Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parsons, Eliza

945465Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 43 — Parsons, Eliza1895Elizabeth Lee

PARSONS, Mrs. ELIZA (d. 1811), novelist and dramatist, was the only daughter of a wine merchant of Plymouth named Phelp. At an early age she married Mr. Parsons, a turpentine merchant of Stonehouse, near Plymouth. In consequence of losses in business caused by the American war, Parsons moved to London, where, at a house near Bow Bridge, formerly known as the Bow China House, he built warehouses and workmen's dwellings, and for three years had every prospect of success. In 1782, however, his property was destroyed by fire, and it is said that only Mrs. Parsons's presence of mind saved the whole of Bow from destruction. She courageously ordered the workmen's houses to be pulled down, and thus the spreading of the fire was prevented. Parsons was thereupon obliged to relinquish business, and obtained an appointment in the lord-chamberlain's office at St. James's. Through the favour of the Marchioness of Salisbury, Mrs. Parsons was granted a small place in the same department.

At her husband's death Mrs. Parsons turned to novel-writing as a means of providing for her children. Her first book, ‘The History of Miss Meredith,’ in two volumes, appeared in 1790. It was dedicated to the Marchioness of Salisbury, and among the subscribers were the Prince of Wales, Mrs. Fitzherbert, Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu [q. v.], and Horace Walpole.

In 1792 she produced a play, ‘The Intrigues of a Morning; or an Hour at Paris.’ It was acted at Covent Garden on 18 April, for the benefit of Mrs. Mattocks, and repeated for Mr. Hull's benefit at the same theatre. Munden and Fawcett took part in the representation. The play, a poor version of Molière's ‘Monsieur de Pourceaugnac,’ is a farce in two acts (Genest, Hist. of the Stage, vii. 70).

She died on 5 Feb. 1811, at Leytonstone in Essex. Of her eight children, three sons and one daughter died before her; four daughters, all married, survived her.

Mrs. Parsons wrote above sixty volumes of novels, but not one of them rises above mediocrity. Besides the works already mentioned, she wrote:

  1. ‘The Errors of Education,’ 2 vols. 1792.
  2. ‘Woman as she should be; or the Memoirs of Mrs. Menville,’ 4 vols. 1793.
  3. ‘The Castle of Wolfenbach: a German Story,’ 2 vols. 1793.
  4. ‘Lucy,’ 3 vols. 1794.
  5. ‘The Voluntary Exile,’ 5 vols. 1795.
  6. ‘The Mysterious Warning,’ 4 vols. 1796.
  7. ‘Women as they are,’ 4 vols. 1796.
  8. ‘Murray House,’ 3 vols. 1804.
  9. ‘The Convict; or Navy Lieutenant,’ 4 vols. 1807. Baker (Biogr. Dramatica, i. 561–3) gives the following titles, but omits the dates of publication: 10. ‘Ellen and Julia,’ 2 vols.
  10. ‘The Girl of the Mountains,’ 4 vols.
  11. ‘An Old Friend with a New Face,’ 3 vols.
  12. ‘Anecdotes of Two well-known Families,’ 3 vols.
  13. ‘The Valley of St. Gothard,’ 3 vols.
  14. ‘The Miser and his Family,’ 4 vols.
  15. ‘The Peasant of Ardenne Forest,’ 4 vols.
  16. ‘The Mysterious Visits,’ 4 vols.

She also translated in 1804 six of La Fontaine's ‘Tales,’ under the title of ‘Love and Gratitude.’

[Baker's Biogr. Dramatica, i. 561–3, ii. 328; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. iv. 373, 7th ser. i. 113; Gent. Mag. 1811 pt. i. p. 195.]

E. L.