The father of Miss Anna Maria Porter was an officer in the British army, descended from an ancient and respectable family, boasting names distinguished alike for talent and learning. One branch was transplanted to Ireland by the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Charles Porter; whilst another of his ancestors, who had adhered to the cause of James the Second, followed that monarch to the continent, and subsequently, settling at Bruges, he became the founder of an opulent and influential house.
Their mother, Mrs. Porter, was also well connected, being allied with the old Anglo-Saxon Barons of Blenkinsopp and Hilton, the learned Adamsons 0f the north, and the celebrated John Tweddell, the Grecian traveller, whose remains have found an appropriate resting-place in the Temple of Thesens, at Athens.
On the death of her husband, who, as an officer and younger brother, left his family but very slenderly provided with this world's goods, Mrs. Porter, who had been born on the border-land of Scotland, retired to Edinburgh with her three youngest children, both for the advantage of a strengthening air, and for the benefit of good education at a moderate expense. The eldest son was left in England at school, under the charge of his grandfather, who placed him there.
"We were almost infants when we arrived in Scotland," observes Miss Porter, "and commenced our regular little studies; but in those times of simplicity, it was not the pastors and masters only who sowed seeds of information in the young mind."
The names of William Wallace and Robert Bruce, and other Scotch heroes, soon became familiar to the youthful trio, for the maids in the nursery would lull the baby, Anna Maria, to sleep with songs of "Wallace Wight," whilst the serving-men in the hall would entertain the younger brother with tales of Bannockburn and Cambuskenneth, evening after evening, keeping his eager attention awake, often beyond his usual hours of rest, and sending him to bed to see in his childish dreams, those heroes, "which, in after years, his youth's pencil depicted on canvass fields, in all the reflected glory of their heroic deeds."
But a certain elderly female, called Luckie Forbes, a person of low degree, but yet, who under the humblest exterior possessed a superior mind, was the chief instructress of the sisters in legendary lore. She dwelt in a humble but comfortable abode, near some beautiful green banks rising in natural terraces behind their mother's house, standing alone at the head of a little square near the high school, where once resided the distinguished Lord Elchies, and commanding a fine view of the Frith of Forth. There, whilst the elder would gather gowans, or other grass flowers, for her infant sister, their aged companion, with her knitting in her hand, would remark on the blessed quiet of the land, where they saw cattle browzing, without fear of an enemy, and then would talk of the "awful times of the brave Sir William Wallace," when he fought for Scotland "against a cruel tyrant, like unto them Abraham overcame, when he rescued Lot, with all his herds and flocks, from the proud foray of the five robber kings of the south who (she added) were all rightly punished, for oppressing the stranger in a foreign land! The Lord careth for the stranger!" — for Luckie Forbes, in her narratives, whether of fact or fiction, of human vanities or fairy fables, was always wont to mingle some pious allusions.
To the legends and traditions thus narrated by Luckie Forbes, we probably owe Miss Porter's popular novel of "The Scottish Chiefs," published in 1809, but at this time, and "for long, long after I heard these things," she says of herself, "I never thought of becoming a writer at all. To learn, was my sole ambition; and during the knowledge-seeking season usual with youth, my time, in conjunction with that of my dear brother and sister, was almost wholly spent in reading; the works of ancient and modern authors burying us, as it were, often from sunrise to sunset, in a total abstraction from everything else. History and biography, from the sacred Scriptures, to Plutarch's Lives from the black-letter chronicles of England to Rapin and David Hume; and all poetry connected with the events they told of, from Greece's Homer to our British Shakspeare; from the ballad of Chevy Chase to that of our soul-stirring Rule Britannia; — this was the food with which we loved to nourish the favourite meditations of our minds: bringing to our hearts the characters which our mother, our earliest instructress, had taught us to consider 'the excellent of the earth,' and with whom we ever afterwards aspired to dwell."
Of Mrs. Porter's family, consisting of three sons, one afterwards an eminent physician at Bristol, another, the celebrated traveller and author, Sir Robert Ker Porter, and the two daughters of whom mention has been made, Anna Maria, the youngest, was the one whose genius soonest developed itself. At the early age of four, she was sent to a day-school in Edinburgh, then kept by Mr. George Fulton, well known as the compiler of several excellent dictionaries, where she soon attracted the attention of her instructor. At five, she read Shakspeare with a precision of emphasis, and a firmness of voice unequalled by any of her schoolfellows, and at a public examination of the scholars by certain high authorities at Edinburgh, she was actually put above a young lady of sixteen, with the title of Dux, or Head of the Class.
At a very early period of life she evinced great delight in the contemplation of the beauties of nature. The murmuring of the babbling brook, the verdant valley, and the many romantic objects around her, presented incalculable charms to her enthusiastic mind. She loved to listen with rapt attention to the twitter of the birds in the hedges, to the lark warbling on high, or to the plaintive melody of the nightingale in the woodland copse.
