1783 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Frances Brooke

Anonymous, "Memoir of Mrs. Brooke, the celebrated Writer" Edinburgh Weekly Magazine 58 (13 November 1783) 193-95.



This lady, whose elegant pen has long placed her in the very first class of female literature, is the eldest daughter of the late Rev. Mr. Thomas Moore, of Carleton Scroop, near Grantham, in Lincolnshire, by Mary, daughter of the Rev. Mr. Knowles, Rector of Hougham and Marston in the same county; to whose maternal care, her father dying when she was only three years old, she was indebted for a most excellent education.

She is the wife of the Reverend Dr. Brooke, a gentleman of respectable family in the county of York, and of great professional learning; and has one son, a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge: she had also a daughter who died in infancy.

Her first publication was in the year 1756, and consisted of a tragedy, called Virginia, with a small collection of Odes, Pastorals, and Translations. This tragedy had the singular fortune to find one on the same subject already received at each theatre: the Virginia of Mr. Crisp, at Drury Lane; and the Appius of Mr. Moncrief, at Coven Garden.

That celebrated periodical paper the Old Maid, was this Lady's next literary effort; and in the execution of this work she was sometimes favoured with the assistance of the late Earl of Corke and Orrery; a nobleman not more distinguished by exalted rank and superior learning, than by a native goodness of heart and elegance of manners; and whose Countess, one of the brightest ornaments of her sex, honoured Mrs. Brooke with her friendship.

About the year 1762, Mrs. Brooke published an elegant translation of Madame Riccoboni's Letters of Lady Catesby; indisputably one of the best pictures of English manners ever drawn by a foreigner.

Her next performance, which appeared in the year 1763, was the History of Lady Julia Mandeville. Immediately after which publication, Dr. Brooke, then Rector of Colney and St. Austin's, in Norfolk, having been just appointed chaplain to the garrison of Quebec, she accompanied him thither, and actually wrote much the greater part of her next production, Emily Montague, (which exhibits so faithful a picture of the manners of the Indians, as well as of the Canadian inhabitants, and so just and pleasing a description of that at present doubly important country,) at a little villa on the memorable Plains of Abraham. This last work was presented to the public in 1769.

Soon after, in 1770, Mrs. Brooke published a translation of Monsieur Framery's Memoirs of the Marquis De St. Forlaix; and in 1772, a translation of Abbe Millot's History of England, with explanatory Notes.

In 1777, she produced the Excursion.

In 1781, Mrs. Brooke published the tragedy of the Siege of Sinope; and in 1783, an opera of two acts, called Rosina; both performed with considerable eclat, at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden.

The above is an accurate list of the several productions for which the world is indebted to this lady; whose literary talents have been so fully decided on, by the universal approbation which all her writings constantly receive, that it might seem equally impertinent and unnecessary to investigate their respective merits, even were the present department calculated for such enquiries.

On this subject, therefore, we shall content ourselves with making a very few observations, generally requisite for the introduction of those facts which the kindness of friends have enabled us to lay before our readers.

Lady Julia Mandeville was the first work which fairly ushered Mrs. Brooke into the world of letters. This production was universally read, and it was as universally admired. Few novels have been published with more celebrity, few have better deserved it. The language is remarkably elegant, and the story as remarkably interesting. In the character of Lady Anne Wilmot, we have the true woman of fashion; and had Sir Harry Mandeville been equally sustained throughout, (and not in a fit of frantic jealousy made to throw away his own life, while he was seeking that of his friend, without even a single remonstrance) the most rigid cynic might perhaps have exercised his unworthy talent in vain for the discovery of human imperfection in the conduct of this excellent novel. What, then, must be our regret, when we are assured, that this circumstance was wholly owing to that amiable diffidence, which led the ingenious author, at the insistence of a particular friend, to forego her original design in the management of the catastrophe, against her own more enlightened judgment.

But in Emily Montague we behold a finished production: the diction is easy and elegant, the sentiments noble, and the characters admirably sustained. The lively description of the romantic sublimity of that country in which Mrs. Brooke then resided, fills the mind with the most pleasing images, and conveys the reader, in a kind of enthusiasm, across the Atlantic, where he views the falls of Montmorenci, and mixes in all those little delightful excursions so well delineated by this Lady's elegant pen, most of them from real scenes, and all of them from natural ones.

After spending a few years in Canada, Mrs. Brooke returned to England, and has since passed most of her time in the capital; where her active mind must have been busily employed in the production of those literary performances, the titles of which we have already enumerated.

Mrs. Brooke was some time since engaged in the management of the Opera House, on the behalf of Mr. Brooke, a brother of the doctor, resident in the country, who had purchased a considerable share in that undertaking; and her perfect knowledge of the French and Italian languages, certainly rendered her well-qualified for conducting the necessary negociations with distant foreigners. This theatre, however, having passed into the hands of new proprietors, Mrs. Brooke relinquished an employment, which at once engaged too many of those hours capable of being devoted to more agreeable pursuits, and deprived her friends of that society, the interruption of which had been mutually regretted.

At an early age, Mrs. Brooke was remarkable for a sprightliness of wit, and brilliancy of conversation, which rendered her the delight of all her acquaintance; and her conduct and behaviour in every character and situation of life have always been truly amiable and exemplary; but in that of a tender mother to an only son, peculiarly so: she has constantly paid the utmost attention to this young gentleman's education, and has the felicity to see him a promising ornament to the sacred profession for which he has been so well prepared, with the most flattering assurances of that return to maternal affection which it were to be wished it might never fail to receive.