Stephen Duck

(1705? - 1756)
Stephen Duck (1705?-1756)

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Stephen Duck (1705?-1756)

Works in ECPA

alphabetical listing / listing in source editions

Source editions

  • Duck, Stephen, 1705-1756. Poems on several occasions: By Stephen Duck. London: printed for the author, 1736. xl,334,[2]p. ; 4⁰. (ESTC T90234; OTA K073280.000)
  • Dodsley, Robert, 1703-1764. A Collection of Poems in Six Volumes. By Several Hands. Vol. III. London: printed by J. Hughs, for R. and J. Dodsley, 1763 [1st ed. 1758]. 6v.: music; 8⁰. (ESTC T131163; OTA K104099.003)

Biographical note

Stephen Duck was born at Charlton, Wiltshire, to poor parents. He attended a charity school, but from age 14 worked as an agricultural labourer. In 1724, he married Ann (d. 1730) with whom he had three children. Around the time of his marriage, Duck embarked on a journey of self-improvement. He borrowed books, and began reading the poetry of Milton, Dryden, and Prior, as well as Shakespeare, a translation of Ovid, and Edward Bysshe's Art of Poetry. He began writing poetry, which was encouraged by his early supporters, the Rev Stanley, rector of Pewsey, and Dr Alured Clarke, prebendary of Winchester Cathedral. Duck's early works included The Thresher's Labour and The Shunammite, based on a biblical theme. Duck's reputation spread first locally then nationally. He was brought to the attention of Mrs Charlotte Clayton, lady of the bedchamber of the queen, and in 1730 was presented to Queen Caroline. Duck was well received by the queen and was given an annuity and a house. Duck's poems, as well as his early biography by Joseph Spence, appeared in unauthorized versions almost immediately. Duck's celebrity attracted both admirers and parodies. In 1733, three years after the death of Ann, Duck married the queen's housekeeper at Kew, and was made a Yeoman of the Guard. In 1735 the queen gave him the post of librarian of Merlin's Cave, her fantasy building at Richmond. An authorized edition of his work, Poems on Several Occasions, was published by subscription in 1736, with Spence's biography and a frontispiece portrait. The list of subscribers included Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, the Prince of Wales, many aristocrats, bishops, and other dignitaries. Duck commemorated Queen Caroline's death in 1737 in his poem The Vision. Following the loss of his main benefactor, Duck embarked on a clerical career, taking holy orders in 1746. He continued writing poems till the time of his death. Duck secured a number of positions as a chaplain and preacher, before he was appointed as rector of Byfleet, Surrey, in 1752. He drowned in Reading in 1756.


DMI 1536; ODNB 8131; DLB 95; NCBEL 545


  • Cochran, Peter, ed. The Farmer's Boy by Robert Bloomfield: A Parallel Text Edition, with The Thresher's Labour by Stephen Duck and The Woman's Labour by Mary Collier. Newcastle upon Tyne, England: Cambridge Scholars, 2014. Print.
  • Ferguson, Moira, introd. Duck, The Thresher's Labour, and Collier, The Woman's Labour. (Facsimile ed.). Augustan Reprint Society, vol. 230. Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, Univ. of California, 1985. Print.
  • Thompson, E. P. and Marian Sugden, eds. The Thresher's Labour by Stephen Duck. The Woman's Labour by Mary Collier. London: Merlin Press, 1989. Print.


  • Davis, R. M . Stephen Duck, the Thresher-Poet. Orono: Maine University Press, 1926. Print.

Reference works

  • Baines, Paul, Julian Ferraro, Pat Rogers, eds. The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Eighteenth-Century Writers and Writing, 1660-1789. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. 108-109. Print.
  • Batt, Jennifer. "Stephen Duck". Great Writers Inspire. University of Oxford. Web. 16 Jul. 2016.
  • Fairer, David. English Poetry of the Eighteenth Century 1700-1789. Longman Literature in English Series. Harlow: Longman, 2003. 268. Print.
  • Jacob, Paul. Stephen Duck (1705? - 1756). Sitter, John, ed. Eighteenth-Century British Poets: First Series. Detroit, MI: Gale, 1990. 47-56. Print.
  • Mell, Jr., Donald C. English Poetry, 1660-1800: a guide to information sources. American Literature, English Literature, and World Literatures in English Information Guide Series, vol. 40. Detroit: Gale, 1982. 214-215. Print.
  • Suarez, Michael F. Duck, Stephen. A Collection of Poems by Several Hands [1782]. Ed. Robert Dodsley and Michael F. Suarez. Vol. I. London: Routledge/Thoemmes, 1997. 144-145. Print. 6 volumes.


  • Batt, Jennifer. From the field to the coffeehouse: changing representations of Stephen Duck. Criticism 47(4) (2005): 451-470. Print.
  • Christmas, William J. The Lab'ring Muses: Work, Writing and the Social Order in English Plebeian Poetry, 1730-1830. Newark and London: University of Delaware Press, 2001. 73-95. Print.
  • Christmas, William J. 'From Threshing Corn, He Turns to Thresh His Brains': Stephen Duck as Laboring-Class Intellectual. Krishnamurthy, Aruna, ed. The Working-Class Intellectual in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Britain. Surrey, England: Ashgate, 2009. 25-48. Print.
  • Goodridge, John. Rural Life in Eighteenth-Century English Poetry. Cambridge: CUP, 1995. 1-88. Print.
  • Goodridge, John. Stephen Duck, The Thresher's Labour, and Mary Collier, The Woman's Labour. Gerrard, Christine, ed. A Companion to Eighteenth-Century Poetry. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2006. 209-222. Print.
  • Keegan, Bridget. Georgic Transformations and Stephen Duck's 'The Thresher's Labour'. Studies in English Literature 41 (2001): 545-562. Print.
  • Mulholland, James. 'To sing the toils of each revolving year': song and poetic authority in Stephen Duck's The Thresher's Labour. Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 33 (2004): 153-174. Print.
  • Thompson, Peggy. Duck, Collier, and the ideology of verse forms. Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 44(3) (2004): 505-523. Print.
  • Van-Hagen, Steve. Literary technique, the aestheticization of laboring experience, and generic experimentation in Stephen Duck's The Thresher's Labour. Criticism 47(4) (2005): 421-450. Print.
  • Zionkowski, Linda. Strategies of Containment: Stephen Duck, Ann Yearsley, and the Problem of Polite Culture. Eighteenth-Century Life 13 (1989): 91-108. Print.