Thomson, Katharine (DNB00)

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THOMSON, KATHARINE (1797–1862), miscellaneous writer, born in 1797, was the seventh daughter of Thomas Byerley of Etruria, Staffordshire, a nephew by marriage and sometime partner and manager of the pottery works of Josiah Wedgwood [q. v.] The Byerley family were descended from Colonel Anthony Byerley of Midridge Grange, Durham, who commanded a regiment under the Marquis of Newcastle during the civil war, and died in 1667. Colonel Anthony was father of Robert Byerley (1660–1714), member of parliament for Durham in 1685 and in the Convention of 1689, and for Knaresborough in nine successive parliaments from 1697 to 1710. This Robert married Mary, daughter of Philip Wharton and great-niece of Philip, fourth lord Wharton (hence the pseudonym latterly assumed by Mrs. Thomson and her son). Katharine Byerley married, in 1820, the eminent physician Anthony Todd Thomson [q. v.], and by him apparently she was in the first instance led to devote her leisure time to biographical compilation. Commencing with a brief ‘Life of Wolsey’ for the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge in 1824, her enthusiasm for the work increased as she went on, and anecdotal biography (as developed by Disraeli, Jesse, and Agnes Strickland) was carried by her to the farthest limits of which this genre of writing is susceptible. The surplus material accumulated in her diligent search for historical anecdotes was worked off in a long series of historical novels, anticipating in many features those of a later date by Mrs. Marshall. Mrs. Thomson's earliest literary recollections dated back to Dr. Parr, to Flaxman, to Sir Humphry Davy, and to Coleridge, whom she often saw at her father's house. During their long residence in London, for a portion of the time at Hinde Street, she and her husband assembled many well-known names in art and letters under their roof, among their earlier friends being Campbell, Wilkie, Mackintosh, Jeffrey, and Lord Cockburn. Later, in Welbeck Street, they saw much of Thackeray, Browning, and also of Lord Lytton, who became an intimate friend. After her husband's death in 1849 she resided abroad for some years. She returned to London, however, and published two books in conjunction with her youngest son, John Cockburn Thomson [see under Thomson, Henry William (Byerley)]. These were issued under the pseudonyms of Grace and Philip Wharton. The accidental death of this son in 1860 upon the threshold of a promising career proved a shock from which she never quite recovered, and she died at Dover on 17 Dec. 1862.

Mrs. Thomson's chief historical and biographical compilations were: 1. ‘Memoirs of the Court of Henry the Eighth,’ London, 1826, 2 vols. 8vo, a work of ‘much good sense, impartiality, and research’ (Edinb. Rev. March 1827). 2. ‘Memoirs of the Life of Sir Walter Ralegh,’ 1830, 8vo (two American editions). 3. ‘Memoirs of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, and of the Court of Queen Anne,’ 1838, 2 vols. 8vo, valuable as containing the essence of the then recently published ‘Private Correspondence,’ but diffuse, indexless (like her other works), and inexact. 4. ‘Memoirs of the Jacobites of 1715 and 1745,’ 1845 and 1846, 3 vols. 8vo. Together with notices of a few minor actors, this contains readable lives of Mar, Derwentwater, Cameron of Lochiel, Nithisdale, Kenmure, Tullibardine, Rob Roy, Lovat, Lord George Murray, Flora Macdonald, and Kilmarnock. 5. ‘Memoirs of Viscountess Sundon, Mistress of the Robes to Queen Caroline, including Letters from the most celebrated Persons of her Time,’ 1847, 2 vols. 8vo; 1850, 2 vols. 8vo. This contains many inaccuracies, commencing with the title-page (for Lady Sundon never enjoyed the rank there ascribed to her) (cf. Quarterly, lxxxii. 94). 6. ‘Recollections of Literary Characters and Celebrated Places,’ 1854, 2 vols. 8vo, chapters of anecdotal topography which had originally appeared in ‘Bentley's Miscellany’ and ‘Fraser's Magazine,’ under the signature ‘A Middle-aged Man.’ 7. ‘Life and Times of George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham,’ 1860, 3 vols. 8vo. 8. ‘Celebrated Friendships,’ 1861, 2 vols. 8vo. This, one of the writer's best inspired themes, contains pleasantly written chapters on Evelyn and Boyle, Surrey and Wyatt, Marie-Antoinette and the Princesse de Lamballe, Digby and Vandyck, Sidney and Greville, Coleridge and Lamb, Fénelon and Mme. Guyon, Cowper and Mrs. Unwin, Garrick and Mrs. Clive, and Clarendon and Falkland.

Mrs. Thomson also wrote: 9. ‘Constance’ [a novel], 1833, 3 vols. 8vo. 10. ‘Rosabel,’ 1835. 11. ‘Lady Annabella,’ 1837. 12. ‘Anne Boleyn,’ 1842, several editions. 13. ‘Widows and Widowers,’ 1842, several editions. 14. ‘Ragland Castle,’ 1843. 15. ‘White Mask,’ 1844. 16. ‘The Chevalier,’ 1844 and 1857. 17. ‘Tracey; or the Apparition,’ 1847. 18. ‘Carew Ralegh,’ 1857. 19. ‘Court Secrets,’ 1857, dealing with the story of Caspar Hauser. 20. ‘Faults on Both Sides,’ 1858. Under the pseudonym of Grace Wharton she was joint author with her son, John Cockburn Thomson, of ‘The Queens of Society,’ 1860, 2 vols. 8vo, 3rd ed. 1867; ‘The Wits and Beaux of Society,’ 1860, 2 vols. 8vo, 2nd ed. revised 1861; and ‘The Literature of Society,’ 1862, 2 vols. 8vo.

[Gent. Mag. 1863, i. 245; Athenæum, 1863, i. 21; Surtees's Durham, iii. 312; Allibone's Dict. of Engl. Lit.; Brit. Mus. Cat.; private information.]

T. S.