1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Inchbald, Mrs Elizabeth
INCHBALD, MRS ELIZABETH (1753–1821), English novelist, playwright and actress, was born on the 15th of October 1753 at Standingfield, Suffolk, the daughter of John Simpson, a farmer. Her father died when she was eight years old. She and her sisters never enjoyed the advantages of school or of any regular supervision in their studies, but they seem to have acquired refined and literary tastes at an early age. Ambitious to become an actress, a career for which an impediment in her speech hardly seemed to qualify her, she applied in vain for an engagement; and finally, in 1772, she abruptly left home to seek her fortune in London. Here she married Joseph Inchbald (d. 1779), an actor, and on the 4th of September made her début in Bristol as Cordelia, to his Lear. For several years she continued to act with him in the provinces. Her rôles included Anne Boleyn, Jane Shore, Calista, Calpurnia, Lady Anne in Richard III., Lady Percy, Lady Elizabeth Grey, Fanny in The Clandestine Marriage, Desdemona, Aspasia in Tamerlane, Juliet and Imogen; but notwithstanding her great beauty and her natural aptitude for acting, her inability to acquire rapid and easy utterance prevented her from attaining to more than very moderate success. After the death of her husband she continued for some time on the stage; making her first London appearance at Covent Garden as Bellario in Philaster on the 3rd of October 1780. Her success, however, as an author led her to retire in 1789. She died at Kensington House on the 1st of August 1821.
Mrs. Inchbald wrote or adapted nineteen plays, and some of them, especially Wives as They Were and Maids as They Are (1797), were for a time very successful. Among the others may be mentioned I’ll tell you What (translated into German, Leipzig, 1798); Such Things Are (1788); The Married Man; The Wedding Day; The Midnight Hour; Everyone has his Fault; and Lover’s Vows. She also edited a collection of the British Theatre, with biographical and critical remarks (25 vols., 1806–1809); a Collection of Farces (7 vols., 1809); and The Modern Theatre (10 vols., 1809). Her fame, however, rests chiefly on her two novels: A Simple Story (1791), and Nature and Art (1796). These works possess many minor faults and inaccuracies, but on the whole their style is easy, natural and graceful; and if they are tainted in some degree by a morbid and exaggerated sentiment, and display none of that faculty of creation possessed by the best writers of fiction, the pathetic situations, and the deep and pure feeling pervading them, secured for them a wide popularity.
Mrs Inchbald destroyed an autobiography for which she had been offered £1000 by Phillips the publisher; but her Memoirs, compiled by J. Boaden, chiefly from her private journal, appeared in 1833 in two volumes. An interesting account of Mrs Inchbald is contained in Records of a Girlhood, by Frances Ann Kemble (1878). Her portrait was painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence.