The Collected Letters of Charlotte Smith
Publication Year: 2003
One of the most popular poets of her time, Charlotte Smith revived the sonnet form in England, influencing Wordsworth and Keats. Equally popular as a novelist, she experimented with many genres, and even her children's books were highly regarded by her contemporaries. Charlotte Smith's letters enlarge our understanding of her literary achievement, for they show the private world of spirit, determination, anger, and sorrow in which she wrote.
Despite her family's diligence in destroying her papers, almost 500 of Smith's letters survived in 22 libraries, archives, and private collections. The present edition makes available most of these never-before-published letters to publishers, patrons, solicitors, relatives, and friends. As this volume was going to press, the Petworth House archives turned up 56 additional lost letters not seen in at least 100 years. Most are from Smith's early career, along with two letters to her troublesome husband, Benjamin. The archives also preserved 50 letters by Benjamin, the only ones by him known to have survived. Two letters from Benjamin to Charlotte are reprinted in full, and generous excerpts from the rest are included in footnotes, bringing a shadowy figure to life.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
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A work of this scope depends on the generosity of many collections and collectors, public and private. For permission to publish the three largest groups of letters, I am particularly grateful to the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, the Huntington Library and Art Gallery, and the Right Honorable the Lord Egremont, owner of the letters...
Introduction to Charlotte Smith's Letters
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Charlotte Smith is gaining increasing recognition for her contribution to the novel, sonnet, and children's books in the late eighteenth century. One of her early publishers, Thomas Cadell, Sr., believed that her reputation would rest on her novels. And until very recently, it has done so. Yet late in her life, Smith asserted that "it is on the Poetry I have written that I trust for the little...
Sources of Charlotte Smith's Letters
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For the purpose of studying Smith's literary career, the largest significant collections of her letters are the 140 letters at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University and the 50 letters at the Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif. Most of the Yale letters are addressed to Thomas Cadell, Sr. and Jr., and to William Davies, who published a number of her...
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Holograph letters constitute the vast majority of Charlotte Smith's surviving correspondence. They are almost uniformly clear and readable with few errors, corrections, or emendations. Smith, who was observed to write rapidly and correctly while composing The Old Manor House at Eartham, wrote letters rapidly as well. A literal transcription of each holograph would...
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1765-83 "THE HORROR OF THE ABYSS"
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Young Charlotte Turner seemed destined for a happier and more prosperous life than the one she lived, for she was born in the elegant St. James Square in London and christened near her family's seat, Stoke Manor, at Guilford. When Charlotte was three, her mother, Anna Towers Turner, died. Her grieving father, Nicholas, left Charlotte and two younger siblings with Anna's sister, Lucy Towers, while he...
1784-90 "TO LIVE ONLY TO WRITE & WRITE ONLY TO LIVE"
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Charlotte Smith began to write professionally under humiliating circumstances. Her husband, Benjamin, long a ne'er-do-well, was imprisoned for debt in December 1783. She spent most of his seven-month term with him in King's Bench Prison. Profits from her first publication, Elegiac Sonnets (1784), helped obtain his release. William Hayley, a neighbor and himself a poet, presented her...
1791-92 "HOPE LONG DELAY'D"
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After seven years of productive authorship, Charlotte Smith began to chafe under the strain of writing to support her children. She had embarked on her career to earn money while waiting for the settlement of her father-in-law's will, worth £36,000 when he died in 1776. Complex and ambiguously written, the will settled the bulk of Richard Smith's fortune on Charlotte and Benjamin's...
1793 "A NEW COURSE OF SUFFERING"
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During this year, Charlotte Smith completed and published The Old Manor House, now considered her best novel, and her long blank verse poem The Emigrants. Both show her anti-war stance. Her previous novel, Desmond, had been attacked for supporting the democratic ideals of the early French Revolution, attacks that were the fiercer because the book's author was a woman. The...