These were the emotions of a poetical temperament; for even at the early age of seven years, she penned in printed character, before she could actually write, some verses on her mother's birthday, the first she had ever attempted. She had a decided talent for music, and sang sweetly, though her health was too delicate to allow her to indulge in this accomplishment. She had also a correct taste for the fine arts, and her skill in modelling was beyond mediocrity; but she relinquished this pursuit, as well as that of drawing, as interfering with more important avocations.
Whilst residing at Edinburgh, the Miss Porters became acquainted in their childhood with Sir Walter Scott, their mothers being on terms of intimacy. Scott was then a light-hearted youth, and after leaving Scotland they never met again till he had published his "Waverley," and had come up to London, where the young ladies then happened to be staying; they then had the pleasure of renewing their "auld lang syne" acquaintance with him, and their remembrance of his boyish freaks in the daisy meadows near St George's-square, where his mother lived, and of the pleasant tale-telling evenings they passed under her kindness, Anna Maria then being "a wee bit bairnie sitting on a craky," (a small stool,) by his side.
This intercourse was afterwards terminated by Mrs. Porter's removing with her family to the north of England, where their residence happened to be near that of a venerable bishop, with whom they were well acquainted, and where they had free access to the Episcopal Library. Here they first read Spenser's beautiful and fascinating "Faery Queen," and here, together with their brother, they studied many old chronicles, some of which were in black letter.
Circumstances induced Mrs. Porter to settle for some time in London, where her children continued the same absorbing and sequestered pursuits, though uniting them with other studies, arising, perhaps, from their acquaintance with West, Flaxman, Northcote, Shee, and other distinguished artists. Their society was also sought by several naval and military veterans, old friends of their father. They continued, however, to live in a quiet and retired manner, their circle not being extended beyond intimate friends, till the genius of the brother and sisters became known to the world at large by its published manifestations, and even then their acquaintance was rather select than numerous.
One of the biographers of Miss Anna Maria Porter says, he well remembers "the smiling countenance, the fine, animated, delighted eyes of her mother, who had been a very handsome woman, when she conversed with her friends, and saw how completely 'the feast of reason and the flow of soul' filled the happy hearts of her children." Both the sisters have repeatedly owned, not only in their conversation, but in the prefaces to their several works, that from the eminently worthy and intellectual persons who formed this society, they derived their models for the characters which they afterwards took such delight in portraying in those of their heroes and heroines.
The person of Miss Anna Maria Porter is said to have been elegant and graceful, and so to have continued till her last days. Her sister, Miss Porter, has drawn a pleasing picture of her appearance, together with that of their venerable parent, in their evening rambles at Esher, where they latterly resided, and where the old tower, the sole remains of Cardinal Wolsey's palace, together with the modern mansion of their friend and neighbour Mr. Spicer, were often resorted to by them:—
"Both the antique tower and the modern Place of Esher, were frequent objects in our evening rambles. My mother and sister loved the serene sunset hour, and better loved to seek the family-dwelling, to enjoy the converse of its dear domestic tea-table. It was but a short distance from our cell and often here, before I joined them in their walk, my eyes have pursued the picturesque little group from our rose-mantled window (a floral adornment peculiar to cottages of every degree in happy England) — I have watched them strolling over the pretty village-green, here and there studded with broken lines of old gnarled trees, under which the boys play, whose grandfathers have done the same. The dear objects of my gaze, avoiding the merry gambolers and their football paths, yet still wending their way more in my sight. My sister, with her light and graceful figure (a very Hebe supporting age) lending her arm to our mother, who took it rather as loving the prop than requiring it, for her age was as elastic in body as in mind; yet she seemed to sustain her firm steps by a slender pastoral-like staff held in her opposite hand — its stem of hickory-wood, its crook a black chamois horn. But it also was leaned on by her, rather from remembrance than weakness. It had been brought to her in her early days of marriage, by my father, from the Pyrenees; it being the fashion in those times for ladies of every age to walk with such novel appendages, and habited in dresses corresponding.
"Free from affectation of every sort, she had retained nothing of that fondly-recollected mode, excepting this staff of pleasing conjurations, her dress being quite in keeping with the reverential years which might have made its sustaining help necessary. By her side, or before her, usually ran a favourite little white dog, and our neighbours who met her in their walks, used to smilingly accost her as 'the venerable shepherdess of Esher, with her pet lamb.' He always accompanied us to Esher Place, or in our stroll towards the interesting ruin, bounding through the long grass on the once gravelled avenue, and chasing birds, where aforetime the mitred equipages were wont to drive. Turning from the little animal's playful career, our thoughts centered on the object before us, the bard of Avon being in our memories, if not by our sides; and stopping at intervals under the bowery limes that fringe the declivities of the knell, or beneath the more stately elms, which in scattered groves occupy the glades below, contemplated with a meditative repose of spirit that region of stilly peace where the departing train of the princely owner of three centuries ago had last passed along. His burdened soul was then bowed with sorrow and sickness, over the head of that favourite mule, whose hitherto proudly arching neck, the historian tells us, was also bent down, as if in unison with his master's fate."
