Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Jameson, Anna Brownell
JAMESON, ANNA BROWNELL (1794–1860), authoress, born at Dublin on 17 May 1794, was the eldest daughter of D. Brownell Murphy [q. v.], an Irish miniature-painter of considerable ability. In 1798 the family came to England, and, after short residences at Whitehaven and Newcastle, settled at Hanwell. Anna evinced much talent as a child, and at the early age of sixteen became a governess in the family of the Marquis of Winchester, where she remained for four years. After leaving this position she probably continued to contribute in some way to the support of her father. About 1821 she was introduced to her future husband, Robert Jameson, a young barrister from the Lake country, said to have been a man of artistic taste as well as a good lawyer. An engagement ensued, which was broken off for some unknown reason, and Anna Murphy, deeply depressed, accepted another situation as governess, and went with her pupil to France and Italy, where she continued for about a year. The journal she kept, with some alterations, the most important of which was a fictitious account of the authoress's death at Autun, was published anonymously, under the title of ‘A Lady's Diary,’ by a speculative bookseller named Thomas, on the sole condition that he should give the authoress a guitar out of his profits, if any. This condition he was able to fulfil on selling the copyright to Colburn for 50l. Colburn changed the title to ‘The Diary of an Ennuyée’ (1826), and the book obtained wide popularity. By this time, having in the interim spent four years as governess in the family of Mr. Littleton (afterwards Lord Hatherton), Miss Murphy (1825) had become reconciled and united to her former lover, Robert Jameson. They settled in Chenies Street, Tottenham Court Road; but it soon appeared that their relations were uncongenial. Jameson is described by his wife as cold and reserved; she, on the other hand, was somewhat wanting in reticence. ‘The wife,’ says the ‘Edinburgh’ reviewer, who evidently speaks from knowledge, ‘was rudely neglected, and the authoress urged to make capital out of her talents.’ After four years Jameson went out to Dominica as puisne judge without objection on his wife's part or reluctance on his own. Mrs. Jameson's pen was now active; she produced ‘Loves of the Poets’ (1829) and ‘Celebrated Female Sovereigns’ (1831, 2 vols.), compilations of no great literary pretensions; wrote the letterpress to accompany her father's Windsor miniatures, at length engraved under the title of ‘The Beauties of the Court of Charles II;’ and published in 1832 her excellent ‘Characteristics of Women’ (2 vols.), essays on Shakespeare's female characters, dedicated to Fanny Kemble. She had made many influential friends, whose interest, it is asserted, gained for her husband a valuable legal appointment in Canada which he obtained in 1833, and which he in that year departed to fill. Mrs. Jameson simultaneously proceeded in an opposite direction, going to Germany, where she contracted the warmest friendship with Major Robert Noel and Ottilie von Goethe, and made the acquaintance of Tieck, Retzsch, Schlegel, and other distinguished persons. She was recalled to England in October by the paralytic seizure of her father. Her experiences of the continent in this and her next visit were recorded in ‘Visits and Sketches’ (1834), one of the most delightful of her books. The portion relating to Germany was published separately at Frankfort in 1837. She returned to Germany in 1834, and spent two years there, carrying on a curious correspondence with her husband, who was continually pressing her to join him in Canada. Mrs. Jameson, although she much distrusted him, and was reluctant to relinquish the brilliant intellectual society in which she moved, sailed for America in September 1836. Her misgivings proved well-founded, and she returned in 1838 after an ample experience of discomfort and disappointment, but with many warm friendships contracted in New England, and the substantial advantage of an annuity of 300l. from her husband, who had become chancellor of the province of Toronto, and was afterwards speaker and attorney-general.
