Elizabeth Allen was born on November 13, 1761, and baptised the same day in St Margaret’s Church, King’s Lynn, Norfolk. She was the youngest child of Stephen Allen (1724–1763) and Elizabeth (Eliza) Allen (1728–1796). Her parents were cousins.
Youth and Education
Elizabeth Allen became related to the Burneys when, following their father’s death, her mother married Dr Charles Burney in 1767. In December 1775, Elizabeth Allen was sent to Paris for education purposes, initially under the care of a family friend, Isabella Strange, and later as a boarder with a Mlle. Picot.
Eliza Burney travelled to Paris in August 1777, planning to accompany her daughter home. But the fifteen year-old Elizabeth Allen then left Paris with an ill-famed man named Samuel Meeke (c.1737–1802). They were married on October 12, 1777, at the Reformed Church at Ypres. Following this scandal, the Meekes are next recorded in 1781, living in Geneva. By this point they were sufficiently reconciled to their Burney relations that Elizabeth Meeke’s half-sister Sarah Harriet Burney and her half-brother Richard Burney were sent to be educated under their supervision. They moved to France in 1782, and Elizabeth Meeke subsequently made occasional visits to her family in Britain. By the mid-1780s, Samuel Meeke was working as an English tutor at Paris under the supervision of Mme. de Genlis. In 1787 the Meekes were legally separated, and it appears that Elizabeth Meeke left her husband for another man. She then seems to have continued to reside abroad, before returning to Britain in 1793.
Between 1795 and 1823, twenty-six novels by Elizabeth Meeke were published. This made her the most prolific novelist of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, outpublishing even Sir Walter Scott. Most of these works were published as 'Mrs Meeke', with six appearing under the pseudonym 'Gabrielli' and five appearing anonymously. All her novels were published through William Lane's Minerva Press and its successor ventures. She also worked extensively as a translator of novels and other works, mostly from French-language sources, and wrote a series of children’s books.
Little is known about Elizabeth Meeke's later years. Around 1796, she was masquerading socially as 'Mrs Bruce'. Yet, even though Samuel Meeke died in 1802, she appears not to have remarried until late in life: legal documents from 1824 record her impending marriage with a man named Benjamin Rawlings. Her date of death is unknown, but her decease is referred to in an undated letter which may have been written in October 1826.
Studies, forthcoming 2013. [Early View currently available online]
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