At the foot of this knoll, and nearly opposite the scene of this sadly-eloquent procession, Mrs. Porter, at that time aged eighty-four, planted, as a sort of landmark to the actual spot, a black walnut, raised by herself from seed given to her by a travelled friend; Mr. Rankin, the learned expositor of the "Mongul Settlements" in America, while that continent was unknown to Europe. The seed came from a revered tree that had flourished from age to age on the banks of the Ohio, dedicated by the neighbouring North American chiefs "to councils of peace, and the Great Spirit."
Within little more than a twelvemonth, Mrs. Porter was taken from this world, when, by a strange coincidence, the infant tree, which had continued to prosper until that period, withered and died. A cypress was planted in its stead, which now points out the spot where lie the remains of her favourite dog, Bijou, who also drooped and died very shortly after the death of its venerable mistress.
And here should be recorded a feeling observation of Miss Anna Maria Porter, recorded by her sister. When making a journey into a distant county, and observing that she never looked from the window of the carriage without seeing all the walkers on the road followed by some dog or other, — "Surely," added she, "when Mr. Pitt laid a tax upon dogs, it was like taxing every man's friend."
In early childhood a resemblance was traced between the features of the subject of this memoir, and those of Sir Joshua Reynolds; and the friend who discovered it was wont to place a pair of spectacles on her nose, to render the portrait more complete. At a more advanced period, those who had known Angelica Kauffmann in her youth, observed a similarity between her and Miss Anna Maria Porter. But though some of her admirers traced marks of kindred minds between herself and these celebrated personages, and though she had a taste for the fine arts, yet literature, in its general application, was ever her greatest delight, and reading was her favourite enjoyment.
She also very early commenced to write and to publish; for at the juvenile age of thirteen, she had composed a volume entitled "Artless Tales," which appeared in 1795, to which a second volume was added in 1798. To these, and to other youthful productions, she seldom alluded in after years, on account of the inexperienced representations of life which they contained, although they had met with a favourable reception from the public.
"Tales of Pity," which she was induced to write to instruct young people in the feeling and duty of compassion, but to which she never affixed her name, originated in her own susceptibility for the sufferings of dumb animals. As a child, she has been known to suffer paroxysms of grief on seeing persons, despite of her entreaties to the contrary, tormenting or crushing flies under their feet.
"Walsh Colville," a novel in one volume, was her next publication. This tale derives its interest chiefly from its being said to have been founded on incidents in real life, in which the writer herself was personally interested. The hero is the only son of a nobleman, who, by persuasion, is induced to allow him to enter the army; and on his first entree into London life, he yields in some degree to the seductions and temptations purposely laid for his inexperience by false friends; whilst, on the other hand, his real ones take active measures to prevent his being ruined and an attachment to a beautiful and amiable girl are the means they principally avail themselves of. "Walsh Colville" is also curious as marking the extraordinary improvement of style and story which afterwards took place, when the powers of the youthful writer were more fully developed.
"Octavia," a novel in three volumes, appeared in 1800; the "Lake of Killarney" followed in 1801, and "A Sailor's Friendship, and a Soldier's Love," in 1803. The scene of the "Lake of Killarney" is principally laid in Ireland, where Rose De Blaquiere, the heroine, a beautiful foundling, is brought up as a daughter, by the kindness of Mr. M'Neil, an old Irish gentleman, residing on the Lake of Killarney, to whose house comes Felix Charlemont, the hero, who has been driven from his father's mansion, on the marriage of the latter with a lady of suspected reputation. Of course the young people fall in love, and of course misconception and misunderstanding arise to prevent their union. The hero joins the army in Holland, at the disastrous period of the French Revolution. Rose, meantime, accompanies some friends to Dublin, where the manners of that city, as they appeared at the close of the last century, are described. At last, everything being satisfactorily explained, the young people are united, but soon separated by the machinations of Charlemont's mother-in-law, after which they again come together, and Rose's birth and parentage, as may be supposed, are proved to be unexceptionable.
The period when Mrs. Porter first established herself, with her family, in London, was when England was a place of general refuge for the exiles who had fled alike from the insurrectionary revolution of France, where the people had arisen against the nobles; and from Poland, where monarchs had conspired to sweep from the map of nations that chivalric people. The Miss Porters' sympathies were aroused by the heartrending narratives communicated to them, and the elder sister then felt an impulse to preserve some of the affecting accounts she had listened to, in the form of a regular story. Her brother, too, had seen and become acquainted with Kosciusko, in his way to the United States, after his liberation from prison by the Emperor of Russia — successor to her who had cast him there. It was then that her popular tale of "Thaddeus of Warsaw" became the first fruits of her pen, and was inscribed to one of their frequent guests, Sir Sidney Smith, "the Coeur de Lion of our land and times, in those days."
