Clarke, Mary Victoria Cowden- (DNB01)

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CLARKE, MARY VICTORIA COWDEN- (1809–1898), miscellaneous writer and compiler of a concordance to Shakespeare, the eldest daughter of eleven children of Vincent Novello [q. v.] and his wife, Mary Sabilla Hehl, was born at 240 Oxford Street, London, on 22 June 1809. She was called Victoria after her father's friend the Rev. Victor Fryer. During her early years she made at her father's house the acquaintance of many men distinguished in art and letters. Varley, Copley Fielding, Havell, and Cristall among artists, and Charles and Mary Lamb, Leigh Hunt, and Keats among writers, were included in the circle of her father's most intimate friends, and she acquired much of her taste for literature from Mary Lamb, who gave her lessons in Latin and poetical reading. She is mentioned as ‘Victoria’ in several of Lamb's letters to Vincent Novello; and Leigh Hunt and the Lambs maintained throughout their lives most affectionate relations with her and her husband. Her education was entrusted subsequently to the care of a M. Bonnefoy, who kept a school at Boulogne. On her return to England she acted for a short time as governess in a family named Purcell residing at Cranford, but she was compelled to abandon this employment owing to ill-health. On 1 Nov. 1826 she was affianced to Charles Cowden Clarke [q. v.], who had been for many years a close friend of the Novellos, and two years later, on 5 July 1828, they were married, spending their honeymoon at the ‘Greyhound’ at Enfield. The marriage was celebrated by Lamb in a playful ‘Serenata, for two Voices,’ which he sent to Vincent Novello in a letter dated 6 Nov. 1828. Charles and Mary Cowden-Clarke continued to live with the Novello family.

Mrs. Cowden-Clarke had already published ‘My Arm Chair,’ under the initials M. H., in Hone's ‘Table Book’ in 1827. This contribution was followed by others of a similar nature and a paper on ‘The Assignats in currency at the time of the French Republic of 1792.’ In 1829 she began her most important work, ‘The Complete Concordance to Shakespeare, being a Verbal Index to all the Passages in the Dramatic Works of the Poet.’ The compilation occupied twelve years, a further four years being devoted to seeing it through the press. It originally appeared in eighteen monthly parts, 1844-5, and in the latter year was issued in one volume. Douglas Jerrold noticed it in ‘Punch,’ breaking the rule then observed against reviews there (Notes and Queries, 6th ser. viii. 479, 8th ser. xi. 313). It was by far the most complete work of its kind which had hitherto been produced, and was a remarkable advance on similar compilations by Samuel Ayscough [q. v.] in 1790 and by Francis Twiss [q. v.], 1805-7. It was, however, superseded in 1894 by John Bartlett's ‘New and Complete Concordance’ (Cambridge, Mass. U.S.A.)

In November 1847 and January 1848 Mrs. Cowden-Clarke played Mrs. Malaprop in three amateur productions of ‘The Rivals.’ These private theatricals led to an introduction through Leigh Hunt to Charles Dickens, who persuaded her to perform in the amateur company which, under his direction, gave representations in London and several provincial towns in aid of the establishment of a perpetual curatorship of Shakespeare's birthplace at Stratford-on-Avon (Recollections of Writers, p. 298). Mrs. Cowden-Clarke's rôles included Dame Quickly in ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ at the Haymarket, on 15 May 1848, Tib in ‘Every Man in his Humour,’ and Mrs. Hillary in Kenney's ‘Love, Law, and Physic’ on 17 May. The repertoire also contained ‘Animal Magnetism,’ ‘Two o'clock in the Morning,’ and ‘Used Up,’ and performances were given during June and July at Liverpool, Birmingham, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. In 1849 the Novellos moved to Nice, and their house, Craven Hill Cottage (9 Craven Hill, Bayswater), was taken by the Cowden-Clarkes.

