Yonge, Charlotte Mary (DNB12)

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YONGE, CHARLOTTE MARY (1823–1901), novelist, and story-teller for children, born at Otterbourne, near Winchester, on 11 Aug., 1823, was daughter of William Crawley Yonge, J.P. (1795–1854), by his wife Frances Mary (d. 1868), daughter of Thomas Bargus, vicar of Barkway, Hertfordshire. The only other child was a son, Julian Bargus (b. 31 Jan. 1831). Her father's family was of old standing in Devonshire, and through an intermarriage in 1746 with Elizabeth, daughter of George Duke of Otterton, was allied with the large families of Coleridge and Patteson, both of whom descended from Frances (d. 1831), wife of James Coleridge and daughter and co-heiress of Robert Duke, of Otterton.

The father was fifth son of Duke Yonge, vicar of Cornwood, near Dartmoor; he left the army (52nd regt.) at twenty-seven, after serving in the Peninsular war and at Waterloo, in order to marry Miss Bargus, whose mother refused to allow her daughter to be the wife of a soldier. Charlotte was brought up on her parents' little estate at Otterbourne, where her father, an earnest churchman and a magistrate, interested himself in the church and the parochial schools, then a new feature in English villages. An only girl, she paid yearly visits to her many Yonge cousins in Devonshire. According to her own account, she was born clumsy, inaccurate, inattentive, and at no time of her life could she keep accounts. Most of her education was derived from her father, who believed in higher education for women but deprecated any liberty for them. He instructed her in mathematics, Latin, and Greek, while tutors taught her modern languages, including Spanish. She was also well versed in conchology and botany. Following her father's example of devotion to the church, she began at seven to teach in the village Sunday school, and continued the practice without intermission for seventy-one years. The earliest of her stories, ‘The Château de Melville,’ originally written as an exercise in French and printed when she was fifteen, was sold for the benefit of the village school.

In 1835, Keble's appointment to the living of Hursley (to which the parish of Otterbourne was then joined) brought into Charlotte's life a dominant influence. Keble imbued her with his enthusiasm for the Oxford movement. During 1837–9 she saw much of him and his wife, while her father was in constant communication with him over the building of Otterbourne church. Keble quickly discovered Miss Yonge's gifts and urged her to bring home to the uneducated, no less than to the educated, the tenets of his faith in the form of fiction. An older friend, Marianne Dyson, aided her in her first experiments, the manuscripts of which were rigorously revised by Keble. He allowed no allusion to drunkenness or insanity, and when a character in Miss Yonge's story of ‘Heartsease’ referred to the heart as ‘a machine for pumping blood’ he erased it as ‘coarse’; while Mrs. Keble substituted ‘jackanapes’ for ‘coxcomb,’ as a fitter term of insult in the ‘Heir of Redclyffe.’ Before the publication of her first book, a family conclave decided that it would be wrong for her, a woman, to become a professed author, unless her earnings were devoted to the support of some good object.

The first of the tales which, in such conditions, was issued to the public was ‘Abbey Church, or Self-Control and Self-Conceit’ (1844), but ‘Henrietta's Wish, or Domineering,’ and ‘Kenneth, or the Rearguard of the Grand Army’ (both 1850) secured a wider public, although the three volumes appeared anonymously. It was in 1853 that the appearance of ‘The Heir of Redclyffe’ brought her a genuine popular success; she gave her profits to Bishop Selwyn to provide a schooner, The Southern Cross, for the Melanesian mission. ‘The fear that the book should be felt to be too daring’ was not realised; it perfectly satisfied the religious fervour of the period, and its tendency to self-analysis. A twenty-second edition was reached in 1876, and it was reprinted numberless times. Thenceforth she described herself on her title-pages as ‘author of “The Heir of Redclyffe.”’ There followed ‘Heartsease’ (1854) and ‘The Daisy Chain’ (1856), which were welcomed with especial warmth; 2000l. of the profits of ‘The Daisy Chain’ were devoted to a missionary college at Auckland, in New Zealand. Stories cast in the like mould were ‘Dynevor Terrace’ (1857); ‘The Trial; more Links of the Daisy Chain’ (1864); ‘The Clever Woman of the Family’ (1865); ‘The Pillars of the House’ (1873); ‘Magnum Bonum’ (1879). From an early date she wove historic legends into many of her stories, and her earliest historical romances included ‘The Little Duke, or Richard the Fearless’ (1854); ‘The Lances of Lynwood’ (1855); ‘The Pigeon Pie: a Tale of Roundhead Times’ (1860); ‘The Prince and the Page: a Story of the Last Crusade’ (1865); ‘The Dove in the Eagle's Nest’ (1866); and ‘The Caged Lion’ (1870). Through her sure command of character and her grasp of the details of domestic life Miss Yonge's fiction appealed to varied circles of readers. ‘The Heir of Redclyffe’ was eagerly read by officers in the Crimea. Charles Kingsley wept over ‘Heartsease’; Lord Raglan, Guizot, Ampère, William Morris, D. G. Rossetti, were among her earlier, and Henry Sidgwick among her later admirers.

