Watts, Susanna, 1768—1842
by Benjamin Colbert
Susanna Watts was the daughter of John Watts (d. 1769) and his wife Joan, née Clarke (d. 1807). Her father died when she was an infant, leaving his widow and their three daughters with only a small annuity. Susanna Watts’s sisters, too, died in their youth, and under these privations, she began writing from her teenage years to augment the family income and later to support herself. She taught herself French and Italian, and among her early works are translations, including Chinese Maxims, Translated from The Oeconomy of Human Life (1784) and The Wonderful Travels of Prince Fan-Feredin (1789), both from the French. In its notice of Chinese Maxims, the Monthly Review also traced Watts’s hand behind a Leicester periodical, The Selector, which ran from 28 August 1783 to 29 January 1784 (NCBEL).
By the time Watts published Original Poems, and Translations (1802), she had earned a substantial reputation, attracting the notice of Mary Pilkington in her Memoirs of Celebrated Female Characters (1804). In 1804 she also published her guidebook, A Walk through Leicester, which displays her easy erudition and enhanced her reputation. The years following, however, did not diminish the hardships under which she laboured; her mother, for whom she had been chief carer since her youth, became mentally ill from around 1806. On 19 March 1807 Watts’s friend, Elizabeth Coltman, wrote to the publisher Richard Phillips on Watts’s behalf, urging intervention from the Literary Fund for one whose ‘character and talents’ would have been ‘among the most distinguished of her sex, had they been nurtured by genial circumstances’. Among her accomplishments, Coltman mentions Watts’s receipt of ‘a medal’ from the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts. Manufactures, and Commerce for ‘some extremely fine landscapes entirely composed of feathers’. The Literary Fund awarded Watts £20.
Fearing that her mother’s illness might be hereditary and needing emotional support, Watts turned increasingly to scripture and, after her mother’s death, became a Baptist. Her public works and writings took a decidedly philanthropic turn. She became an abolitionist and expressed her views in a periodical, The Humming Bird; or, Morsels of Information, on the Subject of Slavery which ran for twelve numbers from December 1824 to November 1825. In 1828 she founded the Society for the Relief of Indigent Old Age, and was its treasurer and secretary until 1840. Her interests extended to animal welfare with her book The Animals’ Friend: a Collection of Observations and Facts Tending to Restrain Cruelty, and to Inculcate Kindness towards Animals (1831). In addition, she continued to write poems and hymns as well as collections of verse for children.
Early in 1841 she suffered a paralytic stroke from which she gradually recovered. After suffering a second stroke, she died on 11 February 1842.
Beale, Catherine Hutton, ed. Catherine Hutton and Her Friends. Birmingham: Cornish Brothers, 1895.
Grundy, Isobel. 'Watts, Susanna (bap. 1768, d. 1842), writer and translator'. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 7 Jan. 2010. Oxford University Press. Web. 10 Mar. 2018. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/38113
Monthly Review 73 (July 1785): 73. Print.
Pilkington, Mary. ‘Watts (Miss Susanna)’. Memoirs of Celebrated Female Characters, London: Albion Press, 1804. 335. Print.
Royal Literary Fund. Registered Case No. 198, vol. 5, Miss Susanna Watts, of Leicester. 1807. Loan 96 RLF 1/198. British Lib., London.
Watts, Susanna. Hymns and Poems of the Late Mrs. Susanna Watts, with a Few Recollections of Her Life. Leicester: J. Waddington. 1842. Print.
|A Walk through Leicester||1804|