by Phil Brantingham
Dorothy Osborne's sole literary remains consist of a slim book of
77 letters written to her husband-to-be, Sir William Temple,
during their courtship, plus 9 letters written after their
marriage. Slight as the subject would seem to be, the letters
are brilliantly written and show a flair for self-examination.
They form almost a novel in themselves, and subsequent readers
have found them both fascinating and stylistically charming.
Dorothy Osborne was born in 1627 to Sir Peter Osborne and
his wife Dorothy (née Danvers). Sir Peter was the last royalist
holdout, until the parliamentary troops of the Puritan government
forced him to surrender his fortress. Following his surrender,
the Osbornes returned to their estate at Chicksands, where they
lived in conditions close to penury until the Restoration.
Dorothy Osborne met Sir William Temple in 1648, as he was on
his way to France. They were attracted to each other, and Temple
joined the family party as it went to France. A correspondence
ensued. That the two families did not approve of an alliance
between the lovers made their correspondence all the more
titillating, being secretly carried back and forth by various
servants. When it seemed that the lovers were to be married at
last, Dorothy contracted smallpox, which not only disfigured her, but caused a delay to the wedding. The two were married on
Christmas Day, 1654.
The letters that have survived begin in 1652 and end in
October 1654 (none of the Osborne letters are specifically dated
and the present dating has been established by editors. As for
the letters written during the marriage, most editors have given
up trying to date them).
Moor Park was a meeting place for important
people from the court and government, and Lady Temple was the hostess
to many officials from London. Yet there is little to no mention
of her in contemporary writing. Not even Swift makes much mention of her in his work. She died February 7, 1695, leaving
behind a legacy that was not fully appreciated until the
first appearance of her letters in a scholarly format, edited by Sir Edward Parry. The most recent edition was edited by Kenneth
Parker (Penguin, 1987). Lord David Cecil's essay on Dorothy
Osborne in his Two Quiet Lives (1948) is helpful in understanding
the situation of the lovers.
Parry, Edward Abbott, ed. The Letters of Dorothy Osborne to Sir
London: The Wayfarers Library, 1914.
Final printing of Parry's enlarged edition.
Hart, Kingsley, ed. The Letters of Dorothy Osborne to Sir William
London: The Folio Society, 1968.
Parker, Kenneth, ed. Letters to Sir William Temple by Dorothy
London: Penguin Books, 1987.
Woodbridge, Homer E. Sir William Temple. The Man and His Work.
London: Oxford University Press, 1940.
Cecil, David. Two Quiet Lives.
London: Constable, 1948.
The lives of Dorothy Osborne and Thomas Gray.
Woolf, Virginia. "Dorothy Osborne and her 'Letters'." The Common Reader.
New York: Harcourt, Brace. Combined edition, 1948.
|| to Dorothy Osborne|
D. Osborne | Life | Works | Links | Essays | Books | 17th C. Eng. Lit.
Text ©1999 Phil Brantingham. All Rights Reserved.
Published by Luminarium through express written permission of the author.
Site copyright ©1996-2006 Anniina Jokinen. All Rights Reserved.
Page created by Anniina Jokinen on August 5, 1999. Last updated June 8, 2006.