1.        Biographical information about Catherine Upton is scarce. Her maiden name may have been Creswell; her brother Samuel Creswell was a tory who died in 1786 of a cold. Her husband, John Upton, was a lieutenant in the 72nd or Manchester Regiment. [1]  She was also a teacher; the title page of Miscellaneous Pieces identifies her as “Governess of the ladies Academy, No. 43, Bartholomew Close.” She may have been a widow; as Stephen Behrendt points out, “That she was by 1784 employed as a governess in a girls’ school suggests that he did not survive the siege” (308n10); that she writes in publication, as she explains in the preface to Miscellaneous Pieces, with “a view to support my children” further corroborates that suggestion. The two brief volumes reproduced here form nearly all of what we know, or can conjecture, about Upton.

2.        The Siege of Gibraltar takes the form of a letter addressed to Upton’s brother in England while she lived in Gibraltar with her soldier husband and their children. The narrative describes her experiences over about six weeks during the Great Siege of Gibraltar. Gibraltar, long a point of contention between Spain and Great Britain, was the site of fourteen sieges between the early fourteenth century and the late eighteenth century. The final one, also known as the Great Siege, was also the longest, lasting from 1779 to 1783. Spain attempted to claim the territory three times over the course of the eighteenth century. Historians Chris Gocott and Gareth Stockey explain the significance of the last siege to Gibraltar’s place in the British cultural imaginary:

[E]ach attempt strengthened British resolve to retain it. In particular, the last of these attempts—the Great Siege—appeared to solidify once and for all Gibraltar’s place in the British public imagination. By this stage, the fortress had acquired a reputation for defensibility, but it was the events of the Great Siege, and subsequent presentation of that siege in countless books and pamphlets, that cemented Gibraltar’s reputation as “impregnable fortress.” (23)
Gibraltar functioned as a symbol of Britain’s power and strength, and much literature of the time circulated such an image; Upton’s work is no exception. Generally speaking, it seems that “the public,” as judged from popular publications, rallied around British takeover of the area. Accordingly, Upton’s two poems about Gibraltar paint Spain as a proud but erroneous force, which is defeated by the morally just Britain. In the poem that concludes her epistolary account, “proud Iberia” has sent “Her crafty sons [who] strain every Nerve to gain / Their antient Rock, but all their Works are vain” (ll. 11-12). Spain tries its best to regain Gibraltar—which Upton’s choice of pronoun here suggests is its possession after all—but ultimately Britain’s moral authority sanctions its military force. In other words, no matter Gibraltar’s “true” owner, it is Britain’s right to take it, and Spain’s defeat is inevitable. To underline this point, late in the poem Upton urges soldiers to “Make haughty Spain submit to British laws” (l. 22). For Upton, a British victory in Gibraltar means, not just taking possession of a piece of land, but, more important, compelling a vainglorious nation to recognize the indisputable glory of British rule. While “The Siege of Gibraltar” continues in the same vein, deploying many of the same adjectives to describe Gibraltar, the poem focuses to a greater extent on the experience of the soldiers. Upton chastises those comfortable at home:
Ye sons of Britain, safe within your ports,
Immers’d in pleasure, luxury, and sports;
Small your ideas of the soldier’s toils,
Who fights your causes in all climes and soils;
Patient in dangers; firm, tho’ in want of food,
And only anxious for his country’s good.
These! These! Britannia! are thy sure support. (ll. 80-86)
Upton seeks to draw attention to those (like her husband) who actually risk their lives in support of this invincible fortress—for, after all, if Gibraltar is in fact invincible it is due to the efforts of soldiers stationed there. Britain has a rightful claim to the land, she implies, but it is British soldiers who must physically carry out that claim. Upton further calls on her fellow citizens never to turn away from a veteran “but his wants supply” (l. 93). Upton’s position as a soldier’s wife makes her perspective understandable; but she also emphasizes the important point that the actual day-to-day events of war are carried out by individual soldiers, who, furthermore, do not disappear once the battle is over.

