Dorothy Gell of Hopton Hall

Dorothy Gell of Hopton Hall

Portrait of Dorothy Gell

More interesting discoveries from Chawton House Library! Copies of EthelindeCelestina and The Old Manor House contain various pieces of marginalia left by ‘Dorothy Gell’ or ‘D Gell.’ After some research, I believe that the Dorothy Gell to whom the books belonged could be the lady depicted above, Dorothy Gell of Hopton Hall. The Derbyshire Record Office holds a number of items relating to Dorothy Gell and the Gell family, including ‘Catalogues of books in the library at Hopton Hall and of books from Philip Gell’s library now at Mr Dakeynes, at Darley’ dating from the late 18th/early 19th centuries which would give us an idea of what the library looked like in her time.

More recently, however, there was a sale of the Hall’s contents in 1989 which listed printed books in some of the sales. In one Lot, I found Smith’s Ethelinde and The Wanderings of Warwick were sold together in a collection of works including Godwin’s Things As They Are and her translation of the Abbé Prevost’s Manon L’Escaut, among others. Another Lot lists CelestinaEmmeline, The Old Manor House and The Banished Man with Hannah More’s Coelebs in Search of a Wife, Stephanie de Genlis’ Tales of the Castle, Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther and others. A third lot contains Montalbert alongside Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote. The only novels that do not appear in the lots are Marchmont, Desmond, and The Young Philosopher. They may have been part of the library at some point but, without the catalogue from the Derbyshire record office, I do not know what the library held in Gell’s time. What we can infer from this 1989 sales catalogue, however, is that the copies at Chawton House of EthelindeCelestina and The Old Manor House did belong to the Dorothy Gell in the portrait.

There is, sadly, very little information available about her. Dorothy Gell, according to Amina Wright’s Joseph Wright of Derby, was part of ‘Wright’s set.’ He painted the above portrait of her. Amina Wright also notes that another of Joseph Wright’s sitters, Edward Becher Leacroft, dedicated a collection of poetry to Wright’s group, including Dorothy Gell. There is a little more available about her husband and her sons, who were military and political men, and Sir William Gell (her son) is noted as ‘the celebrated classical antiquary’ in the second edition of A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies John Burke and Bernard Burke (1841).

Despite the lack of information, however, it’s still a fantastic feeling to be able to put a name, details and even a face to the bits of marginalia I have been reading!


Errors and misbindings: The Case of Cadell and Davies

Errors and misbindings: The Case of Cadell and Davies


As mentioned in a previous post, I am privileged to be spending three weeks as a Visiting Fellow at Chawton House Library. While I am here, my aim is to study the use of paratext (footnotes, epigraphs, prefaces, notes, and any other bits of ‘outside information’) in Smith’s novels. This fixation on text outside of the narrative led to the post below on the publication of The Banished Man.

BL Banished Man Title Page
Title page of The Banished Man Vol I, ECCO digitised copy


Office Lens 20170410-111948
Title page of The Banished Man Vol I, Chawton House copy

In August 1794, Smith wrote to Thomas Cadell Jr complaining of errors in the copies she had received of her new novel, The Banished Man, noting that one copy had even been ‘bound wrongly.’¹ According to her letters, she had never had any issues of this kind before and it could have led to the atypical copy I found at Chawton House (pictured above). I found myself wondering why the errors and misbindings had occurred in the first place, so I looked into the history of the publishers, knowing that they had changed hands during the time Smith was writing and publishing. I wondered if, perhaps, the change from ‘T. Cadell’ to ‘T. Cadell Jun. and W. Davies’ had had an impact on the publishing process.

My hunch was correct. In the summer of 1793, Thomas Cadell Sr retired, leaving the company to his son (Cadell Jr) and his manager (William Davies). According to Richard Sher, by the mid-1790s, around the time that Cadell and Davies became the new proprietors, the publishing firm had slipped down the ranks to become the second in London, overtaken by George Robinson. The business continued to deteriorate throughout the decade, and by 1802 (when Cadell Sr died) it was noted that it had ‘fallen into a state of comparative decreptitude.’ While Sher argues that this statement was, perhaps, overblown, a decade later the firm was nearly bankrupted by Davies’ liberal spending, and was bailed out by Andrew Strahan (Cadell Sr’s old partner) for £20,000.²

After the difficulties in the publication of The Banished Man, Smith looked elsewhere when she published her next two novels. By December 1794, she was already writing to Cadell and Davies about sending her next novel, Montalbert, to a new publisher (Sampson Low) in a pointed letter about the errors she had corrected in the first print run of The Banished Man.³ It was the last novel Smith published with Cadell and Davies until four years later in 1798 when she came to publish her final novel, The Young Philosopher.

