|Eliza Rennie/ Mrs. Eliza Walker|
|Born||17 May 1813
|Died||unknown, but after 1869|
|Notable work(s)||Traits of Character|
Eliza Rennie or Mrs. Eliza Walker was probably born 17 May 1813, although her exact birth date is uncertain, and her death date was sometime after 30 Mar 1869, when she was awarded £25 by the Royal Literary Fund, was a minor Scottish romantic/gothic short story author and published an autobiographical two-volume work of literary gossip Traits of Character: being Twenty-Five Years' Literary and Personal Recollections, by a Contemporary. She was most notable for writing about her friendship with Mary Shelley and her contemporaries, including meetings with such notables as the Duke of Wellington.
Mary Shelley's biographer, Emily W. Sunstein claims that Eliza was born to the famous engineering family Rennie, but this seems improbable and no corroborating evidence has been found. However, Sunstein's claim that "the literary Lord Dillon Henry Dillon, 13th Viscount Dillon, (one of the early patrons about whom Eliza wrote extensively in 'Traits of Character) was said to be Eliza's lover" is intriguing.
Her biography is still enigmatic. One reviewer has commented: "Our knowledge about the author of “The Spinster’s Last Hope” is limited. Because the editor, Louisa Sheridan, produced only five volumes of her periodical, The Comic Offering (annually from 1831 to 1835), there is little information about the periodical, its editor, or its contributing authors beyond what can be found in the volumes themselves. The identity of Mrs. Walker may thus be permanently uncertain, but she is most likely the Elizabeth Rennie Walker born in 1806 and listed in The Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals as a regular contributor to the New Monthly Magazine". http://vsfp.ctlbyu.org/index.php?title=The_Spinster%E2%80%99s_Last_Hope. Another believes her to have been writing anonymously for the journals since 1821 under such pseudonyms as "An Amateur" "A Bashful Man" and "A friend over the water", but this is also speculative, and seems improbable, given the more certain provenance of her "Poems" which are clearly juvenalia.
Eliza's first definite published work was her "Poems", published in 1828, when she was still a teenager aged possibly 13 or 14. This juvenile work received mixed reviews, but it was sufficiently promising to enable her to gain access to literary salons and the company and friendship of some leading authors and characters of the day.
It has proven difficult to trace her ancestry and parentage as no contemporary accounts have been found, and the following biography is tentative and incomplete as it has been deduced from a comparison of published local and family histories, clues left by Eliza in her own writings, (which are not always wholly reliable, according to Geraldine Friedman) and an as-yet unverified process of deduction from a search of various parish records and census data.
Her father was almost certainly Dr. Alexander Home Stirling Rennie, born on (13 June 1797 in Kilsyth, Scotland, a distinguished physician who later studied at Marischal College, Aberdeen. Her grandfather is therefore assumed to be Revd Robert Rennie of Kilsyth, b (1762 – d 1820), a Church of Scotland Minister and agricultural expert who was the author of treatises on peat moss, and a contributor to the Statistical Accounts of Scotland. The family was sufficiently distinguished to be the subject of a page or two of Rev Anton's "History of Kilsyth" (publication ref needed)
Only one possible Scottish matching birth record between 1805 and 1820 has been found of an Elizabeth Rennie born on (17 May 1813) to a father named Alexr. Rennie in the tiny village of Udny, Aberdeenshire. The parish register gives her mother's name as Jean Taylor. This is possibly the same Jean Taylor, born on (8 June 1798),in Larbert, just a few miles from Kilsyth. If this supposition is correct, then her parents were young teenagers, and it is possible, given the high social status and moral standing of the Rev Rennie and his family in Kilsyth, that the young couple either eloped or were sent away to a remote area to avoid the stigma of illegitimacy. Alexr Rennie then attended Marischal College in Aberdeen to study medicine, and on qualification moved to London between about 1818 and 1820.
It seems likely from Eliza's "Poems" that her mother died when she was very young, though no death record has yet been traced. She describes a rural childhood with very mixed feelings, and may have spent some time being cared for by family members in Kilsyth, but in any event she was very unhappy, felt betrayed, and apparently moved to London to join her father, possibly following the death of her grandfather in 1824. She spent the rest of her life living in London and the home counties, but never lost her Scottish identity.
Life with Mary Shelley and her friends
As a teenaged published author in London with a father who had already achieved some professional and social success, Rennie appears to have had many admirers and friends, including Mary Shelley and her literary set. In "Traits of Character" she describes a meeting with the Duke of Wellington with whom she discussed her father and his support of William Wilberforce and the anti-slavery movement. Her idealism and campaigning activities also extended to animal rights activism and other causes. She was a regular churchgoer, and she was also interested in Spiritualism.
Her father married in 1829, and the household moved to the country in 1834. Her father died in 1838 in a fall from a horse, leaving a widow and at least two young children. Eliza herself most likely married around 1830, as from the early 1830s Eliza published under the name Mrs Eliza Walker. The first known record of her using this name is in 1831, in The Gem, A Literary Annual, Pages 173 – 189, a short story entitled "The Confessional; or, The Two Brothers. A Tale founded on Fact". Mr Walker is never mentioned in her own narratives, the marriage may have ended prematurely or have been a sham. She herself claimed in applications for financial assistance that the marriage was bigamous, and that her fortune was embezzled by "her brother". The Royal Literary Fund archive, record stored in the British Library refers to her making four applications for relief, dated: 28 Jun 1854 (£30), 25 Jan 1861 (rejected), 30 Mar 1863 (£25), and 30 Mar 1869 (£25) Eliza Walker : Royal Literary Society
Nothing else is known about her later private or professional life apart from her own – rare – autobiographical insights in Traits of Character. She describes a life in London/Scottish society with excursions to spa towns and meetings with celebrities and her publishers. She produced a steady string of short stories for the periodicals of the day, and also writes about receiving a small legacy, possibly from her father's estate or from one of her wealthy admirers. She also writes about her inordinate fondness for her pet terrier, which was dognapped on two occasions for ransom, (apparently a popular crime in London in the mid-19th Century).
Her place and date of death are unknown, and further research is needed.
Mary Shelley refers to her just once in her own correspondence: See: Newly Uncovered Letters and Poems by Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley: Betty T Bennett, Keats-Shelley Journal Vol 46, (1997) pp 51–74
- Poems by Eliza Rennie London: Lloyd, 1828 1 vol: viii, 182p. ISBN 3-628-54442-4 
- Traits of Character – Being Twenty-Five Years' Literary and Personal Recollections, by a Contemporary . Eliza Rennie, 2 volumes London: Hurst and Blackett, 1860
- Records of the Royal Literary Fund, British Library, Loan 96, case number 1/1354 , 1854–1869
- Rennie, A. 1828. A Treatise on Gout, Apoplexy, Paralysis, and Disorders of the Nervous System, London: Burgess and Hill
- Lives of the Great Romantics III Godwin, Wollstonecraft & Mary Shelley by their Contemporaries 3 Volume Set
- History of Kilsyth Rev Anton
- Emily W Sunstein. A Different Face: the Life of Mary Wollstonecraft. Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1975. ISBN 0-06-014201-4.