Trimmer, Sarah (DNB00)

TRIMMER, Mrs. SARAH (1741–1810), authoress, born at Ipswich on 6 Jan. 1741, was the only daughter of John Joshua Kirby [q.v.], by his wife Sarah, daughter of Mr. Bull of Framlingham. Sarah attended a school at Ipswich kept by Mrs. Justinier. In 1755 she settled with her parents in London. Her brother, who died on 13 July 1771 (cf. Freeman, Life of William Kirby, p. 11), was studying painting at Ipswich under Gainsborough, who was a friend of the elder Kirby, and a correspondence was maintained between the brother and sister. The father, on reading Sarah's letters, judged her capable of literary composition. She met Dr. Johnson at the house of Reynolds, and, a dispute arising about a passage in 'Paradise Lost,' Miss Kirby produced a Milton from her pocket. Johnson was much impressed, and presented her with a copy of his 'Rambler.' This was the origin of their friendship. She knew also at this time Hogarth and Gainsborough. About 1759 the family removed to Kew, Kirby being appointed clerk of the works of the palace. There Sarah met James Trimmer of Brentford, whom she married in 1762. She led a quiet domestic life, educating her six daughters and assisting to educate her six sons.

After the publication of Mrs. Ann Letitia Barbauld's 'Early Lessons for Children (1778), Mrs. Trimmer's friends persuaded her to make a like use of the lessons she gave her children. Accordingly she published in 1782 an 'Easy Introduction to the Knowledge of Nature.' By 1802 it was in an eleventh edition. To the first edition was appended a sketch of Scripture history. This was afterwards enlarged as 'Sacred History, selected from the Scriptures, with Annotations and Reflections adapted to the comprehension of Young Persons.' Vol. i. appeared in 1782, vols. ii. iii. and iv. in 1783, and vols. v. and vi. in 1784.

Mrs. Trimmer also interested herself in the education of the poor. Before Robert Raikes [q. v.] started his Sunday schools in 1780 there were scarcely any schools for the poor in England. On 18 May 1786 Sunday schools were opened at Brentford, mainly through the efforts of Mrs. Trimmer. By August there were 159 children in attendance, and by June 1788 the number had reached over three hundred. Dissenters were large contributors to the institution. Queen Charlotte, wishing to set up Sunday schools at Windsor, consulted Mrs. Trimmer, who had an interview of two hours' duration with her majesty on 19 Nov. 1786. The result of the meeting was the publication in 1786 of 'The Œconomy of Charity,' a book treating of the promotion and management of Sunday schools. It passed through three editions, and in 1801 was republished, revised and enlarged. During 1787 Mrs. Trimmer set up a school of industry at Brentford, in which girls were taught to spin flax at a wheel. The perusal in that year of Mme. de Genlis's 'Adèle et Théodore' gave Mrs. Trimmer the idea of having prints engraved with subjects from sacred and profane history, to hang up in nurseries, accompanied by books of explanations. The prints were first fastened on pasteboard, afterwards bound up in a small volume, and lastly placed at the head of the explanatory chapters. The books had several editions, and were republished five times between 1814 and 1830 under the title of 'New and Comprehensive Lessons.' The plan of teaching little children from pictures is now adopted in most infant schools.

In June 1793 Mrs. Trimmer formed a connection with the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, which placed two of her books—'The Abridgment of the Old Testament' and 'The Abridgment of the New Testament'—on its list in that year. They remained on it for seventy-seven years. During that period about a quarter of a million copies were sold. Other books by her were issued by the society, notably 'The Teacher's Assistant' (2 vols.) and 'The Scripture Catechism' (pts. i. and ii.)

Mrs. Trimmer died suddenly at Brentford on 15 Dec. 1810, and was buried in the family vault at Ealing. Mrs. Jane West [q. v.] wrote a poem in her memory which was published in the 'Gentleman's Magazine' for March 1811. Her husband predeceased her on 15 May 1792. None of her children survived her.

Mrs. Trimmer is best remembered for her 'Story of the Robins,' which has been continually reprinted down to the present time. It first appeared as 'Fabulous Histories' in 1786. The book was dedicated to the Princess Sophia. She also wrote many books for charity-school children and servants. They were sometimes republished with new titles and added matter. From 1788 to 1789 she conducted the 'Family Magazine' for the instruction and amusement of cottagers and servants; and from 1802 to 1806 the 'Guardian of Education,' a periodical to criticise and examine books for children and books on education, so that only good ones might spread abroad. A volume entitled 'Instructive Tales,' stories collected from the 'Family Magazine,' was published in 1810.

Mrs. Trimmer was a woman of great piety, and, inspired by the example of Dr. Johnson, kept a diary, which is a daily self-examination in his manner, interspersed with prayers of her own composition. She was of pleasing appearance, and her countenance had an intellectual expression. Her portrait (now in the National Portrait Gallery) was painted by Henry Howard, R.A. An engraving by H. Meyer forms the frontispiece to the first volume of her 'Life;' another, by E. Scriven, is in Cadell's ' Contemporary Portraits' (1812). Another portrait, painted by C. Read, was engraved by G. Watson (Bromley, p. 446).

[Life and Writings of Mrs. Trimmer, 2 vols. 1814, 3rd edit. 1825; Elwood's Literary Ladies, i. 202-23; Gent. Mag. 1811, i. 86.]

E. L.