"It was composed," says Miss Porter, 'in a society congenial to its spirit, for the fields of Alexandria and Acre had just sent home their heroes, and the "chiefs" of them, with their happy wives, sisters, or daughters, were often at the unpretending tea-table of my mother."
At Mrs. Porter's residence, also, frequently appeared the revered names of Mrs. Hannah More, Mrs. Barbauld, the late Lady De Crespigny, Mrs. Elizabeth Hamilton, Miss Benger, and Miss Knight, (the preceptress of the late Princess Charlotte,) all of whom have long been removed to a better elysium than "poets' dreams have told."
Both her mother and sister had been much pleased with the MS. of "Thaddeus of Warsaw," which originally had been written with no thought beyond their home circle; but an old acquaintance, Mr. Owen Rees, (a partner with Messrs. Longman, Hurst, and Co., Paternoster Row,) to whom the manuscript had been shown, earnestly recommended its publication, and proposed his house as the medium through which it should appear before the public; and most, if not all, of the Miss Porters' Works were subsequently given to the world through the same friendly medium.
Within a year or two afterwards, her then celebrated brother, Ker Porter, the astonishing young painter of the great historical pictures of Seringapatam, St. Jean d'Acre, and other famous battles, went to Russia by an especial invitation from the Emperor Alexander. With her son's departure, ceased Mrs. Porter's bond to London; and she removed, with her daughters, to a quiet cottage residence in the country — at Thames Ditton on the banks of the Thames, midst a beautifully wooded country, in which they could command the most retired solitudes, or, by crossing the river, in ten minutes be in the cloistered courts and on the terraced walks of Hampton Court; where they might indulge alike in either pensive recollections of the former illustrious dead, or in gay converse with the then social living inhabitants.
When Miss Porter, now the sole survivor of the interesting trio that then inhabited their cottage abode, revisited, some few years since, Thames Ditton, and "sought the remains of her once gladdening little home," scarcely a remnant of what it was could be traced. "Its rose-wreathed walls were bare, its gardens," continues she, "laid into a nobleman's adjacent grounds; and the venerable Mrs. Porter's pastoral cottage," (which the classic Sir Frederic Eden of Hampton Palace, her kinsman and frequent guest, had gaily supernamed Little Arcadia,) "was almost gone, — a spot which has brightened many a tourist when loitering by its trellis porch, and looking in, admired its bowery hangings studded with singing birds; its small green stands, covered with fragrant beau-pots of every flower in the season, gathered from our own garden, or sent in greater quantities to my dear sister, from the more costly parterres of our friends; she being particularly fond of nature's garlands, whether in their native wildness or cultured to the perfection of the rarest exotics transplanted to our soil. But what was yet sweeter to her eye and ear, were the prayer and the blessing of the "hungry and the way-worn," whom we often saw and heard pouring their modest gratitude over the wicket-gate before the porch of our door. For no weary traveller, or real object of charity, ever stopped to lean for a moment's rest on that humble paling, without attracting our mother's notice, and meeting a bounteous refreshment from her hand.
"She lived within a small distance from the wayside; and quickly descrying the 'needy and desolate' from her parlour window; or when walking in her garden, discerning them over the low fence between it and the public road, she never failed calling them in to administer to their wants; and while standing by her, we often saw them pass on rejoicing, as if they had met 'an angel in their extremity.'"
Here, in this pleasant and rural abode, realizing, as Miss Porter observes, Shenstone's picture of the "lone Cottage in the Vale,"
Lovely, in deepest glen, and woodland shade,
Some rustic hand the humble portal made.
The woodbine gaily crept the casements round;
Within, Contentment was the hostess found,
Who spread with rushes the neat sylvan floor,
And decked with garlands fair the jasmined arching door,
"surrounded by peace at home, and pleasantness abroad," did the two sisters again wield their pens for the amusement of the public.
In 1809 appeared the elder Miss Porter's very popular tale of "The Scottish Chiefs;" in 1817, her "Pastor's Fireside;" and in 1824, "Duke Christian of Lunenburgh, or Traditions of the Hartz;" which last was dedicated to his Majesty King George the Fourth.
