Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lennox, Charlotte

LENNOX, CHARLOTTE (1720–1804), miscellaneous writer, born in 1720, was the daughter of Colonel James Ramsay, lieutenant-governor of New York. About 1735 she was sent to England for adoption by a well-to-do aunt, whom on her arrival she found to be incurably insane. Her father died soon afterwards, leaving her unprovided for. After failing as an actress (Walpole, Letters, ed. Cunningham, ii. 126), she supported herself by literary work, and about 1748 married a Mr. Lennox. Samuel Paterson, who published her first book, introduced her to Johnson, and Johnson introduced her to Richardson. Johnson, in his admiration for her blameless life, thought extravagantly of her talents. To celebrate the publication, in December 1750, of her novel, ‘Harriot Stuart,’ he invited her to supper at his club. One of the dishes was an enormous apple-pie, which he had stuck with bay-leaves, and he had prepared for her a crown of laurel, with which he encircled her brows (Hawkins, Life of Johnson, p. 286). He further flattered her by citing her under ‘Talent’ in his ‘Dictionary’ (Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. G. B. Hill, iv. 4 n. 3). These compliments turned her head, with the result that ‘nobody liked her’ (Mrs. Thrale, in D'Arblay's Diary, i. 91).

But her brightly written novel entitled ‘The Female Quixote; or, the Adventures of Arabella,’ 2 vols. 12mo, London, 1752 (1783, 1810), which appeared without her name, entitles her to rank as a woman of genius. Fielding praised it (Voyage to Lisbon), and Johnson, who contributed the dedication to the Earl of Middlesex, reviewed it in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ (xxii. 146). Her next publication was a somewhat silly book, called ‘Shakespear illustrated; or, the Novels and Histories on which the Plays … are founded, collected, and translated,’ 3 vols. 12mo, London, 1753–4. In her notes she attempts to show that Shakespeare injured the stories by the introduction of absurd intrigues and improbable incidents. Some of these observations were ascribed by Malone to Johnson, who wrote the dedication to the Earl of Orrery. During 1760–1 she conducted a magazine called ‘The Ladies' Museum,’ 2 vols. 8vo. A well-written comedy by Mrs. Lennox, entitled ‘The Sister,’ was produced at Covent Garden on 18 Feb. 1769, Goldsmith providing the epilogue (Genest, Hist. of the Stage, v. 241–2). A party was organised to hoot it down the first night, and it was never repeated (Boswell, iv. 10; Gent. Mag. xxxix. 199). Three of the characters in Burgoyne's ‘Heiress’ were stolen from it. A German translation by J. C. Bock was printed in vol. i. of F. L. Schroeder's ‘Hamburgisches Theater,’ 1776. Her latter days were clouded by penury and sickness, and during the last twelvemonth of her life she was a pensioner on the Royal Literary Fund. George Rose and William Beloe also assisted her. She died on 4 Jan. 1804. By her husband Lennox she had an only son, who obtained employment in the United States.

Mrs. Lennox wrote also: 1. ‘Poems on several occasions. Written by a young Lady,’ 8vo, London, 1747. 2. ‘The Life of Harriot Stuart;’ a novel, 12mo, London, 1751. 3. ‘Philander; a Dramatic Pastoral,’ 8vo, London, 1758. The hint of this piece, which was not intended for the stage, is taken from Guarini's ‘Il Pastor Fido.’ 4. ‘Henrietta,’ a novel, 2 vols. 12mo, London, 1758 (1761, 1787), afterwards dramatised by the authoress as ‘The Sister.’ A French translation appeared in 1760. 5. ‘Sophia,’ a novel, 2 vols. 12mo, London, 1762. 6. ‘Old City Manners,’ 8vo, London, 1775; a comedy, altered from Jonson, Chapman, and Marston's ‘Eastward Hoe!’ It was acted at Drury Lane on 9 Nov. 1775, and favourably received (Genest, v. 481–2). 7. ‘Euphemia,’ a novel, 4 vols. 12mo, London, 1790. 8. ‘Memoirs of Henry Lenox, interspersed with Legendary Romances,’ 12mo, London, 1804.

She translated from the French: 1. ‘The Memoirs of the Countess of Berci,’ 2 vols. 12mo, London, 1756. 2. ‘Memoirs of M. de Bethune, duke of Sully,’ 3 vols. 4to, London, 1756 (reprinted in 8vo, 1778 and 1810). Johnson reviewed it in the ‘Literary Magazine’ for 1756 (BOSWELL, i. 309). 3. ‘Memoirs for the History of Madame de Maintenon,’ 12mo, London, 1757. 4. Brumoy's ‘Greek Theatre,’ 3 vols. 4to, London, 1759, in which she was assisted by Johnson, Lord Orrery, James Grainger, M.D., and others. 5. The Duchess de la Vallière's ‘Meditations and Penitential Prayers. With some Account of her Life,’ 8vo, London, 1774.

In 1775 Johnson assisted her in preparing proposals for a collective edition of her works in three quarto volumes, but the design was not carried out.

Her portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds was engraved by Bartolozzi.

[Nichols's Lit. Anecd. iii. 200, 201, 438, viii. 497; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. iii. 19, vii. 161; Chalmers's Biog. Dict.; Baker's Biog. Dram. 1812; Forster's Life of Goldsmith, 1888, ii. 145–6; Boswell's Life of Johnson (ed. G. B. Hill), iv. 275, and elsewhere; Evans's Cat. of Engraved Portraits, ii. 245.]

G. G.