Meanwhile Mrs. Cowden-Clarke's pen was occupied in various essays in Shakespearean interpretation. A small volume entitled ‘Shakespeare Proverbs; or, the Wise Saws of our wisest Poet collected into a Modern Instance,’ appeared in 1848, and between 1850 and 1852 was published, in three volumes, a series of fifteen tales under the general title of ‘The Girlhood of Shakespeare's Heroines.’ The tales have each separate title-pages and were dedicated among others to William Charles Macready, Charles Dickens, Douglas Jerrold, Leigh Hunt, and J. Payne Collier. From 1853 to 1856 Mrs. Cowden-Clarke edited ‘The Musical Times,’ to which she induced Leigh Hunt to contribute. She herself wrote for the paper a long series of articles called ‘Music among the Poets.’

In 1856 the Cowden-Clarkes left England permanently for Italy. From that year to 1861, the date of Vincent Novello's death, they lived at Nice, removing after 1861 to Genoa, where their house was named Villa Novello. While at Nice Mrs. Cowden-Clarke published ‘World-noted Women, or Types of Womanly Attributes of all Lands and all Ages’ (New York, 1858). In 1860 she issued ‘Shakespeare's Works, edited with a scrupulous revision of the text’ (New York and London), and in 1864 ‘The Life and Labours of Vincent Novello.’ During the preceding year she and her husband began for Messrs. Cassell & Co. their annotated edition of Shakespeare's plays. This was published in weekly numbers, completed on 16 March 1868, and was reissued in three volumes with illustrations by H. C. Selous. Immediately afterwards they started ‘The Shakespeare Key, unlocking the Treasures of his Style, elucidating the Peculiarities of his Construction, and displaying the Beauties of his Expression; forming a Companion to "The Complete Concordance to Shakespeare."’ This, though finished in June 1872, was not published until 1879. During the next few years the ‘Recollections of Writers’ were contributed by Mrs. Cowden-Clarke and her husband to the ‘Gentleman's Magazine.’ Charles Cowden-Clarke died in his ninetieth year on 13 March 1877, and in the following year his widow was in England superintending the publication in volume form of the ‘Recollections.’ The series, containing letters and memoirs of John Keats, Leigh Hunt, Douglas Jerrold, Charles Dickens, and Charles and Mary Lamb, appeared with a preface by Mrs. Cowden-Clarke in 1878. She was in England again in the summer of 1881. In 1887 she commemorated the hundredth anniversary of her husband's birth with a ‘Centennial Biographic Sketch of Charles Cowden-Clarke,’ which was printed privately, and in 1896 she published a pleasantly written autobiography entitled ‘My Long Life.’ She died at Villa Novello, Genoa, on 12 Jan. 1898, in her eighty-ninth year.

Apart from the works cited, and many occasional contributions to newspapers and magazines, Mrs. Cowden-Clarke published: 1. Two stories in ‘A Book of Stories for Young People’ (1848), the remaining contributions being by Mary Howitt and Mrs. S. C. Hall. 2. ‘Kit Bam's Adventures; or, the Yarns of an Old Mariner,’ 1849, illustrated by George Cruikshank. 3. ‘The Iron Cousin; or, Mutual Influence,’ 1854, 2 vols. 4. ‘The Song of a Drop o' Wather,’ by Harry Wandsworth Shortfellow, 1856. 5. ‘Trust and Remittance,’ 1873. 6. ‘Short Stories in Metrical Prose,' 1873, 7. ‘A Rambling Story,’ 1874, 2 vols. 8. ‘Verse Waifs,’ 1883. 9. ‘A Score of Sonnets to one object,’ 1884. 10. ‘Uncle Peep and I: a Child's Novel,’ 1886. 11. ‘Memorial Sonnets,’ 1888. She prepared with her husband an illustrated volume, ‘Many Happy Returns of the Day: a Birthday Book,’ 1847 (other editions 1860 and 1869). She also translated from the French of Hector Berlioz ‘A Treatise upon Modern Instrumentation and Orchestration,’ 1856.

[Cowden-Clarke's Recollections of Writers, and My Long Life; Allibone's Dictionary of English Literature; Times, 14 Jan. 1898; Life and Labours of Vincent Novello; Men and Women of the Time, 14th ed. 1895; Musical Times, 1 Feb. 1898.]

C.E.H.