MRS. CHARLOTTE SMITH was born on the 4th of May, 1749, at Bignor, in Sussex. She was the eldest daughter of Nicholas Turner, Esq., of Stoke House, in Surrey, and of Bignor Park, in Sussex, near the banks of the Arun, where she passed many of her earliest and happiest years. There, amid scenery which had nursed the fancies of Otway and of Collins, she trod on classic ground; and every charm of Nature seems to have made the most lively and distinct impression on her very vivid mind.
She had the misfortune to lose her mother when she was only three years of age; and the care of her education thenceforth devolved upon her aunt, who paid unwearied attention to her young charge. This lady, however, appears to have considered that a good education consisted in an early and unbounded devotion to modern accomplishments, and, in after years, Charlotte Smith was wont to regret that her attention had not been more directed to useful reading, and to the acquirement of languages.
Such, however, was her insatiable thirst for reading, that, notwithstanding her love for literature was checked by her aunt, she was in the habit of reading, from her earliest childhood, every book which fell in her way. This indulgence, assisted by great natural abilities, enlarged the sphere of her observations , and extended her faculties; it gave impulse to her powers of thinking, and mingled itself with the original operations of a vigorous and penetrating understanding.
One of the leading characteristics of her mind appears to have been, from the earliest infancy, a deep and unaffected love of nature, and her beautiful descriptions of rural scenery form one of the most attractive peculiarities of her writings.
At six years old, she was placed at a respectable establishment in Chichester, where she received instruction in drawing from George Smith, a celebrated artist, and a native and inhabitant of that pretty little city, to whose house she went two or three times a-week, for the purpose of taking lessons.
In her eighth year, Miss Turner was removed from thence to a school at Kensington, at that time in high repute, and where the daughters of several persons of distinction received their education. One of her schoolfellows has recorded of her, that "she excelled the greater part of them in writing and drawing, and being the best dancer, she was always, when there was company, brought forward for exhibition, She had a taste and ear for music, but never applied with sufficient steadiness to ensure success. She was considered romantic by her young, companions; she had read more than any one in the school, was continually composing verses, and was thought too great a genius for study."
It was the custom, at this seminary, to perform both French and English plays, and Miss Turner, on such occasions, was in great request, as she was the best actress of the little party. When at home, she was frequently called upon to exhibit her theatrical powers to the company there, where also her verses were read and admired by her friends. Some of these were composed before she was ten years of age; none of them, however, have been preserved.
At twelve years of age, she quitted school to live at home, where she was attended by masters; but by the indulgence of her father, who at this time resided occasionally in town, and of her aunt, who almost idolized her, she was, even at this early age, introduced to frequent and various society, and accompanied her friends to public places. One of her biographers has observed, that "it would be curious to have a picture of her feelings and remarks at that critical period. With that liveliness of perception, and that eloquent simplicity of language, which women of sensibility and talent possess, more especially at an early age, in a degree so superior to the other sex, she must not only have been highly attractive, but have exhibited a brilliancy of imagination and a depth of sentiment, the absence of any record of which must excite severe regret."
Miss Turner's manners and appearance at this time were so far beyond her years, that she was but fourteen when she received an offer of marriage from a gentleman of suitable rank and fortune, which was rejected by her friends solely on account of her extreme youth.
At this period of her life, her reading was desultory and indiscriminate, though principally confined to poetry and to works of fiction. Unknown to her aunt, she sent to the editor of the Lady's Magazine some verses of her own composition.
In the following year, upon her father again entering the matrimonial state, her aunt, contemplating with dread the effect which this event might have upon the happiness of one who had hitherto been treated with unbounded indulgence, endeavoured, with injudicious haste, to establish her niece, by what she considered to be an advantageous marriage. In this she was seconded by the busy and officious zeal of some relations, by whose means an introduction was effected between Miss Turner, who was then not quite fifteen, and Benjamin Smith, Esq., the second son of Richard Smith, Esq., an East India merchant, and also an East India director, a young man only just of age, but in easy circumstances, as he was already admitted a partner into the lucrative business of his father, who had realized a considerable fortune.
The elder Mr. Smith was originally induced to withhold his approbation from the connexion, on the conviction that the manner in which Miss Turner had been educated had not qualified her for those habits which he deemed essential in the wife of a British merchant. His first interview, however, overcame all his objections, and he subsequently evinced both partiality and affection for his daughter-in-law.
By her own friends, the marriage, which took place on the 23rd of February, 1765, was generally esteemed to be an advantageous one for the young lady, and an uncle of hers was the only one of her family who foresaw and foretold all the misery likely to result from an union in which neither the habits nor tempers of the parties had been consulted, whilst their mutually youthful years prevented either being able to appreciate or understand the character of the other.
After a few months' residence with an aunt, the widow of Walter Berney, Esq., the young couple removed into the house prepared for their reception, which was situated in one of the narrowest and most dirty lanes in the city, and which, though tastefully and expensively fitted up, was, nevertheless, a large and dull habitation, into which the cheering beams of the sun never penetrated, consequently filling the mind with depression and gloom; and here, away from the fields and woods which she loved, and among a set of people whose habits and opinions could be but little congenial with her own, Charlotte Smith appears to have been placed in a situation wholly unsuited to her character.
The elder Mrs. Smith, formerly the widow of Nathaniel Crow, Esq., of Barbadoes, who at the time of her son's marriage with Miss Turner was still alive, though in very bad health, exacted the constant attention of the whole family, and her poor daughter-in-law was incessantly worried with questions on household economy, which she was ill fitted to encounter; and her ignorance of such matters was often contrasted with the notable housewifery of the ladies of Barbadoes.
The lower part of the house being appropriated to the business, thither her father-in-law every morning repaired to superintend his mercantile concerns. Having no taste for literature or the arts, the elegant and refined amusements of his daughter-in-law appeared to him expensive encroachments upon time, and his somewhat petulant way of speaking, and his keen black eyes, darting inquisitive glances from under dark bushy eyebrows, always appearing as if in search of something with which to find fault, obliged her, whenever his creaking shoes gave notice of a domiciliary visit, to hurry out of sight whatever might be deemed a cause of offence. Her friends and acquaintance who happened to call were often subject to this sort of suspicious examination, which generally caused them to shorten their visits.
After the death of his wife, whose stately formality, languid air, and sallow complexion, with a monotonous drawl and pronunciation common to the ladies in the West Indies, rendered her a peculiarly unattractive personage, Mr. Smith became so partial to the society of his daughter-in-law that he required her constant attendance. From long residence in the West Indies, his health had been impaired, and he was so sensible to cold, that, in the hottest day in summer, not the slightest breath of air was admitted into his apartment. Here, however, she was often expected to assist at the lectures of an old gouvernante, who, with a broad Cumberland dialect, was accustomed to lull her master to sleep with devotional books of a most gloomy tendency.
Nevertheless, he had sufficient penetration to discover and to appreciate the superior abilities of his daughter-in-law, and he entertained so much respect for her judgment, that he consulted her upon all occasions, confided to her his anxieties, and frequently employed her pen in matters of business. Such was her readiness, that he was wont to declare she could do more from his directions in one hour than any of his clerks in a day. He, at one time, even offered her a considerable allowance if she would reside altogether in town, for the purpose of assisting him, as, with a prophetic eye, he foresaw that his business would otherwise be hereafter lost to his family, through the reckless carelessness of his son, and his increasing habits of dissipation. This proposal was declined, but it has been observed, "it was a singular instance of the compass of her mind, which with equal facility could adapt itself to the charms of literature, and to the dry details of commerce."
On one occasion she vindicated the character of the elder Mr. Smith, which had been illiberally attacked, in a spirited little pamphlet, which, however, has not been preserved.
During her second confinement, Mrs. Charlotte Smith was deprived of her eldest child by a malignant fever, which ran through the house, and so great was her affliction, that it nearly proved fatal to her. Change of air and scene being recommended, she removed from the city to the village of Southgate, where, in a few months, she recovered her health, and where she enjoyed more liberty and tranquillity than had hitherto fallen to her lot.
The marriage of her aunt, who for some time had ceased to reside with her, with the elder Mr. Smith, soon after released her from her constant attendance upon her father-in-law; and as her husband daily went to town, she had now more time at her disposal, which she employed in the cultivation of her mind, and in reading a small but select collection of books which was in her possession.
An increasing family, all of whom she nursed herself, began now to claim much of her attention; and a larger house becoming necessary, Mr. Smith's father purchased for him a handsome one at Tottenham, whither they removed. But, unfortunately, Mrs. Smith disliked the situation, and was the more dissatisfied with it, as its vicinity to the metropolis had failed to induce her husband to pay greater attention to his affairs than he had hitherto done. At no time, indeed, had he a turn for business, but wasted his time in trifling occupations, each fancy being pursued at a reckless expense, till superseded by some other whim equally frivolous and costly.
In 1774, Mrs. Smith prevailed with her father-in-law to allow them to retire altogether into the country, when he purchased Ly's farm for them in Hampshire, not far from White's Selborne, on the borders of Sussex. It, however, proved an unfortunate speculation, for her husband, with his usual imprudence, kept, a larger establishment than suited his fortune, engaged in injudicious and wild schemes in agriculture, purchased more land, and attempted every sort of plan, some of which are alluded to in Emmeline, or the Orphan of the Castle, where Mr. Stafford is represented as projecting the mending of his land with old wigs, &c.
The also entered into such society as the neighbourhood afforded, where, probably, among the country families of Hampshire and Sussex, Mrs. Smith was better appreciated for her talents and personal attractions than when in the heart of the city, among her civic acquaintance.
She here passed several most anxious and important years; for her husband, being away from his father's eye, (the only check which could ever restrain his conduct,) now plunged into the most serious expenses, which, with an increasing family, for they had now eight children, he was ill able to support.
In 1776, the death of the elder Mr. Smith took place, and unfortunately for his family, his will, a voluminous document, having been made by himself, and being couched in contradictory terms, plunged his heirs into law, and large sums were lost by mismanagement. Endless disputes arose between the parties interested, and probably what Mrs. Smith, who was appointed a joint executor, together with her husband and the elder Mrs. Smith, suffered upon this occasion, gave rise to the bitterness with which she describes the legal characters frequently introduced in her novels.
The storm now lowering about them was for the moment warded off by Mr. Smith's procuring a lucrative contract, through the agency of Mr. Robinson, then Secretary to the Treasury, who had married a connexion of his. He, however, went on with his usual recklessness of expense, and was shortly afterwards appointed sheriff for Hampshire. He also took an active part in behalf of the ministerial candidate in a contested election for Southampton, in whose cause Mrs. Smith's pen was also employed, and her anonymous effusions were among the most successful that appeared upon this occasion.
In the spring of 1777, Mrs. Smith was deprived by death of her then eldest son, in his eleventh year; and to divert her mind from this heavy affliction, together with her increasing anxieties respecting their pecuniary embarrassments, she amused herself with composing her first set of sonnets, which were, at that period, never intended for publication, and the simple pathos of which is the more touching from their evidently describing the feelings of the writer. "When in the Beech Woods of Hampshire," she says, "I first struck the chords of the melancholy lyre, its notes were never intended for the public ear; it was unaffected sorrow drew them forth; I wrote mournfully because I was unhappy!"
The late Bryan Edwards, author of the History of the West Indies, is said, by his warm and gratifying praises, to have first given the writer an idea of the merits of these poems, by which she was encouraged to add to the collection.
The peace of 1782 depriving her husband of his contract, the legatees became importunate for the settlement of their respective claims, and Mr. Smith, from his inability to meet them, was thrown into the King's Bench prison. Here he languished for seven months; but the greater part of his confinement was shared with him by his admirable wife, who had the virtue and the fortitude to accompany him thither, and by whose indefatigable exertions alone it was, she having made herself mistress of his affairs, that he eventually obtained his liberty. In effecting this, she had to encounter the most unfeeling repulses, and to submit to the most humiliating applications, and all for one whose conduct towards herself had been far from unexceptionable. The estate in Hampshire was sold under the most painful circumstances, and the property being at length placed in the hands of trustees, Mr. and Mrs. Smith were at liberty to retire to a house in Sussex, which they had taken when they parted with Ly's Farm.
It was after a day of excessive fatigue, which had succeeded to the most cruel solicitude, that, the deed of trust being signed, Mrs. Smith had the satisfaction of seeing her husband liberated from his confinement, and she thus beautifully describes her sensations upon the occasion:—
"It was on the 2nd of July that we commenced our journey. For more than a month I had shared the restraint of my husband in a prison, amidst scenes of misery, of vice, and even of terror. Two attempts had, since my last residence among them, been made by the prisoners to procure their liberation by blowing up the walls of the house. Throughout the night appointed for the enterprise I remained dressed, watching at the window, and expecting every moment to witness contention and bloodshed, or perhaps be overwhelmed by the projected explosion. After such scenes, and such apprehensions, how deliciously soothing to my wearied spirits was the soft, pure air of the summer's morning breathing over the dewy grass, as (having slept one night upon the road) we passed over the heaths of Surrey! My native hills at length burst upon my view! I beheld once more the fields where I had passed my happiest days, and amidst the perfumed turf with which one of the fields was strewn, perceived with delight the beloved group, from whom, I had been so long divided, and for whose fate my affections were ever anxious. The transports of this meeting were too much for my exhausted spirits. After all my sufferings, I began to hope I might taste content, or experience at least a respite from my calamities."
It was during the interval of her husband's confinement, that Mrs. Smith's talents, hitherto only cultivated for her private gratification, and for her amusement in prosperity, seemed to offer some resource in the day of adversity. She collected together, therefore, a few of those poems which had been previously confined to the sight of one or two friends, and offered them to Dodsley, the bookseller, who received them with coldness, cast a hasty and casual glance over the manuscript, and returned them with indifference.
Mrs. Smith, with the sensibility of real genius, felt oppressed and overcome with this discouragement, and but for the impulse of imperious necessity, would probably have made no further exertion to place her talents before the eye of the public.
Her brother, Mr. Turner, who was ever extremely kind to her, now tried his powers of persuasion with Dilly, but with equal want of success. The sonnets were, therefore, printed at Chichester, at the expense of the authoress, and appeared May 10th, 1784, with a dedication to Mr. Hayley, by whose intercession, although he was as yet personally unacquainted with Mrs. Smith, Dodsley had been at length prevailed upon to undertake to be the publisher. They appeared under the title Elegiac Sonnets, and other Essays, by Charlotte Smith, of Bignor-park, Sussex; and so great was their success that a second edition was rapidly called for in the same year. The profits arising from this success temporarily released the writer from her pecuniary embarrassments.
The tranquillity which the successful poetess flattered herself she was now destined to enjoy, proved but of short continuance. Mr. Smith's affairs were in a state which made it expedient for him to retire to the Continent, to avoid being, again thrown into confinement: and, being ignorant of the French language, he went over to Dieppe, whither his wife accompanied him; but after making the arrangements necessary to his comfort, she re-crossed in the same packet that had taken her over, rejoining her family, with the vain hope of arranging matters in England. But fresh difficulties arising, and being wholly disappointed in her expectations, they all shortly afterwards joined him at a large, dreary, and dilapidated chateau, in Normandy twelve leagues from Dieppe, which, with his usual thoughtless want of providence, he had engaged.
The distance from a market, the scarcity of fuel, and the brutal manners of the peasantry, rendered the abode both inconvenient and melancholy; but here they passed the peculiarly hard winter of 1785, and here poor Mrs. Smith, who had till lately been accustomed to every comfort and luxury in life, was, without proper attention or accommodation, confined with her youngest son.
A few days after this event had taken place, she was surprised at the entrance of a procession of Catholic priests into her bed-room, who, in defiance of her entreaties and tears, forcibly carried off the infant to be baptized at a neighbouring church, though the cold was intense, and the snow was on the ground. The child was restored to her, however, without, fortunately, having sustained any injury.
The following year Mrs. Smith was again called upon to exert herself for her husband, and she so far succeeded as to enable him to return. Soon after this, they hired the old mansion of the Mills family, at Woolbeding in Sussex, a parish of which Otway's father had been rector.
Here she wrote the following address to the pretty little river Arun, which gives its name to Arundel Castle, the princely abode of the Duke of Norfolk.
TO THE RIVER ARUN.
On thy wild banks, by frequent torrents worn,
No glittering fanes, or marble domes appear,
Yet shall the mournful Muse thy course adorn,
And still to her thy rustic waves be dear!
