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Corvey ‘Adopt an Author’ |
Emily Clark
The Corvey Project at
Sheffield Hallam University

Biography of Emily Clark

Kirsty Ellerker

Emily Clark's skill as a writer was generally held to be 'rather above than below the ordinary run of novels' (The Monthly magazine and British Register, 6, 517). By 1828 she had written eight works, in eighteen or nineteen volumes, fifteen of which were published (RLF 39). The novels that are known to us follow the same pattern of heroines who marry only after their virtue has been tested. The action takes place mainly at castles in the countryside, lodgings in London and abroad (Blain, 1990, p.212). Emily enjoyed poetry, she wrote a book of poems in 1810 and the chapters in her novels begin with verse. She wrote mainly to support her family who had fallen on hard times becoming an author at 'an early age' (RLF 1). But her later novels did not sell as well as she had hoped and her begging letters. The Royal Literary Fund documents show that she was no stranger to hard times, much like the heroines of her novels. Women writers were often on the fringes of the high society that they wrote about. In one letter to the Fund she writes 'I have the rent and taxes of this house to pay in three weeks and to provide coals for the winter' (RLF 7).

Emily loved the Welsh countryside, her first book describes scenery near Mount Snowdon (Todd, 1987, p.85). She also describes in detail a journey from Liverpool to Leicester in The Esquimaux and was obviously well travelled from the vivid descriptions she gives of life abroad. Emily was clever in her titling of The Esquimaux because the 'esquimaux' in the book is a minor character yet the public wanted to read about these 'discovered' people. In her novels nature is closely related to the benevolence of people (Todd, 1987, p.85). Emily's tales contain Gothic elements which is to be expected as she wrote for the Minerva Press.

However, Emily's main focus in her books is the reliability of friends or acquaintances in times of trouble. She had first hand experiences of acquaintances refusing to help her when she feared arrest for debt in 1819 and again in 1829 (RLF 19 & 67). Her grandfather educated Emily and he wrote books on the history of Corsica. In a letter to the Royal Literary Fund she says she is engaged in translating her grandfather's correspondence with persons of importance (RLF 29). There are translations of French and Spanish verse in The Banks of the Douro. Frederick was fluent in French, German, Italian and Spanish and so he probably taught Emily these languages. Maria Edgeworth was a subscriber to one of Emily's novels (1) and Emily dedicated The banks of the Douro to The Countess of Euston. There is something of Maria Edgeworth's fascination with Ireland in Emily's writing but the similarity lays in her portrayal of regional dialect like that in Edgeworth's Castle Rackrent.

Emily can not be called a 'feminist' because her heroines conform to the expected path of marriage but there are instances in her novels when female characters display unhappiness with their lot. For example, Polly Wizzle says to the heroine 'You see, Miss Douglas, what an advantage men have over women: my brother goes about and sees a great deal of the world, while I am buried alive in a dull country village' (Clark, 1805, p. 170).

The date of her birth is not recorded in either of the short biographies but in a 1798 review of Ianthe her age is given as twenty therefore she was born about 1778 (The British Critic, 12, 306). Her mother, Elizabeth, was the only surviving child of Frederick, son of Theodore, King of Corsica, and lived in 'Highgate or Hampstead' (newspaper cutting Appendix 3). The family was 'far from affluent' and in 1797 after the death of Frederick was granted a subscription from Lady James, a Mr. Hammersly and a Mr. Boscawen (The Monthly Magazine, 3,134). Their connection to London society meant that they still had a roof over their heads even though the validity of their grandfather's claim had been questioned in the pro-Genoese press. Emily was most probably born in London and in her first correspondence with the Royal Literary Fund at the age of thirty-three her address is given as 15 Fludyer Street (RLF 1). In 1817, her moral tales were not selling well and her family, unable to get a tenant, was losing three guineas a week in rent (RLF 16). While in Beckenham, Kent, looking after her mother, Emily was unable to distribute the novels to many booksellers; this meant novels did not sell (RLF 39). The deaths of her mother and father within three months of each other precipitated Emily's move to Chelsea from Croydon in 1825 (RLF42 & 45). This seems to have been a time when she was particularly lonely, as in a letter to the Royal Literary Fund she expresses a desire to educate an orphan (RLF 47).

As The Royal Literary Fund was a charity offering financial assistance to struggling writers, it is not surprising that the picture Emily paints of her situation is bleak. However on 9th June Clark wrote to a member of the Committee of the Royal Literary Fund saying she had burnt herself and was consequently writing with her left hand (RLF 57). Three days later she writes in her normal hand explaining how she burnt herself (RLF 58). Whether or not she really did burn her hand it shows her desperation and the lengths she is prepared to go to secure money from the Fund. She says 'I can only write feebly with difficulty, as it is not yet healed I cannot use it safely for any length of time. Fearful of the expense I did not send directly for medical aid and my life was in danger' (RLF, 58). Her family had fallen unexpectedly on hard times and she had to go to great lengths to get money.

In the previous century the family had been a lot better off, Emily's grandfather Frederic had been employed by the Prince of Wales in securing the Antwerp Loan and the king's mother had paid him 'a considerable sum of money'. He was the son of Theodore, King of Corsica and consequently mixed with public figures. He was described by James Boswell as 'a low lifed being' (Blain, 1990, p.212). In The Esquimaux it appears that Emily took a swipe at Boswell: 'If you chose to write an account of your visit and observations on these isles (the Hebrides), there is little doubt but it would be narrated with doctor Johnson's purity of language, but infinitely more favourable to its picturesque scenery and peaceable inhabitants' (Clark, 1819, 3, p.32).

