I associate the name of this good and most useful woman with that of Maria Edgeworth, mainly because the one loved the other, and that both were actuated by the same holy thought — "to do good and to distribute." She was one of our earliest and latest friends; we knew her in 1825, when with her husband, the artist, she lived in the then "Artists' Quarter," Newman Street; when residing at Edwardes Square, Kensington; and during her brief period of widowhood at Richmond.
She was the daughter of Mr. Robert Weeks, a partner in an extensive manufactory at Sheffield, and was born in 1770. Her father died when she was very young. Her mother soon afterwards married again, and Barbara was taken and brought up by an aunt. She married, at the age of twenty-six, Mr. T. Bradshaw Hoole, a very worthy young man, connected with a mercantile house at Sheffield. She always spoke of that portion of her life as her happiest. It lasted not long, however, for Mr. Hoole and their eldest child died in little more than two years after their marriage. She was left with an infant son four months old; and the little property that belonged to her was lost by the bankruptcy of a trustee. These misfortunes determined her to publish, in 1805, a volume of poems; it was eagerly subscribed for by the people of Sheffield, who were proud of her from first to last. With the proceeds she established a school at Harrogate, and continued to write and publish other small works from time to time. Eleven years after the death of her first husband she married Mr. T. C. Hofland, the landscape painter, and removed to London. In 1812 she wrote five works, among which was "The Son of a Genius," and continued writing, more or less, every succeeding year.
Her son by Mr. Hoole was educated for the Church, became curate of St. Andrew, Holborn, and died in March, 1833. She loved him dearly, and he as dearly loved her. She never spoke of him without tears. Her second married life was not happy. Hofland was a man who thought of himself only, and seemed indifferent to his wife's fame. Few, however, saw the skeleton in her house; and although we knew well that her home was not one of comfort and hope, we never heard her utter a complaint or expose any "weakness" of her husband [Author's note: She was always ready with some excuse for Hofland's selfishness and outbreaks of temper, attributing them to the vexations incident to an artist's life, or to the sufferings he endured from some hidden source of frequent illness. When he died, I remember her telling me, with somewhat of a tone of triumph, that he had died of cancer in the stomach, which accounted for his continued irritation and all his other faults]. Her nature, though seldom joyous, was always cheerful; moreover, it was toned by genuine piety and unlimited trust. In person she was plain; but the soundness of her heart, the vigour of her mind, and her deeply-rooted religious faith gave to her face charms which her features lacked; and, like the friend we have depicted, she did not seem to require beauty.
One of her earliest friends was James Montgomery. He records, in 1803, he used to visit her, then an interesting young widow, in order to "read and talk over and correct the poems which I afterwards printed for her." How much the destiny of these two might have been changed, and how much happier both might have been, if this intimacy had led to marriage! In 1810, when Montgomery was canvassing Roscoe for aid in electing Hofland as an associate of the Liverpool Academy of Arts, he thus wrote of her: "She is a woman of singular genius, and I have known her through so many sorrows and sufferings acting a generous, and, in many cases, a glorious part." We indorse that opinion from intimate knowledge of her, long years afterwards. Miss Mitford, writing of her to Mrs. Hall, says — "She is an inestimable woman; good, kind, and true; and of a sort of goodness that is becoming more and more rare every day." And in another letter she writes — "She is womanly to her finger-ends, and as truth-telling and independent as a skylark."
She wrote nearly a hundred books, chiefly for the young. They were very popular; some of them, indeed, are so to this day; and they were translated into many of the languages of Europe.
Her home duties were ever the first in her heart and mind.
I do not know who wrote this, but it is an estimate fully and entirely true:—
"As the inculcator of the vital importance of fixed principles of justice, honour, and integrity — of Christian virtues founded upon Christian faith — of all that is truly noble in man and lovely in woman — Mrs. Hofland, from the nature of her compositions and the extent of their circulation, has perhaps done more than any other writer of the day. The religion which she makes the groundwork of all this, and which she has the art of making her readers teach themselves, is religion in its best form; unobtrusive, and yet unfailing; gentle, yet active; modest, yet firm; moderate, kind, and consistent, without sourness, bigotry, or enthusiasm. This religion she has not only inculcated, but practised, under trials greater than any she has described."
The work by which she is best known, and which has gone through, perhaps, fifty editions, having been often translated, is "The Son of a Genius." It was published by Harris, once a famous bookseller at the corner of St. Paul's, a house which an excellent and liberal firm of publishers of children's books now inhabit. She received for it ten pounds. It was so rapidly and frequently reprinted, that the publisher made by it as many hundreds. I remember Mrs. Hofland telling me one day she had that morning called upon Harris concerning a new edition — time (twenty-eight years) having exhausted his claim to the copyright, which consequently reverted to her. The worthy publisher refused to acknowledge any such right, protesting against it on the ground that such a thing had never happened to him before! The discussion ended in his giving the author another ten pounds.
She died at Richmond, Surrey, on the 9th November, 1844; and a monument to her memory was placed in the church there by a few admiring friends.
Hofland was an excellent artist and an accomplished man. Miss Mitford said of him that "he talked pictures and painted poems." His works have failed to find popularity, or, to speak more correctly, "buyers" — in this age of art-patronage; yet few painted English scenery with more force and truth. He who has Hofland's picture of "Richmond Hill" has one of the treasures of British art.