The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Maria J. B. Browne

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MARIA J. B. BROWNE.


Maria Jane Bancroft Browne is a native of the beautiful town of Northampton, Mass. In her early childhood, however, her parents removed from that place to the retired inland town of Templeton, Mass., which has since been her home.

Miss Browne’s parents belonged to that judicious class, who, while their pecuniary means were restricted, considered the acquisition of a liberal education by their children of vastly more value than the inheritance of that wealth which so proverbially spreads its pinions and flies away, or, what is worse, enchains the energies to frivolity and indolence. To facilitate so desirable an object, these excellent parents did what they could. They had already transmitted to their daughters their own characteristics of energy, resolution, and perseverance, and having removed obstacles out of the way, they left those qualities, under the sunshine of encouraging words and smiles, to their own irrepressible expansiveness and eventual success. Thrown thus mainly on their own resources, Miss Browne and her two elder sisters succeeded in completing an extensive course of study, and were graduated with distinction at the Mount Holyoke Seminary in 1841. Since that time Miss Browne has devoted herself principally to the instruction and training of young ladies in the various departments of moral, intellectual, and physical culture; a profession for which, by the structure of her own mind, and the nature of her acquirements, she is very happily adapted.

Her tastes, however,—the bent of those tastes having unfolded itself in very early life,—incline her to the pursuit of letters. Endowed with a vigorous and varied imagination, gifted with clear, quick, and discriminating perceptions, which penetrate beneath the surface of things for principles and conclusions; with eye, and ear, and heart, alive to all that is lovely and truthful in nature, art, and the peculiar province of intellect—possessing a wide humanity which earnestly labours for, and expects moral renovation to follow the wheels of progress; possessing also the courage and the skill to hold the mirror before the face of folly, and to paint the silly lineaments of its deformity; we scarcely need wonder at the tendency of her mind to this species of labour, in a “field which is the world.”

Miss Browne’s literary career is however, comparatively, but just begun. The efforts of her pen have been very favourably received by the public, and these tones of kindness and welcome from the popular voice, encourage the hope that hers has not been an adventurous launch amidst the shoals and breakers of authorship.

Miss Browne’s style of writing contains many popular elements as well as intrinsic beauties. In portraying the incidents of actual life, in depicting scenes of familiar occurrence in the family or the neighbourhood, she has few equals, and no superiors. That sterling common sense which strips off the mask of frivolity and conventionalism, which falls with withering and mortifying weight upon false pretensions, which holds up to derision and contempt those hollow and heartless principles and practices, which obtain in so-called “fashionable” society, lends a peculiar charm of satisfaction to the perusal of her tales. Of these qualities her “Town and Country,” “Marrying for the Parish,” and “Looking up in the World,” furnish eminent examples. No one can rise from the perusal of these excellent life-pictures, having fairly imbibed their spirit and meaning, without a thrill of gratification at the well-ordered finale, and its admirable point and truthfulness.

She is playful, pathetic, serious, earnest, full of life and intensity, never prosaic, never tedious, never common-place, deeply imbued with the religious, largely read in that school of sensibility which enables her to sympathize with all forms of human sorrow and suffering; her writings, consequently, find their way directly to the heart and bosom of the reader. In argument, she is clear, persuasive, and convincing; in satire, keen, and cutting, and a remarkable coherency and unity runs through the whole, so as to make it a difficult thing to isolate a passage in any given article, on which something antecedent or subsequent does not materially depend; every passage is linked with its neighbour so necessarily and appropriately, that an extractor finds his task a perplexing one. Harmony and felicity of diction is another invariable attribute of Miss Browne’s style of composition. Her command of language is so affluent, that it sometimes insensibly leads her into a redundancy of epithet tending toward the superlative; but the finished elegance of her periods compensates amply for this defect, which time and experience will eradicate.

In Miss Browne’s religious writings appears an element of depth and fervour which has made them decided favourites with the serious and devout. Her little volumes for the young are replete with pathos, tenderness, and truthfulness, conveying lessons of piety and virtue in a manner peculiarly calculated to impress the heart and conscience. In all there is something so obviously instructive, so high-toned a morality, so transparent a purity, so heartfelt a Christianity, which never once condescends to utter a low thought, an equivocal idea, or an objectionable word, that they are eminently proper to place in the hands of children and youth by the most careful parent, which is, perhaps, the truest compliment which can be paid to a popular writer.

Miss Browne has furnished for Sartain’s Union Magazine, to which she is an engaged contributor, the following articles: April, 1849—“Marrying for the Parish;” October and November, 1849—“The Ace of Hearts,” Parts I. and II.; November, 1850—“Looking Up in the World;” July, 1851—“The Rabbit on the Wall.” For Graham’s Magazine, Philadelphia: February, 1849—“Lessons in German;” September, 1849—“Jessie Lincoln, or The City Visiters.” For the Dollar Magazine, New York: November, 1849—“Going into Winter Quarters;” February, 1850—“Condescending to Marry.” For the Ladies Magazine, Boston: November, 1846—“Precept and Example;” February, March, and April, 1847—“Choosing how to Die,” Parts I., II., III., IV.; October, 1847—“Not Wealth, but Worth;” November, 1847—“The Disappointed Husband;” March, April, May, June, 1848—“Self-Conquest;” February, 1849—“En Dishabille, a Story for Young Wives.” For the Dollar Newspaper, Philadelphia: July, 1848—“Town and Country;” August, 1849—“Reversed Decision;” November, 1849—“Thanksgiving Carols;” February, 1850—“The One-Horned Dilemma.” For the New York Organ: March, 1850—“The Misadventure;” July, 1850—“The Bachelor’s Criticisms;” July, 1851—“The Promise and the Pledge.”

Several other fugitive sketches have appeared, from Miss Browne’s pen, through various channels: “The Fatal Jest,” “The Bride of the Buccaneer,” “Elizabeth Falconer,” “Love and Policy,” &c. The religious press has also brought out a variety of articles from the same source, and three small volumes for the young: 1848—“Margaret McDonald, or The True Sister;” 1849—“Story of a Western Sabbath School;” 1850—“Laura Huntley;” 1850—“The Youth’s Sketch Book” (of which Miss Browne and her sisters are joint authoresses). The “Snow Flake,” an annual for 1851, has also an article entitled “The Contrast,” of 18 pages.