Charlotte Turner Smith (1749-1806) Timeline, Bio and Selected Poems
1749 — Charlotte Turner was born on May 4, 1749 in London and baptized on
June 12, 1749; she was the oldest child of well-to-do Nicholas Turner and Anna
now-neglected English poet
and novelist who
once had her foot "firmly in the door" of Romanticism, she has been called the
"first substantial" female English poet after Mary Sidney. In his Poetical Works, William
Wordsworth remembered Smith as "a lady to whom English verse is under greater
obligations than are likely to be either acknowledged or remembered." Samuel
Taylor Coleridge and others credited her with revitalizing the English sonnet.
Sir Walter Scott said that in her landscapes she preserved "the truth and
precision of a painter." Such painterly landscapes would become a hallmark of
Romantic poetry and prose to follow. Stuart Curran, the editor of Smith's poems,
claimed that she is "the first poet in England whom in retrospect we would call
Romantic" because she helped shape the "patterns of thought and conventions of
style" for the period.
1755 — Charlotte Turner, age six, attends school in Chichester and takes
drawing lessons with
the painter George Smith. He may have influenced her poetic and prose
Huge Vapours Brood above the Clifted Shore
Huge vapours brood above the clifted shore,
Night o'er the ocean settles, dark and mute,
Save where is heard the repercussive roar
Of drowsy billows, on the rugged foot
Of rocks remote; or still more distant tone
Of seamen, in the anchored bark, that tell
The watch relieved; or one deep voice alone,
Singing the hour, and bidding "strike the bell."
All is black shadow, but the lucid line
Marked by the light surf on the level sand,
Or where afar, the ship-lights faintly shine
Like wandering fairy fires, that oft on land
Mislead the pilgrim; such the dubious ray
That wavering reason lends, in life's long darkling way.
1756 — Around age six or
seven Charlotte Turner begins to compose poems and submits some of them to the Lady's
Magazine, which did not print them.
1765 — Charlotte Turner's father marries her off at age fifteen to the violent
and profligate Benjamin Smith; forty years later she will accuse her father of
having turned her into a "legal prostitute."
Sonnet: On Being Cautioned Against Walking
on an Headland Overlooking the Sea,
Because It Was Frequented by a Lunatic
Is there a solitary wretch who hies
To the tall cliff, with starting pace or slow,
And, measuring, views with wild and hollow eyes
Its distance from the waves that chide below;
Who, as the sea-born gale with frequent sighs
Chills his cold bed upon the mountain turf,
With hoarse, half-uttered lamentation, lies
Murmuring responses to the dashing surf?
In moody sadness, on the giddy brink,
I see him more with envy than with fear;
He has no nice felicities that shrink
From giant horrors; wildly wandering here,
He seems (uncursed with reason) not to know
The depth or the duration of his woe.
1783 — Charlotte Turner Smith writes Elegiac Sonnets while in
debtors' prison with her husband. The book's financial success
allows her buy back her family's freedom. Her sonnets would eventually appear in
nine editions, fill two volumes, and help create a revival of
interest in the English sonnet. All her writing would
be published under her own name, "a daring decision" for a woman of
1784 — Charlotte Turner Smith's husband Benjamin
Smith flees to Dieppe, France to escape his creditors. She joins him there, begins
translating French works into English, and is able to help him return to
England the following year. They settle near Midhurst, Sussex.
Charlotte Turner Smith leaves her husband, because "his temper had been so
capricious and often so cruel" that her "life was not safe." She
would turn to writing novels to support her twelve children, two of whom did not
survive to adulthood.
On the Departure of the Nightingale
Sweet poet of the woods, a long adieu!
Farewell soft mistrel of the early year!
Ah! ’twill be long ere thou shalt sing anew,
And pour thy music on the night’s dull ear.
Whether on spring thy wandering flights await,
Or whether silent in our groves you dwell,
The pensive muse shall own thee for her mate,
And still protect the song she loves so well.
With cautious step the love-lorn youth shall glide
Through the lone brake that shades thy mossy nest;
And shepherd girls from eyes profane shall hide
The gentle bird who sings of pity best:
For still thy voice shall soft affections move,
And still be dear to sorrow and to love!
