Every Christmas my wife and I give each other an unspecified amount of money which can range from £1.00 to £30.00 so that we may treat ourselves in the lead up to Christmas. This little event started in the 1980s for no particular reason and we have continued with the game ever since. To be truthful, I had rather forgotten about it this year until I found £20.00 on my pillow when I returned from my travels. Little did my wife know that way back in August, I had placed a similar amount of cash in one of her rarer purses. Like most things, I let it ride and waited for my wife to find the small gift.
For some reason she did not discover that whim on a summers day. It was not until I found the cash on my pillow that I released to my wife the information that I had already deposited a small sum in the leather of her maroon purse. It was then a matter of remembering where I had put the purse. The story had a happy end as being a Virgo, I am quite organised and remembered where I had put it.
I kept my gift in my wallet until yesterday when I found two antiquarian books in the Arcade. In a way, I had been on the lookout for these books ever since 2001 when I first visited Deal in Kent. The two books were the memoirs of a certain Mrs Elizabeth Carter who was one of the town’s most famous daughters. The title of the book is delicious and I will render it in full below.
Memoirs of the Life of Mrs Elizabeth Carter
With a new edition of her poems some of which have never appeared before
To which are added
Miscellaneous essays in prose
Together with her Notes on the Bible
And answers to objections concerning the Christian religion
This mammoth work was compiled by her nephew and executor Montagu Pennington (1762-1849) and I believe was first published in the year of Elizabeth’s death (1807). As soon as I saw them in the book department under the café, I purchased them as this was the first time I had seen both editions in the flesh. The cost was £20.00 which I found rather lyrical.
The editions I purchased were printed in 1825 and were from the fourth edition and had the signatures of previous owners dating from 1841 and 1866 as well as a later one dating from 1894. The books, considering their age, were in very good condition. But who was Mrs Elizabeth Cater and why is she so important to Deal?
To the average student, she would mean little but in her way, she was one of the early feminists. But like many others, she faded from view and only lately has there been a revival of interest in her work. I first came across her when I was at college. I was studying the life of the diaries of Anne Lister (1791-1840). One thing led to another and soon I was exploring the Bluestocking group to which Elizabeth belonged. But more of that later.
Elizabeth was born on the 16th of December 1717 and was the daughter of Nicholas Carter who was the perpetual curate in Deal in Kent. Her home in Deal can still be seen and is only a short way from the sea. History recorded it as being redbrick but it has since been painted. On the whole the house is unchanged save for the usual modern additions. Should you want to view the house (which is a private residence) then it easy to find as it is on the junction of South Street and Middle Street. Or just find Oxfam Books which can found at the Walmer end of the town and head towards the sea. The house in on your left.
Whilst not a precocious child, Elizabeth was encouraged to study and she in time mastered a number of modern and ancient languages. Later she translated not only Jean-Pierre de Crousaz (1663-1750) but also Francesco Algarotti (1712-1764). But Elizabeth’s main claim to fame was that she translated the works of the Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus who lived in the period between AD55 and AD135. The translation was a great success and Elizabeth raised in the region of one thousand pounds in subscription monies alone. She was a good friend of Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) and edited some of the editions of his journal The Rambler.
Elizabeth was also a member of the Blue Stocking Society which was an early women’s group led by Elizabeth Montagu (1718-1800). In short, it was an informal women’s group which amongst other things encouraged intellectual discussion education and mutual co-operation for the betterment of all. They were quite advanced for their time as most women were encouraged to participate in non-intellectual activities. Women in the eighteenth century were expected to confirm to a norm and that is why this group and to some extent Anne Lister rocked the apple cart so violently.
To modern eyes the behaviours of people such as the Bluestockings seem quite normal (I believe the term is still in use in one of the Oxford colleges). But in eighteenth century England things were quite different. Elizabeth and her friends were seen as quite radical and the naughty Miss Anne Lister’s name was not mentioned in polite company. Indeed, Anne’s very complex but explicit diaries were hidden for periods after her death.
Thankfully, Elizabeth’s work gave no cause for concern and one of the pleasures I have had since buying the books was that I was able to read some of Elizabeth’s poetry which was written in her younger years. The poetry is very much of its time and was rather enjoyable. I was glad to have had the chance to read a good amount of it as it is not easy to find elsewhere. The books also offered me the chance to read her views on religion (although at the time of writing I have not read these fully) as well as other writings.
I noted earlier that I had been on the lookout for these books since my initial visit to Deal in 2001. Well as normal when one is not looking for something, one finds their desire and this was the case with the books that I found in the Arcade. I could have purchased these early editions on the internet but they were expensive at nearly one hundred pounds. The twenty pounds that I paid was something of a bargain and their purchase was an enjoyable experience. It was made all the more special as my daughter lives in Deal with her husband and two daughters. I am in the town quite often and have a great affection for the area.
When I am heading for the sea, I not only pass Elizabeth’s house but also that of Thomas Hughes (1822-1896) who wrote Tom Brown’s School Days whilst living in Deal. The composer John Ireland (1879-1962) also lived nearby. Deal has an interesting history and it is strange to read letters written to Elizabeth in Deal over two hundred years ago. They seem so alive and to think I am reading them from a book published in 1825.
Elizabeth, although not a name on everybody’s lips, was to some extent a pioneer as she helped to make writing a respectable occupation for women. It was whilst researching this article I discovered a fact that I had not been previously aware of. This concerned Elizabeth’s nephew Montagu who resided with his aunt for nearly twenty years. Does his baptismal name remind you of anybody noted in this article? See if you can discover the connection.
I was lucky in my discovery and if you are looking for a specific item do not give up.
You are likely to find when you are not looking for it. Maybe in the Arcade.