¹  The Collected Letters of Charlotte Smith Judith Stanton ed. (2003)

² Richard B. Sher The Enlightenment and the Book (2006)

³ The Collected Letters of Charlotte Smith Judith Stanton ed. (2003)

Chawton House and the ‘Incomparable’ Eliza Haywood

Eliza Haywood, 1693(?)-1756

On Saturday evening, I had the opportunity to attend the opening of an exhibition at Chawton House Library on the life and works of one of Smith’s predecessors, Eliza Haywood. (The perks of being a Visiting Fellow!) We were treated to an early view of the exhibition itself as well as an introductory talk from the exhibition’s curator, Dr Kim Simpson, Postdoctoral Fellow at Chawton House.

Even more of a prolific writer than Smith, Haywood produced a periodical, novels, conduct books, plays, poetry (and, perhaps, more!) As Simpson noted in her talk, Haywood was infamous for her ability to play with personae, and the biographical information we have access to is scanty at best, so to this day we do not know how much writing she produced or, indeed, much about Haywood altogether. What we do have are a number of her works that have been identified, as well as portrayals of Haywood in the works of other writers – the most famous example being Pope’s The Dunciad Book II, in which Haywood is satirically depicted as the ‘prize’ in a literal pissing contest:

“Who best can send on high

The salient spout, far-streaming to the sky,

His be yon Juno of majestic size,

With cow-like udders, and with ox-like eyes.

This China Jordan let the chief o’ercome

Replenish, not ingloriously, at home.”

Osborne and Curll accept the glorious strife

(Tho’ this his son dissuades, and that his wife);

One on his manly confidence relies,

One on his vigour and superior size.

(Pope, The Dunciad, Book II, 161-170)

Haywood’s works and representations of her in the works of others are at the heart of this exhibition entitled ‘Naming, Shaming, Reclaiming: The “Incomparable” Eliza Haywood’.

The exhibition itself is spread over several rooms within the library and consists of a number of displays containing first edition works, as well as modern critical editions which can be perused by visitors. One particularly thought-provoking and entertaining display compares eighteenth-century conduct book literature written by Haywood and others, describing how to be a good wife or good husband, with modern-day magazine and online articles in a surprisingly similar vein  – demonstrating how much things have not changed, despite the fact that we might like to think they have!

I highly recommend visiting this exhibition. If you are in the area between now and 4th June, be sure to have a look and learn more about this brilliant and enigmatic writer. Please see the link below for more information.

Charlotte Smith and William Godwin

This post has been a long time in coming – it has been a rather busy few weeks! I had a delightful time presenting a paper on Smith’s context in the debate on education in the eighteenth century at the Difficult Women Conference, University of York and discussing my project so far at the IHR’s annual Lightning Talks. After Christmas, I will be producing a post on the former to finally add something about eighteenth-century education to this blog. 

This post is a very brief overview of Smith’s relationship with William Godwin, husband of Mary Wollstonecraft, radical political philosopher and novelist, who wrote Caleb Williams (1794).


Charlotte Smith is first recorded in William Godwin’s diary on 2nd May 1797. A dinner at John King’s (Jacob Rey), a radical and money lender, and a number of other diners, the majority of whom are male (Swainson, Hewardine and Cockburne remain so far unidentified in the Godwin Diary database). This perhaps lends further evidence to the way in which Smith saw herself: a professional and, therefore, an equal to the male professionals around her. (She was notoriously difficult with her publishers as can be seen by her monetary demands in letters to Thomas Caddell Sr.)

2nd May 1797
William Godwin’s Diary,

Throughout the diary, between this first record and the record of her death in 1806, Smith is mentioned 99 times. Godwin also records reading her novels, such as Desmond (1792) and The Young Philosopher (1798).

After the death of Mary Wollstonecraft, 10th September 1797, only months after their first meeting, Smith wrote to Godwin. In a letter dated 24th October 1797, (suggested to have been written to Smith) Godwin responded warmly that

Your letter gave me great pleasure both for the feelings it expressed, and for the person from whom it came. I had always much esteem for you, and that esteem was strengthened by what I saw of you personally a few months ago. Few things would give me more pleasure than to cultivate your acquaintance, and on that account you must allow me to feel some selfish pleasure from the idea of your spending the winter in London.

Prior to their first meeting, Godwin was already aware of Smith as a writer and recorded reading her novel Desmond in his diary as early as 1793. This letter, perhaps, signals the beginning of their correspondence several months after their first meeting. The rest of the letter is very personal and heart-rending; Godwin talks about his distress at losing Mary, how meeting her changed his views on the state of marriage, and what he will do about ‘the poor children! I am myself totally unfitted to educate them.[…] she was the best qualified in the world!’ From this outpouring of feeling and personal grief to his new acquaintance, we can see this was the beginning of a warm friendship.

This led to further letters and meetings, and even collaboration and support for each other’s literary works. Godwin supported Smith’s only foray into playwriting, What Is She?, attending a performance in Convent Garden on 27th April 1799. Within the next year Smith wrote the Prologue for Godwin’s play: Antonio; A Tragedy in Verse (1800). According to Godwin’s diary, he continued to read her other works, including her earlier French translation, The Romance of Real Life (recorded in Godwin’s diary a decade after Smith’s death).

