1802 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Hester Mulso Chapone

Anna Laetitia Barbauld, "Memoirs of Mrs. Chapone" Monthly Magazine 13 (February 1802) 39-40.



So may some gentle Muse,
With lucky words favour my destin'd urn;
And as he passes turn,
And bid fair Peace by to my sable shroud.

Mrs. Chapone, who died at Hadley, in Middlesex, December the 25th, 1801, in her 75th year, has long been known to the public, as an elegant and highly moral writer. The first productions of her's, which were given to the world, were, the interesting story of Fidelia in the Adventurer; and a Poem, prefixed to her friend Mrs. Carter's Translation of Epictetus; but her name only became known on the publication of a deservedly popular work, Letters on the Improvement of the Mind, addressed to a Young Lady. This was printed in 1773, and will long, it is to be hoped, maintain its place in the library of young women. It is distinguished by sound sense, a liberal, as well as a warm spirit of piety, and a philosophy applied to its best use, the culture of the heart and affections. It has no shining eccentricities of thought, no peculiarities of system; it follows experience as its guide, and is content to produce effects of acknowledged utility, by known and approved means. On these accounts, it is perhaps the most unexceptionable treatise, that can be put into the hands of female youth. These letters are particularly excellent, in what relates to regulating the temper and feelings. Their style is pure and unaffected, and the manner grave and impressive. Those who choose to compare them in this respect with another widely circulated publication, addressed, about the same time to young women, (Dr. Fordyce's Sermons) will probably be of opinion, that the dignified simplicity of the female writer is much more consonant to true taste, than the affected prettinesses and constant glitter of the preacher. Mrs. Chapone soon after published a volume of Miscellanies, containing one or two moral essays, and some elegant poems. The poems, which have the merit of many beautiful thoughts, and some original images, seem not to have been sufficiently appreciated by the public; for they were not greatly noticed, owing perhaps to the mode of their publication. It was not then so common as it has been since, to mix new matter with old.

Mrs. Chapone's maiden name was Mulso: her family was a respectable one, in Northamptonshire. Her married life was short, and not very happy. She probably alluded to her own nuptial choice, when she speaks in one of her poems of "Prudence slow, that ever comes too late." When left a widow, her very limited circumstances prevented her not from enjoying a large acquaintance among the first circles of society, who admired her for her talents, and respected her for her virtues.

She understood and relished conversation. Her discourse was seasoned occasionally with a vein of humour; and having the advantage (for it is an advantage) of associating in early life with the best company, the ease and polish of the gentlewoman accompanied the talents of the writer. Her person was plain: but in her youth she had a fine voice, and always had a strong taste for music. Mrs. Chapone was one of those women who have shown that it is possible to attain a correct and elegant style, without an acquaintance with the classics. The French and Italian she understood, and from the latter she made some translations. Mrs. Chapone, Mrs. Montague; and another lady, who stands confessedly at the summit of female literature, and upon a par with the most distinguished scholars of the other sex, were friends and intimates: the two former have left the stage, but their venerable senior still survives to receive the homage of another century. Mrs. Chapone had been declining in health for many years. The loss of a beloved niece, the lady to whom the letters were addressed, and of a more beloved brother, to whom she was united in affection and similarity of taste, hastened the infirmities of age; and for some time before her death, she was laid aside from society. It is not unusual for those, who in some period of their lives have filled a certain space in the eye of the public, if they have been sometime withdrawn from it, to glide silently out of life unnoticed, except by the attendants at their bedside; so was it with Mrs. Chapone — But if there are those of her sex, now happy wives and mothers, who have in any measure been formed to those characters by the early impressions they may have received from her writings, they will drop a grateful tear to the memory of their benefactor, and rank her among these who, in the French phrase, "have deserved well of their country."