A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
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.
Charlotte Turner Smith (1749 – 1806) was an English romantic poet and novelist. She initiated a revival of the English sonnet, helped establish the conventions of Gothic fiction, and wrote political novels of sensibility. A successful writer, she published ten novels, three books of poetry, four children’s books, and other assorted works. She saw herself as a poet first and foremost, poetry at that period being considered the most exalted form of literature. Scholars now credit her with transforming the sonnet into an expression of woeful sentiment.
After generations of neglect, the work and life of Charlotte Smith are today receiving renewed interest, in part because she is seen as an example of an emancipated woman. After leaving her husband in 1787, Smith began writing to support their children. Smith’s struggle to provide for her children and her frustrated attempts to gain legal protection as a woman provided themes for her poetry and novels; she included portraits of herself and her family in her novels as well as details about her life in her prefaces. “The theme of her many sentimental and didactic novels was that of a badly married wife helped by a thoughtful sensible lover” (Kunitz and Haycraft, 1952). Her later novels, including The Old Manor House, often considered her best, supported the ideals of the French Revolution.
After 1798, however, Smith’s popularity waned and by 1803 she was destitute and ill—she could barely hold a pen, and sold her books to pay off her debts. In 1806, Smith died. Largely forgotten by the middle of the 19th century, her works have now been republished and she is recognized as an important Romantic writer. [Sources: Encyclopedia Brittanica and British Authors before 1800, ed. Stanley Kunitz and Howard Haycraft.