The year before her death her friends in the Godwin circle were concerned about her health. The celebrated surgeon Anthony Carlisle wrote reassuringly to Godwin that ‘Mrs. Smith is not so ill as you have been taught to believe’ and that ‘Mrs. Smith had been better for two days prior to my visit, she sat up [and] was cheerful’.

ds 1350 carlisle
Anthony Carlisle, Surgeon Extraordinary to the Prince Regent. Portrait by Henry Bone

He also teasingly suggests that ‘Mrs. Smith’s love of Doctors’ may have been halting her recovery (too many cooks spoil the broth, perhaps?) and that ‘she would do better to follow steadily some given plan – the Country Surgeon agreed with me on forming certain rules from which I trust she will derive benefit.’ Mary Jane Godwin, in her note attached to the same letter, is less reassuring: ‘These medical men often mistake. Sir A. C. in our poor Willy’s case said “you may wash him […] constantly with vinegar if you like, but he cannot survive.”‘


Letter from Anthony Carlisle to William Godwin, with a note from Mary Jane Godwin (11th Dec 1805) From the Abinger Collection, Bodleian Library

The final mention of Smith in Godwin’s diary records her death on 28th October 1806, a year after Carlisle’s letter. Smith recovered from that bout of illness, as Carlisle suggests she would, but not the next.The record of Smith’s death suggests she was a significant person to Godwin and, as their letters suggest, she was a friend.

Godwin Diary Entry
William Godwin’s Diary,

New Resource

New Resource

I have created the first resource of the blog and I’m a little excited about it! It is a chronology of Smith’s literary endeavours including images and quotations from her texts, and a brief description to go alongside each entry.

To find it, please go to the Resources page. A link to the resources can also be found at the top of the blog page.

Introducing Charlotte Smith

Introducing Charlotte Smith

Before I launch into the main topic of this post, I thought I should introduce myself: I am Leanne Cane, a PhD student at Northumbria University. I am working on the novels of Charlotte Smith and her engagement in the debate on education. Today is Day 50 since I officially began my PhD – so the project is in its very early stages. The reason I’ve started this blog is to give myself a space to talk informally about Smith’s life and her works, and the era in which she was living; it’s both a space to think and to, hopefully, converse with others about a relatively under-explored and under-discussed novelist. I also hope it will be a resource of information for others interested in Smith, and I am planning to create some digital resources for the blog such as interactive timelines of the novels, education in the period, and Smith’s life.

So who was Charlotte Smith?

Charlotte Smith was a novelist, poet and author of children’s educational books in the late eighteenth century. She was born on 4th May, 1749, and died at age 57 on 28th October, 1806.

Godwin Diary Entry
’28. Tu. […] Mrs. C Smith dies’ William Godwin’s Diary:
Smith was the eldest daughter of Nicholas Turner and Anne Towers. She grew up in the family seat: Bignor Park, Sussex. Her mother, Anne, died when Smith was only three-years-old.

Under the guidance of her aunt, she received a largely ‘ornamental’ education consisting of the ‘modern accomplishments’ standard for girls of her station, such as drawing, dancing, and music. She attended a girls’ school in Kensington, and was tutored in art by George Smith. She was noted from an early age to be an avid reader, reading anything she could get her hands on, and she often wrote verses; even later in life, writing poetry was her particular passion.

Aged 15, she married Benjamin Smith (no relation of the artist mentioned above). It was a turbulent and troubled marriage during which the couple spent time in debtor’s jail and Benjamin exiled himself to France to avoid his creditors. During their time in jail, Smith wrote the first edition of Elegiac Sonnets in an attempt to raise money; writing to make money became a theme throughout her life, in the Preface to her novel Desmond she wrote: ‘I am an author by profession.’ After twenty years (and twelve children), Smith separated from her husband, and focused on raising her children and writing.

Between 1784 and 1806, Smith worked on poetry, translations, novels, educational books, a journalistic piece, and a stage play; she produced a total of 23 texts, not counting the various editions of Elegiac Sonnets which she expanded over the period. Writers such as Sir Walter Scott, the novelist, and William Wordsworth noted her influence and talent.


Sadly, Smith, like many other women writers, was written out of history and the literary canon during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries; considered unimportant, despite their influence, beside such eighteenth-century and Romantic writers as Samuel Richardson, Samuel Johnson, William Wordsworth, and Lord Byron. Smith in recent decades, however, has begun to come to the fore again: her works are being re-published; her poems can be found in anthologies; she is being taught on undergraduate and postgraduate literature courses. The main focus so far has been her poetry and use of the sonnet form, due to its influence on Romantic poetry in the period, but her novels and other works are also sparking interest again.