E.A. Goodwyn, Elegance and Poverty: Bungay in the Eighteenth Century, p 92; V. Blain, P. Clements, I. Grundy, eds., The Feminist Companion to Literature in English, pp 113-4
(2) [RETURN] Goodwyn, loc. cit..
(3) [RETURN] Blain, Clements and Grundy, loc. cit; Goodwyn, loc. cit; E. Mann, Old Bungay, p 214.
(4) [RETURN] Goodwyn, p 26.
(5) [RETURN] Ibid., p 92.
(6) [RETURN] Blain, Clements and Grundy, loc cit.
(7) [RETURN] Goodwyn. p 93.
(8) [RETURN] Goodwyn, pp 92, 94.
(9) [RETURN] Blain, Clements and Grundy, loc. cit; Mann, pp 214-5; Dictionary of National Biography, II, pp 807-8; Goodwyn, pp. 94, 96.
(10) [RETURN] Blain, Clements and Grundy, loc cit.
(11) [RETURN] Tompkins, J.M.S., The Popular Novel in English; 1770-1800, p 163.
(12) [RETURN] Ibid., p 159.
(13) [RETURN] Goodwyn, p 96.
(14) [RETURN] DNB, loc cit; Blain, Clements and Grundy, loc.cit.; Goodwyn, p 94.
(15) [RETURN] J. Shattock, The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers, p 50.
(16) [RETURN] Goodwyn, pp 2, 94.
(17) [RETURN] Blain, Clements and Grundy, loc cit.; DNB.
(18) [RETURN] Blain, Clements and Grundy, loc cit; Mann, Old Bungay, p 140; DNB, ibid.
(19) [RETURN] E. Mann, and H. Cane, eds., An Englishman at Home and Abroad, 1829-1862: Extracts fron the diaries of John Barber Scott of Bungay, p 65; F. Honeywood, P. Morrow, C. Reeve, The Town Recorder: A History of Bungay in Photographs, pp 77-8.