Betham, Matilda

Mary Matilda Betham [Beetham] (1776-1852) was a writer and sometimes miniature painter born in Lincolnshire to the Rev. William Betham.  The family soon moved to Suffolk, where she read in her father's library and received her education in school but largely from a variety of learned tutors, including Agostino Isola. She learned much about painting from her friendship with John Opie in the mid-1790s. Her early reading was turned into use with her first major publication, Biographical Dictionary of the Celebrated Women of every Age and Country (1804), which followed by one year Hays's more substantial work, Female Biography. She had settled in London previous to her publication, publishing her first volume of poems in 1797, exhibiting at times at the Royal Academy and moving among London's literati, counting among her acquaintances the Lambs, Coleridge, Southey, Barbauld, and many others. She published her second volume of poetry in 1808. Her finances were never reliable, and her mental health suffered greatly, so much so that she experienced her first confinement in 1819. She was not confined for long, and upon her release remained in London away from her family, even publishing a political tract, Challenge to Women (1821), pleading for support for Queen Caroline. She published more poetry in the 1830s, including Sonnets and Verses (c. 1836), and in the next decade an autobiographical study, Crow-quill Flights. She remained popular among the literati until her death in London in 1852.