In their short but frequent visits to London, whilst residing at Thames Ditton, they often met in the metropolis with their old acquaintance Dr. Clarke, the learned brother of the traveller of that name. This gentleman was librarian to the king, and upon one occasion he told Miss Porter that his Majesty having had the works of the sister of Sir Robert Ker Porter recalled to his recollection by the then recent publication of her brother's "Travels in Georgia, Persia, Armenia, Courdistan," &c. &c., which were dedicated to the King, he took her early published volumes from the royal shelf, and was so satisfied with the historical fidelity of the heroes they portrayed, that Dr. Clarke was commanded to communicate to Miss Porter, his Majesty's gracious request that her next subject should be "The Life of his great and virtuous progenitor, Duke Christian of Lunenburgh."
"On this hint she wrote;" for, as she observes, "I could not but obey so distinguishing a command, and the royal goodness soon furnished me with many original documents for the building up of my story. It was completed near the venerable palace where most of its English scenes occurred; and when it was published, I was honoured by an assurance from my gracious sovereign that 'it had been completed to his fullest wishes.' 'The Scottish Chiefs,' Wallace and Bruce, were therefore the authors or spring-tide of the Brunswick work; and they had also 'won me favour' with our 'sometime royal neighbour,' (his late majesty, our ever-revered, ever-beloved monarch, William the Fourth,) who was then Duke of Clarence; and living at Bushy, not far from our little abode on the opposite bank of the Thames, he most condescendingly took a very encouraging interest in the progress of my work."
"The Pastor's Fire-side," notwithstanding its pacific title, was rather a tale of chivalry than of home, and home delights. It was founded on facts in the lives of two remarkable characters, Ripperda of Holland and Spain, and Duke Wharton of this country. On one occasion, when visiting Eton College. the students showed Miss Porter the chamber there where Ripperda had lodged during his refuge in England from the persecutions of ungrateful Spain.
Meanwhile the pen of Anna Maria was even more prolific in its creations than that of her elder sister: who, speaking of the leisure and seclusion for studious occupation, afforded to them by the retirement of Thames Ditton; when she was herself "in the bloom of her days, in the freshness of her most inspiring impressions;" and, what was yet dearer, in the bosom of beloved ones, from whom her heart had never wandered, — her mother and sister she says, "My sister, Anna Maria, more brilliantly endowed, and with a judgment far beyond her years, never found it needful for her acquirements to sacrifice the genial companionship of friendship, to close study of any kind; the quickness of her perceptions giving her almost an intuitive knowledge of everything she wished to learn; while I, from childhood upwards, 'toiled up the hill' of knowledge half my days. * * *
"We had different ways of attaining the same objects. She, with the wings of her soul, fledged for the highest point which I ever saw her rapidly gain, whilst I was still labouring to follow her. But both, I trust, ultimately reached the same end. For our principles, our tastes, and our views in life were exactly the same; and when we began to write for publication, we regarded our works not as a pastime for ourselves, or a mere amusement for others, but as the use to be made of an entrusted talent 'given to us for a purpose:' and for every word we set down in our pages, we believed we must be accountable to Heaven and to our country. This sense of responsibility, certainly deepened the constitutional concentration of my thoughts, gravitating them perhaps a little too heavily when employed with my pen. And when, somewhat wearied, I emerged from my bird-nest chamber under the thatched eaves of our rustic dwelling, it was 'nothing loth' I sought the cheerful group I heard talking below; and then usually seated between my mother and sister, I always met some of our pleasant visitors, ready to draw me out from my absorbing pursuits, by a general conversation full of intelligence and grace."
"The Lake of Killarney" was the first of Miss Anna Maria Porter's publications at Thames Ditton. Then followed, in 1807, "The Hungarian Brothers," a pleasing narrative, which was the first of her productions to which she affixed her name; and the second edition of which appearing in the following year, she dedicated to the instructor of her early childhood, George Fulton, Esq. "Don Sebastian, or the House of Braganza," which was published in 1809, was her next work, and is considered by many to he one of the best of her performances. "Historically true," says her sister, "in its chief parts, it sympathised in its tone with my favourite subjects. The scenes of that Prince's almost incredible adventures having taken place on the border kingdom to Spain, and on the same line of the opposite African coast which had finally closed the career of my Duke de Ripperda.' She also wrought up into the splendid fabric of her tale, a chivalric expedition of the errant-king of Portugal into Persia; into which she has woven much that relates to the interesting brothers, Sir Anthony and Robert Shirley, who in those times were great men in the court and camp of the accomplished and valiant Shah Abbas. Our friend, Sir Frederic Eden, of Hampton Court, lent her an old and rare book concerning them, which, with other carefully sought information, furnished the grounds on which her story was built; though it may justly be inferred, that where these narratives lacked of union, her fully imbued imagination made up the deficiency; as indeed it did in working out the completeness of the whole wondrous tale respecting king Sebastian himself. Our excellent moral poet, Mr. Southey, in his long-subsequent poem of 'Don Roderick,' has walked nearly in her steps over the almost similar fate of that also peninsular monarch."
