Mathilda Betham's first book, Elegies, and Other Small Poems (1797), had a
wide and enthusiastic critical reception. Admirers of her poetry included
Robert Southey, Charles Lamb, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who praised
her poetic ability in his poem “To Mathilda Betham, from a Stranger” (1802).
She also was well-known as a conversationalist and as a painter of miniatures.
To supplement her income, she gave dramatic readings of Shakespeare.
In 1804, she published a landmark work of feminist scholarship, A Biographi-
cal Dictionary of the Celebrated Women of Every Age and Country. Sometime
between 1818 and 1820, she suffered a mental breakdown.
Urge me no more! nor think, because I seem
Tame and unsorrowing in the world's rude strife,
That anguish and resentment have not life
Within the heart that ye so quiet deem:
In this forced stillness only, I sustain
My thought and feeling, wearied out with pain!
Floating as 'twere upon some wild abyss,
Whence, silent Patience, bending o'er the brink,
Would rescue them with strong and steady hand,
And join again, by that connecting link,
Which now is broken:—O, respect her care!
Respect her in this fearful self-command!
No moment teems with greater woe than this,
Should she but pause, or falter in despair!
Soft blushing flower! my bosom grieves,
To view thy sadly drooping leaves:
For, while their tender tints decay,
The rose of Fancy fades away!
As pilgrims, who, with zealous care,
Some little treasured relic bear,
To reassure the doubtful mind,
When pausing memory looks behind;
I, from a more enlightened shrine,
Had made this sweet memento mine:
But, lo! its fainting head reclines;
It folds the pallid leaf, and pines,