CHARLOTTE ELIZABETH TONNA, better known simply as Charlotte Elizabeth, was the only daughter of the Rev. Mr. Browne, an Episcopal clergyman at Norwich, England. She was born in the latter part of the eighteenth century; when about six years old, intense application to study brought on a total blindness, which lasted for several months. When about ten years old, she was afflicted with an illness, which, together with the severe remedy (calomel) used by the physicians, brought on the total loss of her hearing, which she never recovered, though she retained the faculty of speech all her life. Her enthusiastic nature was shown when she was very young, in her ardent pursuit of knowledge and her intense love of poetry. When she was about eighteen, her father died. She married Dr. Phelan, a surgeon in the British army, whom she followed to Halifax, Nova Scotia. This onion proved an unhappy one, and, after nearly three years' absence, Charlotte Elizabeth returned to England. She soon after went to Ireland, where her husband was then engaged in a law-suit. While there, she became very much interested in the Irish people, and formed a strong attachment to them which lasted all her life; and what was of greater importance to herself and the world, she also became deeply and truly religious.
In 1821, she went to the county of Kilkenny, where she resided for three years. While here, she became deeply interested in a little ignorant dumb boy, whom she took and educated, so that he proved a useful and pious member of society till his early death. In 1824, she returned to England, taking her little mute with her, and for the next year she resided at Clifton, near Bristol, where she formed an acquaintance with Mrs. Hannah More. Her only and dearly beloved brother returning at that time from Portugal, where he had been for some time as an officer in the British army, she accompanied him and his family to Sandhurst. In the course of the little more than two years that she passed with her brother, Charlotte Elizabeth wrote "The Rockite," "The System," "Izram," "Consistency," "Perseverance," "Allen McLeod," and more than thirty other little books and tracts, besides contributions to various periodicals.
In 1828, her brother, captain Murray Browne, was ordered to Ireland, where he was drowned while fishing. After five years' residence at Sandhurst, where Charlotte Elizabeth had been zealous and untiring in every good and benevolent work, she removed to London, where she continued her career of active usefulness, both with her pen and by her personal exertions. She established schools for the poorest of the poor, in the wretched district of St. Giles, and taught in them herself a great part of the day. In 1836 she removed to Blackheath; and in 1837 she again visited Ireland. In the same year she heard of the death of captain Phelan, and in 1841 she married L. H. I. Tonna. In 1841 she also undertook the editorship of the
"Judah's Lion." In 1842 she wrote "Principalities and Powers in Heavenly Places." "Conformity," and "Dangers and Duties," also appeared during this year. In 1843 she wrote "The Wrongs of Women," "The Church Visible in all Ages," and "The Perils of the Nation." In 1845 she wrote "Judea Capta;" and in the same year removed to London. Soon after she went to Ramsgate, for the benefit of the sea-air, but returned in a short time to London. She afterwards returned to Ramsgate, where she died of a cancer, July 12th, 1846. She wrote several other works, which are not enumerated here.
The life and writings of Charlotte Elizabeth afford remarkable proofs of the advantages of female education, and the usefulness of female talents. No other English writer has, within the last fifty years, done so much to promote the cause of evangelical piety in the English Church as this deaf woman. And her pen, reaching across the Atlantic, has instructed thousands of Christians of America in the better understanding, or doing, of their work of love.
It is impossible to estimate the good which has been, and will be, effected by the earnest, active, instructed mind of this woman, devoting herself and her genius to God and his cause on earth. Though she is dead her works live, and their potent and persuasive manner of setting forth the truths of the Bible, will maintain their popularity with those who value the Word of God above the traditions of men. This adherence to the doctrines of the Bible, and constant reference to the sacred book, as the source of all true wisdom, we consider the most striking and beautiful characteristic of her works. As these are extensively known, we choose our selections from her ''Autobiography," which, as unveiling the secret sources of her uncommon energies, and her wonderful power to move the hearts of her readers, should be studied by all who are interested by her writings.