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Knowles, Mary (DNB00)


KNOWLES, Mrs. MARY (1733–1807), quakeress, eldest daughter of Moses and Mary Morris of Rugeley, Staffordshire, was born on 5 May 1733. She was witty and beautiful. One of her accomplishments was working in worsted what Dr. Johnson called ‘sutile pictures’ (Croker). Specimens having been shown to the queen, she was sent for and commissioned to execute portraits of George III and the young princess, which were much approved. She married Dr. Thomas Knowles, graduate of Leyden 1772, L.R.C.P. 1784, and author of ‘Tentamen Medicum,’ Leyden, 1722. They travelled abroad, and were received at the Hague and at Versailles. Dr. Knowles died in Lombard Street 16 Nov. 1784, leaving considerable wealth. Mrs. Knowles was intimate with Dr. Johnson. She was a brilliant conversationalist, and said of Johnson's reading that ‘he tore the heart out of a book.’ She wrote, about 1776, a ‘Compendium of a Controversy on Water-Baptism’ between Rand, a clergyman of Coventry, and herself; ‘A Poetic Correspondence’ between her and a Captain Morris was printed in the ‘British Friend,’ April 1848, p. 110. Other verses by her appeared as small tracts without date. Boswell records her talents, but declines to accept as authentic her account of a ‘Dialogue between Dr. Johnson and Mrs. Knowles’ respecting the conversion to quakerism of Miss Jane Harry, which Mrs. Knowles forwarded to him while engaged on the biography of Johnson. Its authenticity was corroborated by Miss Seward, who was present at the interview. Mrs. Knowles published it in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ June 1791, p. 500, and it has been many times reprinted separately. Mrs. Knowles had one son, George. She died in London 3 Feb. 1807.

[Smith's Catalogue; Boswell's Life of Johnson, ed. Croker, 1831, iii. 440–2, iv. 142–5; Monthly Repository of Theol. March 1807, ii. 160; Lady's Monthly Museum, November 1803, with engraved portrait; Letters of Anna Seward, 6 vols., Edinb. 1811, passim.]

C. F. S.