1801 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Mary Robinson

Anonymous,"Mrs. Robinson" Lady's Monthly Museum 6 (January, March 1801) 1-3, 230-32.



In a Work peculiarly devoted to the service of the Fair Sex, and so liberally patronized by them, to pass unnoticed a Lady of such high accomplishments and such distinguished talents as our present heroine, would have been an unpardonable omission.

Mrs. Mary Robinson was the daughter of Mr. Darby, an American merchant, who, having sustained a very considerable loss in a scheme that promised a happier issue, turned his thoughts to the navy, and, after some time, accepted the command of a 74 gun ship in that of Russia. His services obtained him the esteem of the Empress Catherine; but how long they continued we do not know: Captain Darby, however, died at Bristol in the year 1787, leaving his widow with three children, two sons and a daughter, the latter of whom is the subject of the present remarks. Mrs. Robinson's mother, who died a few years since, was descended of a very respectable family, being grand-daughter of Mrs. Catherine Seys, of Beverton Castle, Glamorganshire, whose sister Ann was married to Lord Chancellor King.

Mrs. Robinson was born in the College Green, Bristol, and educated in that town till the age of ten, when she was removed to one of the first seminaries of female tuition in the vicinity of London. At the early age of fifteen she became acquainted with Mr. Robinson, then a student in Lincoln's Inn, whom she very soon married.

Early marriages are seldom prudent, especially when the circumstances of the parties are not such as to hold out a prospect of maintaining themselves in the sphere to which they have been accustomed. "Love alone was waking" when this match was brought about; and the profession of the law was soon found inadequate to render the situation of our young couple quite comfortable.

To natural talents of a superior kind, Mrs. Robinson's parents had added, in her favour, every advantage of acquired accomplishments; and, on receiving some encouragement from Mr. Garrick, she turned her thoughts to the stage. Under the patronage of the Duchess of Devonshire, she made her first appearance at Drury Lane, on the 10th of December, 1776, in the character of Juliet; and, in the course of three following seasons, performed with general applause, the characters of Lady Macbeth, Imogen, Rosalind, Cordelia, Ophelia, Viola, Palmira, the Irish Widow, Perdita, &c. &c. In the latter character she attracted the notice of a very distinguished Personage, and quitted the stage.

Our remarks will now be confined to Mrs. Robinson's literary pursuits, which publicly commenced, in 1778, with a Musical Farce, called The Lucky Escape, which was performed, April 30th, for her own benefit. About the same time she produced a Poem, called Captivity, dedicated to her patroness the Duchess of Devonshire.

Beside the above, Mrs. Robinson has written a beautiful Poem, entitled Ainsi va la Monde; a Monody to the Memory of the late Queen of France; a Monody to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds; Sappho and Phaon, in a Series of Legitimate Sonnets; Modern Manners; Poems, in Two Volumes, 8vo.; the Sicilian Lover, a Tragedy; Vancenza, a Romance, 2 vols.; The Widow, a Novel, 2 vols.; Angelina, a Novel, 3 vols.; Hubert de Sevrac, a Romance of the Present Century; Walsingham, a Novel, 4 vols.; The Natural Daughter, a Novel, 2 vols.; The False Friend, a Novel, 4 vols. Several popular Pamphlets, also, have proceeded from the pen of this Lady, beside many small Poems in the newspapers and other periodical publications, under various signatures of Laura Maria, Julia, Laura, Oberon, &c. &c.; and she has, within the last month, published a Volume of Lyrical Tales, of which it may justly be said, that the imagery and sentiment are poetical and just, the versification spirited and harmonious; and that some of them very pleasingly remind us of our most celebrated antient poets. Her Novels have been justly said to exhibit "great power of imagination, knowledge of human nature, acuteness of research, and skill in the delineation of character, as well as a vein of humour in describing scenes of a whimsical and ludicrous kind, that can hardly be conceived to exist in the same mind." — Of Mrs. R.'s beauty, we shall only say, that it was once pre-eminent; and even yet, after she has endured almost a martyrdom of a rheumatic affliction, her features, though become palid, have lost none of their symmetry or expression. Her mind is characterized by great sensibility, a most benevolent disposition, a correct judgment, a sprightly humour regulated by the most refined manners, and a temper peculiarly gentle and engaging.

