Lady Chudleigh was born in the year 1656, and was daughter of Richard Lee of Winslade, in the county of Devon, esq; She had an education in which literature seemed but little regarded, being taught no other language than her native tongue; but her love of books, incessant industry in the reading of them, and her great capacity to improve by them, enabled her to make a very considerable figure in literature.
She was married to Sir George Chudleigh of Ashton in the county of Devon, Bart. by whom she had issue Eliza Maria, who died in the bloom of life, (much lamented by her mother, who poured out her griefs on that occasion, in a Poem entitled a Dialogue between Lucinda and Marissa) and George, who succeeded to the title and estate, Thomas, and others.
She was a lady of great virtue, as well as understanding, and she made the latter of these subservient to the promotion of the former, which was much improved by study; but though she was enamoured of the charms of poetry, yet she dedicated some part of her time to the severer study of philosophy, as appears from her excellent essays, which discover an uncommon degree of piety, and knowledge, and a noble contempt of those vanities which the unthinking part of her sex so much regard, and so eagerly pursue.
The works which this lady produced, are,
The Ladies Defence, or the Bride-Woman's Counselor answered, a Poem; in a Dialogue between Sir John Brute, Sir William Loveall, Melissa, and a Parson. This piece has been several times printed; the writing it was occasioned by an angry sermon preached against the fair sex, of which her ladyship gives the following account; "Mr. Lintot," says she, "some time since, intending to reprint my poems, desired me to permit him to add to them a Dialogue I had written in the year 1700, on a Sermon preached by Mr. Sprint, a Nonconformist, at Sherbourne in Dorsetshire; I refusing, for several reasons, to grant his request, he, without my knowledge, bought the copy of the Bookseller who formerly printed it, and, without my consent, or once acquainting me with his resolution, added to it the second edition of my poems; and that which makes the injury the greater, is, his having omitted the Epistle Dedicatory, and the Preface, by which means he has left the reader wholly in the dark, and exposed me to censure. When it was first printed I had reason to complain, but not so much as now: Then the Dedication was left entire as I had written it, but the Preface so mangled, altered, and considerably shortened, that I hardly knew it to be my own; but being then published without a name, I was the less concerned, but since, notwithstanding the great care I took to conceal it, it is known to be mine; I think myself obliged, in my own defence, to take some notice of it." The omission of this Preface, which contained an answer to part of the sermon, and gave her reasons for writing the poem, had occasioned some people to make ill natured reflexions on it: this put her ladyship on justifying herself, and assuring her readers, that there are no reflexions in it levelled at any particular persons, besides the author of the Sermon; "him (says she) I only blame for being too angry, for his not telling us our duty in a softer more engaging way address, and good manners render reproofs a kindness; but where they are wanting, admonitions are always taken ill: as truths of this sort ought never to be concealed from us, so they ought never to be told us with an indecent warmth; a respectful tenderness would be more becoming a messenger of peace, the disciple of an humble, patient, meek, commiserating Saviour."
Besides this lady's poems, of which we shall give some account when we quote a specimen; she wrote Essays upon several subjects, in prose and verse, printed in 8vo. 1710. These Essays are upon Knowledge, Pride, Humility, Life, Death, Fear, Grief, Riches, Self-love, Justice, Anger, Calumny, Friendship, Love, Avarice, Solitude, and are much admired for the delicacy of the stile, there being not the least appearance of false wit, or affected expression, the too common blemishes of this sort of writing: they are not so much the excursions of a lively imagination, which can often expatiate on the passions, and actions of men, with small experience of either, as the deliberate result of observations on the world, improved with reading, regulated with judgment, softened by good manners and heightened with sublime thoughts, and elevated piety. This treatise is dedicated to her Royal Highness the Princess Sophia, Electress, and Duchess Dowager of Brunswick, on which occasion that Princess, then in her 80th year, honoured her with the following epistle, written by the Electress in French, but which we shall here present to the reader in English
"Hanover June 25, 1710.
You have done me a very great pleasure in letting me know by your agreeable book, that there is such a one as you in England, and who has so well improved herself, that she can, in a fine manner, communicate her sentiments to all the world. As for me I do not pretend to deserve the commendations you give me, but by the esteem which I have of your merit, and of your good sense, I will be always entirely
Your affectionate friend
to serve you,
At the end of the second volume of the duke of Wharton's poems, are five letters from lady Chudleigh, to the rev'd Mr. Norris of Bemmerton, and Mrs. Eliz. Thomas, the celebrated Corinna of Dryden.
She wrote several other things, which, though not printed, are carefully preserved in the family, viz two Tragedies, two Operas, a Masque, some of Lucian's Dialogues, translated into verse, Satirical Reflexions on Saqualio, in imitation of one of Lucian's Dialogues, with several small Poems on various Occasions.
She had long laboured under the pains of a rheumatism, which had confined her to her chamber a considerable time before her death, which happened at Ashton in Devonshire, December 15, 1710, in the 55th year of her age, and lies buried there without either monument or inscription.
The poetical Works of this Lady consist chiefly in the Song of the Three Children Paraphrased, some Pindaric Odes, Familiar Epistles, and Songs. We shall select as a specimen, a Dialogue between Lucinda and Marissa, occasioned by the death of her Ladyship's Daughter, in the early bloom of her youth. It is of a very melancholy cast, and expressive of the grief she must have felt upon that tender occasion. Her ladyship has informed us in her preface to her poems, that she generally chose subjects suited to her present temper of mind. "These pieces (says she) were the employments of my leisure hours, the innocent amusements of a solitary life; in them the reader will find a picture of my mind, my sentiments all laid open to their view; they will sometimes see me chearful, pleased, sedate, and quiet; at other times, grieving, complaining, and struggling with my passions, blaming myself, endeavouring to pay homage to my reason, and resolving for the future with a decent calmness, an unshaken constancy, and a resigning temper, to support all the troubles, all the uneasiness of life, and then, by unexpected emergencies, unforeseen disappointments, sudden, and surprising turns of fortune discomposed, and shocked, 'till I have rallied my scattered fears, got new strength, and by making unwearied resistance, gained the better of my afflictions, and restored my mind to its former tranquillity. Would we (continues her ladyship) contract our desires, and learn to think that only necessary, which nature has made so; we should be no longer fond of riches honours, applauses, and several other things, which are the unhappy occasions of much mischief to the world; and doubtless, were we so happy as to have a true notion of the dignity of our nature, of those great things for which we were designed, and of the duration and felicity of that state to which we are hastening, we should scorn to stoop to mean actions, and blush at the thoughts of doing any thing below our character." In this manner does our authoress discover her sentiments of piety [quotation omitted].