Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Grote, Harriet

GROTE, HARRIET (1792–1878), biographer, wife of the historian George Grote [q. v.], was born at The Ridgeway, near Southampton, on 1 July 1792. Her father, Thomas Lewin, after spending some years in the Madras civil service, came back in the same ship with the divorced Madame Grand (from Pondicherry) who afterwards married Talleyrand, and remained with her for a time at Paris in the years preceding the revolution. Settling then in England, and marrying a Miss Hale (daughter of General Hale and a Miss Chaloner, descended from Thomas Chaloner, regicide [q. v.]), who brought him a large family, he lived in good style, keeping a house in town as well as in the country. Harriet Lewin grew up a high-spirited, brilliant girl, and at the age of twenty-two, her father then residing at The Hollies, near Bexley in Kent, attracted the passionate devotion of George Grote, her junior by two years, who lived with his parents not far off. When, after much trouble and long delays [see Grote, George], they were at last united in 1820, Mrs. Grote, who had been preparing herself by serious studies, under his written direction, to share Grote's intellectual interests, proved to be exactly the helpmate that he needed in life. Possessed of great vivacity and remarkable conversational powers, she sought from the first to draw him from the studious retirement to which he was inclined. Even in the more straitened circumstances of their first years she began to cultivate that intimacy with foreigners, especially French public men, that took them later so often abroad and ended by making herself one of the chief intermediaries of her time between France and England. During Grote's parliamentary period she gave no small support to his public efforts by holding together in social bonds the party of radical reformers; and, when the time of disappointment came, she was forward to strengthen his resolve to devote himself to the scholarly work which had been his first ambition. His 'History' was carefully read through by her before publication of almost every volume, but she helped him most effectually in providing favourable conditions for his labour. Having a genius for the management of landed property as well as of a household, she relieved him of all trouble on this side. After their circumstances became easy in 1830, their various places of residence, chosen by her for the promotion of Grote's public or private work but not without regard also to her own likings, deserve mention for the social use to which she was constant in turning them. From 1832 till 1837 they lived chiefly at Dulwich Wood, then, for greater convenience of parliamentary attendance, at 3 Eccleston Street, which they did not give up till 1848 for the well-known 12 Savile Row, associated with the literary fame and administrative activity of all Grote's later years. From 1838 a country-house was also established, at East Burnham (near Burnham Beeches) in Buckinghamshire, and this they maintained till 1850; replacing it by a small domicile, which they proceeded to build in the neighbourhood and occupied, under the name of 'History Hut,' from the beginning of 1853 till the end of 1857, when, for reasons detailed by Mrs. Grote in an interesting 'Account of the Hamlet of East Burnham' (privately circulated at the time), they decided to leave the region. Being then desirous of making their life in the country a more settled one, they took from 1859 the spacious Barrow Green House in Surrey, which once had been occupied by Bentham; but, this proving inconveniently situated for Grote's necessary visits to London, it was given up in 1863. In 1864 they settled finally at Shiere, Surrey, in 'The Ridgeway' as it was called by Mrs. Grote, after the place of her birth. At all these houses she exercised a hospitality which was of great benefit to Grote, distracting him from too close application to work and developing the exquisite courtesy of his nature. Herself an accomplished musician (while Grote also had trained musical tastes), she cultivated friendly relations with Mendelssohn and others whether composers or performers, and undertook a certain charge of Jenny Lind in the early days of that great singer. Her first acknowledged work was a ’Memoir of the Life of Ary Scheffer,' the painter, a graphic sketch that reached a second edition in 1860, the year of its publication. Two years later she issued a volume of 'Collected Papers' (only some of which had before seen the light), partly of literary interest, partly of political, and partly of economic; these last in a sense agreeing with Grote's views from the old radical period on questions of poor-law, population, and the like. She had always been a diligent keeper of diaries and notebooks, as well as a sprightly letter-writer, and having thus an abundance of materials began to write a biographical account of her husband while he was still alive. The work was rapidly pushed forward on his death in 1871, though she had already reached her eightieth year, and was published in 1873 as 'The Personal Life of George Grote:' more lively and piquant as a composition than always quite accurate in its statements of fact. She had previously (in 1866) printed for private circulation a sketch entitled 'The Philosophical Radicals of 1832, comprising the Life of Sir William Molesworth and some Incidents connected with the Reform Movement from 1832 to 1842;' this sketch has special interest and value as regards Molesworth. Other pieces, having a bearing on Grote's life or her own, printed for private distribution in her last years, have all been referred to under George Grote, except one small pamphlet (1878), 'A brief Retrospect of the Political Events of 1831-1832, as illustrated by the Greville and Althorp Memoirs,' Though her health suffered from an almost fatal fever following upon premature delivery in 1821 of an only child (a boy), who lived but a week, she had an excellent constitution, which procured her an old age of uncommon animation and vigour; her intellectual faculties, not less remarkable than her social gifts, remaining active to the last. She died at Shiere on 29 Dec. 1878, in her eighty-seventh year, and was buried there.

[Her own Personal Life of George Grote; Mrs. Grote, a sketch by Lady Eastlake, 1880; personal knowledge.]

G. C. R.