1788 — Charlotte Turner Smith publishes her first novel, Emmeline, and
it's a success, quickly selling 1,500 copies. She would publish nine more novels
over the next ten years. Smith challenged the norms of the
women's fiction of her day by incorporating political commentary, "narratives of
female desire" and "tales of females suffering despotism" (as she had
herself). Smith's life experiences prompted her to argue for legal reforms that
would grant women more rights, and she made the case for such reforms through
her novels, which were largely autobiographical. Smith's groundbreaking
work contributed to the development of the novel of sensibility and
Gothic fiction. Smith's novels were satirized by Jane Austen in Northanger
Abbey, but Austen has been accused of emulating Smith.
Oh, Hope! thou soother sweet of human woes
Oh, Hope! thou soother sweet of human woes!
How shall I lure thee to my haunts forlorn!
For me wilt thou renew the withered rose,
And clear my painful path of pointed thorn?
Ah come, sweet nymph! in smiles and softness drest,
Like the young hours that lead the tender year
Enchantress come! and charm my cares to rest:
Alas! the flatterer flies, and will not hear!
A prey to fear, anxiety, and pain,
Must I a sad existence still deplore?
Lo! the flowers fade, but all the thorns remain,
‘For me the vernal garland blooms no more.’
Come then, ‘pale Misery’s love!’ be thou my cure,
And I will bless thee, who though slow art sure.
1789 — Charlotte Turner Smith publishes her second novel, Ethelinde.
1791 — Charlotte Turner Smith publishes her third novel, Celestina.
1792 — Charlotte Turner Smith becomes involved with English radicals and writes
an epistolary novel, Desmond, whose protagonist supports the French
Revolution and contends that England should be reformed as well.
1793 — Charlotte Turner Smith publishes a book of poems, The Emigrants.
She also publishes her fifth novel, The Old Manor House, which is set during the
American Revolutionary War and allows her to discuss democratic reform.
1794 — Charlotte Turner Smith publishes her sixth and seventh novels: The
Wanderings of Warwick and The Banished Man.
1795 — Charlotte Turner Smith publishes her eighth novel, Montalbert,
and begins to publish children's books with Rural
1796 — Charlotte Turner Smith publishes her ninth novel, Marchmont.
1798 — Lyrical Ballads, written primarily by William
Wordsworth with a few poems by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, is published. This book becomes the foundational text
of the English Romantic Movement. The longest poem included is Coleridge's dark,
gothic poem "The Rime of the Ancient
Mariner." It would inspire other poems in a similar vein. Charlotte Turner
Smith publishes her tenth, last and most radical novel, The Young Philosopher.
Its protagonist leaves Britain for America, because there is no hope for a
reform in Britain.
1799 — Charlotte Turner Smith's play What Is She? is published.
1803 — The Louisiana Purchase means the United States is suddenly a
LOT bigger. The
Napoleonic Wars begin when Great Britain declares war on France. Charlotte
Turner Smith becomes so destitute and ill that she can barely hold a pen; she
sells her books to pay off her debts, but lives in fear that she will be sent
back to debtor's prison for the remaining balance of twenty pounds!
1806 — Lord Byron publishes his first book, Fugitive Pieces, at age eighteen. It is savaged by the
Edinburgh Review. The birth of the English poet Elizabeth Barrett (1806-1861), who would
marry the poet Robert Browning and become better known as Elizabeth Barrett
Browning. The birth of the English philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806-1873). The
death of Charlotte Turner Smith. Her Beachy Head and Other Poems would
be published posthumously in 1807. Stuart Curran, the editor of Smith's poems,
called her "the first poet in England whom in retrospect we would call
Romantic." She helped shape the "patterns of thought and conventions of style"
for the period, and William Wordsworth admired and was influenced by her
Romantic poetry. She has also been credited with the revitalization of the
English sonnet, with helping to develop "painterly prose," and with influencing
the development of gothic fiction, the novel of sensibility and modern blank