Mrs. Jameson's life from this period was that of an indefatigable authoress. Her ‘Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada’ appeared in 1838; her translation of Princess Amelia of Saxony's dramas, under the title of ‘Social Life in Germany,’ in 1840; and in 1841 she commenced the long series of her publications on art by her ‘Companion to the Public Picture Galleries of London’ (1842), a work of great labour. ‘A sort of thing,’ she says, ‘which ought to have fallen into the hands of Dr. Waagen, or some such bigwig, instead of poor little me.’ It brought her 300l., however. In the following year she began to contribute articles on the Italian painters to the ‘Penny Magazine,’ which were collected into a volume in 1845. Her handbook to the public art galleries had, meanwhile, been followed by a similar guide to the private collections (1844). In 1845 she edited ‘Memoirs of the Early Italian Painters,’ and in the same year again visited Germany, mainly with the purpose of consoling her friend Ottilie von Goethe for the loss of an only daughter. In 1846 she published a volume of miscellaneous essays, chiefly on artistic subjects, including two of great merit, on ‘The House of Titian’ and the ‘Xanthian Marbles,’ for which latter two translations from the ‘Odyssey’ were especially made by Elizabeth Barrett. Her friendships at this time were very numerous, the most important in every respect being that with Lady Byron. In 1847 she left England for Italy, with the main object of collecting materials for the works on sacred and legendary art to which the remainder of her life was principally devoted, and taking with her her niece Gerardine Bate, afterwards Mrs. Macpherson, her future biographer. Her work ‘Sacred and Legendary Art,’ which, as the ‘Edinburgh’ reviewer observes, was nothing less than a pictorial history of the church from the catacombs to the seventeenth century, appeared in four successive sections: ‘Legends of the Saints’ (1848), ‘Legends of the Monastic Orders’ (1850), ‘Legends of the Madonna’ (1852), and ‘The History of our Lord,’ the last completed by Lady Eastlake after the authoress's death. About 1852 Mrs. Jameson began the ‘Handbook to the Court of Modern Sculpture in the Crystal Palace.’ Shortly afterwards occurred the greatest affliction of her life, her estrangement from her most intimate friend Lady Byron. Mrs. Macpherson professes herself ignorant of the exact date, but from the hint of its connection with circumstances arising after the death of Lady Byron's daughter, it may be referred to 1853. The facts are too imperfectly known to justify any expression of opinion beyond the observation that Lady Byron could be both unreasonable and vindictive. The quarrel embittered the remainder of Mrs. Jameson's life, and her unhappiness was augmented by the necessity under which she felt herself of renouncing Major Noel's friendship also, lest he should be exposed to the displeasure of his relative. She nevertheless produced in 1854 ‘A Commonplace Book of Thoughts, Memories, and Fancies, original and selected.’ Some of the selections are from favourite authors, others from the communications of Lady Byron and Ottilie von Goethe, but the best part is Mrs. Jameson's own, and forms a most charming miscellany of graceful and often penetrating remarks on literature, art, and morals. In the same year Mrs. Jameson's circumstances were altered for the worse by the loss of the chief part of her income at the death of her husband, who made no provision for her by his will. Her friends rallied to her support, and an annuity of 100l. was raised by subscription; a pension to an equal amount had been already conferred upon her. In her latter years, next to the prosecution of her great work on sacred art, Mrs. Jameson was chiefly interested in the institution of sisters of charity and other improved methods of attendance upon the sick. She spent much time in foreign capitals inquiring into methods of organisation as yet unknown in England, and her two lectures, ‘Sisters of Charity’ and ‘The Communion of Labour’ (1855 and 1856), did much to overcome prejudice at home. She died at Ealing, Middlesex, on 17 March 1860, from the effects of a severe cold caught in returning on a wintry day to her lodgings from the British Museum, where she had been long working upon her ‘History of our Lord.’ Her pension was continued to her two unmarried sisters, whose principal support she had long been.
A marble bust by John Gibson, R.A., is in the National Portrait Gallery.
Mrs. Jameson was a valuable as well as a charming writer. Her ‘Sacred and Legendary Art’ is a storehouse of delightful knowledge, as admirable for accurate research as for poetic and artistic feeling, and only marred to a slight extent by the authoress's limited acquaintance with the technicalities of painting. She appears to equal advantage when depicting her favourite Shakespearean heroines, or the brilliant yet unostentatious society she enjoyed so greatly in Germany—to greater advantage still, perhaps, in the graceful æsthetics and deeply felt moralities of her ‘Commonplace Book,’ or the eloquence of her ‘House of Titian,’ an essay saturated with Venetian feeling. Much of her early writing is feebly rhetorical, but constant intercourse with fine art and fine minds brought her deliverance. The charm of her character is evident from her extraordinary wealth in accomplished friends. This is the more remarkable if, as asserted by a writer in the ‘Athenæum,’ probably Henry Chorley, she was heavy and unready in conversation.
[Memoirs of the Life of Anna Jameson, by Gerardine Macpherson, 1878; Harriet Martineau's Biographical Sketches; Kemble's Records of a Girlhood; B. R. Parkes's Vignettes; Edinburgh Review, vol. cxlix.; Athenæum, March 1860.]