From her childhood Cave had a taste for books and poetry. She lived in several places before her marriage, probably in employment. In Bath she had friends who were like parents to her, and she wrote a poem for two young women being bound apprentices to a milliner. She moved to Winchester in November 1779. In 1783 she had printed by subscription there, ‘for the Author’, Poems on Various Subjects, Entertaining, Elegiac, and Religious. It bore her birth-name and a portrait showing her pen in hand. It had a lengthy list of subscribers, arranged by their places of residence. This work became the basis of her publishing career. The next edition, published in Bristol in 1786, added ‘Now Mrs. Winscom’ to her name.
She married Thomas Winscom on 18 May 1783. Her husband’s job entailed moving to a new place every four years: they were at Chagford in Devon before moving in 1792 to Bristol, where he was still working in 1797. She enjoyed a network of links all over the west country, though it was not of her own building, since she says she had not the honour of being known to most of her subscribers.
The first edition is dedicated in a poem ‘To the Subscribers’, and mentions the author’s humble admiration for the ‘Celebrated Poetesses’ Anna Seward, Anne Steele, and Hannah More, whom Cave does not presume to emulate. Amongst many other topics she addresses the perennial topic of a reader who disbelieves that she can, as a woman, really have written her works herself!
Poems in her last collection relate how in 1791 she rescued a poor woman from debtors’ prison by getting up a subscription, and how she has treated her persistent headaches, for which doctors’ prescriptions proved useless, both by sea-bathing and by drinking the waters of Bristol.
On 25 May 1793, the year before her final volume appeared, Cave published ‘The Head-ach, or, An Ode to Health’ in a Bristol newspaper, including a request for suggestions from any readers who might know of a remedy. From the 1780s onwards, she says, she was losing twelve days every month to excruciating headaches, which a modern scholar diagnoses as migraines, and felt that her effectiveness as wife and mother was seriously impaired.
She was scathing about the best efforts of the medical profession. When she first tried sea-bathing she found it terrifying, but later she came to revel in the experience. It did not cure her headaches, but she may have persisted in the practice none the less, for her Gentleman’s Magazine obituary says that two years before she died she had a ‘miraculous escape from a watery grave’. This obituary pays tribute to Cave’s genius, intellect, writings, and virtues as a wife and mother. She died aged fifty-eight in Newport, Monmouthshire, by January 1813 (the date of the obituary).
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