Williams, Helen Maria (1759–1827)

Writer. She was the daughter of Charles Williams (d. 1762) and his second wife Helen Hay (1730–1812). Her early writings included Edwin and Eltruda (1782), Peru (1784) and Poems (1786); the latter elicited a tribute from William Wordsworth, his first publication (‘Sonnet on Seeing Miss Helen Maria Williams Weep at a Tale of Distress’). She moved in the circles that included Anna Letitia Barbauld, William Godwin, Samuel Rogers and Anna Seward, and was a committed abolitionist. From the early 1790s she lived mainly in France, which she first visited in 1790, or, during periods when it was unsafe for her to be there, in Switzerland. Her first hand account of the revolution – Letters from France – appeared in 1790 and eventually extended through eight volumes and several, revised editions. She translated writings by Bernadin de St Pierre (1737-1814) and Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859). Other works included an account of the Hundred Days of 1815. After Napoleon’s fall from power, her home in Paris became a regular calling-in spot for English tourists. Southey visited her during in May 1817 during his continental tour.