1838 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Caroline Norton

S. C. Hall, in The Book of Gems. The Modern Poets and Artists of Great Britain (1838) 168.



CAROLINE ELIZABETH SARAH NORTON, the second daughter of Thomas, and the grand-daughter of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, was born in London. Soon after the union of Mr. Sheridan with her mother (the daughter of Colonel and Lady Elizabeth Callander), he became consumptive, and was induced to try the effects of a warmer climate upon his constitution. His wife accompanied him to Madeira, and subsequently to the Cape, where, after lingering two or three years, he died. His still young and beautiful widow returned to England, to superintend the education of her children, — a task to which she devoted herself with engrossing zeal, passing the best and generally the vainest years of a woman's life, apart from the gay world; indifferent to the lures of society, and sacrificing even her personal comforts to advance their interests and form their minds. To this accomplished and excellent parent may be attributed much of Mrs. Norton's literary fame; — it forms another link in that long chain of hereditary genius which has now been extended through a whole century. Her sister, the lady of the Hon. Captain Price Blackwood, is also a writer of considerable taste and power: her publications have been anonymous, and she is disinclined to seek that notoriety which the "pursuits of literature" obtain; — but those who are acquainted with the productions of her pen will readily acknowledge their surpassing merit. The sisters used, in their childish days, to write together; and, before either of them had attained the age of twelve years, they produced two little books of prints and verses, called, "the Dandies' Ball," and "the Travelled Dandies;" both being imitations of a species of caricature then in vogue. But we believe that, at a much earlier period, Mrs. Norton had written poetry, which even now she would not be ashamed to see in print. Her disposition to "scribble," was, however, checked rather than encouraged by her mother; for a long time, pen, ink, and paper were denied to the young Poetess, and works of fiction carefully kept out of her way, with a view of compelling a resort to occupations of a more useful character. Her active and energetic mind, notwithstanding, soon accomplished its cherished purpose. At the age of seventeen, she wrote The Sorrows of Rosalie; and, although it was riot published until some time afterwards, she had scarcely passed her girlhood before she had established for herself the distinction which had long been attached to her maiden name.

At the age of nineteen, Miss Sheridan was married to the Hon. George Chapple Norton, brother to the present Lord Grantley. He had proposed for her three years previously, but her mother had postponed the contract until the daughter was better qualified to fix her choice. These years had enabled her to make acquaintance with one whose early death prevented a union more consonant to her feelings. When Mr. Norton again sought her hand, he received it. It is unnecessary to add, that the marriage has not been a happy one: the world has heard the slanders to which she has been exposed; and a verdict of acquittal from all who, for a moment, listened to them, call scarcely have atoned for the cruel and baseless suspicions to which she had been subjected.

Mrs. Norton has published two volumes of poetry, — The Sorrows of Rosalie, and The Undying One. The former tells the story of a ruined cottage girl; and the latter is founded on the superstition of the wandering Jew. The subject of the latter especially, was ill chosen; a circumstance for which the authoress accounts, by stating that until she married she had read fewer works of fiction than most young persons. The St. Leon of Godwin, and the wild romance of Maturin, were unknown to her; and she imagined she was INVENTING, when she was, in fact, only following in the path of her predecessors.

Mrs. Norton is eminently beautiful: her form is peculiarly graceful and dignified; and her features are exquisitely chiselled. — but hers is that intellectual beauty with which there is usually mingled a degree of haughtiness. She must occupy a high station among female authors, of which our age may boast a long and dazzling list. Her mind is of a high order; but she is far from having attained the zenith of her fame.

Her poetry is distinguished both by grace and energy. She is, perhaps, deficient in that inventive faculty in which some of her contemporaries have so greatly excelled; but her productions are full of thought, — there is nothing of the aspect of poverty in any thing she has written; on the contrary, her ideas seem too large and abundant for her verse; and she far more often crowds her materials than ekes out a description by words that might be dispensed with.