Page images

very strong, as we are informed by her biographer that it gave way to an imprudent copy of verses written by her lover. It is probable that she had resolved early in life to devote herself to celibacy ;-she did not however seem to relish the compliment paid her by Mr. Hayley, when he dedicated to her bis curious essay on old maids,

By incessant application Mrs. Carter acquired a knowledge of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, French, Spanish, German, Portuguese and Arabic. She learned, we are told, without the use of grammars.

Besides these several languages she was fond of astronomy, and acquired an intimate knowledge of it; had some insight into mathematics; and became a profound scholar in the science of ancient geography. As the means of retaining the languages she had acquired, it was her custom to read a portion of each every day, added to which she possessed by nature that peculiar kind of memory wbich retains permanently, what it admits with difficulty.

The first literary productions of this learned lady were poetical; she is said to have translated an Ode of Anacreon in 1731, when she was only seventeen years of age. These attempts were first printed in the early volumes of the Gentleman's Magazine, the projector and publisher of which was a friend of her father's, By his means she became acquainted with Dr. Johnson, with whom she commenced an intimacy in 1738, which continued during his life. During this year also, she formed a small collection of her poems, which was printed by Cave, in a quarto pamphlet of twenty-four pages, and has been lately republished, together with her more mature efforts.

In 1739 she translated, and published without her name, a French critique on Pope's Essay on Man; and in the same year a translation from the Italian-Sir Isaac Newton's philosophy explained for the use of Ladies, proceeded from her pen in two small volumes. Both these works are scarce from not having been reprinted; when advanced in life Mrs. Carter rarely spoke of them, and seemed to wish them to be forgotten.

In 1741 she contracted a friendship with Miss Talbot, which continued during the life of the latter. By means of this lady she was introduced to Archbishop Secker, and several other eminent characters.

In 1749 at the request of Miss Talbot she commenced her translation of Epictetus, which occupied her leisure hours for several years, and was not completed before 19756. It does not appear that she at first had any intention of publishing this laborious work, but she was prevailed upon principally by her friend the Archbishop to do so, and it was submitted to his correction for that purpose. This translation was printed in quarto in 1758, at the price of one guinea; 1250 copies were printed, and Mrs. Carter is said to have gained by the first impression the very handsome remuneration of £1000. Several other editions have since appeared.

During the time she was employed in this uncommon task, she was also actively engaged in educating one of her brothers, whom she prepared for the University.

The publication of Epictetus 'established Mrs. Carter's fame as a scholar, and procured her the intimate friendship of several distinguished characters, and the general notice of all friends of learning. Among these the most remarkable were the witty and accomplished Mrs. Montague, her relation the Earl of Bath, and Lord Lyttleton. By the advice of these noblemen, when on a visit at Tunbridge, she was prevailed upon to form a second collection of poems.

These were published in 1762 in a small volume dedicated to Lord Bath, and having an introductory, copy of verses prefixed, from the pen of Lord Lyttleton.

These several publications rendered her easy in her circumstances. She purchased a house at Deal in 1762, which she hired to her father, with whom she continued to reside during the remainder of his life.

In 1763 she went abroad with Lord Bath and Mrs. Montague, and visited Spa, Germany, and Holland. Her letters written during this short tour, have been published in the memoir of her life by Mr, Pennington, and form the best part of that gentleman's work.

Lord Bath died in 1764, and contrary to general expectation, the name of Mrs. Carter was not to be found in his will. Ample amends was however made for this apparent neglect by Sir William Pulteney, when he became possessed of the Earl's property in 1767; bis first care was to settle upon Mrs. Carter, in the most generous and handsome manner, an annuity of £100 a year, which was afterwards increased to £150. About this time her father's circumstances were also greatly improved by the death of a brother, who bequeathed to him and bis family a considerable property.

In 1768 Mrs. Carter lost her great friend Dr. Secker, who also neglected to name her in his will. Two years after she sustained a greater loss in the death of her valuable friend Miss Talbot; the literary remains of this excellent lady were intrusted to Mrs. Carter who derived considerable benefit from their publication.

Mrs.Carter lost her father in 1774, but she continued to

occupy the same residence at Deal to the end of her life, dividing her time between that town and London, where she generally passed the winter.

In 1775 her friend Mrs. Montague became a widow, immediately after which she settled an annuity upon Mrs. Carter of £100 à year; this was the last accession of property that she acquired, and with what she previously possessed, rendered her easy, and for a person of her pursuits, even opulent in her circumstances.

The remainder of Mrs. Carter's life was not marked by any events sufficiently important to demand our notice. She continued to improve her mind by study, enjoyed the best society in town and country, and was, as she well deserved to be, the object of universal reverence and esteem.

Mrs. Carter died in London, Februrary 19th, 1806, and was buried, there, in the burial ground of Grosvenor Chapel, where a monument exists to her memory.

Should it ever again become a question whether the intellect of women be inferior to that of men, English ladies may triumphantly appeal to the illustrious name of Elizabeth Carter. She possessed an understanding of that peculiar kind which has been distinguished by the term masculine; being firm, enduring, and determined; she delighted to encounter and subdue difficulties, and selected for her walk not the soft and flowery paths of literature, but the rough and thorny road of learning. Such was the profundity of her acquire ments in the dead languages, that Dr. Johnson, no inadequate judge, and one who from prejudice was at all times unwilling to render justice to her sex, allowed


that she was the best Greek scholar within the range his extensive knowledge. A more convincing proof is perhaps her admirable translation of one of the most difficult of the Greek classics, which displays in every part a familiarity with the language, rarely exceeded Ly any modern scholar. This is however, but a small portion of the praise due to our admirable countrywoman. During her painful advance over the rugged domain of classical learning, she practiced, and attained perfection in, a far more difficult study, she acquired absolute command over her own mind; she learned to subdue her passions, and render them submissive to the dictates of prudential wisdom. She became a model both by precept and example, of every christian and moral virtue.

All illustrious characters, however, have their defects; perfection is not the lot of humanity :

Nam vitiis nemo sine nascitur. Optimus ille

Qui minimis urgetur. Elizabeth Carter was not free from that pride which proceeds from association with characters ennobled rather by circumstance than by desert. She valued berself on the trifling notices of royalty, and it is to be feared looked with too much complacency on the long list of her titled friends. Lord Bath, a doubtful character, was her intimate associate, and though in a degree, liko poor Amhurst, the victim of his cold-hearted neglect, she defended his memory, and seemed blind to bis political failings. Horace Walpole, no longer a doubtful character, was also her friend and correspondent, and she even ventured to justify and approve of his disgraceful conduct to the unfortunate Chatterton.

« PreviousContinue »