Chapone, Hester (DNB00)

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

CHAPONE, HESTER (1727–1801), essayist, was born on 27 Oct. 1727, at Twywell, Northamptonshire, her birthplace being a fine Elizabethan mansion, then standing on the north side of the church there (Cole, Memoirs of Mrs, Chapone, pp. 6, 8). Her father was Thomas Mulso; her mother, a remarkably beautiful woman, was a daughter of Colonel Thomas, himself known as 'Handsome Thomas' (Mrs. Chapon's Works and Life, 1807, i. 2). The two families of Mulso and Thomas were doubly connected by a marriage between Mr. Mulso s sister and Mrs. Mulso's brother, the Rev. Dr. Thomas, bishop successively of Peterborough, Salisbury, and Winchester. Hester had several brothers, but was the only daughter to survive childhood. She wrote a short romance, 'The Loves of Amoret and Melissa,' at nine years of age, and exhibited so much promise that her mother became jealous, and suppressed her child's literary efforts. When the mother died, Hester managed her father's house, and used the time she could spare from domestic duties to study French, Italian, Latin, music, drawing. She quickly attracted notice. Johnson admitted four billets of hers in the 'Rambler' on 21 April 1750 (Rambler, No. 10). Visiting an aunt, a widowed Mrs. Donne, at Canterbury, she came to know Duncombe and Elizabeth Carter [q. v.]; and through 'Clarissa worship ' she made acquaintance with Richardson and Thomas Edwards, to whom she wrote an ode (Nichols, Lit. Anecd, ii. 201, note). Miss Talbot wrote to Elizabeth Carter 17 Dec. 1750, 'Pray, who and what is Miss Mulso?' and declared that she honoured her, and wanted to know more of her (Mrs. Carter, Letters, i. 370–3). In her correspondence with Richardson she signed herself his 'ever obliged' and affectionate child;' and in Miss Highmore's drawing of Richardson reading 'Sir Charles Grandison' to his friends in his grotto at North End, Hammersmith, she occupies the central place. Richardson, who called her 'a little spitfire,' delighted in her sprightly conversation; she called 'Rasselas' on its first appearance 'an ill-contrived, unfinished, unnatural, and uninstructive tale.' After an illness caught during a visit to her uncle, Dr. Thomas, bishop of Peterborough, Hester Mulso sent an 'Ode to Health' to Miss Carter from London on 12 Nov. 1751. Another 'Ode' sent to Miss Carter was printed with that lady's 'Epictetus.' Miss Mulso paid a visit to Miss Carter at Deal in the August of 1752. In July and August of 1753 she contributed the 'Story of Fidelia' to Hawkesworth's 'Adventurer' (Nos. 77-9), and was frequently Richardson's guest at North End the same year. She was present at a large party there when Dr. Johnson brought Anna Williams with him, and she states that he looked after the poor afflicted lady 'with all the loving care of a fond father to his daughter' (Works and Life, i. 72-4).