3.        The prose account itself pays even greater attention to the day-to-day experiences of both soldiers and their families. From the very beginning, Upton foregrounds her and her family’s suffering, writing, “Heat and cold in extreme, hunger and thrift I bore with some degree of firmness; but since the haughty sons of Iberia have poured their shot and shells with unremitting fury into Gibraltar, I have been an unhappy object indeed.” As the account continues, Upton details their hunger and thrift. Indeed, perhaps one of this work’s most significant features is its economic detail. Upton notes the prices of food, including meat and eggs, as well as tea, soap, and more. Upton can only purchase for her family inferior candles that won’t even burn for an hour, biscuits full of maggots, watered-down goat’s milk, and the like. In this way Upton provides a specific account of the lived experience of a soldier’s family in wartime. She also contributes to a notable trend in late-eighteenth-century women’s writing: a focus on money. The “consumer agenda of women’s fiction” (1) is the subject of Edward Copeland’s Women Writing about Money: Women's Fiction in England, 1790-1820 (1995). He writes, “Women found themselves vulnerable as economic beings, as authors now regularly noted in their novels that featured heroines with specifically economic lives: heroines barred from the possession of land (the period’s single most important source of capital), or heroines with fixed incomes, usually in trusts, annuities, and stocks” (17). Upton’s works appeared just before the period Copeland examines, and, although she did not write fiction, Copeland’s book demonstrates that money was a significant concern for women writers of all stripes, who frequently placed the subject at the center of their literary output. When Upton details her financial troubles, then, she joins a tradition of women whose own precarious economic statuses informed and shaped the work they produced.

4.        Upton follows another trend in women’s writing of the period: she deploys various strategies to preempt potential criticism. In the preface to The Siege of Gibraltar, Upton addresses the unfavorable reception of her poem of the same name, chalking it up to sexism. If her versification is bad, she tells us, she has joined the company of Dryden and Pope, whose flaws, as men, are routinely forgiven. But she also preemptively defends more specific criticisms of this new work: she writes that she not only has “but little time to write, or [to] correct what I write,” but that she writes exclusively “with a view to support my children, not to extend my own fame.” These are strategies similar to those of many women contemporaries. Charlotte Smith, for instance, discussed in the preface to Elegiac Sonnets her financial troubles and her need to support her children. Stephen Behrendt explains, “Women writers knew what they were doing when they launched preemptive strikes to forestall critical churlishness by pleading everything from lack of educational refinement to straitened economic circumstances to sheer lack of time for ‘polishing.’ Upton herself offers a good illustration” (88). But many of these women also wrote novels, which were generally more profitable than poetry, if less well-regarded within British literary culture. Charlotte Smith perhaps most famously “sold her sorrows,” but although her Elegiac Sonnets (published in 1784, the same year as Upton’s Miscellanies) “generated both cash and reputation for Smith,” she “wrote poetry to uphold her sense of self and to pursue the individuality her culture withheld from the married woman, she wrote novels and other prose works to bring in the money necessary to support her children” (Labbe 12). Smith is a good example here because she illustrates a crucial point: poetry was a matter of artistic validation for Smith, and novels her principal moneymaker. Upton’s strategy is rather more blurred (and this is so partly, and quite simply, because we know so little about Upton). While she is careful to point out the gendered prejudices of literary criticism, she also asserts that she sought publication only as a means of earning income for her children, not as a matter of personal artistic expression.

5.        In her poetry, her addresses to the muse continually deflect her own status as a writer. “The Siege of Gibraltar” begins with an address to the muse, as in an epic of war: “My Muse awake, and sing that awful day, / When Spain determin’d with tyrannic sway / To crush this rock!” (ll. 1-3). Unlike in, for example, the Aeneid (“I sing of arms and the man”), Upton does not invoke a muse to aid her own performance, however, but instead presents herself as recorder or vehicle of the muse’s performance, in recording a part of history that emphasizes Britain’s strength. Throughout the poem, she continues to remind us of the Muse’s presence. In the second stanza, Upton urges the muse to proceed, and in the last, asks General Boyd, the book’s dedicatee, to “permit my artless muse / To speak thy worth” (ll. 99-100). Upton even couches emotional response in terms of the muse’s feelings: “Permit the Muse to drop a grateful tear,” she implores, for the potential failure of two leaders’ military careers (l. 75). This may be an authorial strategy to anticipate accusations of sentimentality. Upton’s obscuring of herself in this way aligns with the book’s preface, in which she likewise deflects criticism by insisting that she only published for essential money, not for literary fame. The range of literary references in both of her books, though, testify to her education, specifically to her knowledge of great poetry—she mentions classical authors such as Ovid and Homer in addition to English poets including Milton, Pope, and Prior.