For with the infant Otway lingering here,
Of early woes she bade her votary dream,
While thy low murmurs soothed his pensive ear;
And still the poet consecrates the stream.
Beneath the oak and beech that fringe thy side,
The first-born violets of the year shall spring
And in thy hazles, bending o'er the tide,
The earliest nightingale delights to sing,
While kindred spirits, pitying, shall relate
Thy Otway's sorrows, and lament his fate.
To those well acquainted with the scenery of Sussex, the wild forest scenery of the northern part of the county, the softly swelling blue downs of the south, with the magnificent sea views from thence, the oakwoods of the Weald, together with the flowery banks, the bosky bourns, and the sequestered dells, so frequently to be met with there, the poetical descriptions of Mrs. Smith convey a peculiar charm, and please, because they are correct and natural, as well as elegant and pathetic.
During her seclusion in Normandy, Mrs. Smith had amused her leisure hours with translating a French novel into English, entitled, Manon l'Escaut, written by the Abbe Prevot, and as it now became necessary to exert her abilities for the support of herself and family, this work was published in 1785. She was, however, violently censured on account of the alleged immoral tendency of this novel.
Her next literary employment was the making a selection of extraordinary stories from Les Causes Celebres of the French, which she published, under the title of The Romance of Real Life; but the difficulties which attended this undertaking gave her a disgust to translating and transcribing the thoughts of others, — fortunately for the world, — as she was in consequence induced afterwards to recur to original composition, which gave rise to a series of works, alike pleasing, elegant, and interesting.
In 1786, Mrs. Smith's then eldest son having obtained a writership in Bengal, left England for India. But though it was a fortunate circumstance thus to have provided for one of her numerous family, the separation was a great trial to an affectionate mother. A still severer one, however, awaited her, in the death of her second son, who was, in thirty-six hours, carried off by a malignant fever, which, spreading through the family, reduced several others to the brink of the grave. She herself, however, fortunately escaped, and by her exertions they were eventually restored to health.
Shortly afterwards, increasing incompatibility of temper and other circumstances, making it quite hopeless that there should be any chance of happiness whilst living together, Mrs. Smith came to the resolution of separating from her husband, and she accordingly left Woolbeding House, accompanied by all her children, some of whom were old enough to judge for themselves, and who decided on going with their mother, rather than remaining with the father. By their friends, this was deemed, under existing circumstances, the best arrangement that could be made, and perhaps it might have been better had she taken the step at an earlier period. It, however, exposed her to much censure, for the world generally imputes blame to the wife who leaves the protection of her husband.
Unfortunately, no previous adjustment of terms had been made, and Mr. Smith, after a few attempts to induce her to return to him, having involved himself in fresh difficulties, was again obliged to retire to the Continent. They occasionally met after this separation, but never again resided together, though they constantly corresponded, till the death of Mr. Smith, which took place in March, 1807.
Mrs. Smith now took a small cottage at Wyke, in the vicinity of Chichester, where she published a new edition of her Sonnets, with many additions, which afforded her a temporary relief. In this retirement, again stimulated by necessity, she was induced to try her powers of original composition in another line of literature, and accordingly began, and in the space of eight months completed, her novel of Emmeline, or the Orphan of the Castle. This novel was published in the spring of 1788, and the whole of the first edition, 1,500 in number, sold so rapidly, that another was immediately called for, and Mr. Cadell, her publisher, in consequence, voluntarily agreed to augment the price he had promised to give for it. The success of this work, as well as of her Sonnets, established her reputation as a writer, and procured her many valuable friends and acquaintances, some, indeed, of very exalted rank, and it is said, her son, in Bengal, owed his promotion in the civil service to the talents of his accomplished mother.
Of this work, Sir Walter Scott says, "We remember well the impression made on the public by the appearance of Emmeline, or the Orphan of the Castle, a tale of love and passion, happily conceived, and told in a most interesting manner. It contained a happy mixture of humour and of bitter satire, mingled with pathos, while the characters both of sentiment and of manners were sketched with a firmness of pencil and liveliness of colouring, which belong to the highest branch of fictitious narratives."
