1845 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Barbara Hofland

Alford Roberts, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine NS 23 (January 1845) 99-102.



Nov. 9. At Richmond, in her 75th year, Mrs. Hofland.

This well-known and popular authoress was the daughter of Mr. Robert Wreaks, partner in an extensive manufactory at Sheffield, where she was born in 1770. Her father dying whilst she was very young, and her mother marrying again soon after, little "Barbara" was taken under the fostering care of an aunt, who brought her up, and every year grew more attached to her young charge, in whom she discerned the promise of the talents that distinguished her in after-life.

It may as well be noticed here, as such matters are generally inquired after with interest, that the subject of our memoir, although not strikingly handsome, was prepossessing in appearance, from the beauty of her complexion, and the symmetry of her figure.

At the age of twenty-six she married Mr. T. Bradshawe Hoole, a young man of great worth and promise, connected with an important mercantile house in Sheffield, in which he was eminently useful for his general steadiness, aptness for business, and proficiency in the Spanish language.

For two years Mrs. Hoole enjoyed the blessings of domestic happiness; but a melancholy change soon after overshadowed her career. Her first-born child was laid in the grave, and the dear and devoted husband being seized with rapid consumption, followed soon after, leaving his widow, at the age of twenty-eight, with an infant son of only four months old. Nor was this the full extent of her trials; far the house in which her husband had been concerned was considerably affected by the political events which at that time disturbed Spain and Holland; added to which, one of her trustees became a bankrupt, and defrauded her of her property.

This combination of misfortunes determined her to attempt the publication of a volume of Poems, in the composition of which she had indulged herself as an amusement. Beloved and admired for her exemplary and amiable demeanour, and universally sympathised with for her great and interesting troubles, she drew to her assistance the hearts and hands of the good people of Sheffield, who showed that they had a disposition to "visit the widow and the fatherless in their affliction." Before the book passed through the press nearly two thousand copies were engaged, and the volume appeared with a list of subscribers occupying upwards of forty pages, an event (for a first publication) unequalled, we should imagine, in the annals of literary history. This was in 1805, and therefore at her death she had completed the fortieth year of her authorship. With the proceeds of this publication she was enabled to establish herself in a school at Harrowgate, where from time to time she produced other small works, principally in prose, which were very popular and much admired in the neighbourhood. One of them, The Clergyman's Widow, has since gone through several editions in London, consisting altogether of 17,000 copies.

Ten years had elapsed since the death of her husband, when she attracted the attention of Mr. Thomas C. Hofland; and the natural romance of her disposition was too soon captivated with the dashing and gallant bearing of the young artist, who, like herself, had an enthusiastic bent towards the allurements of taste and imagination. The unprovided means, — the more than doubtful prospects, — were to her no discouragement to love; for, throughout life she had an irresistible yearning towards those who were struggling adversely with fortune; and the wants of others excited in her heart both sympathy and affection. In opposition to the wishes and opinions of her family and friends, she married Mr. Hofland, and removed to London the following year. She now pursued writing with industrious zeal, and in the course of 1812 published five different works. It is remarkable that the first one that she wrote after her removal to London, viz. The Daughter in Law, was so much admired by her Majesty Queen Charlotte, that she signified her Royal permission that some future work of Mrs. Hofland's might be dedicated to her, which privilege was exercised in the following year in behalf of a novel in 4 vols. entitled Emily. Another of the stories that she published in the same year was that most celebrated and popular of her works, The Son of a Genius; which has been translated into several of the continental languages, and met with an almost unprecedented circulation in the United States. It has ever been a great favourite with the young, for whose improvement it was particularly designed; and has repeatedly called forth the warmest eulogiums from the wise and good, amongst which may be quoted the testimony of Mr. and Miss Edgeworth, who declared that no book had effected so much good in Ireland, as it was particularly suited to correct the improvident character of the Irish.