Miss Mulso met an attorney named Chapone, to whom Richardson had shown many attentions, and she fell in love with him. Mr. Mulso would not at first hear of the marriage, but he yielded in 1760. Before obtaining her father's consent Miss Mulso wrote her ‘Matrimonial Creed,’ in seven articles of belief, and addressed it to Richardson. Her wedding took place on 30 Dec. 1760 (Gent. Mag. xxxi. 433, her brother Thomas being married to ‘Pressy,’ daughter of General Prescott, at the same time. She went first to lodgings in Carey Street, and then to a house in Arundel Street (Works and Life, i. 123). Mrs. Barbauld has said that the Chapones’ married life, short as it was, was not happy; Mrs. Chapone’s relatives call this a complete error (ib. pp. 126-9), and they say Mrs. Chapone’s love for her husband remained so intense, that years after she was a widow she could never look upon a miniature she had of him without being convulsed with grief. In September 1761 Chapone was seized with fever, and died on the 19th, when Mrs. Chane was taken to Thomas Mu1so's house in Rathbone Place, and for twenty-three days her life was despaired of. She was then removed by her friends the Burrows family to their lodgings in Southampton Street; she paid other visits, and finding herself mistress of a small income, to which there was some addition when her father died in 1763 (ib.), she made no change in her circumstances and condition from that time to the end. For the daughter of her brother, John Mulso, a beneficed clergyman at Thornhill, near Wakefield, Yorkshire, Mrs. Chapone wrote in 1772 her best known essays, the ‘Letters on the Improvement of the Mind’ (ib. p. 4). The work was published anonymously, in an edition of 1,500 copies, in 1773 (2 vols.), and dedicated to Mrs. Montagu. It brought Mrs. Chapone many entreaties from persons of consideration to undertake the education of their daughters, and reached a third edition in 1774, though by the author’s friendliness to her bookseller her ‘pockets were none the heavier.’ In 1775 her ‘Miscellanies’ came out, comprising ‘Fidelia’ and other fugitive matter, with a few poems, the earliest written in 1749. In 1777 she published a pamphlet. a ‘Letter to a New Married Lady.’ In 1778 she was staying at Farnham Castle with her uncle, then bishop of Winchester, when the bishop was visited by the king and queen; the queen introduced the princess royal to her, saying she hoped her daughter had adequately profited by Miss Chapone’s ‘Letters on the Improvement of the Mind.’ The death of the bishop’s wife, Mrs. Thomas, took place the same year as this visit, 1778; in 1781 the bishop himself died; in 1782, Edward Mulso, Mrs. Chapone's youngest brother, died; and these and other deaths among her intimates touched Mrs. Chapone deeply. She hoped to have made a happy home at Winchester, where her brother John had become prebendary, and where his daughter was married to the Rev. Benjamin Jeffreys, belonging to Winchester College; but John died in 1791, a few months after the death of his wife in 1790. She lost Captain William Mulso, her nephew, by shipwreck, in 1797, and Thomas, her last and most intimate brother, in 1799; the final blow came to her by the untimely death of Mrs. Jeffreys, her niece, in childbirth in 1800. Wishing for a quiet retreat she hired a house at Hadley, to be near Miss Amy Burrows, and took her youngest niece as her companion; but here her health failed rapidly, and she died on Christmas day 1801, aged 74.

Mrs. Chapone could sing exquisitely, and was skilful enough at drawing to sketch Miss Carter for Richardson. She was a contributor to the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ (Index, vol. iii. Preface, lxxiv); and her works passed through many editions, retaining their high repute for a lengthened period. The ‘Improvement’ reappeared at Edinburgh about 1780, where the author’s name stands Champone. London editions of it were issued in 1810, 1815, 1829 (illustrated by Westall), and in 1844, exclusive of other issues in 1812 and 18221, when Dr. Gregory's ‘Advice to a Daughter’ was bound with it. A new edition of the ‘Misce1lanies’ was published in 1787; the ‘Works,’ with a ‘Life drawn up by her own Family,’ 4 vols., appeared in 1807; an edition of ‘Posthumous Works,’ 2 vols., the same year, of which there was a second edition in 1808, faced by Mrs. Chapone’s portrait, cut from Miss Highmore's ‘Grandison’ group already mentioned. Mrs. Chapone’s works were also included by Chalmers in his edition of the ‘British Essayists,’ vol. xxiii.

[Works of Mrs. Chapone, with Life drawn up by her own Family, 1807, i. 2, 188, ii. 2-24; Cole’s Memoirs of Mrs. Chapone, 4, 6, 39, 41; Mrs. Barbauld’s Correspondence of Samuel Richardson, i. (Life) cxcviii. ii. Frontispiece and p. 258, iii. 170-1, 197, 207, iv. 6, 20, 24, vi. 121; Gent. Mag. xxxi. 43. 430, vol. lxxi. pt. ii. pp. 1216-17; Mrs. Carter's Letters, i. 370. 373. ii. 89, 98, 114, 163, 176, 238. 388; Boswe1l’s Johnson, Ma1one’s 1823 ed. iv. 213-14; Mme. D’Arblay's Diary, ed. 1854, ii. 183, 206-14, 235, 244-5, 284, v. 231, vi. 157-8, 184-5, 211.]

J. H.