The Blue Stockings were a group of intelligent, well-educated and gifted women who, from early in the 1750s, held receptions or soirées, in the French salon tradition, at their homes in London, and continued to do so through most of the second half of the 18th c. The first hostess was almost certainly Mrs Vesey. Other regular hostesses were Mrs Montagu, Mrs Carter, Mrs Chapone, Mrs Boscawen, Mrs Delaney, and, later, Hannah More, who wrote an agreeable poem, Bas bleu (1786), which described the pleasures and activities of the Blue Stocking Society. Those who attended the meetings were fashionable and literary and included a number of famous men such as: Joshua Reynolds, David Garrick, Horace Walpole, James Boswell, James Beattie, Samuel Richardson, George Lyttleton and Dr Johnson. Members of the aristocracy were frequent attenders. The main object of the meetings was conversation; there were no cards and no alcohol, and politics, swearing, and scandal were forbidden. Their title derives from the worsted blue stockings of Bishop Benjamin Stillingfleet. He could not afford evening clothes and attended in his ordinary everyday gear. Traditionally it was Admiral Boscawen who nicknamed the group thus. When used pejoratively, as it often has been (and was in the 18th c.), the term ‘bluestocking’ denotes a woman who affects literary tastes and behaves in a dilettante fashion; a female pedant. Henry James described George Eliot as ‘a horse-faced bluestocking’.
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