Another elegant critic and warm admirer of Mrs. Smith's works, Sir Egerton Brydges, says, "All that part of the public, who, though they were disgusted with the usual contents of a circulating library, yet had fancy and feeling enough to judge for themselves in spite of prejudice, received this enchanting fiction with a new kind of delight. It displayed such a simple energy of language, such an accurate and lively delineation of character, such a purity of sentiment, and such exquisite scenery of a picturesque and rich, yet most unaffected imagination, as gave it a hold upon all readers of true taste, of a new and captivating kind. The simple charms of Emmeline, the description of the old castle in Wales, the marine scenery in the Isle of Wight, the character of Godolphin, and many other parts, possessed a sort of charm, which had not hitherto been imparted to novels. How a mind oppressed with sorrows and injuries of the deepest dye, and loaded with hourly anxieties of the most pressing sort, could be endowed with strength and elasticity to combine, and throw forth such visions, with a pen dipped in all the glowing hues of most playful and creative fancy, fills me with astonishment and admiration."
"But whatever wonder may be excited by this first effort, it will yet be increased when we recollect that for several successive years, she still produced others with equal felicity, with an imagination still unexhausted, and a command of language, and variety of character, which have not yet received their due commendation."
Her next performance, Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake, appeared in 1789, with a rapidity of composition only equalled by Sir Walter Scott, who, in speaking of this work, says, "Though the love tale be less interesting, owing to a sort of fantastic romance attached to the hero Montgomery, it is in other respects altogether fit to stand beside The Orphan of the Castle. The cold-hearted yet coquettish woman of fashion, Lady Newenden, is very well drawn, and so are the female horse-jockey and the brutal buck."
Celestina, the next that appeared, was published in 1791, and if somewhat less popular, perhaps, than the preceding, is, nevertheless, a pleasing and an interesting fiction.
Desmond followed in 1792, in which the heroine, Geraldine, being a married woman, Mrs. Smith was somewhat severely criticized by austere moralists; as also by politicians adverse to the French Revolution, for having therein somewhat advocated the cause; but when she was in France, she had seen the degradation of the people, and the oppression of the aristocracy, and possibly deemed any change must be for the better, unwitting of the ferocious scenes of licentiousness and anarchy that were afterwards to ensue. Politics are certainly out of their place in a novel, and her having thus introduced them is said to have lost her some valuable friends.
She was, however, not frowned into silence by unfriendly critics, for, in the following year, 1793, appeared The Manor House, by many thought the best of her productions. The Wanderings of Warwick, a sort of episode in the above, was published afterwards in a separate volume.
Of this work, Sir Walter Scott observes, "The chef d'oeuvre of Mrs. Smith's works, is, according to our recollection, the Old Manor House, especially the first part of the story, where the scene lies about the ancient mansion and its vicinity. Old Mrs. Rayland is without a rival; a Queen Elizabeth in private life, jealous of her immediate dignities and professions, and still more jealous of the power of bequeathing them. Her letter to Mr. Somerive, in which she insinuates rather than expresses her desire to keep young Orlando at the Hall, while she is so careful to avoid committing herself by any direct expression of her intentions with respect to him, is a masterpiece of diplomacy, equal to what she of Tudor could have composed on a similar occasion. The love of the young people, thrown together so naturally, its innocence and purity, and the sort of perils with which they are beset, cannot fail deeply to interest all those who are interested by this peculiar species of literature. The unexpected interview with Jonas the smuggler furnishes an opportunity for varying the tale with a fine scene of natural terror, drawn with a masterly hand."
Whilst composing this work, Mrs. Smith paid a visit to her friend Mr. Hayley, with whom, as well as with his lady, she had been intimate for two or three years; and whilst at his villa at Eartham, near Chichester, the poet Cowper formed one of the party. In his letters he mentions Mrs. Smith bringing down and reading for their amusement The Old Manor House, as she proceeded in its composition.
At that period the friendship of Mr. Hayley appears to have entailed on his "Muses," as he was wont to call his female friends, the loss of that of their own sex, each apparently wishing to monopolize to herself all claims to his adulation. This may, perhaps, in some degree, explain the severity of criticism with which Mrs. Smith's productions were greeted by certain literary ladies about this time. But whilst the performances of most of her contemporaries have been consigned to a well-deserved oblivion, at the end of nearly half a century, some of Mrs. Smith's are still read with pleasure and interest by all persons of taste.