6.        The poem that follows “The Siege of Gibraltar,” “Wrote at Gibraltar . . .” (the same one included at the end of her previous book, with minor edits), changes tack. Upton writes, “For once Æolus hear a female Muse, / And be propitious—when a Woman sues” (ll. 1-2). Now she herself may be the muse, but she nevertheless appeals to a god, the ruler of the winds; her poem serves the practical purpose of seeking assistance. Many other poems in Miscellaneous Pieces function as “useful” literature, deflecting criticism by their very nature. Following the poems about Gibraltar are several verse epistles to her friends and family; an epitaph; instructional dialogues; and brief prose reflections on love and marriage and on education—the volume is truly a miscellany. The most unusual and amusing piece is entitled simply “Intended for the Lady’s Magazine.” It recounts a dream Upton had in which she becomes wealthy, travels to Laputa—one of the lands to which Gulliver traveled—ingratiates herself with the people by distributing her money to those in need, and finally incurs the ire of the greedy king, who wants to claim all her money for himself. The aim is didactic; Upton emphasizes the value of humility and the dangers of wealth. Nearly every piece in the collection could be said, like this one, to have either a didactic or a practical function: it instructs the reader or serves as an address to mark some occasion; Upton's strategy appears to be to disarm criticism of her works by presenting them as practical compositions, not as studied works of art.

7.        As it turns out, Upton seems to have avoided negative criticism of Miscellaneous Pieces. Contemporary criticism of the volume is rather scarce, but it seems to take her introduction at face value, evincing a patronizing tone to her and her work. Volume 4 of The English Review (1784) delivers an ambivalent verdict:

Though there be nothing in this collection that tends to impress us with a high opinion of the writer’s poetical talents; yet it exhibits the picture of a chearful and placid temper, a competent share of discernment upon common subjects, and such a portion of tenderness and humanity, as may probably render Mrs. Upton extremely respectable in the path of life she has chalked out for herself.” (467)
Volume 73 of The Monthly Review (1785) contains a brief entry on the work, similar in tone: “These pieces, as the Authoress ingenuously confesses, are sent into the world ‘to support her children, not to extend her fame.’ We heartily wish her publication all imaginable success, which no criticism of ours shall obstruct” (237). Both of these reviews indicate that Upton is a competent poet; they essentially wish her well and, having done so, dismiss her.

8.         Modern literary criticism of Upton is nearly nonexistent; what does exist mostly amounts to entries in biographical dictionaries. A notable exception is Stephen Behrendt’s British Women Poets and the Romantic Writing Community (2009), which includes a discussion of “The Siege of Gibraltar” in a chapter on women's writing about war. In A Dictionary of British and American Women Writers 1660-1800 (1985) Janet Todd notes the “pedestrian verse” of “The Siege of Gibraltar,” though she also identifies a verse letter addressed to Upton’s father as “engaging.” Upton’s entry in Virginia Blain, Isobel Grundy, and Patricia Clements’s The Feminist Companion to Literature in English (1990) succinctly comments that Upton “is better in informal than heroic poems.” If Upton’s versification may leave something to be desired, as Upton anticipated, her small body of work remains of interest. The importance of The Siege of Gibraltar lies in its valuable, detailed insights into the economy—literal and figurative—of war. As Paula Backscheider notes, “Few of us would read poetry as a means of social advancement, as a source of news, or as mass entertainment, but eighteenth-century people increasingly did. For example, miscellanies, anthologies, and collections of poems rode the obsession with developing and displaying taste” (36). Upton attempts to adopt just such a role—an arbiter of taste, at least for a certain subset of people, particularly young women—in Miscellaneous Pieces, and in The Siege of Gibraltar she attempts to shed light on the conditions of soldiers and their families in wartime. For that reason Upton’s work deserves our continued attention: she produced documents of war with an eye to social justice as well as socially engaged pieces that reflect both the multitude of interests and ideas to which eighteenth-century women writers were open, and the variety of work they produced.

Works Cited: Introduction

Backscheider, Paula R. Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and Their Poetry: Inventing Agency, Inventing Genre. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

Behrendt, Stephen C. British Women Poets and the Romantic Writing Community. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009.