From this time to the month of her death it might truly be said that she never discontinued writing — her powers of invention seemed unbounded; and, although the large majority of her books were designed for youth, and consequently of small compass, yet the immense mass that proceeded from her pen was surprising; for, in addition to the works that bore her name, she was a constant contributor to magazines and annuals, either anonymously or under assumed titles. Those who knew her intimately were the more astonished at her powers of composition, as they saw how actively and constantly she attended to every domestic duty; and how zealously and usefully she exerted herself to relieve the wants and distresses of others. To no one could the following lines be more appropriately applied:

He prayeth best who loveth best,
All things both great and small;
For the dear God that loveth us,
He made and loveth all. — Coleridge.

She was all love, and the doing good to others was the engrossing object of her heart. Deeply distressing is it to know that such goodness was not appreciated where it was most exercised; and that this amiable Christian was doomed to suffer the keenest torments and indignities, resulting from the follies and passions of those who ought in duty most to have blessed and cherished her. In most of her stories on the moral endowments, such as Energy, Self-denial, Patience, &c. (particularly in the last,) are to be traced evident descriptions of these trials; but in most cases the fiction falls short of the reality — the romance was less unnatural than the truth.

Often, very often, have the wonder and pity of kind hearts been excited when they beheld that amiable and admirable woman, endowed with such great natural talents, with the most active and exemplary domestic habits, and the most pleasing and interesting powers of social conversation — disregarded, despised, and abused.

She deeply suffered, but as freely forgave; and, to the day of her death, excused, loved, and blessed those who had most wronged her.

We do not willingly allude to these matters; but, in taking a review of the life and character of this excellent woman, we feel we should be doing her injustice were we to omit speaking of those trials which most strongly proved the depth and power of her goodness.

The best evidence of Mrs. Hofland's claims as an authoress will perhaps be shewn in the fact that about seventy works have proceeded from her pen; of which in this country alone an aggregate amount of nearly 300,000 copies have been sold! In addition to this is to be calculated the several translations into the continental languages; and the immense numbers circulated in America, which can perhaps be imagined by the circumstance of 20,000 copies of the Czarina being printed and sold there upon its first appearance. When this immense circulation is considered in connexion with the fact that all her works were successfully devoted to improve the heart by pleasing and powerful lessons, we may form some idea of the debt of gratitude and esteem that is her due.

In addition to those already named, the following works by Mrs. Hofland may be particularly noticed: the novels of Beatrice, Says she to her Neighbour, What?, Captives in India, and The Unloved One; and the tales of Ellen the Teacher, Merchant's Widow, Adelaide, Humility, Fortitude, Decision, Tales of the Priory, and Tales of the Manor. She was also the writer of a celebrated letter that appeared during the unhappy differences between George IV. and Queen Caroline, entitled A Letter of an Englishwoman, which it is believed suggested the still more celebrated Letter from a Sovereign to his People. In 1818 was printed for presentation 100 copies in folio of a Descriptive Account of Whiteknights, a seat of His Grace the Duke of Marlborough, embellished with 23 engravings from pictures taken on the spot by Mr. Hofland. Mrs. Hofland wrote this work, which concluded with a very clever poem, remarkable for the same peculiar and striking imagery that distinguishes Spenser.

We ought not to omit mentioning that her son by Mr. Hoole grew up worthy of his father and mother, was educated for the church, and became curate of St. Andrew's Holborn, in which office he died in March 1833, his death being ascribed principally to his great and zealous exertions in fulfilling his responsible duties. We need hardly add that to his mother he was a devoted and affectionate son.

Mr. Hofland having earned considerable reputation as a landscape-painter, died at Leamington on the 3rd of January, 1843; and a memoir of his life, written by his widow, (and originally communicated to The Art Union,) will be found in our vol. xix. p. 540. The interesting and aged subject of our history was not, however, left desolate. In a letter we have of hers, she says, "life has been stormy with me, but I trust my sun will set peacefully;" and so it did. She engaged the affections of kind neighbhours with hearts akin to her own, and for the last two years of her life was cherished with every attention. Her loss will be severely felt by those neighbours, and a large circle of friends; for her great moral worth, happy temper, and interesting powers of anecdotes and conversation rendered her esteemed in private society in the same degree as her literary productions had made her popular with the world. She was buried at Richmond on Nov. 16.