Benger, Elizabeth Ogilvy (DNB00)

BENGER, ELIZABETH OGILVY (1778–1827), author, was born at Wells, Somerset, in 1778. Her father was in trade in that city, but left it in 1782 for Chatham to get employment in the navy, and was made purser to Admiral Lord Keith's ship. During residence in Chatham and in Rochester Elizabeth showed much appetite for reading, which, in default of a library, she tried to gratify by poring over the open pages of books in booksellers' shop-windows; and her father, proud of her desire for knowledge, put her to a boys' school in 1790, her twelfth year, that she might learn Latin. The next year, 1791, she produced a poem, 'The Female Geniad;' her uncle. Sir David Ogilvy, introduced her to Lady de Crespigny, under whose patronage the poem was printed.

In 1796, Mr. Benger, having proceeded to the East Indies with his ship, died there. His widow and daughter, then reduced to very slender means, left Chatham to be near relatives, and settled at Devizes in 1797. Elizabeth was restless there, however, and her mother in 1800 acceded to her wish to settle in London. Here Miss Benger, taking lodgings 'up two pair of stairs in East Street' (Red Lion Square?), at once made a vigorous effort to get the friendship of the Lambs. Soon afterwards Lamb found his sister 'closeted' with 'one Miss Benjay or Benje,' who would not stir till she had made them promise to visit her next night (Lamb to Coleridge, letter xl). Her admiration for Mrs. Inchbald led her to dress herself as a servant, and take tea up to the lady at her lodgings (Memories of Seventy Years, p. 142). Ultimately she became acquainted with Mrs. Inchbald, with Campbell, with Smirke, the painter, and the literary circle comprising Mrs. Barbauld, Jerdan, Miss Landon, the Porter sisters, Elizabeth Hamilton, Dr. Aikin, Dr. Gregory, &c. In 1806, just after Tobin's death, when his 'Honeymoon' was about to be put upon the stage, she made the acquaintance of his family, and, learning his painful struggles, she abandoned some dramatic attempts of her own. She tried desultory poems, which appeared anonymously in the 'Monthly Magazine.' In 1809 was published her poem 'On the Slave Trade,' 4to. It is a long work of some 860 lines, beautifully illustrated by engravings from pictures by her friend Smirke. Bowyer published the volume in luxurious style, price 5l. 5s, edited by Montgomery, whose own poem heads the book. She next produced a novel, 'Marian,' and some remarks on Mme. de Stael's 'Germany;' later Mme. de Stael described Miss Benger as 'the most interesting woman she had seen during her visit to England' (Miss Aikin's Memoir, p. xi). In 1813 Miss Benger produced her second and last novel, 'The Heart and The Fancy,' 2 vols., which was highly praised by the 'Gentleman's Magazine (vol. lxxxiv. part i. p. 160), and was translated into French in 1816 (Didot's Nouvelle Biog. Gén.). She had made herself mistress of German, and translated a volume of Klopstock's letters, which was published in 1814 with a short introduction. Her later works were historical. They appeared in the following order: 'Memoirs of Elizabeth Hamilton,' 2 vols., 1818 (of which there was a 2nd edition in 1819); 'Memoirs of John Tobin,' 1820; 'Memoirs of Anne Boleyn,' 2 vols., 1821 (which Didot says were translated into French in 1816, an obvious error); 'Memoirs of Mary Queen of Scots,' 1823 ; and 'Memoirs of Elizabeth of Bohemia,' 2 vols., 1825.

Miss Benger is described as interesting and lovable, and full of enthusiasm and vivacity. She had a melodious voice, and' could talk enchantingly (Memories of Seventy Years, p. 141). At the end of her life her lodgings, 'poor and shabby,' were in Grafton Street (Fitzroy Square?); Fletcher, a young Scotch sculptor studying in London, would go to her there to 'arrange her turban' and 'generally make things tidy' when she was going 'to receive people well worth seeing' (ibid.) Among her visitors were Rosina Wheeler and Bulwer-Lytton, who met at her lodgings, in 1826, for the first time (Athenæum, 1 March 1884, p. 281).

In 1826 Miss Benger's health, always delicate, began to fail. She was at the time busy collecting materials for memoirs of Henri Quatre, and was contributing anonymous poems to the 'Athenæum' (which are appended to Miss Aikin's 'Memoir'). After suffering for some months, she died on 9 Jan. 1827, aged 49. Her circumstances were very straitened to the last, and her literary friends looked upon her death as a release from struggles and poverty.

[Miss Aikin's Memoir, prefixed to 2nd edition of Miss Benger's 'Anne Boleyn,' 1827; Annual Biography and Obituary, 1828, p. 52; Penny Cyclopedia; Literary Gazette, where Miss Aikin's Memoir first appeared; Lamb to Coleridge, letter xl.; Memories of Seventy Years, ed. by Mrs. Martin, pp. 141, 142; Athenæum, 1 March 1884, pp. 280, 281.]

J. H.