Fanshawe, Catherine Maria (DNB00)

FANSHAWE, CATHERINE MARIA (1765–1834), poetess, second daughter of John Fanshawe of Shabden in Chipstead, Surrey (b. 10 July 1738, d. 26 March 1816), who held the position of first clerk of the board of green cloth in the household of George III, by his wife Penelope, daughter and sole representative of John Dredge of Reading (d. 17 April 1807), was born at Shabden on 6 July 1765. That estate was sold on the father's death, and the old house has entirely disappeared, but the father and mother lie buried under a tomb in Chipstead churchyard. John, the eldest son, died in 1772, and Robert Charles, the only other boy, in 1789; the sisters, their father's coheiresses, lived together after his death at 15 Berkeley Square, London, and at Midhurst House, Richmond, and belonged to a small set of people ‘intimately united by a common love of literature, art, and science which existed in London’ in the early part of this century. Miss Fanshawe was endowed with varied accomplishments and with a sympathetic disposition; she was the only one of the three who wrote verses, but all of them were good artists. Their manners, however, were marked by excessive formality, and Catherine was deformed and very delicate. Mrs. Somerville says of the family: ‘I visited these ladies, but their manners were so cold and formal that, though I admired their talents, I never became intimate with them;’ and Miss Berry, speaking of the poetess, laid ‘half her formality … upon the family to which she belongs.’ She was ‘admirable as a letter-writer, as a reader of Shakespeare, and as a designer in almost every style,’ is the testimony of Miss Mitford, who adds that her friend's ‘drawings and etchings were those of an artist.’ Lockhart calls her ‘a woman of rare wit and genius in whose society Scott greatly delighted,’ and Scott himself says: ‘I read Miss Fanshawe's pieces, which are quite beautiful.’ She offered to make the Rev. William Harness her heir, but he declined the offer, and she left him her etchings and manuscripts, from the latter of which he compiled her ‘Memorials.’ Penelope, her elder sister, died in April 1833; Catherine Maria died at Putney Heath, after a long and painful illness, on 17 April 1834, and both of them are commemorated, with their parents and their two brothers, on the tombstone at Chipstead. There is also in Richmond parish church a tablet to the memory of Penelope, who was killed by the fatal influenza of the spring of 1833. Elizabeth Christiana, the younger sister and the last survivor, died at Richmond 25 March 1856, aged 78. The house in Berkeley Square was then sold, and Midhurst House at Richmond was left to her first cousin, the widow of the Hon. Sir Robert Stopford.

Her poems long remained in manuscript or in private collections. In 1793 she returned a poem by Cowper which had been ‘lent to her on condition she should neither show it nor take a copy,’ and she accompanied it by some ‘Stanzas addressed to Lady Hesketh,’ which Cowper acknowledged in an answer of eight lines. Several of her pieces were published in Joanna Baillie's ‘Collection of Poems’ (1823), pp. 65–77, 167–85, and numerous extracts from these are quoted in Miss Mitford's ‘Recollections of a Literary Life.’ Her best-known poem is the riddle on the letter H, which has been often attributed to Lord Byron, and has been included in at least two editions of his works. It originated in a conversation on the misuse of that letter when she was stopping with Mr. Hope at Deepdene, Surrey. She wrote it during the night, read the lines to the guests at breakfast next morning, and committed them to Mr. Hope's album, now preserved at Hedgebury, near Cranbrook, Kent. The opening line originally ran,

'Twas in heaven pronounced, and 'twas muttered in hell;

but the accepted reading, and the alteration is generally assigned to James Smith of the ‘Rejected Addresses,’ now is,

'Twas whispered in heaven, 'twas muttered in hell.

Two lines of a poem by Praed, which appeared in the ‘Morning Post,’ March 1833, suggested her ‘Speech of the Member for Odium,’ a poetic squib on Cobbett, who sat for Oldham, which was afterwards printed for private circulation. A few copies of her ‘Memorials,’ which contained most of her poems and nine photographs from her etchings, were printed by Harness in 1865 for circulation among her friends, and 250 copies of ‘The Literary Remains of Catherine Maria Fanshawe. With notes by the late Rev. William Harness,’ were issued by Pickering in 1876. A letter and a poem by her are in Miss Berry's ‘Journal,’ ii. 297–302, and in iii. 526–8 is a poem with the heading ‘The Country Cat docketed by Miss Fanshawe;’ in ‘Murray's Magazine,’ i. 6 (1887), is printed an extract from one of her letters, describing a dinner party at Sir Humphry Davy's house, at which Byron and Madame de Staël met. A tombstone in Chipstead churchyard to the memory of a farmer bears some lines written by Miss Fanshawe. Three of her poems are included in Locker's ‘Lyra Elegantiarum.’

Two of her sketch-books belonged to the wife of Dean Gregory of St. Paul's Cathedral, daughter of Miss Fanshawe's first cousin, Lady Stopford; one of them contains views of Chipstead rectory, and of the scenery in the Christchurch corner of Hampshire; the second preserves scenes sketched in a trip from Genoa over the Mount Cenis. Mrs. Gregory also owned some large water-colour drawings by Miss Fanshawe, illustrating Shakespeare's ‘Seven Ages of Man.’ Several of her sketch-books are the property of Mrs. Gregory's sisters, the Misses Stopford of Richmond. Many of them are foreign sketches, depicting tours in Italy, but some delineate English scenery. Miss Fanshawe paid numerous visits to the south of Europe for the benefit of her health.

[Information from Mrs. Gregory and Miss Stopford; Annual Biography and Obituary, xix. 414 (1835); Miss Berry's Journal, ii. 451; L'Estrange's Harness, pp. 99–105; Mrs. Somerville's Recollections, p. 222; Miss Mitford's Recollections, i. 249–65; Lockhart's Scott, v. 287–288; Cowper's Works, vii. 220, x. 83; Manning and Bray's Surrey, ii. 246; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. v. 427, 2nd ser. x. 293–4, 3rd ser. ii. 178, 4th ser. x. 340, 5th ser. ii. 43–4, 6th ser. ix. 209, 7th ser. ii. 390, 457, iii. 33, 73–4, 158; Brayley's Surrey, iv. 304, 307.]

W. P. C.