1821 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anne Hunter

Robert Nares, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 91 (January 1821) 89-90.



Jan. 7. In Holles-street, Cavendish square, in the 79th year of her age, Mrs. Anne Hunter, widow of that distinguished physiologist, John Hunter. — Native genius was never more pleasingly united with female modesty and delicacy than in Mrs. John Hunter; nor can any one more truly have deserved the eulogies of her surviving friends. With every grace that could make her interesting in society, she had every personal and social virtue that could command respect and attachment. As a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, and a friend, she was anxious always to exceed, rather than in the smallest degree to fail in any of her duties. The natural warmth and energy of her heart prevented, indeed, the possibility of such defect. In social intercourse, she had the happy talent of pleasing without effort; and in the conversation-parties which, in Mr. Hunter's life-time, she frequently received, she succeeded perfectly in banishing affectation, pedantry, and every symptom of dullness or formality. Connected by long friendship with Mrs. Carter and Mrs. Delany, she well deserves to have her name recorded with those amiable as well as eminent females: not, indeed, for deep learning, which she neither possessed nor affected, but for poetic genius, sagacity, and good taste.

Mrs. Hunter was the eldest daughter of Mr. Robert Home, an eminent Surgeon, first in the army, and latterly at the Savoy. He had several other children; among whom another daughter was married to Mr. Mylne, the architect of Blackfriars Bridge; and a third, though no less amiable than her sisters, died unmarried. His sons were, Robert, bred as an artist, and now painter to the King of Lucknow, in India; Colonel Home, an officer on the Bombay establishment, now retired; and Sir Everard Home, bart. the very eminent pupil of his brother-in-law. In 1771 Miss Home was married to Mr. John Hunter, and in the ensuing year, her younger brother, Everard, then leaving Westminster-school, devoted himself to the studies and profession of that new relation, under the auspicious influence of his instruction and encouragement.

Mrs. J. Hunter became the mother of four children, of whom only two survive; but both the living and the dead have been the subjects of her poetical effusions. This talent, in which for elegance of lyric strains, she has seldom been surpassed, was very early developed. Her well-known stanzas of Queen Mary's Lament, were produced so long ago, that they are frequently thought to have belonged to a prior age. Her song In airy Dreams, stands almost in the same predicament. The death song of Alknomook, the Indian Warrior, was written before many of those who sing it now were born: and throughout her life, whatever strongly moved her feelings became the occasion of some expressive strains. For her father, she wrote a short, but characteristic epitaph. The education, marriage, or death of children, produced similar effects; and never surely was there a mother who more affectionately watched, or more sincerely felt for all the various fortunes of her offspring. Notwithstanding this facility of writing, she never assumed, or in the least affected, the character of a poetess; but with modesty delivered her productions in manuscript to a favoured few. At length, on the suggestion of friends, she collected those which she most approved, in a small but elegant volume, which she inscribed to her son, then stationed as an officer in Gibraltar.

When Haydn passed a season in London, Mrs. Hunter became the Muse of that celebrated composer; and all (if we mistake not) of his beautiful English canzonets, were composed on words which she supplied. Most of these are original, and particularly the pathetic song of My mother bids me bind my hair. The beautiful Mermaid's Song, in the same set, was founded on an Italian original, freely translated. This small volume of Poems was noticed in the British Critic of October 1802, with commendations, strong indeed, but not at all exaggerated; giving one or two specimens which amply justified the praise. Since Mrs. H. became a widow, she has lived in quiet retirement, though in London; consoled by her near relations and select friends, and mutually consoling them, in all the vicissitudes of life. It is probable that her pen has not been laid aside, in this last period, but the fruits of its exertions have not yet been seen.

Mrs. H's daughter, Lady Campbell, now the widow of General Sir James Campbell, has of late years been at once her chief care, and ultimately her chief consolation, as by her side she was attended to the latest moment of her life. The decline of her health was very gradual, and her intellects were never impaired. By those who best knew her, she will be lamented, in proportion to the admiration and attachment which she could not fail to inspire; and it may be said with confidence, that she has not left a survivor in the world, who can have either a right or a wish to detract the smallest particle from the commendations, here or elsewhere bestowed, upon her genius, her understanding, or her heart.