1806 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Charlotte Smith

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 76 (Supplement, 1806) 1247-48.



The Republick of Letters and the Lovers of Literature have sustained no inconsiderable loss in the death of Mrs. Charlotte Smith. Her Novels are so numerous as to display a wonderful invention; for they are much more diversified than could possibly be expected from the same pen. It is the general opinion of the most unsophisticated observers, that her first Novel has the strongest claims to preeminent excellence. We are of opinion, however, that her last works, consisting of short Stories, are the most exquisite in point of composition. She has contrived, in general, to make all her Novels interesting, and has been studiously careful of her style. Indeed, she was so sensible of her merit in this particular, and so desirous of her works ranking with the belles lettres of the age, that she could not endure the thought of their being considered simply as Novels, but always expected them to be deemed worthy of a place in every elegant library. Her domestic misfortunes involved her and her concerns in a sort of perpetual law-suit; and she experienced so much of legal vexation, rapacity, and chicanery, that there are few of her Novels in which she has not introduced her own case, either principally or collaterally, with the characters of almost every description of lawyer that can possibly excite disgust and detestation against the profession and its professors. Well could she exclaim, with Jephson's Countess of Narbonne,

I was a woman, full of tenderness;
I am a woman, stung by injuries!

From her Novels might be extracted a tolerable history of her own feelings, and of all she suffered from the harpies of the Law. It were to be wished that there were published a key to all these numerous characters which she has drawn from the life, and which could easily be supplied by any of her intimate acquaintance. In drawing portraits she has great excellence; for the most part they are true to Nature; contrary to the usual practice of Novelists, she neither heightens nor debases; and she never descends to caricature, not even a lawyer. Ensnared and entangled as she was in the toils of Law, and suffering as she did under legal oppression, it is no wonder she should embrace those extravagant but fascinating sentiments of liberty which were promulgated in France, under pretence of founding a Republick, and that she should regard with disgust that union of Law and Liberty which forms the beauty of the British Constitution. Hence, in many of her Novels, she is extremely sarcastic on "all the forms, modes, and shapes," in which the Constitution is, or is liable to be, abused by such as choose to render the Law an instrument of power rather than of protection. All our female writers seem to have adopted the same wild notions, with the exception of Hannah More. — Mrs. Smith was well versed in the captivating science of Botany; and, had she been at ease in her circumstances, and in a situation favourable to such pursuits, she would doubtless have produced many useful works, as well as beautiful effusions, on those pleasing objects in the vegetable world which afford pure delight to the eye and elegant contemplation to the mind. But there seems to be a fatality attendant on real Genius, that it shall always be surrounded by difficulties, and compelled, comparatively, to associate with owls and nightingales. A fine imagination, an accomplished mind, and an early taste of intelicity, made her a Poet; and her charming Sonnets will live forever.