1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Jameson, Anna Brownell
JAMESON, ANNA BROWNELL (1794–1860), British writer, was born in Dublin on the 17th of May 1794. Her father, Denis Brownell Murphy (d. 1842), a miniature and enamel painter, removed to England in 1798 with his family, and eventually settled at Hanwell, near London. At sixteen years of age Anna became governess in the family of the marquis of Winchester. In 1821 she was engaged to Robert Jameson. The engagement was broken off, and Anna Murphy accompanied a young pupil to Italy, writing in a fictitious character a narrative of what she saw and did. This diary she gave to a bookseller on condition of receiving a guitar if he secured any profits. Colburn ultimately published it as The Diary of an Ennuyée (1826), which attracted much attention. The author was governess to the children of Mr Littleton, afterwards Lord Hatherton, from 1821 to 1825, when she married Robert Jameson. The marriage proved unhappy; when, in 1829, Jameson was appointed puisne judge in the island of Dominica the couple separated without regret, and Mrs Jameson visited the Continent again with her father.
The first work which displayed her powers of original thought was her Characteristics of Women (1832). These analyses of Shakespeare’s heroines are remarkable for delicacy of critical insight and fineness of literary touch. They are the result of a penetrating but essentially feminine mind, applied to the study of individuals of its own sex, detecting characteristics and defining differences not perceived by the ordinary critic and entirely overlooked by the general reader. German literature and art had aroused much interest in England, and Mrs Jameson paid her first visit to Germany in 1833. The conglomerations of hard lines, cold colours and pedantic subjects which decorated Munich under the patronage of King Louis of Bavaria, were new to the world, and Mrs Jameson’s enthusiasm first gave them an English reputation.
In 1836 Mrs Jameson was summoned to Canada by her husband, who had been appointed chancellor of the province of Toronto. He failed to meet her at New York, and she was left to make her way alone at the worst season of the year to Toronto. After six months’ experiment she felt it useless to prolong a life far from all ties of family happiness and opportunities of usefulness. Before leaving, she undertook a journey to the depths of the Indian settlements in Canada; she explored Lake Huron, and saw much of emigrant and Indian life unknown to travellers, which she afterwards embodied in her Winter Studies and Summer Rambles. She returned to England in 1838. At this period Mrs Jameson began making careful notes of the chief private art collections in and near London. The result appeared in her Companion to the Private Galleries (1842), followed in the same year by the Handbook to the Public Galleries. She edited the Memoirs of the Early Italian Painters in 1845. In the same year she visited her friend Ottilie von Goethe. Her friendship with Lady Byron dates from about this time and lasted for some seven years; it was brought to an end apparently through Lady Byron’s unreasonable temper. A volume of essays published in 1846 contains one of Mrs Jameson’s best pieces of work, The House of Titian. In 1847 she went to Italy with her niece and subsequent biographer (Memoirs, 1878), Geraldine Bate (Mrs Macpherson), to collect materials for the work on which her reputation rests—her series of Sacred and Legendary Art. The time was ripe for such contributions to the traveller’s library. The Acta Sanctorum and the Book of the Golden Legend had had their readers, but no one had ever pointed out the connexion between these tales and the works of Christian art. The way to these studies had been pointed out in the preface to Kugler’s Handbook of Italian Painting by Sir Charles Eastlake, who had intended pursuing the subject himself. Eventually he made over to Mrs Jameson the materials and references he had collected. She recognized the extent of the ground before her as a mingled sphere of poetry, history, devotion and art. She infected her readers with her own enthusiastic admiration; and, in spite of her slight technical and historical equipment, Mrs. Jameson produced a book which thoroughly deserved its great success.
She also took a keen interest in questions affecting the education, occupations and maintenance of her own sex. Her early essay on The Relative Social Position of Mothers and Governesses was the work of one who knew both sides; and in no respect does she more clearly prove the falseness of the position she describes than in the certainty with which she predicts its eventual reform. To her we owe the first popular enunciation of the principle of male and female co-operation in works of mercy and education. In her later years she took up a succession of subjects all bearing on the same principles of active benevolence and the best ways of carrying them into practice. Sisters of charity, hospitals, penitentiaries, prisons and workhouses all claimed her interest—all more or less included under those definitions of “the communion of love and communion of labour” which are inseparably connected with her memory. To the clear and temperate forms in which she brought the results of her convictions before her friends in the shape of private lectures—published as Sisters of Charity (1855) and The Communion of Labour (1856)—may be traced the source whence later reformers and philanthropists took counsel and courage.
Mrs Jameson died on the 17th of March 1860. She left the last of her Sacred and Legendary Art series in preparation. It was completed, under the title of The History of Our Lord in Art, by Lady Eastlake.