Wolverhampton BTW

Emily Reeve

Reeve, Emily, ?—?

by Benjamin Colbert

Very little concrete biographical evidence exists linking Emily Reeve to the similarly indeterminate bibliographical facts. Her name appears on separate issues of the title page to Character and Costume in Turkey and Italy (1839) as either ‘Emily Reeve’ or ‘Emma Reeve’. ‘Emily’ is the more likely only because George Newenham Wright (1794/95-1877; ODNB) cites ‘Emily Reeve’ as the letterpress writer of Character and Costume as well as the author of poetry that he uses for chapter epigraphs in his The Rhine, Italy, and Greece (1841; reissued 1849). Wright also quotes verses by ‘Emily Reeve’ in his The Shores and Islands of the Mediterranean (1840) along with, as in Rhine, Italy, verses by Byron, Mary Howitt, L.E.L., Pope, Samuel Rogers, Southey, and others. Where Wright sourced Reeve’s verses remains unknown, for unlike the other poets listed here, no published volume or examples of magazine verse have yet been found under Reeve’s name or related to these verses.

Nevertheless, as Patrick Waddington suggests, a candidate for the poet and letterpress writer is the Emily Reeve (1817-65) who became an influential social reformer and educationalist, and for a time was governess to the family of the radical Russian publicist and exile Alexander Herzen (1812-70; ODNB). This Emily Reeves was born in London, the daughter and eldest child of John Foster Reeve (1790-1877), a physician, and Hannah Reeve, née Cribb (b. 1795/96). Her up-bringing was middle class, and she distinguished herself among her siblings for her attraction to literature, a predilection fostered by her romance with a Polish boarder who interested her in the cause of political emancipation in his native country.

In her more well-documented later life, vague references to early literary productions may refer to Character and Costume, not to mention the poems that Newenham cites, comprising roughly a period from 1839 to the late 1840s. By the early 1850s, Reeve’s circle included the radical German exile Malwida Amalia Rivalier von Meysenbug (1816-1903) and later Herzen, whose book My Exile in Siberia she defended in an aonymous letter to the Morning Advertiser (6 Dec. 1855). It is possible that Reeve contributed to Malwida von Meysenbug’s 1858 article ‘Russian literature and Alexander Pushkin’.

By 1860 Reeve was in Paris helping to promote Herzen’s work. After she had returned to London, Reeve was appointed governess to Herzen’s daughter, Tata, in September of that year. By then Reeve was also becoming drawn to the Guiseppe Garibaldi (1807-82) fight for Italian independence and she appears to have had a secretarial role in the ‘Ladies’ Benevolent Association for the Sick and Wounded of Garibaldi’s Followers’. Joining forces with the philanthropist Julie Schwabe (1818-96; ODNB), Reeve travelled to Naples in 1863 to set up a school ‘at which for the first time in that city an attempt was made to instruct the poor without reference to creed’ (Examiner 445). Still at Naples, Reeve died in 1865, the victim of a cholera epidemic.


‘Popular Education in Naples’. The Examiner, no. 2945 (9 July 1864): 445. ProQuest Databases. Web. 6 Nov. 2017.

Waddington, Patrick. An Unsung Struggler for Humanity and Truth: The Mysterious Miss Emily Reeve (1817-65). Upper Hutt, N.Z.: Whirinaki Press, 2003. Print.


Title Published
Character and Costume in Turkey and Italy 1839

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