Wednesday, 19 February 2014

"The most learned female who ever lived"

Elizabeth Carter (Deal, Kent, England, 16th December 1717 – London, England, 19th February 1806)

Elizabeth Carter as Minerva by John Fayram
Elizabeth Carter as Minerva by John Fayram

It seems as though we have not seen many ladies here in the salon of late so today we are joined by a learned woman. One of the circle of bluestockings that includes previous guests, Hannah More, Charlotte Lennox and Hesther Thrale, Elizabeth Carter made her name as a writer and translator and moved in the highest intellectual circles. Described by Francis Lord Napier as "a fine old Slut", there was much, much more to her than just gossip.

Carter was born the daughter of a Margaret and Nicholas Carter, a clergyman who had pioneering ideas about the education of girls and encouraged the little girl to dedicate herself to her academic studies. Fiercely intelligent, as a child she taught herself a number of languages both classical and modern, whilst also studying history, the natural sciences and literature. Despite her later achievements, she initially found her academic studies challenging yet, despite being advised to give up some of her subjects, she persevered at the expense of her health, suffering from debilitating headaches throughout her life.

By the age of 21, Carter was already embarked on a number of academic translations and spent long hours working on her own original poetry, as well as publishing in journals and periodicals to some acclaim and celebrity.  For all her academic achievements, it would be as a translator that Carter made her name and in 1758 she published a celebrated translation of All the Works of Epictetus, Which are Now Extant. This pioneering philosophical work sealed her reputation and her provided Carter with financial security for life.

Like our previous subject, Hesther Thrale, Carter was a good friend to Samuel Johnson and had a number of suitors, all of whom she rejected in favour of her circle of friends. As the years drew on she divided her time between Deal and London, where she died as a respected and popular woman of achievement.


Princess of Eboli said...

Thank you for this beautiful post . <3

Madame Gilflurt said...


ron farnham said...

May I take issue with you,Madame over Mrs Thrale being part of Mrs Montagu's Circle.

Catherine Curzon said...

You may indeed, sir!

ron farnham said...

I have always been of the opinion that Mrs Thrale attended"under sufference"or was"encouraged"byThe Good Dr"to attend and thought her own Circle was of preference?

MorganScorpion said...

Interesting, thank you.

Catherine Curzon said...

Thank you!