Mrs. Robinson has one daughter, a most lovely and elegant young woman, whom she has educated in the most accomplished manner; and who has shown signs of inheriting much of her mother's genius. Miss R. has already published a very interesting Novel, under the title of The Shrine of Bertha, and, we believe, is again occupied in some literary pursuit....

The circumstances of her family were, we believe, always easy and creditable; and her brother is at present an opulent merchant at Leghorn. She was married at a very early age, and unhappily married, to a young Templar, from whom, after a few years domestic connexion, she was separated. Her first introduction to public notice and public admiration, was as an actress, under the immediate auspices and indefatigable instruction of Mr. Garrick, in the year 1777. Here her beauty was universally spoken of as a phenomenon, such as that all who saw it confessed they had never beheld its parallel. Her air, her step, her carriage, had a lightness, an airiness, and a grace, which, especially assisted as they were by the excellence of her understanding, and the playfulness of her fine imagination, rendered almost every one who saw her, her adorer. All that was highest in rank, and most illustrious in talents (Mr. Fox and Mr. Sheridan in particular), was immediately enlisted in the train of her professed admirers.

Having been induced, after a very short experiment of the theatrical life, by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, to quit the stage, the genius of this extraordinary woman soon opened to itself a new career, and a career attended with more exalted and unfading laurels: — she became a Poet; and few writers of her own day are confessed to have courted the Muses more successfully. With a genuine, various, glowing, and vivid flow of verse, she adorned the lustre of her beauty, and heightened her attractions, as a woman of unrivalled accomplishments and elegance. Her Poem of "Sight," in particular, and her "Stanzas," written between Dover and Calais (vide Poems, by Mrs. Robinson, in 2 volumes, 8vo.), would do honour to the pen of almost any English Poet of the present century. The ease with which she poured forth her unpremeditated verse was none of its least extraordinary features, and has frequently been attested by tales, and copies of verses, that have ornamented the columns of the newspapers. Some of the most meritorious of these have lately been collected into a little volume, under the title of "Lyrical Tales," by Mrs. Robinson.

But, while the Writer dwells with the fondness of a mourner and a friend on the excellencies of the deceased, there is yet a praise behind, which, if not greater than that of genius, is at least a praise, without which genius is worthless, and fame becomes tarnished, and a curse. — Mrs. Robinson was a woman of a truly liberal and munificent mind: no one had a heart more quick to feel, more tender to sympathize, or the expressions of which were more exactly adapted to relive and console Death; and nothing but Death had the power to cool its generous fervours, or to subdue the elevated independence of her spirit.

The elegancies of her roof, and the charms of her conversation, were for many years the magnet that drew around her a continual resort of those persons who were most distinguished in art, or brilliant in genius, in the times in which she flourished. All honoured her; all were her friends; and, we believe, it might be inscribed on her tomb, without danger of contradiction, — that she never made herself an enemy.

For the last twelve or thirteen years of her life, she was the martyr of a severe and incurable rheumatism, in consequence of which she became a cripple; but this could not suppress the fertility of her genius, or the energies of her character. Almost all of her literary compositions were the offspring of this period.

All that remained, which historical fidelity and the instructiveness of truth compel us to record, is of a sorrowful and melancholy character. The later years of her life were darkened by the embarrassment of her circumstances; much of this embarrassment, we can with certainty affirm, was created by her generously and inconsiderately involving herself for the convenience of others. The misfortune attending it was, however, peculiarly aggravated by the circumstance of her principal resource being a life-annuity. Her creditors, instigated by the consideration of their uncertain security, were merciless beyond any ordinary example of this kind.

On the other hand, such was the unbending independence of her spirit, that she more than once preferred the gloominess of imprisonment to the humiliation even of making her case known to such as might have delivered her from it.