Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Charlotte Carpenter (1770 - 1826)


Charlotte Scott in 1810, painted by James Saxon (Abbotsford House)


[Image source: http://www.artuk.org/discover/artworks/lady-scott-nee-charlotte-margaret-charpentier-17701826-208656 . This was a companion painting to the Mancunian James Saxon's 1805 portrait of her husband Walter Scott, shown below.]


While researching my recent post about the poem against cruelty to animals that I found on the horse-trough in Bath (http://michaelpeverett.blogspot.co.uk/2016/10/the-silent-cry.html), I kept discovering earlier versions of the poem. The earliest text I could find was in the August 1815 number of The American Magazine, a New York monthly.

It isn't always easy to pin down the date of an old article when it's part of a bound volume, as this one was.

And my confidence in the date of August 1815 took a  momentary battering when I spotted the following notice, a couple of pages earlier (p. 125) than the poem:

Sir WALTER SCOTT. -- The poetry of Walter Scott, is probably as much read in this country as in England, and we hasten to inform our readers that this popular poet has lately been knighted by the Prince Regent. He is married, to an illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Devonshire, with whom he got about 44000 dollars, a warm prize, and a rich one for a poet. 
Surely Scott had not been knighted as early as 1815?

No, he had not. He did have dinner with the Prince Regent in 1815, but Scott's baronetcy was first mentioned in a letter to Morritt dated 7th December, 1818: "Our fat friend being desirous to honour Literature in my unworthy person..." . The projected ceremony was delayed by Scott's ill-health and family troubles and finally took place on March 30, 1820, by which time the conferrer had become King George IV.

Nevertheless, this certainly is the August 1815 number of the American Magazine, as the surrounding contents abundantly confirm. So it was a dodgy  news item (or a prescient one if you prefer), and that's confirmed by the scurrilous remarks about Scott's marriage that follow.

Charlotte Margaret Carpenter (Charpentier)*, whom he married in 1797, had lost both parents and was under the guardianship of Lord Downshire. The precise nature of Lord Downshire's connection with her family remains unclear.  The American Magazine seems to be garbling a contemporary rumour that Charlotte was really Lord Downshire's own illegitimate daughter. But it understandably mixed him up with the scandal-ridden fifth Duke of Devonshire, husband of the magnificent Georgiana. (This suggestion about Lord Downshire was brought up again in John Sutherland's 1995 biography of Scott.)

The official story, as recounted by Lockhart, is that Mme Charpentier (née Charlotte Volère), an ardent royalist, fled with her son and daughter to England in the wake of the French Revolution, her husband Jean having recently died. Charlotte junior would have been around 20 at the time, and she always retained a slight French accent. Mme Charpentier died not long after her arrival in England. The Marquis of Downshire took the son and daughter under his protection, having previously known the family (indeed stayed with them) in France.

In 1815 you could get almost 5 dollars to the pound (Ah, those were the days!). So $44,000 = about £10,000. That sounds about right for Charlotte's fortune: Scott in his letter asking for his parents' consent says that she had £500 a year. This was partly on account of the lucrative position her brother Charles had attained in the East India Company. He was the commercial resident at Salem, in southern India.  (When he died in 1818, Charlotte inherited £40,000.)

* Her name as given by Lockhart. I've also seen her called Charlotte Genevieve and Margaret Charlotte.


Walter Scott in 1805, painted by James Saxon (Scottish National Portrait Gallery)


[Image source: https://www.artuk.org/discover/artworks/sir-walter-scott-17711832-novelist-and-poet-213166 ]



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