Charles, Elizabeth (DNB01)

CHARLES, Mrs. ELIZABETH (1828–1896), author, only child of John Rundle, M.P. of Tavistock, was born at the Bank, Tavistock, 2 Jan. 1828. There she lived until the age of eleven (she has described her own early life in that of Bride Danescombe in 'Against the Stream,' 1873), when her parents removed to Brooklands, near Tavistock, the house of her maternal grandfather. She was educated at home by governesses and tutors, and began to write very early. James Anthony Froude, whom she sometimes saw, criticised her juvenile performances, and detected touches of genius in the 'Three Trances.' In 1848 Tennyson, while on a visit to Miss Rundle's uncle, read some of her poems in manuscript. He praised especially the lines on the 'Alpine Gentian,' and made some verbal criticisms on the 'Poet's Daily Bread' (cf. Tennyson, Memoir, i. 278).

Her first printed story, 'Monopoly,' was inspired by Miss Martineau's political economy tales. A visit to France, combined with the Oxford movement, strongly attracted her to the Roman catholic church, but the influence of a Swiss protestant pastor effectually prevented her conversion. She remained all her life a strong Anglican, but with a wide tolerance. She numbered among her closest friends Roman catholics, nonconformists, and many of no pronounced faith.

Miss Rundle published her first original book, 'Tales and Sketches of Christian Life in different Lands and Ages,' in 1800. In 1851 she married Andrew Paton Charles, and went to live at Hampstead. Her husband owned a soap and candle factory at Wapping, and Mrs. Charles worked along the employés and among the poor of the district. She lived next in Tavistock Square, London, where, in consequence of the loss of their fortune, her parents joined her. Her father died on 4 Jan. 1864. For the sake of her husband's health she made a four months' journey in Egypt and the Holy Land, Turkey, the Greek islands, and Italy. She gave some account of her travels in 'Wanderings over Bible Lands and Seas,' 1861. Andrew Cameron, the editor of the 'Family Treasury,' a Scottish magazine, offered 'Mrs. Charles 400l. for a story about Luther for his periodical. This was the origin of her best-known book, 'The Chronicles of the Schönberg-Cotta Family,' which was published in 1862. It passed through numerous editions, and has been translated into most European languages, into Arabic, and some of the dialects of India. Her husband died of consumption on 4 June 1868, and Mrs. Charles and her mother removed to Victoria Street, Westminster, where the friendship of Dean and Lady Augusta Stanley did much to awaken Mrs. Charles to new interests and hopes after her bereavement. Her reminiscences of Lady Augusta Stanley, contributed to 'Atalanta,' and afterwards (1892) published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, although slight, are full of interest. Mrs. Charles travelled at this time in Scotland, Ireland, Switzerland, and North Italy, and in 1894 built herself a house at Combe Edge, Hampstead. She had inherited nothing from either father or husband. When her books became remunerative her husband invested the proceeds for her own use. The copyright of the 'Schönberg-Cotta Family' sold for 150l., to which the publisher added another 100l. She never again sold a copyright, and the royalties on her subsequent books, which numbered about fifty, enabled her to live in comfort. Her interests were not confined to literature; she regularly attended the meetings of the North London Hospital for Consumption; one of the first meetings of the Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants was held at her house; and she founded in 1885, at Hampstead, the Home for the Dying, known as 'Friedenheim.' Her mother died on 17 April 1889, and her own death took place on 28 March 1896. She was buried on 1 April following in the churchyard of Hampstead parish church. Her friends and admirers perpetuated her memory by endowing a bed in the North London Hospital for Consumption at Mount Vernon in the December following her death.

Mrs. Charles wrote a simple idiomatic style, and her books touch almost every century of every country of Christendom. They are interesting as pictures of different historical periods; but the characters, especially those of real personages like Luther and Melanchthon, lack life and vivacity. Many of her writings were published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. They went through many editions and were much read in America. 'By the Mystery of Thy Holy Incarnation' (1890) contains the epitome of her religious faith. In politics she was a strong and decided liberal. Among her friends and correspondents were Pusey, Archbishop Tait, Liddon, Jowett, and Charles Kingsley.

The best portrait of her is a crayon drawing done after her death by Miss Hill, Frognal, Hampstead, in whose possession it still is. A picture of her as a girl is in the possession of Robert Charles.

Mrs. Charles's works include:

  1. 'Rest in Christ, or the Crucifix and the Cross,' 1848; 2nd edit. 1869.
  2. 'Tales and Sketches of Christian Life in different Lands and Ages,' 1850.
  3. 'The Two Vocations,' 1853.
  4. 'The Cripple of Antioch,' 1856; reprinted 1870.
  5. 'The Voice of Christian Life in Song,' 1858; new edit. 1897.
  6. 'The Three Wakings,' 1859; reprinted 1860.
  7. 'The Black Ship,' 1861; reprinted 1873.
  8. 'The Martyrs of Spain and Liberators of Holland,' 1862; reprinted 1870; Spanish translation, 1871.
  9. 'Wanderings over Bible Lands and Seas,' 1862.
  10. 'Sketches of Christian Life in England in the Olden Time,' 1864.
  11. 'Diary of Mrs. Kitty Trevylyan,' 1865.
  12. 'Winifred Bertram and the World she lived in,' 1866.
  13. 'The Draytons and the Davenants,' 1867.
  14. 'On Both Sides of the Sea,' 1868.
  15. 'The Victory of the Vanquished,' 1871.
  16. 'Against the Stream,' 1873.
  17. 'Conquering and to Conquer,' 1876.
  18. 'The Bertram Family,' 1876.
  19. 'Lapsed but not Lost,' 1877; Dutch translation, 1884.
  20. 'Joan the Maid,' 1879.
  21. 'Sketches of the Women of Christendom,' 1880.
  22. 'Songs Old and New' (collected poems), 1882; new edit. 1894.
  23. 'An Old Story of Bethlehem,' 1884. Between 1885 and 1896 she published sixteen religious 'books for the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

[Our Seven Homes: autobiographical reminiscences, edited by Mary Davidson, 1896; private information.]

E. L.