She had now quitted her cottage at Wyke, and resided sometimes in or near London, but chiefly at Brighton, where her sister, Mrs. Dorset, appears to consider she formed certain acquaintances with some of the advocates of the French Revolution, which influenced her political sentiments. Mrs. Smith was, however, by far too clever a woman not to judge for herself, and to form her own opinion upon all occasions, and indeed, in Desmond, published in 1792, she had already openly avowed them.
Domestic calamity, in other than a pecuniary form, now again awaited her, for in 1793, her third son, who was serving as an ensign in the 14th regiment of foot, lost his leg at Dunkirk, and in a few years afterwards he fell a martyr to the yellow fever in Barbadoes.
But the misfortune which most severely tried her fortitude, was the death of her second and favourite daughter, who had married the Chevalier de Foville, a gentleman of Normandy, who had emigrated at the beginning of the Revolution. Madame de Foville fell into a decline after her first confinement and died at Clifton in the spring of 1794.
"How lovely and beloved she was," says the afflicted mother in, a letter to a friend, "those only who knew her can tell. In the midst of perplexity and distress, till the loss of my child, which fell like the band of death upon me, I could yet exert my faculties, and in the consciousness of the resource which they afforded to me, experience a sentiment not dissimilar to that of the Medea of Corneille, who replied to the inquiry of her confidante, "Where now are your resources in myself!"
Elsewhere she says, "After having resisted for twelve years, difficulties and distresses such as women are seldom called upon to encounter, one dreadful evil has overtaken me, and nearly overwhelmed me; that lovely being who was the greatest blessing of my life, who alone had the power to sooth my wearied spirits and sweeten my hours of toil, has been torn from me for ever, and this last and bitterest calamity I shall ever impute to the conduct of our inhuman oppressors. Yet, in the hour of my extreme misery, while I dreaded, and after I had suffered the severity, what did I receive from them-from these men who then held, who still hold, the property of my family? Refusal of the most necessary assistance, taunts, and insults; — and I owed it to the friendship of one amiable and exalted female character, to a nobleman eminent for his good actions, and to a physician of the first reputation in London, (to whom I was wholly a stranger,) that at that period of agonizing distress I did not entirely sink; while to a physician at Bath I was indebted for every friendly, every skilful exertion which I could not purchase, but which were unremittingly applied to save me from the blow that has indeed crushed me to the earth, and rendered the residue of my days labour and sorrow."
Mrs. Smith seems never to have recovered from this shock; indeed her health began to sink under the pressure of so many calamities, and the continued exertion she was constrained to use to effect some arrangement of the family property. An imperfect gout fixed itself in her hands, perhaps increased by the constant use of the pen, which she, however, continued to employ, even after some of her fingers had become contracted. She removed to Bath for the waters, but derived no benefit from their use.
She now became more than ever unsettled, wandering from place to place in search of that tranquillity and happiness she seemed destined never to enjoy. She continued her literary labours, however, without intermission, and with astonishing rapidity. The Old Manor House was followed, in July 1794, by The Banished Man, in which, under the name of Mrs. Denzil, she has described the troubles of an authoress, which were probably drawn from her own experience; and in the adventures of the hero and heroine, the Chevalier D'Aimville and Angelina Denzil, we may imagine are portrayed those of the Chevalier and Madame De Foville.
Montalbert appeared in 1795, and Marchmont in 1796.
In the preface to this work, (Marchmont,) Mrs. Smith observes, "I have been gravely told that I have made enemies by personality. In many instances it has certainly been the consciences of the prototypes that have helped the world to resemblances; but I do not affect to deny that I have occasionally drawn from the life; and I have no hesitation in saying, that in the present work the character most odious (and that only) is drawn 'ad vivum'; but as it represents a reptile whose most hideous features are too offensive to be painted in all their enormity, I have softened rather than overcharged the disgusting resemblance."
The Young Philosopher appeared in 1798, and The Solitary Wanderer, making together, with her former productions, about thirty-eight volumes.
