Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Otté, Elise

OTTÉ, ELISE (1818–1903), scholar and historian, was born at Copenhagen on 30 September 1818, of a Danish father and an English mother. In 1820 her parents went to Santa Cruz, in the Danish West Indies, where her father died. Her mother returned to Copenhagen, where she met the English philologist, Benjamin Thorpe [q. v.], while he was studying Anglo-Saxon under Rask in Denmark, and married him. Elise accompanied her mother and step-father to England. From her step-father Elise Otté received an extraordinary education, and at a very tender age knew so much Anglo-Saxon and Icelandic as to be able to help Thorpe in his grammatical work. His tyranny, however, became more than she could bear, and in 1840 she went to Boston, U.S.A., to secure her independence. Here her mind turned from grammar to science, and she studied physiology at Harvard. Later on she travelled much in Europe, and then resumed her life with her step-father, whom she helped in his version of the 'Edda of Sæmund.' But the bondage was again found intolerable, and in 1849 Elise Otté escaped to St. Andrews, where she worked at scientific translations for the use of Dr. George Edward Day [q. v.], Chandos professor of anatomy and medicine. In 1863 she went to reside with Day and his wife at Torquay, and in 1872, after Day's death, made London her home. Here, for years, she carried on an active literary career, writing largely for scientific periodicals. In 1874 she published a 'History of Scandinavia,' which is her most durable work; she compiled grammars of Danish and of Swedish, and issued translations of standard works by De Quatrefages, R. Pauli, and others. Her translation of Pauli's 'Old England' (1861) was dedicated to her step-father, Thorpe. Miss Otté was one of the most learned women of her time, especially in philology and physical science, but she never acquired ease in literary expression. She lived wholly in the pursuit of knowledge, even in extreme old age, when rendered inactive and tortured by neuralgia. She died at Richmond on 20 Dec. 1903, in her eighty-sixth year.

[Personal knowledge; Athenæum, 2 Jan. (by the present writer) and 16 Jan. (by Miss Day), 1904.]

E. G.