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LADY CAROLINE NORTON. (18o3–1877.)
John Lothrop Motley, in writing to his wife from London in 1858, tells of his meeting with Lady Caroline Norton, and thus describes her :
She is rather above middle height. Her face is certainly extremely beautiful. The hair is raven black—violet black— without a thread of silver. The eyes very large, with dark lashes, and black as death ; the nose straight; the mouth flexible and changing; with teeth which in themselves would make the fortune of an ordinary face—such is her physiognomy; and when you add to this extraordinary poetic genius, descent from that famous Sheridan, who has made talent hereditary in his family, a low, sweet voice and a flattering manner, you can understand how she twisted men's heads off and hearts out, we will not be particular how many years
In other of his letters, Mr. Motley dwells on the exceeding grace, beauty, wit and genius of Mrs. Norton, who showed the author of “The
Dutch Republic” many kind attentions when he
was being lionized by London society after the publication of his history. At this time she was in her fiftieth year, but he says she did not look to be thirty. Indeed, she never did seem to grow old. Tom Sheridan, the son of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, inherited his mother's beauty. He married a very beautiful woman and their three daughters became renowned in English society. The eldest was Helen Selina, who married Henry Blackwood, afterward Lord Dufferin. The late Lord Dufferin was her son. The second daughter was Caroline Elizabeth, who married the Honorable George C. Norton; and the third was Georgina, who became the Duchess of Somerset, and at the famous Eglinton tournament was crowned the Queen of Beauty. The eldest and youngest were most happily married, but Lady Caroline's husband was a spendthrift and a brute, who abused her and took from her all the money she earned by her pen, frequently reducing her and her children to destitution. He was, besides, insanely jealous of her, and brought an action against Lord Melbourne on her account. In this he properly and justly failed, and in 1840 Mrs. Norton obtained a separation from him. Fanny Kemble, who lived on terms of intimacy with her, in her “Records of a Girlhood,” describes an evening she passed at the Nortons:
A host of distinguished public and literary men were crowded into a small drawing-room which was literally resplendent with the light of Sheridan beauty, male and female. Mrs. Sheridan, the mother of the graces, more beautiful than anybody but her daughters; Lady Grahame, their beautiful aunt; Mrs. Norton, Mrs. Blackwood (Lady Dufferin), Georgina Sheridan (Duchess of Somerset and queen of beauty by universal consent), and Charles Sheridan, their younger brother, a sort of younger brother of the Apollo Belvedere. Certainly I never saw such a bunch of beautiful creatures all growing on one stem. I remarked it to Mrs. Norton, who looked complacently around her tiny drawing-room and said: “Yes, we are rather good-looking people.” She was splendidly handsome, of an un-English character of beauty, her rather large and heavy head and features recalling the grandest Grecian and Italian models, to the latter of whom her rich coloring and blue-black braids of hair gave her an additional resemblance. Though neither as perfectly lovely as the Duchess of Somerset, nor as perfectly charming as Lady Dufferin, she produced a far more striking impression then either of them by the combination of the poetical genius with which she alone of all three was gifted with the brilliant wit and power of repartee which they possessed in common with her.
Mrs. Norton was born in 1808 and married
Mr. Norton in 1827. After her separation she
maintained herself by her pen. She was beauti
ful to the last, and in 1877, in her sixty-ninth
year, she married Sir William Sterling Maxwell, 3OO
a distinguished Scotch baronet, who had long been devoted to her. She died a few weeks after marriage. As an authoress Mrs. Norton was very popular. In reviewing a volume of her poems published in 1840 the Quarterly Review said:
This lady is the Byron of our modern poetesses. She has very much of that intense personal passion by which Byron's poetry is distinguished from the larger grasp and deeper communion with man and nature of Wordsworth. She has also Byron's beautiful intervals of tenderness, his strong, practical thought and forceful expression.
Mrs. Norton, indeed, contested the palm of popularity with Elizabeth Barrett (Mrs. Browning), and in the criticism of the day the two were compared and contrasted. Mrs. Browning's poetry has outlived Mrs. Norton's for the reason that it is not so directly personal to herself. Her ideals were higher, her themes of more universal interest.
Mrs. Norton had suffered much and she wrote on the oppression of her sex and was influential in bringing about some reform in respect to the right and property of married women. One of her principal poems is entitled “The Dream,” which in some tenderly pathetic verse she dediThe story is that of a mother watching over a lovely daughter sleeping. The daughter awakes and tells how she had dreamed of the bliss of first love and an early marriage, and how happy it made her. The mother becomes admonitory and describes the many accidents to which wedded happiness is liable, and exhorts to moderation of hope, for strife may come and many sorrows. There are many strong and passionate passages in the poem, particularly when the mother describes the anguish of heart in which the wife appeals to the husband.
cates to the Duchess of Sutherland. 3OI
Kneel, dash thyself upon the senseless ground,
But there are many tender passages also in this poem. She describes the poor man returning to his humble cottage from his daily toil in lines of great felicity: Still as his heart forestalls his weary pace,
Fondly he dreams of each familiar face,