Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Harrison, Susannah

HARRISON, SUSANNAH (1752–1784), religious poetess, probably born at Ipswich in 1752, of poor parents, entered domestic service when sixteen. Four years after illness permanently invalided her. Although without regular education, she taught herself to write, and developed much poetic power and piety, calling her verses ‘Songs in the Night’ (after Job xxxv. 10). She reluctantly consented to their publication. In the first edition, 1780, they are stated to be ‘by a young woman under deep afflictions,’ and were edited by Dr. John Conder [q. v.] A second edition was issued in 1781, with eleven additional pages. Dr. Conder supplied several pages of ‘Recommendation,’ and Susannah added an acrostic to show her name. The fourth edition (Ipswich, 1788) was augmented with twenty-two pages of posthumous verses, and twelve more recounting her resignation and giving admonitions to her friends before she died. She died 3 Aug. 1784, and was buried in Tacket Street burial-ground, Ipswich, with an inscription recording that ‘she wrote “Songs in the Night.”’

Susannah Harrison's poems reached a fifteenth edition in 1823. All that she wrote is strongly tinctured with religious enthusiasm. Her versification is smooth, although sometimes defaced by grammatical blunders. The influence of Ken is apparent in her earlier pieces, and that of Cowper and Newton afterwards. It is evident that she had read Milton's ‘Ode on the Nativity.’

A portrait (a silhouette) of the authoress forms the frontispiece of the first edition. She also wrote ‘A Call to Britain,’ seemingly a broadside, of which many thousands were sold in a short time.

[S. Harrison's Songs, and the Recommendation, Preface, &c., by Dr. Conder; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

M. G. W.