Miss Charlotte Brooke

“P.” (George Petrie)
Dublin Penny Journal
Vol. 1, No. 10, September 1

There are few writers, male or female, to whom we think Ireland owes a greater debt of gratitude than to Miss Charlotte Brooke, a lady whose patriotism led her to translate some of our most beautiful poetical remains, and whose talents enabled her to do them ample justice. For our own part, we regard her memory with the most affectionate reverence, and feel an anxious desire to see her genius more fully appreciated.

This distinguished lady belonged to a family in which mind has been, and still continues to be hereditary. She was the daughter of the celebrated Henry Brooke, the author of Gustavus Vasa — the Fool of Quality, and other valuable works; and she was the cousin of our worthy friend, W. H. Brooke, the artist, whose admirable designs on wood and copper are familiar to many of our readers, and who, we trust, will long continue to exercise his talents to the honour of his country and name. From her father she had the advantage of a careful and liberal education, but it is perhaps to the discernment and encouragement of judicious friends that we are chiefly indebted for the works that have attached such lasting honor to her name, for she was by nature timid and retiring, and would not without force have “suffered herself to be admired.” To gratify her friend Joseph Cooper Walker, she made translations of a song and monody by Carolan, to be inserted in that gentleman's interesting Historic Memoirs of the Irish Bards—and to those translations was prefixed the following preface, which gives us a true insight into the native modesty of her character.

“For the benefit of the English reader, I shall here give an elegant paraphrase of this monody by a young lady, whose name I am enjoined to conceal; with the modesty ever attendant on true merit, and with the sweet timidity natural to her sex, she shrinks from the public eye.”

These were her first published efforts—and the applause which they received, the encouragement of her friends, and her own desire to be useful, concurring to overcome her natural bashfulness, she undertook in the year 1787, to translate a selection of the works of our Irish bards, and in the following year gave the world her inimitable Reliques of Irish Poetry. This work obtained for her the applause of all the critics in the periodical reviews of the time, one of whom, in the Monthly Review for January, 1793, well observes that she was “so perfectly in possession of the language of poetry, that her version has rendered the whole work interesting to English readers.”

In the year 1791, she again came before the public in a work evincing her zealous anxiety to contribute to the diffusion of knowledge and virtue—The School for Christians, in Dialogues, for the Use of Children. In the preface to this little work, she informs us, that “her only object in this publication, is the happiness of seeing it become useful to her species, and the pleasure of bestowing the profits of the book, on the enlargement of a little plan she has formed for the charitable education of children whose parents are too poor to afford them the means of instruction.”

This was followed by a work of pious veneration to the memory of her father; an edition of all his works, to which she prefixed an elegant little memoir of his life:—and this was the last of her literary labours. On the 29th of March, 1793, she fell a victim to malignant fever, at Cottage near Longford. If the demon of political turmoil be ever banished from our distracted country, and domestic peace take up her abode amongst us, the memory of Charlotte Brooke will be duly honored!

To do justice to the character of this superior woman would require more space than the limits of our little Journal would permit; but there is one feature in it so pure and touching that we must not let it pass without notice-it was her filial piety, the extent of which will be best understood from the following passage in one of her own letters. It is addressed to a female friend on the subject of the completion of the edition of her father's works, a task which subjected her to many mortifications, from the dishonesty and brutality of her printer:—

“I suppose I shall lose considerably, besides the far greater vexation of having the work ill done, which is so very dearly paid for. The paper is badly matched; the subscribers complain, and those who do not understand the business will, to be sure, lay the blame upon me. But I have this consolation, that the fame of my father is justified. The work is not the less perfect in itself, for the defect of the paper; and it will descend to posterity in a state not unworthy of its author. Any censure that may fall upon me, when compared with this consideration, is not worth a thought. I have ever lived but for my father, and I shall not now divide my little rivulet from the parent stream. Oh, may we never be divided!—may we roll together to that sea “from whence we never have return!” In life, my soul is his;—in death I trust it shall join him!—You say I know not what it is to have the heart exclusively centered in one object—you forgot my father when you said so. I am indeed incapable of any other love—my heart was intended for that alone, and nature has not nor never will have room for any other one. I see none on earth who resembled him, and therefore heaven alone can become his rival in my breast.”

As a specimen of her poetical powers we should give her translation of Fitzgerald's “Ode to his Ship,” if our present space permitted, but we must reserve it for a future number, and in the mean time we present our readers with one or two examples of a lighter kind. The following verses are from one of the songs of Edmond O'Ryan, commonly called “Edmond of the Hills.” We should premise that this beautiful song—the original melody of which breathes the very soul of music, was the composition of one of the unfortunate gentlemen who attached themselves to the fortunes of the last king of the Stuarts, and who having had his property confiscated after the battle of the Boyne, was obliged at last for existence to become the chief of a band of those hunted freebooters termed Rapparees. It is addressed to his mistress, who appears to have forsaken him on the loss of his fortune: we may well commisserate the fate of one who could compose such music, and such verses, and who, at the same time was the victim of such accumulated misfortunes.

Ah! what woes are mine to bear,

Life's fair morn with clouds o'ercasting!

Doom'd the victim of despair!

Youth's gay bloom, pale sorrow blasting!

Sad the bird that sing's alone,

Flies to wilds, unseen to languish,

Pours, unheard, the ceaseless moan,

And wastes on desert air its anguish!

Mine, O hapless bird! thy fate—

The plunder'd nest,— the lonely sorrow!—

The lost — lov'd — harmonious mate!—

The wailing night,— the cheerless morrow!

O thou dear hoard of treasured love!

Though these fond arms should ne'er possess thee,

Still — still my heart its faith shall prove,

And its last sighs shall breathe to bless thee!

The second stanza of the following song is of extreme beauty.

As the sweet blackberry's modest bloom

Fair flowering, greets the sight;

Or strawberries, in their rich perfume,

Fragrance and bloom unite:

So this fair plant of tender youth,

In outward charms can vie,

And, from within, the soul of truth

Soft beaming fills her eye.

Pulse of my heart!-dear source of care,

Stol'n sighs, and love-breath'd vows!

Sweeter than when through scented air,

Gay bloom the apple boughs!

With thee no days can winter seem,

Nor frost, nor blast can chill;

Thou the soft breeze, the cheering beam

That keeps it summer still!

Miss Brooke—who, we should have observed, cultivated with great success, the arts of painting and music, and was a passionate lover of the melodies of her country—remarks that “the air of these stanzas is exquisitely charming. But the beauties of the music of this country are, at present, almost as little known as those of its poetry. And yet there is no other music in the world so calculated to make its way directly to the heart: it is the voice of Nature and Sentiment, and every fibre of the feeling breast is in unison with it.”