London: Printed for the Author and Sold by J. Johnson, 1807. First edition. Early 20th century calf with gilt and morocco label to spine. All edges marbled. Marbled endpapers. Cracking to front joint near crown, but holding firm; a tight, square binding. Bookplate of Francis Bisset Hawkins to front pastedown. A bit of foxing to full title; pages 195-198 a bit roughly cut along fore-edge with no loss to text; internally fresh and unmarked. Measuring 160 x 95mm and collating viii, 219, [1, adverts]: complete, with the publisher's advertisement included in the first issue and removed from later issues.
In her own time, Charlotte Turner Smith’s work gained the attention of fellow novelists including Sir Walter Scott and Jane Austen; and it earned her the praise of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Anna Laetitia Barbauld for its "pioneering sustained natural descriptions in novels" (Poetical Works). Prolific in poetry and prose, Smith wrote not for pleasure but to support her children and herself. “Born into landed gentry, a life of comfort and affluence…she thrived with avid reading, tutoring in landscape painting, dancing, acting, mathematics, and French – all resources on which she would come to rely in adult life” (Sodeman). Womanhood came early for her, as her father married her at 16 to a man whose fiscal irresponsibility and philandering led her into penury. Having, in her own words, been “sold a legal prostitute in my early youth to a monster,” Smith used the pen and her social connections to stay afloat by writing popular sentimental and gothic novels. Yet as the century neared its end, her frankness about social issues -- including abolition, child mortality, and the dangers of coverture -- led to a decline in her popularity. The present was the final example of such philosophically innovative work, published only months after her death. Though never completed to her original, ambitious plan, the title poem speaks to the literary and cultural place Smith wanted to claim for herself and for other women writers. "In her contemplative blank-verse poem Beachy Head...Smith locates herself and her reader atop Beachy Head, investing the poem with the authority culturally allied to the prospect view and making use of her vantage point to explore nature in all its multitudinous, uncanny particularity...Smith creates a tableau fixing her own place -- as poet, as woman -- in a cultural, social, natural, and poetical landscape utilizing tropes of height, vision, and dispossession. It is important to note where Smith situates herself and her poem: the prospect view. Allied as it was with political and cultural power and dominance, and allied with masculinity and breadth of vision, it was not common property. Smith's daring opening move is to claim the prospect, but to do so in typically Smithian fashion, gesturing towards power but cloaking it in decorous propriety" (Labbe). Smith's closing gift to her readership is to provide especially women with a sense of self, an awareness of voice and an interest in self promotion -- all of these "cognisant of the necessity of strategy and self-maneuvering in a culture that enforced increasingly rigid gender roles" (Labbe). (Item #4382)