1794 "A STATE OF ANXIETY"
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One of Charlotte Smith's more prolific years, 1794 nonetheless found her plagued by poor health, pressed for money, and tormented with family concerns. Early in the new year, she had revenue from The Wanderings of Warwick, completed late and shorter than agreed on for Joseph Bell. In about eight months she had finished the four-volume novel The Banished Man, published...
1795 "OVERWHELMD WITH SORROW"
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Although Charlotte Smith embarked on new literary projects in 1795, Augusta's death in April shadowed her every accomplishment and every other concern. Smith's letters afford little information about this year's actual publications. Montalbert, her only new work, was put out by Sampson Low late in the year. It marks her retreat from political themes to the safety of sentimental...
1796 "A WANDERER UPON EARTH"
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In the year after Augusta's death, Charlotte Smith did indeed wander from one to another residence, leaving Exmouth in January for Weymouth, where she had two different addresses, and moving on by November to Headington near Oxford. She had recovered enough from her grief to complete several projects begun the year before. Early in the year, Sampson Low and C. Law published...
1797 "A NECESSITOUS AUTHOR"
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Charlotte Smith spent the early months of this year fearing arrest for sums owed here and there and writing letters to raise money, the trustees having failed her once again. While in London in June and July on estate business, she was ill nearly the entire time. It was a year of meager income and little literary productivity. In May, the eighth edition of Elegiac Sonnets was published, the first...
1798-1800 "LORD EGREMONTS EXTRAORDINARY KINDNESS"
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By May 1799, the earl of Egremont had paid off all outstanding debts on Richard Smith's estate and agreed to become its trustee, replacing the troublesome John Robinson and Anthony Parkin. Expecting an imminent settlement, Charlotte Smith relaxed her publishing efforts for the first time since separating from her husband. From 1798 to 1800, her new works included one novel...
1801 "DOMESTIC MISERIES"
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The year 1801, the first since 1787 in which Charlotte Smith had no new publications and no new editions of older works, marked a turning point for her in authorship, motherhood, and the trust business. Confident that the earl of Egremont as new trustee to the Smith estate would uphold her children's interests, she quit writing to support her family. Her first letters to Egremont in...
1802 "PETTY DUNS & CONTINUAL WANT"
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Charlotte Smith's career as a writer hit rock bottom in a year filled with poor health, increasing debt, and decreasing effectiveness as a representative of her children's trust business. The fourth and fifth volumes of Letters of a Solitary Wanderer were published by Longman's, who had bought out Sampson Low's estate. They were cheaply printed and poorly bound. Smith was working...
1803 "AN HOUSELESS BEGGAR"
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In February 1803, Charlotte Smith's worst fears of destitution and abandonment came true. With no income from writing, her books unsold, all interest payments from her marriage articles going to Benjamin Smith, and child support from the trust blocked by Egremont and Tyler, she was evicted from modest lodgings in Frant and forced to seek an even poorer place to live. Her quarrel...
1804 "THE BEST OF THE BUNCH"
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July 1804 saw the publication of Charlotte Smith's children's book Conversations Introducing Poetry, the last significant work published before her death. It earned Smith £125 from Joseph Johnson. With that money and Nicholas's remittances she began to pay off debts of the last two years while living modestly in the village of Elsted near Godalming...
1805-1806 "A PRISON & A GRAVE"
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Charlotte Smith's last years were solitary, impoverished, and embattled. Someone else completed the third volume of her History of England . . . to a young lady at school because of her failing health. Two other works were published posthumously in 1807: her final volume of poetry, Beachy Head, and the last children's book, The Natural History of Birds....
EPILOGUE "NOTHING BUT THE WIND"
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Charlotte Smith wrote her final letter to the earl of Egremont only five weeks before she died. This last extant epistle shows a strong hand, a vigorous mind, and a gritty determination never to be silenced. Untreatable uterine or ovarian cancer confers on its victims a painful demise even now, yet the letters of Smith's last year show her composing new poems, sharing a jest with her remaining...
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Index, About the Author
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Page Count: 864
Illustrations: 7 b&w photos, 1 figures
Publication Year: 2003