"The Recluse of Norway," her next work, appeared in 1814, and in this her interesting character of Ellisef, representing a dutiful daughter, a devoted friend, an affectionate sister; one of those warm-hearted beings desirous of dispensing happiness all around, is supposed to be the picture most like herself of any she has drawn though quite assuredly, unconscious of the resemblance herself. It has been observed that this is "one of the few productions which may be repeatedly read without losing any of its interest; resembling in its order of merit, the beautiful master-piece of Fenelon, "that it is impossible to rise from its perusal without feeling our selves wiser and better."
Then followed, in 1817, "The Knight of St. John," in which is introduced the celebrated defence of Malta by La Valette in 1565, against the Turks under Mustapha, the general of Soliman II. Of this work an interesting circumstance is recorded, viz. that it was the last work that the then Prince Leopold read aloud to the Princess Charlotte, on the day preceding her fatal confinement and decease: — and he graciously caused the young authoress to be informed, he had sacredly preserved it ever since.
"The Fast of St. Magdalen" appeared in 1818. The scene of this work takes place between 1509 and 1512, during the expulsion of the family of the Medici from Florence, and it terminates with, their triumphant return thither. By some, this work is considered as among the best that proceeded from the pen of Miss Anna Maria Porter.
"The Village of Mariendorpt" was published in 1821. The events take place during the thirty years war, after the death of Gustavus Adolphus and the character of the hero, Rupert Rosentheim, the fond sister is said to have drawn from her brother, who was an eminent example of filial piety. Indeed Miss Jane Porter does not scruple to avow that several of those the sisters delineated, were often transcripts of living personages with whom they had the good fortune to be acquainted; for, generally speaking, unless to heighten by the force of contrast, the majority of the characters introduced in their histories are of a peculiarly amiable cast.
"The originals whence we drew our portraits," says she, "were mostly men and women, either of past times, or happily visible in our own persons inspired by those virtues, which prepare mankind for their immortal destination, as well as accomplish them for every amiable and worthy object in this world's welfare. With such studies for our graphic art, we could hardly miss presenting images less than exemplary. 'He that shoots at the sun; (observed the hero of Zutphen,) 'must strike higher than he who aims at a bush.'"
And here may be recorded the opinion of the celebrated Warren Hastings, as to the tendency of the works of the Misses Porter. He had read the few works they had then published, and one day asked how it was possible that persons so young could have known so much of the human heart, and of the proper purposes of life, as these books manifested. He continued—
"Well, these pretty tales have already done much good amongst young folk like yourselves, and the old will not be the worse for such pastime; they are like a good drama, and will live when the author and the present audience are no more. To inculcate worthy things is the principle that merits the loudest applause. When Shakspeare's plays are acted, it is not the transcendent poetry of his language, but the moving virtue that language conveys, which draws forth those bursts of acclamation to a word of patriotism, or of generous feeling between man and man. Let men be what they may in their common conduct, there is always something in the very worst that affords a better hope, giving an echo, whenever distinctly heard, to the voice of truth. See then, my young friends, the importance of bringing so excellent a voice frequently to their ears, and of accustoming men's hearts to hear and own her laws."
"Roche Blanche, or the Hunter of the Pyrenees," published in 1822, was the last of Miss Anna Maria Porter's performances at Thames Ditton. The period of this tale, — during the reigns of Henry II. and Francis II. in France, and the queens Catherine of Medici, — Mary Stuart, and Elizabeth of England, are introduced. And the Rev. Clarence Willoughby is eventually proved to be connected with the Pole family.
Miss Anna Porter had, in 1811, published a small volume of poems, entitled "Ballad Romances," &c. a few of which had previously appeared in her novels.
Mrs. Porter latterly resided at Esher. She removed thither, not, Miss Porter observes, "from any desire of change, merely as change, nor to quit old acquaintances for the sometimes exhilarating novelty of new, but because the air of the humid valley of the Thames had become injurious to her own and my sister's healths, and the transfer to this higher and drier soil was not far from the time-endeared friends we had left below. In this new residence, the 'fair lot' we had drawn when fixing at Thames Ditton, followed us; and for ten successive years we lived at Esher, happy in the accession of kind neighbours, and happy in the still preserved friendship and frequent society of those who had made this valley 'a place of pleasantness to us.'"
"Our abode at Esher was in the village, and a cottage still; but its situation was cheerful and airy, on the summit of a hill, (for my mother loved an open view,) commanding all those various points which had rendered that perfectly rural spot an object of interest to all respectors of historical and poetical recollections; besides a more recent claim to reverential regard, it having been the bridal residence 0f one Princess of England — cut off and mourned in the bloom of her youth; and of another, whose promising childhood, comprised for some years there, the hopes of the empire over which she now providentially reigns.