In 1851 Miss Yonge became the editor of a new periodical, the ‘Monthly Packet,’ which was designed to imbue young people, especially young women, with the principles of the Oxford movement. She edited the periodical without assistance for over thirty-eight years, and for nine years longer in partnership with Miss Christabel Coleridge. Later she also became the editor of ‘Mothers in Council.’ With fiction she soon combined serious work in history; and many novels, often in historical settings, as well as a long series of historical essays, appeared in the ‘Monthly Packet.’ Some among the eight series of her ‘Cameos from English History’ were collected respectively in 1868, 1871, 1876, 1879, 1883, 1887, 1890, 1896, and brought English history from the time of Rollo down to the end of the Stuarts. She provided serial lessons in history for younger students in ‘Aunt Charlotte's Stories’ of Bible, Greek, Roman, English, French, and German history, which came out between 1873 and 1878. To her interest in missions, which never diminished, she bore witness in ‘Pioneers and Founders’ (1871), and in a full life of Bishop Patteson in 1873.

Miss Yonge's literary work and religious worship formed her life. She taught Scripture daily in the village school, and attended service morning and evening in Otterbourne Church. She lived and died untroubled by religious doubts and ignored books of sceptical tendency. Workmen's institutes she condemned in one of her stories because the geological lectures given there imperilled religion. She only once travelled out of England, in 1869, when she visited Guizot and his daughter Madame de Witt, at Val Richer, near Lisieux in Normandy. Besides her kinsfolk, her dearest and lifelong friends were the members of the family of George Moberly [q. v.], headmaster of Winchester until 1866, and subsequently bishop of Salisbury; and in later days she became intimate with Miss Wordsworth, the Principal of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and with some among the members of a little circle of young women which she had formed as early as 1859 for purposes of self-cultivation. This circle included Miss Christabel Coleridge, Miss Peard, and, for a short time, Mrs. Humphry Ward.

In 1854 her father had died, and in 1858, when her brother married, she and her mother moved from the larger house, which was his property, to a smaller home in the village of Elderfield. The death of her mother in 1868 and of her brother in 1892 deprived her of her nearest relatives. She lived much alone. Always very shy, she paid few visits and seldom called upon the villagers. But she overcame this timidity sufficiently to entertain occasional guests and to become a member of the diocesan council at Winchester. On her seventieth birthday, in 1893, subscribers to the ‘Monthly Packet’ presented her with 200l., which she spent upon a lych-gate for the church at Otterbourne, and in 1899 a subscription was raised at Winchester High School to found in her honour a scholarship at Oxford or Cambridge. In her last and weakest story, ‘Modern Broods’ (1900), she tried to mirror the newer generation, with which she felt herself to be out of sympathy. Early in 1901 she contracted pleurisy, and died on 24 March. She was buried in Otterbourne churchyard at the foot of the memorial cross to Keble.

The many editions of Miss Yonge's historical tales, as well as of ‘The Heir of Redclyffe’ and ‘The Daisy Chain,’ testify to her permanence as a schoolroom classic. She published 160 separate books. Besides those works cited, mention may be made of: 1. ‘Kings of England: a History for Young Children,’ 1848. 2. ‘Landmarks of History, Ancient, Medieval and Modern,’ 3 pts. 1852–3–7. 3.‘History of Christian Names,’ 2 vols. 1863. 4. ‘The Book of Golden Deeds’ (‘Golden Treasury’ series), 1864. 5. ‘Eighteen Centuries of Beginnings of Church History,’ 2 vols. 1876. 6. ‘History of France’ (in E. A. Freeman's ‘Historical Course’), 1879. 7. ‘Hannah More’ (‘Eminent Women’ series), 1888. Miss Yonge also edited numerous translations from the French.

A portrait of Miss Yonge at the age of 20, by George Richmond, is in the possession of her niece, Miss Helen Yonge, at Eastleigh.

[Christabel Coleridge, Charlotte Mary Yonge, her Life and Letters (including a few chapters of Miss Yonge's Autobiography), 1903; Ethel Romanes, Charlotte Mary Yonge, an Appreciation; John Taylor Coleridge, Life of Keble; C. A. E. Moberly, Dulce Domum, 1911; Burke's Landed Gentry; articles in Church Quarterly, lvii. 1903–4, 337, and in National Review, Jan. and April 1861, p. 211; obituary notices in The Times, 26 March 1901, in Monthly Review, May 1901, and in Monthly Packet, May 1901.]

E. S.