1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anna Maria Porter

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:568.



This lady was a daughter of an Irish officer, who died shortly after her birth, leaving a widow and several children, with but a small patrimony for their support. Mrs. Porter took her family into Scotland while ANNA MARIA was still in her nurse-maid's arms, and there, with her only and elder sister Jane, and their brother, Sir Robert Ker Porter, she received the rudiments of her education. Sir Walter Scott, when a student at college, was intimate with the family, and, we are told, "was very fond of either teasing the little female student when very gravely engaged with her book, or more often fondling her on his knees, and telling her stories of witches and warlocks, till both forgot their former playful merriment in the marvellous interest of the tale." Mrs. Porter removed to Ireland, and subsequently to London, chiefly with a view to the education of her children. Anna Maria became an authoress at the age of twelve. Her first work bore the appropriate title of Artless Tales, the first volume being published in 1793, and a second in 1795. In 1797 she came forward again with a tale entitled Walsh Colville; and in the following year a novel in three volumes, Octavia, was produced. A numerous series of works of fiction now proceeded from Miss Porter — The Lake of Killarney, 1804; A Sailor's Friendship and a Soldier's Love, 1805; The Hungarian Brothers, 1807; Don Sebastian, or the House of Braganza, 1809; Ballad Romances, and other Poems, 1811; The Recluse of Norway, 1814; The Village of Mariendorpt; The Fast of St. Magdalen; Tales of Pity for Youth; The Knight of St. John; Roche Blanche; and Honor O'Hara. Altogether, the works of this lady amount to about fifty volumes. In private life Miss Porter was much beloved for her unostentatious piety and active benevolence. She died at Bristol while on a visit to her brother, Dr. Porter of that city, on the 21st of June 1832, aged fifty-two. The most popular, and perhaps the best of Miss Porter's novels is her Don Sebastian. In all of them she portrays the domestic affections, and the charms of benevolence and virtue, with warmth and earnestness; but in Don Sebastian we have an interesting though melancholy plot, and characters finely discriminated and drawn.

MISS JANE PORTER, who still survives, is authoress of two romances, Thaddeus of Warsaw, 1803, and The Scottish Chiefs, 1810; both were highly popular. The first is the best, and contains a good plot and some impassioned scenes. The second fails entirely as a picture of national manners (the Scottish patriot Wallace, for example, being represented as a sort of drawing-room hero), but is written with great animation and picturesque effect. In appeals to the tender and heroic passions, and in vivid scene-painting, both these ladies have evinced genius, but their works want the permanent interest of real life, variety of character, and dialogue. A third work by Miss Porter has been published, entitled The Pastor's Fireside.