"The paling of my mother's garden divided her little domain from the superb lawns and woods of Claremont Park; from whence, during its habitation by his Royal Highness Prince Leopold, she ever received the most gratifying attentions to venerable age, and presents of fruit, rare vegetables, and game in due season."
The front of the cottage-home selected by Mrs. and the Misses Porter for their residence, commanded a full view of the gates and high trees of Esher Place, opening from the village on that side of the brow of the hill. This formerly had been an ecclesiastical demesne of the celebrated Cardinal Wolsey, both in the noontide splendour of his prosperity, and also in the clouded evening of his days. But of the palmy honours of the favourite, only one tower remains to tell, now tapestried with ivy, wild clematis, and other climbing plants; whilst the modern mansion of Esher Place has been erected on the knoll on which had stood the Bishop Cardinal's summer-house; the very spot on which King Henry remarked the rising walls of his superb palace of Hampton Court, which drawing from him an expression of surprise, induced the wily favourite to assert it to he intended as "a humble offering from a poor but grateful servant, to his most august liege lord the king." Both the antique tower and modern mansion of Esher Place, were favourite resorts with the interesting inhabitants of the cottage in the vicinity.
"Soon after our removal to Esher," says Miss Porter, "we again recommenced our 'troubadour' employment. It was amusing to our mother to hear read by us at our tea-table, the produce of our morning hours; and we often benefited by her clear-sighted, but gentle criticism. She was the only person whose attention we ever invaded with a single word of our unpublished works. We there wrote two volumes, which were printed together under the united title of 'Tales round a Winter Hearth.' My share was, 'The Old House of Huntercombe, or Berenice's Pilgrimage;' in the geography of which I followed my brother's tract in his Eastern Travels, borrowing from his pilgrimage to ancient Babylon, the local scenery I introduced in hers. My sister's moiety in these volumes were two tales; one, her simply-told, sweet, 'Jeannie Haliday,' has often been set in parallel with our long-lamented friend, Lady Ann Barnard's touching ballad of 'Auld Robin Gray.'" This was published in 1826. And in addition to these stories, of which mention has been made, 'Glenrowan,' a Scottish Tradition, and 'Lord Howth,' an Irish Legend, both stories of strange but thrilling interest, were also from the pen of the younger Miss Porter.
In 1828, appeared another work, the united production of these sisters in genius as well as in blood. This was entitled, "Coming Out," and "The Field of Forty Footsteps." The first was the production of Anna Maria, the latter of Miss Porter. "Coming Out" is, as the title proclaims, a tale of modern and fashionable life, in which Alicia Barry, a beautiful Irish girl, is taken up by a lady of rank, partly from caprice, and partly from the wish of having so attractive an object under her domicile. She is subsequently abandoned by her heartless patroness with as much levity as she had been sought, and the poor deserted protegee is left to feel the reverses of fortune and the neglect of her worldly friends, though, fortunately, she has others by whom she is never abandoned.
"The Field of Forty Footsteps," a story of the fearful and bloody times of King Charles and Cromwell, is of thrilling and surpassing interest, equal to, if not surpassing those of the same period, written by Horace Smith, or even Walter Scott himself. The scene is laid in the open fields, now the site of the London University; and the story is founded on a legend of two brothers having fallen in mutual and mortal combat. The grass, as tradition said, never grew where these fratricides had set their foot whilst engaged in their fatal fight, though now the ground is covered with modern buildings.
Previous to this, had appeared another work by Miss Anna Maria Porter, entitled, "Honor O'Hara," in the preface of which it is stated, that the first volume had been written after the story was planned, but was then laid aside for three years from temporary loss of sight; it was then resumed, completed, and published in three volumes in 1826. This too is a tale of modern, though of more domestic life than that of "Coming Out.' The heroine also is a beautiful, romantic, and high-spirited Irish girl, who, having been petted and indulged in her native land, comes to England to reside with an elderly and amiable uncle, who has married beneath himself; and from the mean spirit and vulgarity of her aunt, a, well as from her own thoughtlessness and indiscretion, arise many of Honoria's troubles. It is a pleasing and interesting tale; and if the Dean's family described in this work, were drawn from real life, there will be few, probably, who will not be disposed to envy the Miss Porters their acquaintance with them.
"The Barony," called by those who knew the author, "the last notes of the pure and spotless swan," was the last production from the pen of Miss Anna Maria Porter; and by many it will be deemed the most interesting and the most pleasing of her works. It was written when she was in delicate health, and was published in 1831. The character of Eveleen Hungerford, though not intended as a perfect one, is perhaps one of the sweetest and the most captivating ever portrayed; and the friendship between Aurelia Trevanion and herself, is exquisitely described. The scenes of "The Barony" are laid principally in Cornwall and London the period is the reign of James the Second; and civil strife and warfare, as they affect domestic peace and comfort, are well portrayed therein.
