Wolverhampton BTW

Elizabeth Helme

Helme, Elizabeth, ?—1811

Elizabeth Helme's parentage, maiden name, and date of birth are unknown, but she is thought to have been born near Durham. After the death of her father, she relocated to London, where she met and married William Helme (c.1747-1822), writer and educationalist, with whom she had five children, including the novelist Elizabeth (Helme) Somerville.

William Helme became a schoolmaster at Brentford, and Elizabeth Helme a headmistress there sometime later. To supplement their income, Helme turned to writing from at least 1787, when her most successful novel appeared: Louisa, or, The Cottage on the Moor. Thereafter, she published novels, historical and moral works for children, and translations from French and German, with several works appearing after her death (her Modern Times [Brentford 1814] is subtitled, A Posthumous Novel, and the dedication signed by her husband).

Surviving correspondence with the Royal Literary Fund shows that despite her prolific writings and the couple's employment they complained repeatedly of financial hardship exacerbated by Elizabeth Helme's declining health. In October 1803, Helme noted a ‘dropsical and liver complaint from which I can flatter myself with no relief but death’, but she lived another eight years, suffering both physical and financial hardship. She died on Thursday, 8 February 1811, and a friend, the novelist Lucy Peacock (fl. 1785-1816; ODNB), appealed to the RLF to help fund her burial.

Helme showed an early interest in travel writing with her first known translation from the French, François Le Vaillant's Travels from the Cape of Good-Hope, into the Interior Parts of Africa (1790). Instructive Rambles (1798) and Instructive Rambles Extended (1800), however, loosely deploy travel conventions in a fictive frame, and are largely didactic historical and moral writings for children, as are her translations from the German of Joachim Heinrich Campe, Columbus, or the Discovery of America, Pizzaro, or the Conquest of Peru, and Cortez, or the Conquest of Mexico, which appeared together in 1799.

Sources:

[Blagdon, Francis]. 'Mrs. E. Helme'. Flowers of Literature for 1805. London, 1806. 37-38.

The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. Ed. Virginia Blain, Patricia Clements, and Isobel Grundy. London, 1990. 509-10.

Royal Literary Fund. Mrs. Elizabeth Helme. Loan 96 RLF 1/97. British Library, London.

Texts

Title Published
Instructive Rambles in London, and the Adjacent Villages 1798
Instructive Rambles Extended in London, and the Adjacent Villages 1800
Travels from the Cape of Good Hope 1790 (Translator)

[see updates]