Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Berkeley, Eliza

BERKELEY, ELIZA (1734–1800), authoress, was born in 1734 at the vicarage of White Waltham in Windsor Forest. Her father, the vicar, was the Rev. Henry Frinsham, M.A., a man universally admired, and called 'the fiddle of the company' (Preface to Poems, p. 167), who had previously been curate at Beaconsfield; her mother was a daughter of Francis Cherry of Shottesbrook House, Berks (Nichols, Hist. of Hinckley, p. 174), who left a considerable fortune, which Mrs. Frinsham and her sisters, known as Duke Cherry, Black Cherry, and Heart Cherry, enjoyed as coheiresses. The Cherry sisters lost much over the South Sea Bubble (Gent, Mag. lxix. i. 462). Lord Bute rented Waltham Place on purpose to be near Mr. Frinsham, and he frequently played cards at the vicarage, notwithstanding it was an old clayed barn, with small rooms off it on each side, with a kitchen paved with curious Roman bricks, and a sitting-room whose ceiling was so low that the top of the vicar's wig just touched its middle beam (Preface to Poems, p. 130, and 170, note). Here Eliza Berkeley passed her childhood, for her father would not accept preferment on condition of voting against his principles (ibid. 171). At the age of six she would climb trees like a boy. At eleven she wrote two sermons, and she and her sister Anne were placed at Mrs. Sheeles's school, Queen Square, London. After one year at this school the girls were removed, in consequence of their father's death, and this seems to have given a serious turn to Eliza. She read Hickes's 'Preparatory Office for Death' every Thursday, and attended prayers at church every afternoon. 'My dear,' said her mother, 'you will never get a husband; you hold yourself up as a dragon, and men like quiet wives.' In 1754, Eliza being in her twentieth year, her mother died. She and her sister succeeded to her large fortune, which Mrs. Berkeley gives variously as a few thousands (ibid. 278) and as 80,000l. (ibid. 477), and they took a house in Windsor. In 1761 Eliza married the Rev. George, son of Bishop Berkeley. She was a little creature, and very short-sighted; she read Spanish, Hebrew, and French, always taking a Spanish prayer-book to church (Gent. Mag. lxx. pt. ii. 114). She was intimate with Miss Catherine Talbot, who, unsuspected by Mrs. Berkeley, had been attached from an early age to the Rev. George Berkeley (Gent. Mag. lxvi. 632); and she knew Miss Carter, Mrs. Montagu, Lord Lyttelton, and the rest of their set. Her husband's livings during the first ten years of her married life were Bray, Acton, and Cookham, and at each she visited all new mothers wanting comforts within two or three miles of her (Sermons, p. 75); she went to workhouses with gifts of tobacco, snuff, 2s, tea, and sugar; she always opened letters which Dr. Berkeley feared were unpleasant, and she endured the condition of his library, which was 'in astonishing disorder, the floor often entirely covered with sermons and letters' (Preface to Latin Oration, 348). She did all her own needlework, never putting any out; her husband's dinner-hour being three she always returned to it; and she helped him to spend his evenings with music, with dancing, and Pope Joan (Preface to Poems, 505). In 1763 at Bray, on 8 Feb., she gave birth to her son, George Monck Berkeley [q. v.], having at this time ague, and being exposed to the danger of small-pox, which was raging all round (Mrs. Carter's Letters, iii. 53). In 1766 she gave birth to her second son, George Robert, and after weaning him she was inoculated at Acton rectory by Mr. Sutton, and she soon devoted herself to the education of these two sons. In 1771 Dr. Berkeley became prebendary of Canterbury, and they then went to reside at The Oaks. On 15 April 1775 her second son, nearly nine years old, died. George Monck being then the only child, Mrs. Berkeley and her huslmnd, after the lad had been to Eton, went to reside in Scotland during the three years and a half he passed at St. Andrews. In 1780 his health caused her much anxiety. For some ten years from this, Mrs. Berkeley was in many parts of England with her husband, her sister, and her son; but in January 1793 the son died; in January 1795 her husband died; in January 1797 her sister died; and under the repeated shock of such distress, with impaired health and lessened fortune, she became markedly eccentric. Finding herself with her son's manuscripts before her, and with papers of her husband's weighing several stones, she set herself to publish a volume from each. Taking her son's 'Poems' first, she published a magnificent 4to edition of them in 1797, and in this volume, which is one of Nichols's beautifully executed works, the poems cover only 178 pages, whilst the Preface, full of curious personal details, is 630 pages long, with a postscript at the other end of the poems of 30 pages more. Mrs. Berkeley published a volume of her husband's 'Sermons,' with a dedication to the king, in 1799. Of this work she had only two hundred copies printed, because she did not want them to go to the pastrycooks' and chandlers' shops (Postscript to Preface to these Sermons, xxvi); she had it printed by a country printer of handbills, because she was told he would serve her better; and she lets her disappointment at the result run over when she writes on her own copy (it is in the British Museum), in a firm hand, 'What horrid paper, when the best was ordered!' Mrs. Berkeley was charitable, and maintained two little orphans of old servants in her kitchen, and amongst numberless other charities she paid an annuity up to her death to Richard Brenan [see Berkeley, George Monck]. Mrs. Berkeley dates from several places in the last three years of her life, Chertsey, Henley, Oxford, Sackville Street; she died at Kensington in 1800, aged 66. By her own desire her body, which was first to be taken to Oxford, was conveyed to Cheltenham and buried there in the same tomb with her son.

[Poems by the late George Monck Berkeley; Sermons by George Berkeley, Prebendary of Canterbury, 1799; Preface to Latin Oration, at end of same; Mrs. Carter's Letters; European Mag. xxxviii. 477; Bristow's Canterbury Journal; Gent. Mag. vols. lx. lxiii. lxv.-lxx.]

J. H.