Shortly after the appearance of "The Barony," this interesting trio was broken up by the death of their "time-honoured " parent, Mrs. Porter, which took place in the summer of 1831, and her remains were interred in the village churchyard of Esher. In the church itself, over the communion-table, before which she had often knelt, an altar-piece painted by himself, was placed by her son, Sir Robert Ker Porter, of our Saviour celebrating the last supper with his disciples — holding in his hand the sacred cup, the pledge of our eternal salvation.
After this event had taken place, the two sisters left Esher; and in the spring of the following year, 1832, they repaired to Bristol, where their brother, an eminent physician, resided. Here, the health of the younger, which had been long delicate, became still more enfeebled, and a few months after their arrival, Miss Anna Maria Porter was seized with a fever of an epidemic kind, and after much suffering, which she bore with exemplary fortitude and patience, she expired on the 21st of June 1832, to the great grief of her friends, but more particularly of her sister, now the only remaining one of the amiable and interesting inhabitants of the cottage at Esher. The melancholy event took place at the house of Mrs. Colonel Booth, Montpellier, near Bristol. Her remains were interred in the burial-place of her brother, Dr. Porter, at St. Paul's Church in that city.
The amiable character of Miss Anna Maria Porter appears well summed up in the word "transparent," which her friend, Major Moyle Sherer, was wont to apply to it; her sister adds, "her countenance, her manner, her language, being all at once expressive of the sincerity and purity of her soul."
The voluminous productions of Miss Anna Maria Porter, scarcely less popular than those of her elder sister, have most of them gone through several editions. In all, she has shown herself the friend of religion and humanity: — and the character of the performances of the two sisters was elegantly described by a reverend friend in a subsequent conversation with Miss Porter at Shirly Park, the house of Mr. and Mrs. Skinner, — when imaginative literature happened to he the topic, and its influence on society, even to the deepest interests of man.
"After some observations had passed on the novels and romances of the country, Mr. O'Sullivan looked to me," writes Miss Porter, "and with impressive earnestness said, 'You and your sister were very young when you began to be authors; but you made a field of your own — you and she came forward, the first to teach in such works — the first to inculcate Christianity in stories of romance. You came forth with doctrines, that there was and is, the same moral law for man as for woman that no other is sanctioned by Heaven you declared it boldly, and have sustained it steadily.
"'Works of imagination so principled, come almost as a new doctrine, though it is, and always was, the divine law. It struck with its deserved force, and caused a new era among us. They were greedily read at that critical period of life, when youth look for pictures of that world in which they are panting to become actors. With hearts open to every impression, and eager to embrace them, they are as ready to take an impulse for their bursting energies, to good, as to misleading evil and if they do not meet the noble and the true to give the bias, the false and the selfish are ever on tiptoe to turn the awakening passions into their own career. I speak by experience. I read your early works in my own youth. Thousands felt the same that I did, and everywhere acknowledged their effect — infusing the great doctrine of universal purity, without the formality of preaching it; teaching in effect, by example. Our Divine Instructor himself, set the model — he breathed the breath of life into precept, by parable.
"'So dedicating female talents,' added he, turning to Miss Agnes Strickland, authoress of the 'Queens of England,' who was present, "is fulfilling the end for which they were bestowed; a peculiar christian duty, lady, in your sex, when so endowed a grateful debt to that religion, which alone has elevated woman again to that station in creation which she had lost by the fall."
His concluding observation, is well worth remembrance, by all authors and writers of both sexes. "The immortality of a work, like the happy immortality of the soul, does not lie in its superior faculties, but in the use to which they are applied — in its virtue — its power to move men's minds to good thoughts and great actions." And to accomplish such an aim was the meek, but energetic object of Miss Anna Maria Porter.
Artless Tales, 2 vols. 1793-95.
Tales of Pity, 1 vol.
Walsh Colville, 1 vol.
Octavia, 3 vols. 1798.
Lake of Killarney, 3 vols. 1804.
A Soldier's Friendship, and a Soldier's Love, 3 vols. 1805.
The Hungarian Brothers, 3 vols. 1807.
Don Sebastian, 3 vols. 1809.
Ballad Romances and other Poems, 1 vol. 1811.
The Recluse of Norway, 4 vols. 1814.
The Knight of St. John, 3 vols. 1817.
The Fast of St. Magdalen, 3 vols. 1818.
The Village of Mariendorpt, 3 vols. 1821.
Roche Blanche, or the Hunter of the Pyrenees. 3 vols. 1832.
Glenowan, a Scottish Tradition Lord Howth, an Irish Legend and Jeannie Halliday, a Vale or our own Times; in Tales Round a Winter's Hearth, 1826.
Honor O'Hara, 3 vols. 1826.
Coming Out, 2 vols. 1828.
The Barony, 3 vols. 1831.