1871 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Anna Brownell Jameson

S. C. Hall, "Anna Jameson" in A Book of Memories: Great Men and Women of the Age, from personal Acquaintance (1871) 372-73.



We knew Mrs. JAMESON early in her career, and were among her acquaintances when it was drawing to a close; yet she was by no means aged, not above threescore years old, when her useful and active life here was over.

There was perpetual gloom above and about her, although she had a large share of fame, was never embarrassed in circumstances, was the circle round which rallied many friends, some of whom were of rank, others rich in high intellectual possessions, and all, more or less, such as any man or woman might be proud to know.

She was a wedded wife for nearly thirty years; yet she may be said to have had no husband, for, with some brief intermissions, she lived apart from him all that time. Why they were separated few knew; but it was a secret that dulled her life. Once she joined him in Canada, soon to return without him; and once they were together for a brief while in London, when she introduced him to us. He was handsome in person, seemed very amiable in disposition, was a scholar and a gentleman, and held high appointments in the colony, having been Attorney-General and Speaker of the House of Assembly.

It was a mystery then, and is now, by what evil they were put asunder; for although Mrs. Jameson may have been of a hard, and not of a genial, nature, and her temper was perhaps "incompatible," she had many rare qualities of mind, must have been a delightful companion, and was largely gifted with personal attractions. I always thought her handsome, although her hair was red, and her blue eyes were eager rather than tender. Her features were decidedly good, and her form, though "plump," was finely modelled. Altogether she was such a woman as a man might have loved to adoration.

Anna Murphy was inducted into love of art from her childhood. Her father was an artist, and held the post of miniature-painter to the Princess Charlotte. His affairs became embarrassed, mainly, I believe, in consequence of his failure to dispose of a series of pictures he had executed of the beauties of Charles II.the renowned works of Lely at Hampton Court. They were painted by command of the Princess; but she died before they were finished, and they were left on his hands.

Her first book, the "Diary of an Ennuyee," became suddenly famous; it was the groundwork of her reputation. She wrote better books afterwards: her contributions to art-literature came at a good time, were very useful, and will be always of much value.

I do not know where she was born: her birth must have dated towards the end of the last century. Her father was an Irishman, and I believe she was of Irish birth. It was a subject, however, which she seemed desirous to ignore. I cannot call to mind that she ever spoke on the subject of Ireland. She must have left that country when very young, and probably had no remembrance of it, and no tie to unite her with it, and certainly visited it rarely. She was very un-Irish in her character, manners, mind, and habits.

Not long before her death — in 1860 — she became a partisan of the women who advocate "Woman's Rights," and delivered a lecture on the subject. I regret that we did not hear it, for she gave us an invitation to do so. She did not, indeed, go so far as several of her associates have since gone, but her ideas were vague and visionary. She had, she said, "no desire to free her sex from the high duties to which they were born, or the exercise of virtues on which the whole frame of social life may be said to depend, but from such trammels and disabilities, be they legal or conventional, as are manifestly injurious, shutting them out from the means of redress when they are oppressed, or from the means of honest subsistence when they are destitute."

I do not believe Mrs. Jameson ever contemplated the lengths to which her successors have gone in their advocacy of the new Constitution for women; but she would not have been accepted as a guiding authority if she had. Of the cares and duties of maternity she knew nothing; while those of a wife she was unable to discharge. I by no means infer that she was disqualified by nature for either; on the contrary, I consider she was well fitted for both; but I believe that if she had been a mother, or, in the ordinary sense of the term, a wife, she would not have been found in the ranks of the "strong-minded."

Just so, I think, it was with Miss Mitford, although she never joined the army of Martyrs. Indeed, when she was in her prime there was no thought of a struggle for "equality," and female authors were contented with the "slavery" that made them seek to be the helpmates and not the "masters" of men.