Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brooke, Frances

BROOKE, Mrs. FRANCES (1724–1789), authoress, was born in 1724, being one of the children of the Rev. William Moore by his second wife, a Miss Seeker (Gent. Mag. lix. part ii. 823, where Edward Moore, her brother, born 1714, is by error set down to be her father). John Buncombe, in the 'Feminiad' (1754), speaks of Frances Moore as a poetic maid, celebrated in a sonnet by Edwards in his 'Canons of Criticism,' and herself writing odes and beautifying the banks of the Thames by her presence at Sunbury, Chertsey, and thereabouts. In 1755 she appeared as an essayist under the pseudonym of Mary Singleton in a weekly periodical of her own, called 'The Old Maid' (price 2d., of 6 pp. folio). She appealed to correspondents for assistance in conducting her paper (after the 'Spectator' model), and in spite of her being attacked by 'an obscure paper, "The Connoisseur," with extreme brutality' (No. II. p. 10), she managed to maintain her publication for thirty-seven weeks. The whole issue was reprinted in a 12mo volume nine years after in 1764. Her marriage took place about 1756, the year of the publication of 'Virginia,' a tragedy, on the title-page of which the authoress appears as Mrs. Brooke. The volume includes other poems, and' Mrs. Brooke submits a proposal on a fly-leaf for a translation of 'Il Pastor Fido' (which came to nothing); and she recounts (Preface, v viii) how 'Virginia' had been offered by her to Garrick, who declined to look at it till Mr. Crisp's tragedy of the same name had been published, and ultimately rejected it (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. ii. 347; Biog. Dram. iii. 383). Her husband was the Rev. John Brooke, D.D., rector of Colney, Norfolk (Biog. Dram. i. 71-2), chaplain to the garrison of Quebec, attached to Norwich Cathedral as daily reader there, and, according to Blomefield (Hist. of Norfolk, vol. iv.), holding much other preferment in the same county. Soon after their marriage Dr. and Mrs. Brooke left England for Quebec on his garrison duties. The 'European Magazine' (xv. 99 et seq.), repeating 'a newspaper anecdote,' relates that, at a farewell party she gave before taking ship for her voyage, Dr. Johnson had her called to him in a separate room that he might kiss her, which he 'did not chuse to do before so much company.'

In 1763 she published a novel anonymously, 'The History of Lady Julia Mandeville,' containing much description of Canadian scenery, which went rapidly through four editions, with a fifth in 1769, a sixth in 1773, and a special Dublin edition in 1775. In 1764 she published a translation of Madame Riccoboni's 'Lady Juliet Catesby,' still anonymously; and this work soon reached a sixth edition. A year or two after she published the 'Memoirs of the Marquis de St. Forlaix,' 4 vols. 12mo, translated into French in 1770 (Nouvelle Biographie Générale vii. 498), which is mentioned by Mrs. Barbauld (British Novelists) and is advertised in the 1780 edition of 'Lady Catesby.' In 1769 she published 'Emily Montague,' in 4 vols., with her name affixed, dedicated to Guy Carleton, governor of Quebec. In 1771 she issued, in 4 vols., a translation of the Abbé Milot's French 'History of England,' with explanatory notes of her own; in 1777 she published the 'Excursion,' a novel, 2 vols., in which Garrick is attacked (book v. pp. 20–36). Mrs. Brooke had meanwhile formed a friendship with Mrs. Yates, the actress, and having a share, it was thought, with that lady in the Opera House, produced in 1781 a tragedy, 'The Siege of Sinope,' at Covent Garden Theatre, in which Mrs. Yates acted, and which ran ten nights (Biog. Dram. iii. 273). In 1783 Mrs. Brooke made her chief success by 'Rosina,' a musical entertainment in two acts, with Shield's setting, the opening number of which, a trio, 'When the rosy morn appearing,' has not yet disappeared from concert programmes. Mr. and Mrs. Bannister took the chief parts in 'Rosina,' which, Mrs. Brooke said (Preface), was based on the story of Ruth, aided by that of Lavinia and Palemon in Thomson's 'Seasons,' but which, Genest says (Hist. of the Stage, vi. 266), was taken, with alterations, from a French opera, 'The Reapers,' published some thirteen years previously. The run of 'Rosina' was extraordinary. There were two editions called for in its first year, 1783 (it was sold for 6d., being used probably as 'a book of the words'); by 1786 there were eleven editions; others followed in 1788 and 1796 (after Mrs. Brooke's death); and the work was reproduced in numberless forms, notably in the 'Modern British Drama,' 1811, the 'British Drama illustrated,' 1864, and in vol. xii. of Dicks's 'British Drama,' 1872. In 1788 Mrs. Brooke, again with Shield's music, produced 'Marian' at Covent Garden Theatre, Mrs. Billington taking the heroine (Biog. Dram. vol. iii.); it was acted with success (ib.), and kept the stage till 1800, when Incledon was the tenor, but it never attained the popularity of 'Rosina.' Mrs. Brooke's last productions were 'an affectionate eulogium on Mrs. Yates' (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. ii. 347) appearing in the 'Gentleman's Magazine,' lvii. 585; and a two-volume tale called by the 'Nouvelle Biog. Gén.' (vii. 498) 'Louisa et Maria, ou les Illusions de la Jeunesse,' and said to have been translated into French in 1820.

Mrs. Brooke died at Sleaford, Lincolnshire, in 1789, on 23 Jan., according to the 'Gentleman's Magazine' (lix. 90), or on 26 Jan. according to the 'European Magazine' (supra) and the 'Biog. Dram.' (i. 71, 72). She was buried at Sleaford, but there does not appear to have been an epitaph to her (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. 1815, ix. 497). The following entry is in the parish register: ‘Mrs. Frances Brooke, a most ingenious authoriss, æt. 05’ (private letter from incumbent, 1884). Dr. Brooke died a few days before his wife, 21 Jan. 1789. A son, the Rev. John Moore Brooke, M.A., fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, obtained the living of Helperingham, Lincolnshire, in 1784 (Gent. Mag. vol. liv. part ii.)

[Reed's Biog. Dram.; Genest's History of the Stage; Gent. Mag.; European Mag.; Nichols's Literary Anecdotes, ii. 346; Blomefield's Hist. of Norfolk, vol. iv. under 'Brooks, John;' Preface to Mrs. Brooke's novels, in Mrs. Barbauld's British Novelists, where she is said (p. ii) to have been 'about the first who wrote in a polished style.']

J. H.