1883 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Caroline Norton

Eric S. Robertson, in English Poetesses, a Series of Critical Biographies (1883) 242-43.



Caroline Norton's first effort in literature was a slight sketch, now very scarce, entitled the Dandies' Rout, with illustrations from her own pencil. There is no copy of this in the British Museum. The little work, it is believed, was produced in Caroline Norton's thirteenth year; and her sisters had a share in it. In 1829 she brought out The Sorrows of Rosalie, a poem which dealt with the familiar theme of a young country girl betrayed by a man of rank; and in 1830 came The Undying One. The next volume attributed to her was published without her consent. It took its name from a short story forming its earlier pages, The Coquette, and was entirely composed of ephemeral contributions to the Ladies' Magazine. After The Coquette came a more serious performance, The Wife, and Woman's Reward (1835). Then came The Dream, in 1841, a book of poetry which led the Quarterly Review to dub her the female Byron. Macaulay somewhere likens the poetry of Byron to that species of toy-book in which a single face made of india-rubber pierces many pages, and forms the head to a different body on each page. The simile might to a moderate extent be applied to Mrs. Norton's methods of work. In all her poems we are constantly reminded of herself — a very interesting person to be reminded of, and so we do not judge her harshly for the fault. Fault it was, however; and had she not been so caressed by society, and personally so worthy of the world's admiration, the continual suggestion of her own sufferings and sorrows abounding in her verse would be nothing short of an impertinence. The Dream is dedicated to the Duchess of Sutherland, in a set of verses which pointedly refer to the scandals which had arisen in her career and life. These verses are fully as sustained in power as any she ever wrote. It was hardly dignified of the author to quarrel so pettedly with anonymous maligners whom she could with more effect have silenced by silence itself.