Carter, Elizabeth

, an English lady of profound learning and genius, was the eldest daughter of the rev. Dr. Nicholas Carter, a clergyman in Kent, who, with other preferment, held the cure of the chapel of Deal, where this daughter was born, Dec. 16, 1717, and educated by her father. At first she discovered such a slowness of faculties, as to make him despair of her progress ia intellectual attainment, even with the aid of the greatest industry, and the most ardent desire, which characterized her efforts. She herself, however, though mortified and sorrowful at her own difficulties, resolved to persevere, and her perseverance was crowned with unexampled success. She early became mistress of Latin, Greek, French, German, and afterwards understood Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Hebrew, and last of all acquired something of Arabic. Before she was seventeen years of age, many of her poetical attempts had appeared, particularly in the Gentleman’s Magazine for 1734, with the signature of Eliza. This extraordinary display of genius and acquirements procured her immediate celebrity, and the learned flocked about her with admiration. In 1738, when she was about twenty, Cave, the proprietor of the Gentleman’s Magazine, published some of her poems in a quarto pamphlet, now little known, as it was published without her name. It is probable she did not think many of these worthy of her; as in 1762, when she published a small collection with her name, she admitted only two from the former publication, the “Lines on her birth-day,” and the “Ode of Anacreon.

In 1739, she translated “The Critique of Crousaz on Pope’s Essay on Man;” and in the same year gave a translation of “Algarotti’s Explanation of Newton’s Philosophy for the use of the Ladies.” These publications extended her acquaintance among the literati of her own country and her fame reached the continent, where Baratier bestowed high praises on her talents and genius. In 1741 she formed an intimacy with Miss Catherine Talbot, niece | to the lord chancellor Talbot, and a young lady of considerable genius and most amiable disposition. This was an important event of Miss Carter’s life on many accounts. The intimacy of their friendship, the importance of their correspondence, and the exalted piety of both, made it the main ingredient of their mutual happiness: and in addition to this, it procured a friendship with Dr. Seeker, then bishop of Oxford, and afterwards archbishop of Canterbury, with whom Miss Talbot resided, which extended her knowledge of the world, cherished her profound learning, and exercised the piety of her thoughts. To this event is to be traced her undertaking and completing the work by which her fame has been most known abroad, and will longest be remembered by scholars at home, her “Translation of Epictetus.” It was not, however, till the beginning of 1749, that this translation was commenced. It was then sent up in sheets, as finished, to Miss Talbot, who earnestly pressed its continuance, which was further urged by bishop Seeker, to whom her friend shewed it. Her biographer has given a minute account of its progress till its conclusion in December 1752. She then by the bishop’s desire, added notes and an introduction, both admirably executed; and the work was sent to press in June 1757, and finished in April 1758, in an elegant quarto volume. At the entreaty of her friends, she permitted it to published by subscription (at the price of \l. 1s.) and by their liberality, it produced her a clear 1000l.

Mrs. Carter and Mrs. Montague had been acquainted from their earliest years. The latter, though not born in Kent, had an early connection with it, by her father’s succession to the estate and seat at Horton near Hythe, where she passed many of her juvenile years. From 1754 their correspondence was regular and uninterrupted; and MrsCarter’s visits to Mrs. Montague at her house in London, where she met an union of rank and talent, were constant, and at her seat at Sandleford in the summer or autumn, not unfrequent. The epistolary communication between these two celebrated women would unquestionably be highly acceptable to the public, and we trust it will not be long withheld. In 1756, sir George Lyttelton, afterwards lord Lyttelton, visited Mrs. Carter at Deal; and from thence a gradual intimacy grew up between them, which ended only with his life. About the same time she became acquainted with the celebrated William Pulteney, earl of | Bath, who delighted in her society, and regarded her intellectual powers and acquisitions with unfeigned admiration. By his persuasion she published the volume of her poems, already noticed, 1762, 8vo, and dedicated them to him. They are introduced by some poetical compliments from the pen of lord Lyttelton.

In 1763, Mrs. Carter accompanied lord Bath, and Mr. and Mrs. Montague, with Dr. Douglas (afterwards bishop of Salisbury, but then lord Bath’s chaplain) to Spa. They landed at Calais June 4; and after visiting Spa, made a short tour in Germany; and then proceeded down the Rhine into Holland; whence through Brussels, Ghent, Bruges, and Dunkirk, they came again to Calais, and returned to Dover Sept. 19. Lord Bath’s health seemed improved by this tour; but appearances were fallacious, for he died in the summer of 1764. His death gave Mrs. Carter deep concern. In August 1768, she had an additional loss in the death of her revered friend and patron archbishop Seeker. Two years after she sustained a more severe deprivation in the loss of her bosom friend Miss Talbot, of whom, among other praises dictated by sense and feeling, she says, “Never surely was there a more perfect pattern of evangelical goodness, decorated by all the ornaments of a highly-improved understanding; and recommended by a sweetness of temper, and an elegance and politeness of manners, of a peculiar and more engaging kind than in any other character I ever knew.

