MARIA ROBINSON, a lady of considerable literary talents, whose maiden name was Darby, was born at Bristol, Nov. 27, 1758. Her life having been published, in part written by herself, and completed by a friend, it may be thought we cannot be deficient in materials for the present article. But these documents partake too much of the nature of a novel for our purpose. Mrs. Robinson was a frail lady of much note in her day, and for such it has been the fashion of late years to encourage the publication of "Apologies," the object of all which, for they are very uniform, is to relax the obligations of virtue, and to prove that vice, with its attendants, vanity and extravagance, has nothing to dread but from poverty. It is then only, when all is spent, and indigence stares in the face, that we are to begin to think that something has been amiss, and to pour out our exculpatory sympathies in sentimental strains. From such narratives, it becomes us to borrow with caution.
Mrs. Robinson was married very early in life to a husband who had little to maintain her, and for some time she shared in his misfortunes, but, according to her own account, she spent what she could in dress, resorted much to public places, and admitted the visits of noblemen of libertine characters. At length she had recourse to the stage, and while performing the character of Perdita in Shakspeare's "Winter's Tale," captivated the youthful affections of a distinguished personage, and consented to his terms. This connexion, with all its gay and splendid embellishments, and all the flattery and admiration which beauty and levity could wish, lasted about two years, at the end of which period she found herself in possession of jewels to the amount of £8000 and an annuity of £500. After a short recess from a mode of life, into which her apologists tell us she was driven by necessity, she formed another connexion of the same kind, which they allow was from choice, with a gentleman of the army, and lavished the whole of her disposable property on this new favourite. She also lost the use of her limbs in following him, during a severe winter night, to a sea-port, where she hasted to relieve him from a temporary embarrassment. Not long after, she went to the continent for her health, and remained there about five years. On her return in 1788, she commenced her literary career, in which she had considerable success. In 1800 her health began to decline rapidly, principally from want of proper exercise, for she never recovered the use of her limbs; and after lingering for some time, she died at Englefield Green, Dec. 28, of that year, and was buried in Old Windsor church-yard. She retained in her latter days, although only forty-two years old, but little of that beauty for which she was once admired, and which, from the moment a price was set upon it, proved the cause of all her misfortunes.
The following is said to be a complete list of her publications: 1. "Poems," in two volumes, 8vo. 2. "Legitimate Sonnets, with Thoughts on Poetical Subjects, and Anecdotes of the Grecian Poetess, Sappho." 3. "A Monody to the memory of the Queen of France." 4. "A Monody to the memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds." 5. Modern Manners; a Satire, in two cantos," 4to. 6. "The Sicilian Lover, a Tragedy, in five acts." 7. "Sight; The Cavern of Woe; and Solitude; three Poems," 4to. 8. A Pamphlet in vindication of the Queen of France; published without a name. 9. A Pamphlet entitled "Thoughts on the condition of Women, and the Injustice of Mental subordination." — 10. "Vanceoza, a Romance," 2 vols. 11. "The Widow," a Novel, 2 vols. 12. "Angelina," a Novel, 3 vols. 13. "Hubert de Sevrac," a Romance, 3 vols. 14. "Walsingham," a Novel, 4 vols. 15. "The false Friend," a Novel, 4 vols. 16. "The Natural Daughter," a Novel, 2 vols. 17. "Lyrical Tales," 1 vol. crown 8vo. 18. "A Picture of Palermo, translated from Dr. Hager." 19. "The Lucky Escape," a farce, not published. 20. "Nobody," a comedy, also not published.
Of all these, it is probable that her poems will longest continue to be read. She had in her earliest efforts of this kind adopted the false style of the Della Crusca school, so happily ridiculed by the author of the "Baviad" and "Maeviad," but her late productions displayed a more correct taste, and more ease and elegance of versification, with equal richness of imagination. Her "Plays" had but temporary success; and her "Novels," although not destitute of invention, were written with too much haste for lasting reputation. She appears to have been frequently importuned by her employers to furnish the circulating libraries with novelties, when her powers both of body and mind were considerably impaired, yet she laboured with great perseverance, and is said to have earned by her literary performances nearly the amount of her annuity.