Besides these, Mrs. Smith wrote several beautiful little works for young people, entitled, Rural Walks, Rambles Farther, Minor Morals, Conversations; also a poem in blank verse, called The Emigrant; a History of England for the Use of Young Persons, which being incomplete, was finished by another hand; and A Natural History of Birds, which was published in 1807, as was also her poem, entitled, Beachy Head. Some of these performances are in a half dramatic, half narrative form, interspersed with interesting tales and curious facts in natural history, many evidently the result of her own observation.
The whole of these performances are well calculated to inspire young persons with a love of the country, and to attract their attention to the works of nature. Indeed, to those brought up in retirement, there are few works better calculated to teach them to find
Tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything.
A premature old age coming on, probably from the pressure of anxiety and distress, in 1803, Mrs. Smith removed from Frant, near Tunbridge Wells, into Surrey, from a desire that her mortal remains might be laid with those of her mother, in Stoke Church, near Guilford.
Whilst at Elsted, near Godalming, her talented sister, Mrs. Dorset, the authoress of The Peacock at Home, paid her a visit. She says, "In the winter of 1804, I spent some time with her, when she was occupied in composing her charming little work for the use of young persons, entitled Conversations, which she occasionally wrote in the common sitting-room of the family, with two or three lively grandchildren playing about her, and conversing with great cheerfulness and pleasantry, though nearly confined to her sofa, in great bodily pain, and in a mortifying state of dependence on the services of others, but in the full possession of her faculties: a blessing of which she was most justly sensible, and for which she frequently expressed her gratitude to the Almighty."
In the following year, Mrs. Smith moved to Telford, near Farnham, where her sufferings were terminated on the 28th of October, 1806, in her fifty-eighth year. She was interred at Stoke, according to her wishes, where an elegant monument of white marble with a grey border, by Bacon, was erected to her memory, with the following inscription:—
"Sacred to the talents and virtues of Mrs. Charlotte Smith, (eldest daughter of Nicholas Turner, Esq., late of Stoke Place,) who terminated a life of great and various sufferings on the 28th of October, 1806. Also to the memory of Charles and George Frederic Smith, two of her sons, who met an early but honourable death in the West Indies, in the service of their country;-this tribute of gratitude and affection, of filial and paternal love, is inscribed by the surviving family."
From her writings it might be supposed that Mrs. Smith was of a melancholy cast of mind. It appears, however, that she was naturally of a cheerful and gay disposition, and when with those she liked, her conversation was spirited and racy. Every sentence had its point, the effect of which was increased by the extreme rapidity with which she spoke, her ideas, apparently, flowing too fast for utterance.
She composed with greater facility than others could transcribe, and never availed herself of an amanuensis, always asserting that it was more trouble to find them in comprehension, than to execute the business herself. The quickness of her conception, indeed, was such, that she made but little allowance for the slower faculties of others, and her impetuosity seldom allowed her time to explain herself with precision.
The whole of her works, not far from fifty volumes in number, bear the impress of a highly elegant and cultivated mind, as well as of great original talent.
Of Mrs. Smith's numerous family of twelve children one daughter only is in existence, residing at Lymington, in Hampshire. Her son, Lieutenant-General Sir Lionel Smith, colonel of the fortieth regiment, who was born the 9th of October, 1778, was created a baronet in 1838, in consideration of his military services and patriotic exertions as the liberal governor of Jamaica. His departure from that colony was marked by the lamentations and tears of the coloured population, to whom he had ever evinced himself a sincere and stedfast friend. He was appointed governor of the Mauritius, where his decease took place a few months ago.
Elegiac Sonnets and other Essays, 1784.
Translation of Manor L'Escaut, 1785.
The Romance of Real Life, 1786.
Emmeline, or the Orphan of the Castle, 1788.
Ethelinde, or the Recluse of the Lake, 1789.
The Manor House, and Wanderings of Warwick, 1793.
The Banished Man, 1794. Montalbert, 1795.
The Young Philosopher, 1798.
The Solitary Wanderer, 1799.
Rural Walks and Rambles Farther, 1796.
Minor Morals, 1798.
History of England for Young People.
Natural History of Birds, 1807.
The Emigrant, a Poem, &c.
Beachey Head, &c., 1807.