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Of her character and her poetry, a distinguished critic' thus speaks: "She was endowed with considerable genius, and with an ample portion of that fine enthusiasm which sometimes may be mistaken for it; but her taste was far from good, and her numerous productions (a few excepted) are disfigured by florid ornament and elaborate magnificence."
December Morning, 1782.
I love to rise ere gleams the tardy light,
Winter's pale dawn; and as warm fires illume
With shutters closed, peer faintly through the gloom
The grateful thoughts to God, ere they unfold
Wisdom's rich page: 0 hours! more worth than gold,
From drear decays of age, outlive the old!
From thy waves, stormy Lannow, I fly;
From thy rocks, that are lash'd by their tide;
Her smile to that scene could impart
A charm, that might rival the bloom of the vale-
And the waters grow dark as they rise!
But they rose in the days that are flown!
From thy rocks, stormy Lannow, I fly!
Receive me, and shield my vex'd spirit, ye groves,
To thy rocks, stormy Lannow, adieu!
THE GRAVE OF YOUTH.
When life is hurried to untimely close,
In the years of crystal eyes and burnish'd hair,
Of welcome friend, with more intenseness listen'd
CHARLOTTE SMITH, 1749-1806.
MRS. CHARLOTTE SMITH, the daughter of Nicholas Turner, Esq., of Stoke House, Surrey, was born in King street, St. James' Square, London, May 4, 1749. Her father possessed another house at Bignor Park, on the banks of the Arun, where she passed many of her earliest years, of which she speaks in the following beautiful stanza:
Then, from thy wildwood banks, Aruna, roving,
Thy thymy downs with sportive steps I sought,
"How enchanting must have been the day-dreams of a mind thus endowed, in the early season of youth and hope! Amid scenery which had nursed the fancies of Otway and of Collins, she trod on sacred ground: every charm of Nature seems to have made the most lively and distinct impression on her very vivid
1 The Arun is a river of Sussex county, on the southern coast of England.
mind; and her rich imagination must have peopled it with beings of another world."
From a very early age she had an insatiable thirst for reading, and devoured almost every book that fell in her way. From her twelfth to her fifteenth year, her father resided occasionally in London, and she was, while still a child, introduced into society. She lost her mother when quite young, and, when her father was about to form a second marriage, the friends of the young poetess made efforts, most foolishly, to "establish her in life," as it is called, and induced her to accept the hand of a Mr. Smith, the son and partner of a rich West India merchant. She was then but sixteen, and her husband twenty-one years of age. It was a most ill-advised and rash union, and productive of the most unhappy results. The first years of her marriage she lived in London, which was not at all congenial to her tastes. Subsequently her father-in-law purchased for her husband, who was negligent of his business in the city, a farm in Hampshire. Here, if possible, he did worse, keeping too large an establishment, and entering into injudicious and wild speculations. She foresaw the storm that was gathering, but had no power to prevent it.
In 1776, Mrs. Smith's father died. A few years after this event, her husband's affairs were brought to a crisis, and he was imprisoned for debt. With great fortitude and devoted constancy she accompanied him, and by her untiring exertions was enabled to procure his release. During his confinement, she collected her sonnets and other poems for publication. They were much admired, and passed through no less than eleven editions. In the following letter, she describes, most graphically,
HER HUSBAND'S LIBERATION.
It was on the 2d day of July that we commenced our journey. For more than a month I had shared the restraint of my husband, in a prison, amidst scenes of misery, of vice, and even of terror. Two attempts had, since my last residence among them, been made by the prisoners to procure their liberation, by blowing up the walls of the house. Throughout the night appointed for this enterprise, I remained dressed, watching at the window, and expecting every moment to witness contention and bloodshed, or perhaps be overwhelmed by the projected explosion. After such scenes, and such apprehensions, how deliciously soothing to my wearied spirits was the soft, pure air of the summer's morning, breathing over the dewy grass, as (having slept one night on the road) we passed over the heaths of Surrey! My native hills at length burst upon my view! I beheld once more the fields where I had passed my happiest days, and amidst the perfumed turf with which one of those fields was strown, perceived with delight the beloved group from whom I had been so long divided, and for whose fate my affections were ever anxious.
The transports of this meeting were too much for my exhausted spirits. After all my sufferings, I began to hope I might taste content, or experience at least a respite from my calamities!
But this state of happiness did not long continue. Mr. Smith's liberty was again threatened, and he went to France. His wife and their eight children accompanied him, and they spent an anxious and forlorn winter in Normandy. The next year she returned to England, and by her great and persevering exertions, enabled her husband to follow her. They hired a mansion at Woolbeding, in Sussex, a parish of which Otway's' father had been rector. Here she wrote her twenty-sixth Sonnet:
TO THE RIVER ARUN.
On thy wild banks, by frequent torrents worn,
No glittering fanes or marble domes appear;
And still to her thy rustic waves be dear!
Of early woes she bade her votary dream-
The earliest nightingale delight to sing:
It now became necessary for her to exert her talents as a means of support, and she translated two or three stories from the French. Her husband being again obliged to leave the country, she removed with her children to a small cottage in another part of Sussex, and, while residing here, published a new edition of her Sonnets, with additions. She then tried her powers in another line of literature, and 1788 gave to the public her "Emmeline, or the Orphan of the Castle," which novel was exceedingly popular. In the following year, she published another novel, entitled, "Ethelinda ;" and to this succeeded, in very rapid succession, "Celestina," "Desmond," "The Old Manor House," "The Wanderings of Warwick," "The Banished Man," "Montalbert," and others, besides several beautiful little volumes for young persons, entitled, "Rural Walks," "Rambles Farther," "Minor Morals;"-in all about forty volumes! During all this time, she suffered severe family afflictions, in the loss of three children, as well as pecuniary trials in the adjustment of her husband's affairs. But the hour was arriving when grief was to subdue this long-tried victim. Her husband, it is said, died in legal confinement in March, 1806; and on the 28th of October following, she herself died, after a lingering and painful illness, which she bore with the utmost patience, retaining her faculties to the last.
As a poetess, Charlotte Smith has been excelled by few of her country-women. Her Sonnets are "most musical, most melancholy, and abound with touches of tenderness, grace, and beauty; and her descriptions of rural scenery are particularly fresh and vivid." "But while we allow," says Sir Walter Scott, "high praise to the sweet and sad effusions of Mrs. Smith's muse, we cannot admit that by these alone she could have ever risen to the height of eminence which we are disposed to claim for her prose narratives." But, however this might have been during her life, and when Walter Scott included her in his library of British Novelists, Charlotte Smith is now most known and most valued for her poetry, which is distinguished by great grace and elegance.
TO THE MOON.
Queen of the silver bow!-by thy pale beam,
Sheds a soft calm upon my troubled breast;
That in thy orb the wretched may have rest;
Released by death, to thy benignant sphere,
Forget, in thee, their cup of sorrow here.
ON THE DEPARTURE OF THE NIGHTINGALE.
Sweet poet of the woods, a long adieu!
Farewell, soft minstrel of the early year!
And pour thy music on the night's dull ear.
And still protect the song she loves so well.
Through the lone brake that shades thy mossy nest;
The gentle bird who sings of pity best:
THE HAPPINESS OF CHILDHOOD.
Sighing, I see yon little troop at play,
By sorrow yet untouch'd, unhurt by care,
"Content and careless of to-morrow's fare."
Lights their green path, and prompts their simple mirth,
Ere yet they feel the thorns that lurking lay