Porter, Anna Maria (DNB00)

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PORTER, ANNA MARIA (1780–1832), novelist, born at Durham in 1780 after her father's death, was the younger sister of Jane Porter [q. v.], and of Sir Robert Ker Porter [q. v.], in whose memoir an account of the family is given. Educated at Edinburgh with her sister Jane, she not only shared the latter's studious tastes, but was attracted by music and art. She resolved, like Jane, to devote herself to literature, and at thirteen years of age began a series of ‘Artless Tales,’ which was completed in two anonymous volumes in 1795. Other tales, entitled ‘Walsh Colville’ and ‘Octavia’ (3 vols.), appeared anonymously in 1797 and 1798 respectively. After settling with her family in London before 1803, she attempted dramatic composition, and in May 1803 the ‘Fair Fugitives,’ a musical entertainment, was acted at Covent Garden, with music by Dr. Busby. It met with no success, and was not printed (Baker, Biogr. Dramatica, ii. 211; Genest, Hist. of the Stage, vii. 585).

In 1807, when she was living with her mother and sister in a cottage at Esher, Surrey, she published her chief work, and the first to which she put her name, ‘The Hungarian Brothers.’ It is a novel in three volumes, dealing with the French revolutionary war. She feared that her heroes might be viewed as women masquerading as men (cf. Addit. MS. 18204, f. 150), and subsequently excused the admiration of ‘martial glory,’ of which the book is full, on the score of her youth (pref. 1831). But the vivacity and enthusiasm of the writer atone for most of the book's defects. It was popular at home and abroad. General Moreau placed it in his travelling library, and in 1818 it was translated into French. Later English editions are dated 1808, 1831, 1847, 1856, and 1872.

In 1809 appeared ‘Don Sebastian, or the House of Braganza,’ a novel in four volumes. A second edition, in three volumes, soon followed, and the latest edition came out in 1855. It lacks the verve of its predecessor. Among others of her novels, ‘The Knight of St. John,’ a romance in three volumes, published in 1817, was the last book read aloud by Prince Leopold to Princess Charlotte the day before her death [see Charlotte Augusta].

In May 1832 the sisters, who had removed from Esher to London on their mother's death in 1831, visited their brother, Dr. William Ogilvie Porter, at Bristol. Anna was seized with typhus fever there, and died on 21 Sept. 1832, at the house of Mrs. Colonel Booth, Montpellier, near Bristol. She was buried in the churchyard of St. Paul's Church in that city.

Jane Porter said of Anna that ‘the quickness of her perceptions gave her almost an intuitive knowledge of everything she wished to learn.’ S. C. Hall described her as a blonde, handsome and gay, and dubbed her ‘L'Allegro,’ in contrast to Jane, a brunette, whom he named ‘Il Penseroso’ (Retrospect of a Long Life, ii. 143–5).

Her portrait was engraved by Woolnoth from a drawing by Harlowe, and is reproduced in Jerdan's ‘National Portrait Gallery,’ vol. v. Her brother Robert, when designing an altar-piece which he presented to St. John's College, Cambridge, made a study of her for Hope.

Anna Maria Porter wrote, besides the works noticed: 1. ‘Tales of Pity.’ 2. ‘The Lake of Killarney,’ 3 vols. 1804; the last edition, 1856, was entitled ‘Rose de Blaquière.’ 3. ‘A Soldier's Friendship.’ 4. ‘A Soldier's Love,’ 2 vols. 1805. 5. ‘Ballads and Romances and Other Poems,’ 1811. 6. ‘The Recluse of Norway,’ 4 vols. 1814; last edit. 1852. 7. ‘The Fast of St. Magdalen,’ 3 vols. 1818, 1819, 1822. 8. ‘The Village of Mariendorpt,’ 4 vols. 1821. 9. ‘Roche Blanche, or the Hunter of the Pyrenees,’ 3 vols. 1822. 10. ‘Honor O'Hara,’ 3 vols. 1826. 11. ‘Coming Out,’ 2 vols. 1828. 12. ‘The Barony,’ 3 vols. 1830. She contributed in 1826 three stories, ‘Glenowan,’ ‘Lord Howth,’ and ‘Jeanie Halliday,’ to ‘Tales round a Winter's Hearth,’ and in 1828 a poem to S. C. Hall's ‘Amulet.’ Nearly all her books were translated into French, and some were published in America.

[Elwood's Literary Ladies of England, ii. 276–303; Jerdan's National Portrait Gallery, vol. v.; Allibone's Dict. of English Lit. ii. 1780.]

E. L.