Latimer, Elizabeth W(ormeley)
LATIMER, Elizabeth W(ormeley)
Born 26 July 1822, London, England; died 4 January 1904, Baltimore, Maryland
Also wrote under: Elizabeth Wormeley
Daughter of Ralph R. and Caroline Preble Wormeley; married Randolph B. Latimer, 1856
Elizabeth W. Latimer's family roots were planted in three soils: her father, although raised in England and a rear admiral in the British Navy, was of old landed Virginia stock; her mother was the daughter of an East India merchant of Boston. In her youth, Latimer lived in London, Paris, Boston, Newport, and Virginia. In London and Paris, she attended the funeral of William IV and the reburial of Napoleon, saw Queen Victoria in coronation regalia, met William M. Thackeray, and attended Louis Philippe's balls. In Boston, in 1842, she met George Ticknor, William H. Prescott, and Julia Ward Howe, who encouraged her to write. Her first publication was a translation of a Mexican poem for the appendix of Prescott's History of the Conquest of Mexico.
In 1848, after witnessing the revolution in Paris and Chartist demonstrations in London, the Wormeley family moved back to New England. Latimer published several novels before marrying and moving to Maryland. She then spent 20 years rearing children and, during the Civil War, caring for wounded soldiers. Although her eyes were weak, she read assiduously, and during the last 30 years of her life, she published prolifically: novels, magazine articles, translations from French and Italian, and popular European histories that went through many editions.
Latimer's best works are her histories, anecdotal in style. As a compiler and editor, she read copiously from magazines, newspapers, books, and private papers, then presented her information in lively, compact, confident prose. She did not claim to be a historian, but stated in her prefaces that she concentrated on the historical figures who interested her. She was fascinated by the adventures of royalty, explorers, and military people. Occasionally she inserted information from her family's experiences. In France in the Nineteenth Century (1892), for example, she wrote from personal observation, and in Europe in Africa in the Nineteenth Century (1898), she mentioned some personal letters she had received from Liberians in 1854. In all the histories, one senses her desire to keep abreast of events in the world and, at the century's end, to sum up historic achievements.
Some of her novels are quite bad. Salvage (1880), for example, is largely a diatribe against easy divorce and in favor of long-suffering, dutiful love, especially of a wife toward her husband. The plot is wholly predictable and the characters are flat.
Latimer's characters lack the roundness of good fiction. They are like figures frequently described by historians and news reporters—despite imputed motives and feelings, the characters sound made up, for the writers do not know them from the inside. Amabel: A Family History (1853), however, blends history and fiction interestingly. The flat narrator, ostensibly Amabel's granddaughter, is primarily a compiler of other people's narratives about her grandmother's history. The history is lively, but when the narrator becomes a character, the sentimentality is over-whelming. The novel is further burdened by the moral announced in the preface ("that love, the principle, infused into our duties works its own reward"), which is representative of all Latimer's novels.
Our Cousin Veronica (1855) is probably Latimer's best novel. Its vividness of action and description derives from her own experiences in England and Virginia. At the novel's end, the female narrator marries a slave owner only after a serious discussion of abolition. He opposes freeing his slaves outright, for they would be harassed in their own state and unprotected if they moved north. Quoting Wilberforce, she impresses her husband with the responsibility they have as masters, not just for their slaves' physical needs, but for their souls. Husband and wife both hope for a general emancipation and in the meantime free and aid those of their slaves who are willing to emigrate to Liberia.
In her novels, Latimer is strongest when she is closest to historical anecdote. Her histories are valuable for the interest she generates in people and for her amassing of historic information often inaccessible to others.
Forest Hill: A Tale of Social Life in 1830-31 (1846). Recollections of Ralph Randolph Wormeley, Rear Admiral, R.N.; Written Down by His Three Daughters (with A. R. W. Curtis, 1879). My Wife and My Wife's Sister (1881). Princess Amelie: A Fragment of Autobiography (1883). Familiar Talks on Some of Shakespeare's Comedies (1886). A Chain of Errors (1890). Russia and Turkey in the Nineteenth Century (1893). England in the Nineteenth Century (1894). Italy in the Nineteenth Century and the Making of Austro-Hungary and Germany (1896). Spain in the Nineteenth Century (1897). Judea from Cyrus to Titus, 537 B.C.-70 A.D. (1899). The Last Years of the NineteenthCentury (1900). Men and Cities of Italy (1901). The Prince Incognito (1902).
Hayden, H. E., Virginia Genealogies (1891). Logan, M. S., The Part Taken by Women in American History (1912). Preble, G. H., Genealogical Sketch of the First Three Generations of Prebles in America (1868).
AA. AW. A Critical Dictionary of English Literature and British and American Authors (1872). A Dictionary of American Authors (1897). DAB. Index to Women of the World, from Ancient to Modern Times: Biographies and Portraits (1970). NCAB.
Baltimore American (3 Jan. 1904, 4 Jan. 1904, 7 Jan. 1904). Baltimore Sun (4 Jan. 1904, 5 Jan. 1904). Dial (1 Feb. 1904). Harper 's (Feb. 1856). London Athenaeum (1853). London Literary Gazette (1846). New England Historical and Genealogical Register (Oct. 1868). NYT (5 Jan. 1904). Putnam's (Feb. 1856).
—KAREN B. STEELE