Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/West, Jane

WEST, JANE (1758–1852), author, was born on 30 April 1758 in the building which afterwards became St. Paul's Coffee-house, London. When she was eleven years old her father removed to Desborough in Northamptonshire. She was entirely self-educated, and began to write verse at thirteen. In a letter to Bishop Percy, dated 1800, she said, ‘The catalogue of my compositions previous to my attaining twenty would be formidable. Thousands of lines flowed in very easy measure. I scorned correction, and never blotted’ (Nichols, Literary Illustrations, viii. 329–31). She married Thomas West, a yeoman farmer of Northamptonshire. He was related to Vice-admiral Temple West [q. v.] and to Gilbert West [q. v.] His maternal ancestors had been rectors of Little Bowden in an unbroken chain for 150 years (cf. Gent. Mag. 1823, i. 183). Mrs. West attended to the household and dairy, but was by no means in the lowly position sometimes attributed to her (cf. Nichols, Literary Illustrations, vii. 88–9). Before 1800 she had published a half-dozen volumes of poems, two tragedies, a comedy, and two novels, ‘The Advantages of Education; or the History of Maria Williams’ (1793; 2nd edit. 1803), and ‘A Tale of the Times’ (1799). In 1800 she wrote to Percy, asking him to recommend her works to readers, in order to enable her to make better provision for her children (ib. viii. 326–7). He responded with a warm commendatory review in the ‘British Critic’ (1801). Percy told how her novels were greatly in demand at the three circulating libraries of Brighton (cf. Gent. Mag. 1852, ii. 100). In 1801 she published in three volumes some edifying ‘Letters to a Young Man.’ They were really addressed to her son, and were dedicated to her friend, the bishop of Dromore. A second edition appeared the next year, and by 1818 the book was in a sixth. It was also in 1801 that she began a correspondence with Mrs. Sarah Trimmer [q. v.] (cf. Life and Writings of Mrs. Trimmer, 1825, p. 429). In 1806 appeared in two volumes a similar series of ‘Letters to a Young Lady.’ It was dedicated to the queen, who in 1799 had, on the advice of a bishop, purchased Mrs. West's soundly moral novels and plays (cf. Gent. Mag. 1799, ii. 1128). The young lady to whom the letters were addressed was Miss Maunsell, who died in her twenty-fifth year, 14 Aug. 1808. A second edition, in three volumes, was published the same year, and a fourth edition in 1811.

In 1810 Mrs. West paid a visit to Dromore. Her husband died on 23 Jan. 1823. Her last publication, ‘Ringrove, or Old-fashioned Notions,’ a novel in two volumes, appeared in 1827. In the introduction she states that she is writing again, after a silence of ten years. Her death took place on 25 March 1852 at Little Bowden.

Mrs. West's novels are better than her poems, and her poems are better than her plays. Miss Seward, however, praises her poems, but finds her tragedy ‘Edmund’ cold and declamatory (cf. Letters, iii. 113, 132). Mrs. West's poems were largely inspired by Gray, and her prose writings testified to a hatred of the new ideas of Mary Wollstonecraft and her school.

Other works by Mrs. West (many issued anonymously) are: 1. ‘Miscellaneous Poems, Translations, and Imitations,’ 1780. 2. ‘Miscellaneous Poetry,’ 1786. 3. ‘The Humours of Brighthelmstone: a Poem,’ 1788. 4. ‘Miscellaneous Poems and a Tragedy [called ‘Edmund’],’ 1791; other editions 1797 and 1804. 5. ‘The Gossip's Story,’ 1797, 2 vols. 6. ‘Elegy on Edmund Burke,’ 1797. 7. ‘Poems and Plays [including a second and a third tragedy, called respectively ‘Adela’ and ‘The Minstrel,’ and a comedy, ‘How will it end’],’ 1799–1805, 4 vols. 8. ‘The Infidel Father: a Novel,’ 1802, 3 vols. 9. ‘The Mother: a Poem in five books,’ 1809; 2nd edit. 1810. 10. ‘The Refusal: a Novel,’ 1810, 3 vols. 11. ‘The Loyalists: an historical Novel,’ 1812, 3 vols. 12. ‘Select Translation of the Beauties of Massillon,’ 1812. 13. ‘Alicia de Lacy, an historical romance,’ 1814, 4 vols. 14. ‘Scriptural Essays adapted to the Holy Days of the Church of England,’ 1816, 2 vols.; another edition, 1817. She was for many years a contributor to the ‘Gentleman's Magazine.’

[Allibone's Dict. iii. 2652; Nichols's Illustrations of Lit. passim; Halkett and Laing's Anonymous and Pseudonymous Lit.; Reuss's Register of Living Authors, 1804; Baker's Biographia Dramatica, 1812; Gent. Mag. 1799–1852, passim.]

E. L.