Mary Masters (1694?-1771)

Mary Masters was a native of Otley, a market town near Leeds, where she appears to have emerged from humble origins. Her father was a petty school-master at Norwich but did not seem to support his daughter’s education or her predilection for poetry, as the preface to her first volume, Poems on Several Occasions (1733), makes clear: “The Author of the following Poems never read a Treatise of Rhetorick, or an Art of Poetry, nor was ever taught her English Grammar [and]…her Genius to Poetry was always brow-beat and discountenanc’d by her Parents.” No evidence of a life of labour has survived, though Masters is presented to her potential reading public in 1733 as a self-taught poet who exhibits a natural genius for poetry, implicitly linking her to the fashion for such figures in the wake of Stephen Duck’s success in the 1730s.

Poems on Several Occasions gathers at least a decade’s worth of work, including religious, philosophical, and topographical pieces, as well as many poems celebrating friends. One friend, Thomas Scott, a dissenting minister and hymn writer, also contributed six poems to round out a substantial first volume whose subscribers largely hailed from Norfolk, Suffolk, and the Otley neighborhood.