CORNWALLIS, CAROLINE FRANCES, was b. on the 12th 'July, 1786, and was the younger daughter of the Rev. William Cornwallis, rector of Wittersham and Elam in Kent. Her childhood was precocious; but she escaped the usual fate of precocious children. She lived to a good old age; she was even more remarkable as a woman than as a child; and her mind was growing, if not in vigor, in boldness and freeness, even to the last. Her character, as well as her intellectual powers, appear to have been early developed; and from expressions in her mother's diary, we learn that her premature sensibility at the age of seven caused her relatives no little concern. When she was a little older, she began to produce literary works; and the writing of histories, poems, commentaries, and essays, though not pursued to the exclusion of the ordinary interests of her age, appears to have occupied much of her time, and to have been her chief delight for several years. Some specimens 'of her juvenile compositions have been included in a volume of her Letters and Remains, published in 1864. In character, and in respect of the tastes and abilities which they display, they certainly are very remark able as the productions of a child. this early promise, Miss C. was not destined to be an early authoress. She was brought up in the decorous life of an Eng lish country parsonage; she was sensible of, and at first, perhaps, was not unaffected by, the prejudice against female authorship which prevailed 30 or 40 years ago. It was not till she was getting old that she began to publish books, and even then she was careful to keep her authorship a secret.
She received the school education usually given to young ladies in her time; a worth• less education, as she afterwards thought. She was encouraged by her mother and other friends in supplementing it by severer and more useful studies; but the ill-health of her father, which imposed many duties upon her, and the state of her own health, were considerable obstacles to her progress. Gradually, however, she acquired a thorough knowledge of Latin and Greek, and a considerable knowledge of Hebrew; and made herself conversant with nearly every study which occupies the more thought ful of men—with philosophy, theology, history, natural science, social science, politics, and even law. In her latter days, her knowledge of most of these subjects was only
surpassed by that of men who had taken them for their specialty. From an early age, she carried on a correspondence with many persons_ whose intimacy was calculated to stimulate and aid her; and a selection from her letters has been published. They are often intrinsically valuable and interesting; and, moreover, they present a curious picture of the progress of her mind and the development of her opinions. In style, they are always excellent, and the subjects treated are very various, and seldom ephemeral. Theology, philosophy, history, politics, and social questions afford the themes she most often discussed with her correspondents. To these letters we are indebted for what little has been made known to us of her life; Miss C. having desired that her life should not be written, and having carefully destroyed the papers which might have supplied the materials of a memoir. As regards religion—the great interest of her life—we learn from these letters how, under the influence of enlarged knowledge and reflection, she gradually drifted away from the narrow orthodoxy in which she had been brought up, and adopted views which some would call more enlarged and rational, others latitudi narian. It is to the study of the Greek fathers, and to the influence of a long residence in Italy, which began in 1826, that she ascribed the complete change which took place in her religious opinions. It is right to say, that while she was bold and fearless in accepting beliefs far removed from those of her age and country, her faith in Christianity became stronger instead of weaker, and that she was always careful not to wound the honest opinions or prejudices of others. Among the most esteemed of her correspondents was Sismondi,.who. Is said to .have made her an offer Of marriage when she was about 20 years old. The offer was declined, but without causing any abatement of friendship or admiration on either side.