British Romantic poet Ann Yearsley was one of only a few working-class women of the era to gain prominence as a writer. Educated at home in Clifton, near Bristol, Yearsley worked as a milkmaid in her early years. She married yeoman farmer John Yearsley in 1774, and together they raised six children. In 1783 she began to work for poet and patron Hannah More, who quickly noticed Yearsley’s literary talent and arranged for her work to be published by subscription.
Yearsley’s first collection, Poems on Several Occasions (1785), contained poems exploring religious and domestic themes. Its publication brought her immediate success, and an ensuing disagreement over the distribution of profits led to a break with More. Thereafter Yearsley maintained full editorial control of her work. Later collections include Poems on Various Subjects (1787) and The Rural Lyre: A Volume of Poems (1796). An early abolitionist, she published her most well-known occasional piece, “A Poem on the Inhumanity of the Slave-Trade,” in 1788. In the 1790s she published a play as well as a novel, and in 1793 she opened a borrowing library in Bristol.
After her husband’s death in 1803, Yearsley retired to Melksham in Wiltshire, and died there in 1806. A four-volume Collected Works of Ann Yearsley, which includes poetry, prose, and correspondence, will be published by Pickering & Chatto in 2013.