The South Sea Bubble of 1720 is one of the most memorable economic bubbles in Britain. Founded in 1711, the South Sea Company was a British joint-stock company that had exclusive trading rights in Spanish South America. Rumors about the potential value of its South American trade stoked rampant speculation, with shares in the company -- offered at just over £100 in January 1720 -- rising to more than £1000 by August. However by the end of September the bubble had popped. Shares fell to £150 and thousands of people were ruined.
In this letter, dated August 22, 1720 (close to the peak of the bubble), the English poet Alexander Pope recommends to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu that she buy shares in South Sea Stock: "I was made acquainted late last night, that I might depend upon it as a certain gain, to Buy of South Sea Stock at the present price, which will certainly rise in some weeks, or less. I can be as sure of this, as the nature of any such thing will allow, from the first & best hands: & therefore have dispatched the bearer with all speed to you."
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's friendship with Alexander Pope soured in the early 1720s for reasons not fully explained, and the two writers spent the rest of their lives sniping at each other in print. At least this animosity spared Lady Mary from receiving more of his investment advice!
For more information about this letter, click here.
For more information about other letters between Alexander Pope and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, click here.
The Leon Levy Foundation is generously underwriting a major project to upgrade catalog records for the Morgan's collection of literary and historical manuscripts. The project is the most substantive effort to date to improve primary research information on a portion of this large and highly important collection.