1808 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Elizabeth Smith

Robert Southey to John Neville White, 20 September 1808; Selections from the Letters, ed. Warter (1856) 2:89-90.



We are very much obliged to you for the Fragments of poor Miss Smith, which I had heard of and wished to see. In the winter of 1796 I was introduced to her on the South Parade at Bath, by James Losh, a gentleman now settled at Newcastle, and practising as a provincial counsel, — one of the best and most amiable men in all respects whom it has been my good fortune to know. He borrowed of her for me Carlyle's translations from the Arabic, then newly published. From that time I neither saw nor knew anything of her till about three years ago, when, hearing that one of Mrs. Smith's daughters, at Coniston, understood Hebrew, I knew that she must be the person to whom I had formerly been made known; but I made no attempt at renewing the acquaintance, because there is a haughtiness and harshness about her mother which are to me exceedingly offensive. Not many weeks before her death I chanced to meet her and her mother in a one-horse chair, when I was in an open carriage with one of her acquaintance. Death was in her countenance; my friend stopped to talk with them, but I merely bowed my head: that was not a time to remind her of days when she was in health; she had evidently no breath to spare in waste words, and the sight of her made me melancholy for the rest of the day. Indeed I have her, as she then appeared, vividly in my recollection now. You liken her to Henry [Kirke White, the recipient's brother]; but genius is wanting on her part for the resemblance, for of this there is no trace to be found among her Fragments. There is great good sense, great accomplishments, prodigious industry, and, what is most admirable, a pure love of knowledge for its own sake, — for the quiet enjoyment, and the holy self-satisfaction which it afforded.