Charlotte Brooke, (ca. 1740 – 1793), born in Rantavan, County Cavan, Ireland, was the author of Reliques of Irish Poetry. She was one of twenty-two children fathered by the writer Henry Brooke, author of Gustavus Vasa; only she (and perhaps one other sibling) survived childhood.
From an early age she was attracted to books. While the rest of her family was sleeping, Brooke would go down to the study where she would spend hours reading.
Charlotte Brooke was educated by her father Henry Brooke, and she immersed herself in reading history and literature at an early age. She was part of the first generation of the Protestant Anglo-Irish settler class who took a strong interest in the Irish language and Gaelic history; her primary interest in Irish language and literature was generated by her hearing it being spoken and recited by the laborers in County Cavan and on the County Kildare estates where her family had moved around 1758. She was led to the study of the Irish language, and in less than two years she found herself in love with it. From reading Irish poetry and admiring its beauties, she proceeded to translate it into English, one of her earliest efforts being a song and monody by Carolan, which appeared in Joseph Cooper Walker’s ‘Historical Memoirs of Irish Bards.’
Brooke, who was a very frail individual to start out with, took care of her father after her mother died in 1773. Meanwhile, the family had moved back to co. Cavan, where they began living in a house they named Longfield which had been built near the Rantavan estate. The Brookes showed a need for the improvement of agriculture and manufacture average of patriotic Anglo-Irish households during that time; a few years after Henry Brooke died in 1783, Charlotte Brooke ran into financial issues after a model industrial village set up in County Kildare by her cousin Captain Robert Brooke went bankrupt (1787). Joseph Walker and other members of the recently created Royal Irish Academy searched to make an income for her, but Charlotte realized she had to rely on her writings and translations to make any income.
In 1792, Brooke had taken up a life with friends in Longford, sharing a cottage due to her lack of income. On March 29, 1793, Charlotte Brooke passed of a malignant fever.
Brooke wrote Reliques of Irish Poetry in 1788. She also wrote Dialogue between a Lady and her Pupils(1791), The School for Christians(1791), Natural History, etc., Emma, or the Foundling of the Wood, and Belisarius(1803). Miss Brooke’s writings are important because of her drive to keep these people alive through their writings. She believed that these special pieces of art would be lost if not translated to be seen in later generations to come. She believes, “It will give them a page in history and secure a lasting remembrance”
One example of Brooke’s translations comes from a poem out of Reliques of Irish Poetry.
Carolan’s Monody on the Death of Mary Mac Guire
Were mine the choice of intellectual fame,
Of spelful song, and eloquence divine,
Painting’s sweet power, philosophy’s pure flame,
And Homer’s lyre, and Ossian’s Harp were mine;
The splendid arts of Erin, Greece, and Rome,
In Mary lost, would lose their wonted grace,
All would I give to snatch her from the tomb,
Again to fold her in my fond embrace