Frederick knew the Lord chancellor Wedderburne and various 'men of letters' (The Monthly Magazine, 3,133). Born in Madrid in1725, he came to London in 1754, styling himself as 'the Prince of Capraja'. Educated in Rome, 'his manners were those of a gentlemen; his appearance that of a soldier' (Monthly Magazine, February 1797 p.134). He was described as having olive skin, and being five foot eight inches tall. He was 'a man of great reading' and he probably inspired Emily to take up the pen. Early in 1797, Frederick committed suicide in the porch of Westminster Abbey, leaving the family in debt (Blain, 1990, p.212). This seems to be one of the main reasons why Emily started writing because the following year her first novel was published and contemporary critical reviews confirm that she wrote to support her family.

In 1810 Emily wrote a book of ballads, she had a keen interest in poetry and her novels contain a substantial amount of verse. Each chapter starts with a few lines of a poem some of which she probably composed herself as they are not attributed to anyone and careful research has identified very few sources. To give an idea of the number of verses possibly composed by Emily, eight of the thirty-six verses in The Banks of the Douro and nine of the twenty-three in The Esquimaux are anonymous. Byron, De Lille, Robinson, Milton, Shakespeare and Charlotte Smith are just some of the various authors whose works are quoted from in these two novels. Emily read widely and probably took inspiration for plots from poems: for example, in one verse from The Banks of the Douro the heroine's name appears:

______________________ The worldly-wise,

Who slowly climb by cold degrees to friendship,

Such are my scorn; at sight of Amelrosa,

Affection from my breasts sprang forth at once

Mature as Pallas from the brain of Jove.

(Cumberland, in The Banks of The Douro, vol 3 p. 170).

Emily's love of writing about high society must stem from her 'royal background'. Born in 1696, Theodore-Anthony Nieuhoff, her great grandfather was an orphan, who was looked after by a duchess in Spain. He became page to the Duke Regent and he then served Charles XII as a diplomat in Spain. Theodore married Lady Sarfield, who was the sister of the Irish Lord Kilmallock in Madrid. After working on the unsuccessful 'Mississippi Project' he moved to Florence before becoming a political figurehead in Corsica. He landed there on 15th March in 1736 and was crowned king on 15th April but within half a year civil war broke out and he fled to London. He was put into a debtor's prison and only secured his release by mortgaging his kingdom; the only legacy of his time as king is the Moor's Head on the Corsican flag. He died at 5 Little Chapel Street, London on 11th December 1756 and his epitaph in St Ann's Westminster was written by Horace Walpole.

The date of Emily's death is not known but her last letter to the Fund is dated 1833 and in it she lists Queen Adelaide as a subscriber to a poem, so possibly there was the prospect of a brighter future ahead (RLF 79). The characters in Emily's books echo her family history; the heroine of The Banks of the Douro is an orphan who attains status in high society. Her family had always used the prestige of Theodore's name in order to obtain money but Emily soon found out that 'it is a cruel world for a female, whose expectations have been superior to encounter' (RLF 19).


(1) Unfortunately careful examination of sources about Maria Edgeworth failed to reveal any information on her relationship to Emily Clark.

Works by Emily Clark

Ianthe; or, the flower of Caernarvon (1798).

Ermina Montrose; or, the cottage of the vale (1800).

The Esquimaux; or, fidelity, a tale (1819).

The Banks of the Douro: or, the maid of Portugal (1805).

Tales by the Fireside; or , a father and mother's stories (1819 )

Poems (1810).



Anon. (1743). The History of Theodore 1. King of Corsica. London: J.Roberts.

Anon. (1955). Boswell on the Grand Tour: Italy, Corsica and France, 1765-1766. Kingswood: Windmill Press.

Blain, V. (1990).The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. London: Batsford.

Clark, E. (1805).The Banks of the Douro. London: Lane, Newman, and Co.

Edgeworth, M. (1983). Castle Rackrent. London: Methuen, and Co. Ltd.

'Frederic' (1768). Memoirs of Corsica. London: S. Hooper.

'Frederic' (1795).The Description of Corsica, with an account of its union to the Crown of Great Britain. London: G.G. and J.Robinson.

Smith-Dampier, J.L. (1935.) Who's who in Boswell? Oxford: The Shakespeare Head Press.

Todd, J (Ed). (1987). A Dictionary of British and American Women Writers, London: Methuen & Co. Ltd.

Vallance, A (1956). The Summer King. London: Thames and Hudson.



The British Critic, 12 (July-December 1798), 305-306.

Anon. Original 'Anecdotes about Colonel Frederich'. The Monthly Magazine and British Register, 3, (February 1797). 131-135.

The Monthly Magazine and British Register, 6, (June 1797), 517.

Newspaper cutting (newspaper title unknown). (1736, May 6)



Copeland, E., Paper delivered to the Corvey Seminar, Sheffield Hallam University, March 2001

Royal Literary Fund Letters

RLF 1 Clark to David Williams Mar. 20 1811

RLF 7 Clark to Yates Sep. 26 1814

RLF 16 Clark to Yates Nov. 29 1817

RLF 19 Clark to Yates Feb. 19 1819

RLF29 Clark to the Committee May. 29 1821

RLF 39 Clark to Yates Dec. 18.1823

RLF42 Clark to Yates Oct. 18 1824

RLF45 Clark to Joseph Snow Jan. 11 1825

RLF47 Clark to Yates Nov. 9 1825

RLF57 Clark to Snow Jun. 9 1827

RLF58 Clark to Yates Jun. 12 1827

RLF67 Clark to Snow Dec. 7 1829

RLF79 Clark to Snow Mar. 7 1833



The Westminster Abbey website at

Corsica Website at