She was indeed now arrived at a time of life when every year was stealing from her some intimate friend or dear relation. In 1774, she lost her father, in his eightyseventh year, to which late period he had preserved all his faculties unimpaired, except that his hearing was a little difficult. She had passed the greater part of her life with him. The house in which they latterly resided was bought by her; and their affection had been uninterrupted. Half the year she was in the habit of passing in London; the other half was spent together in this house.

In 1782 an event occurred, which once more disturbed the uniformity of Mrs. Carter’s life: she had been under great obligations to sir William Pulteney, who very liberally settled on her an annuity of 150l. a year, which it had been expected by her friends that lord Bath would have done. She therefore complied with his wishes to accompany his daughter to Paris, though she was now in | her sixty-fifth year. She was only absent sixteen days, of which one week was spent at Paris. Mrs. Carter was not insensible to the fatigues and inconveniencies of her journey, but her sense of them yielded to her friendship. At home, however, she was able to enjoy summer tours, which doubtless contributed to her health and amusement. In 1791, she had the honour, by the queen’s express desire, of being introduced to her majesty at lord Cremorne’s house at Chelsea, an incident which naturally reminds us of a similar honour paid to her friends, Dr. Johnson at Buckingham-house, and Dr. Beattie at Kew. Afterwards, when the princess of Wales occupied lord Keith’s house in the Isle of Thanet, she called on Mrs. Carter at her house at Deal and the duke of Cumberland, when attending his regiment at Deal, also paid her a visit. Such was her reputation many years after she had ceased to attract public notice as an author, and when the common mass of readers scarcely knew whether such a person existed.

About nine years before her death, she experienced an alarming illness, of which she never recovered the effects in bodily strength, but the faculties of her mind remained unimpaired; lt;nd and her heart was as warm as ever. In the summer of 1805, her weakness evidently increased. As the winter approached, and the time of her annual journey to London, which she never omitted, drew near, her strength and spirits appeared to revive. On the 23d of December, she left Deal for the last time, having six days before completed her eighty-eighth year, and on the 24th arrived at her old lodgings in Clarges-street. For some days she seemed better, and visited some of her old friends, particularly her very intimate friend Lady Cremorne. On Jan. 4, she exhibited symptoms of alarming weakness, after which all her strength gradually ebbed away, till about 3 o’clock in the morning of Feb. 19, 1806, when she expired without a struggle or groan. She lies interred in the burial-ground of Grosvenor chapel, under a stone on which is a plain prose epitaph, reciting the dates of birth, &c. A mural monument was afterwards erected to her memory in the chapel of the town of Deal.

The year following her death were published “Memoirs of her life, with a new edition of her poems, some of which have never appeared before: to which are added, some Miscellaneous Essays in prose, together with Notes on the Bible, and Answers to Objections concerning the | Christian religion. By the Rev. Montague Pennington, M. A. Viear of Northbourn in Kent, her nephew and executor,” 4to, and since published in 2 vols. 8vo.

In this interesting volume a more perfect portrait is exhibited of Mrs. Carter than can be admitted in any sketch like the present. With respect to genius, she had unquestionably a considerable portion, but she had it not easily at command; it did not precipitate her into any of those dazzling productions which are admired even for their faults. What she accomplished was the fruit of labour, but it was labour which amply made up for the time it consumed. Her poems, the only productions which can be considered under this head, are distinguished for elegance of style and sentiment, often for sublimity and a peculiar vigour of thought. Her versification is harmonious, and her language pure* and forcible. But the more remarkable qualities of her character must be sought in a mind cultivated with the highest degree of care, and enriched with a greater fund of various learning than fell to the lot of many of her contemporaries of the other sex. Mrs. Carter was a learned lady in the most honourable sense, and appears uniformly to have applied it to the most valuable purposes. In the sexual rivalship she was not ambitious to attain either equality or superiority by affecting new discoveries in religion, morals, or politics, yet attained a higher and more enviable rank in tke literary world than any of those unsexed females, in whose case the world has lately been obliged to add pity to its admiration, and to withhold esteem. Her principles, on all the great leading topics that are interesting to human beings, were sound, the result of examination and conviction; and while, by adhering to them, she secured her own happiness, she added to that of others by example and precept.

The year following the publication of the Life of Mrs. Carter, the sarne editor published “A Series of Letters between her and Miss Catherine Talbot, &c.” 2 vols. 4to, in which the talents, various knowledge, vivacity, and spirit of these ladies, as well as of Mrs. Vesey, another female of taste and learning, are displayed to great advantage. These, as well as the life, have been since reprinted, and are among the books without which ntf lady’s library can be complete. 1


Life, ubi supra. Sketch by sir E. Brydges, in Cens. Lit. vol. V. —Gent. Mag. see Index. Forbes’s Life of Beattie. —Lardner’s Works, vol. VII. well’s Life of Johnson,