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Leapor, Maryfree

(1722–1746)
  • Stuart Gillespie

Leapor, Mary (1722–1746), poet, was born on 26 February 1722 at Marston St Lawrence, Northamptonshire, the only child of Philip Leapor (1693–1771), gardener, and his wife, Anne Sharman (d. 1741). Most of her childhood was spent in the nearby market town of Brackley, where in 1726–7 her father ran his nursery and worked in the gardens of the local gentry. Leapor would probably have attended the free school in Brackley, but if so this constituted her only formal education. She was said by her father to have begun writing verse at about ten or eleven years old, a habit her parents tried unsuccessfully to discourage.

At some point in her adolescence Leapor went into service, first as a kitchen maid at Weston Hall, 6 miles from Brackley. Here she was employed by Susanna Jennens, the Parthenissa of Leapor's poetry, and probably had access to the house's small library. She next took up a similar position in a gentleman's family apparently at Edgcote House, a few miles away, which she described under the name Crumble Hall in her poem of that title. According to a later account 'her fondness for writing verses there displayed itself by her sometimes taking up her pen while the jack was standing still, and the meat scorching'. The same writer describes her employer's recollections of her as 'extremely swarthy, and quite emaciated … much resembling, in shape, a bass-viol' (GM, 807).

In 1745 Leapor was dismissed from this position and returned to Brackley to keep house for her widowed father. Here she met Bridget Freemantle (1698–1779), an educated local lady whose friendship and encouragement were a turning point in her life. Freemantle suggested a subscription edition of Leapor's unpublished verse and tried to interest the London stage in a tragedy she had composed. Neither plan had come to fruition before Leapor's death at Brackley from measles at the age of twenty-four. She was buried at Brackley on 14 November 1746.

Leapor's renown beyond Brackley was solely posthumous. 'Proposals for printing by subscription the poetical works, serious and humorous, of Mrs. Leapor', apparently penned by David Garrick, appeared on 1 January 1747, and nearly 600 subscribers received the first volume in April 1748. The less successful second volume of 1751 was printed by Samuel Richardson.

Leapor's verse, largely in the style of Pope, achieves a considerable range of feeling and forcefully displays an individual voice. After renewed interest in her work she is counted one of the leading women poets of her century.

Sources

  • R. Greene, Mary Leapor: a study in eighteenth-century women's poetry (1993)
  • M. Leapor, Poems on several occasions, 2 vols. (1748–51)
  • parish register, Brackley, Northants. RO
  • GM, 1st ser., 54 (1784)
  • B. W. Rizzo, ‘Christopher Smart, the “C.S.” poems, and Molly Leapor's epitaph’, The Library, 6th ser., 5 (1983), 22–31
  • G. Sitwell, A brief history of Weston Hall, Northamptonshire (1927)
Northamptonshire Record Office, Northampton
Gentleman's Magazine