1812 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Hester Mulso Chapone

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 9:133-34.



HESTER CHAPONE, an ingenious English lady, was the daughter of Thomas Mulso, esq. of Twy well in Northamptonshire, and was born Oct. 27, 1727. At a very early age she exhibited proofs of a lively imagination and superior understanding. It is said that at nine years of age she composed a romance, entitled "The Loves of Amoret and Melissa," which, we are told, exhibited "fertility of invention, and extraordinary specimens of genius." Her mother was a beauty, with all the vanity that unhappily attaches to beauty, and fearing that tier daughter's understanding might become a more attractive object than the personal charms on which she valued herself, she took no pleasure in the progress which Hester seemed to make, and if she did not obstruct, employed at least no extraordinary pains in promoting her education. This mother, however, died when her daughter was yet young, and a circumstance which otherwise might have been of serious consequence, seemed to strengthen the inclination miss Mulso had shewn to cultivate her mind. She studied the French and Italian languages, and made some progress in the Latin. She read the best authors, especially those who treat of morals and philosophy. To these she added a critical perusal of the Holy Scriptures, but history, we are told, made no part of her studies until the latter part of her life. Her acquaintance with Richardson, whose novels were the favourites of her sex, introduced her to Mr. Chapone, a young gentleman then practising law in the Temple. Their attachment was mutual, but not hasty, or imprudent. She obtained her father's consent, and a social intimacy continued for a considerable period, before it ended in marriage. In the mean time, miss Mulso became acquainted with the celebrated miss Carter; a correspondence took place between them, which increased their mutual esteem, and a friendship was thus cemented, which lasted during a course of more than fifty years.

Miss Mulso's first production appears to have been the Ode to Peace, and that addressed to miss Carter on her intended publication of the translation of Epictetus. About the same time she wrote the story of Fidelia, which miss Carter and her other friends who had read it, persuaded her to send to the editor of the "Adventurer."

In 1760 she was married to Mr. Chapone, removed to London, and for some time lived with her husband in lodgings in Carey-street, and afterwards in Arundel-street. She enjoyed every degree of happiness which mutual attachment could confer, but it was of short duration. In less than ten months after they were married, Mr. Chapone was seized with a fever which terminated his life, after about a week's illness. At first Mrs. Chapone seemed to bear this calamity with fortitude, but it preyed on her health, and for some time her life was despaired of. She recovered, however, gradually, and resigned herself to a state of life in which she yet found many friends and many consolations. Most of her time was passed in London, or in occasional visits to her friends, among whom she had the happiness to number many distinguished characters of both sexes, lord Lyttelton, Mrs. Montague, and the circle who usually visited her house. In 1770 she accompanied Mrs. Montague into Scotland. In 1773 she published her "Letters on the Improvement of the Mind," originally intended for the use of her niece, but given to the world at the request of Mrs. Montague, and her other literary friends. As this was her first avowed publication, it made her name more generally known, and increased the number of her admirers. This work was followed by a "Volume of Miscellanies," including some pieces formerly published without her name.

The latter years of her life were embittered by the loss of the greater part of the friends of her youth; and after the death of her brother in 1799, as London had no more charms for her, she determined to settle at Winchester, where her favourite niece was married to the rev. Ben. Jeffreys; but the death of this young lady in child-bed, made her relinquish the design, and remain in her cheerless lodgings in London. So many privations had now begun to affect her mind, and her sympathizing friends persuaded her to remove to Hadley, where she died Dec. 25, 1801, in the seventy-fourth year of her age. In 1807, her whole works were published in 2 vols. 12mo, with a portion of her literary correspondence, and an interesting memoir of her life, to which we are indebted for the above sketch.