Elizabeth Isabella Spence – Author – 1768-1832

Elizabeth Isabella Spence (12 January 1768 – 27 July 1832) was a Scottish novelist and travel writer.

Spence was an authoress, was born on 12 Jan. 1768 at Dunkeld. She was the only child of Dr. James Spence, a physician at Dunkeld, by his wife Elizabeth, youngest daughter of George Fordyce, provost of Aberdeen (d. 1733), and sister of James Fordyce [q. v.] Losing her parents early, Miss Spence went to live in London with an uncle and aunt, and was by their death left destitute of relatives. She had already commenced writing as a pastime, and now carried it on for a livelihood. Her works consist of novels and accounts of travel. Her first book, published in 1799, was ‘Helen Sinclair,’ a novel, in 2 vols. Her books of travel include ‘Summer Excursions through part of England and Wales,’ published in 2 vols. in 1809, and ‘Sketches of the Present Manners, Custom, and Scenery of Scotland,’ of which the second edition, in two volumes, bears date 1811.

The latter work was ridiculed in ‘Blackwood’ (vol. iii.) in an article entitled ‘Miss Spence and the Bagman.’Among her friends were Lady Anne Barnard, Miss Elizabeth Ogilvy Benger [q. v.], the Porters, Miss Landon, and Sir Humphry Davy. She died at Chelsea on 27 July 1832. There is an engraved portrait of Miss Spence in ‘La Belle Assemblée’ (No. 185).

Her approach was to travel during summer composing letters and anecdotes about her travels which she then later edited into a book. She is sometimes noted because she sent notes to other women writers of the time. Spence’s travel writing attracted some criticism in her lifetime, but Pam Perkins has commented that Spence emphasised that inspirational effect that the Scottish landscape could have on women in the time. Spence witnessed the countryside being opened up and she made literary references where the scenery was mentioned in contemporary culture like the novels of Sir Walter Scott.

Spence died in Chelsea (London) in 1832 of a stroke.

Complete Works:

  1. The Nobility of the Heart, 1804
  2. The Wedding Day, 1807
  3. Summer Excursions through part of England and Wales, 1809
  4. Sketches of the Present Manners, Custom, and Scenery of Scotland, 1811
  5. Commemorative Feelings, 1812
  6. The Curate and his Daughter: a Cornish Tale, 1813
  7. The Spanish Guitar, 1815
  8. A Traveller’s Tale of the Last Century, 1819
  9. Old Stories, 1822
  10. How to be rid of a Wife, 1823
  11. Dame Rebecca Berry, 1827
  12. Tales of Welsh Society and Scenery

Full Text Online Selected Works:


[Allibone’s Dict. of Engl. Lit.; Gent. Mag. 1832, ii. 650; A. D. Fordyce’s Family Record of the name of Dingwall Fordyce, 1885, p. 227; Annual Biogr. and Obit., pp. 367–71.]