1798 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Mary Robinson

David Rivers, in Literary Memoirs of Living Authors (1798) 2:213-16.



The maiden name of this celebrated lady, who is descended from a very respectable family, was Darby. Her father lost his fortune in promoting a scheme for the commercial advantage of this country, and, afterward, accepted the command of a seventy-four-gun ship, in the service of the late Empress of Russia. Her mother is grand daughter to Catherine Seys, of Boverton Castle in Glamorganshire; whose sister, Ann Seys, a woman celebrated for her virtues and accomplishments, married Lord King, then Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain. Mrs. Robinson was born in the College Green, Bristol, received the early part of her education in that city, and, at the age of fifteen, married her present husband, who was then a student in Lincoln's Inn. Shortly afterward, she thought it proper to exercise her talents on the stage, and came out in Juliet, under the particular patronage of the Dutchess of Devonshire, on the 10th of December, 1776. For three seasons she continued to perform the parts of Lady Macbeth, Imogen, Rosalind, Cordelia, Ophelia, Viola, Palmira, the Irish Widow, Perdita, &c. with great applause; and, having in the latter character, attracted by her elegance and beauty, the notice of a certain distinguished FLORIZEL, she quitted the stage at a time when she was rising rapidly in the estimation of the public.

Of the literary productions of Mrs. Robinson, we believe, the first was a small octavo volume of Poems, published in 1775. Two years afterward she wrote Captivity, a poem, and Celadon and Lydia, a tale, which were printed together, in a quarto pamphlet, dedicated to her patroness, the Dutchess of Devonshire. In 1778, she brought out a farce, entitled, The Lucky Escape, for her own benefit, at Drury Lane. None of these productions appear to have attracted that notice, by which the later writings of their fair author have been so remarkably distinguished; and her pen appears to have been unemployed till about the year 1787, when she figured in the newspaper THE WORLD, under the signature, Anna Matilda. For an account of the correspondence with Della Crusca, kept up from poetical sympathy, at intervals, for two years, we refer the reader to our memoir of Mr. Merry; and shall only observe, that we think her poems in the collection, entitled, The British Album, certainly claim the second place in point of merit. Mrs. Robinson also produced many pieces about this time in THE ORACLE, under the signatures of Laura Maria, Julia, Laura, Oberon, &c. In 1790, she published a poem, inscribed to Mr. Merry, under the title, Ainsi va le Monde; and, in the year following, produced her elegant octavo volume of Poems, which was honoured by a very splendid list of subscribers. The poetical productions with which Mrs. Robinson has favoured the world, since that publication, are, a Monody to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds; Sight, the Cavern of Woe, and Solitude, published together, in a quarto pamphlet; Modern Manners, a poem, by Horace Juvenal; a Monody to the Memory of the late Queen of France; and Vol. II. of Poems, in which some of these pieces are reprinted. In the year 1792, Mrs. Robinson published her first novel, Vancenza; and has, since that time, written The Widow, Angelina, and Hubert de Sevrac, novels; and The Sicilian Lover, a tragedy. Several popular pamphlets have also been attributed to her pen.

The beauty of Mrs. Robinson's poetry has obtained her the dignified appellation of THE ENGLISH SAPPHO. She is sometimes feeble, and sometimes degenerates into a false taste; but the poetic imagery, the feeling and tenderness, the warmth and elegance, and, above all, the delicacy of expression, which breathe through her poems can seldom fail to lay her reader under a bountiful contribution of applause. As a novel-writer, we think this lady much less successful. Her VANCENZA speedily reached a third edition, because it was the work of Mrs. Robinson; but surely in this, as well as in her subsequent attempts, she falls greatly short of her countrywomen, in the talent of pleasing. Her tragedy (The Sicilian Lover) is a very favourable specimen, indeed, of her talent in that line of composition!