Blain, Virginia, Isobel Grundy, and Patricia Clements. The Feminist Companion to Literature in English. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990.

Creswell, Samuel Francis. Collections towards the History of Printing in Nottinghamshire. London: John Russel Smith, 1863. Google Books.

The English Review, or an Abstract of English and Foreign Literature for the Year M,DCC,LXXXIV, Volume IV. London: J. Murray, 1784. Google Books.

Grocott, Chris, and Gareth Stockey. Gibraltar: A Modern History. Cardiff, Wales: University of Wales Press, 2012.

The Monthly Review; or, Literary Journal: From July to December, inclusive, M,DCC,LXXXV. By Several Hands, Volume LXXIII. London: R. Griffiths: 1786. HathiTrust Digital Library.

Todd, Janet. A Dictionary of British and American Women Writers 1660-1800. Totowa, NJ: Rowman & Allanheld, 1985.

Bibliography: Upton’s Works

Addison, Joseph. "No. 83. Tuesday, June 5." The Works of the Right Honourable Joseph Addison, Volume 2. London: George Bell and Sons, 1881. Google Books.

Backscheider, Paula R. Eighteenth-Century Women Poets and Their Poetry: Inventing Agency, Inventing Genre. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005.

Brake, Laurel, and Marysa Demoor, eds. Dictionary of Nineteenth-century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland. Ghent/London: The Academia Press/The British Library, 2009.

Breen, Kenneth. "Rodney, George Bridges, first Baron Rodney (bap. 1718, d. 1792)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. David Cannadine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Byrom, John. The Poems of John Byrom: Volume II: Sacred Poems. Manchester: The Chetham Society, 1895. Google Books.

Dilworth, Thomas. A New Guide to the English Tongue. 1751. London: Richard and Henry Causton, 1793. Google Books.

Dryden, John. The Poems of John Dryden: Volume Four: 1693-1696. Ed. Paul Hammond and David Hopkins. 2000. New York: Routledge, 2013.

Eliot, Karen. Dancing Lives: Five Female Dancers from the Ballet D'Action to Merce Cunningham. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2007.

Falkner, James. "Eliott, George Augustus, first Baron Heathfield of Gibraltar (1717–1790)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. David Cannadine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Fenning, Daniel. A New Grammar of the English Language. 1771. Menston, U.K.: Scolar Press, 1967.

Handley, Stuart. "Boyd, Sir Robert (bap. 1710, d. 1794)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. David Cannadine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Alexander Pope. New York: John Wurtele Lovell, Publisher, 1880. Internet Archive.

Milton, Johon. Comus: A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634. 1637. Thomas H. Luxon, ed. The Milton Reading Room. Dartmouth University, March 2015.

Ovid. Metamorphoses. Trans. Samuel Garth, John Dryden, et al. London: J.F. Dove, 1826. Internet Archive.

Pope, Alexander. The Complete Poetical Works of Alexander Pope. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, and Co., 1903. Google Books.

Prior, Matthew. Henry and Emma; or, The Nut-Brown Maid: A Poem. 1709. London: 1775. Google Books.

Rawlings Phillip. "Dodd, William (1729–1777)." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. David Cannadine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Rochefoucauld, François Duc de La. Reflections; or Sentences and Moral Maxims. 1665. Trans. J.W. Willis Bund and J. Hain Friswell. London: Simpson Low, Son, and Marston, 1871. Project Gutenberg.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Eds. Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine. Folger Digital Texts. Folger Shakespeare Library, 2010.

Soulsby, B.H. “Ross, Andrew (1773–1812),” rev. Roger T. Stearn. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. David Cannadine. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Swift, Jonathan, Gulliver’s Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World. 1727. London: Jones & Company, 1826. Google Books.

Xenophon. The Whole Works of Xenophon. Trans. Ashley Cooper et al. Philadelphia: Thomas Wardle, 1843. Google Books.

Young, Edward. Night Thoughts. With Life, Critical Dissertation, and Explanatory Notes, by the Rev. George Gilfillan. 1742. Edinburgh: James Nichol, 1853. Project Gutenberg.


[1] EDITOR'S NOTE: This biographical information comes from Collections toward the History of Printing in Nottinghamshire by a Reverend S.F. Creswell (1863), ostensibly a history of typography but which digresses into family history, miscellaneous information about Nottinghamshire, lists of books and sermons, etc. BACK