Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Strickland, Agnes

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STRICKLAND, AGNES (1796–1874), historian, second surviving daughter of Thomas Strickland of Reydon Hall, near Southwold, Suffolk, and of his second wife, Elizabeth Homer, was born in London on 19 Aug. 1796. There were nine children of the marriage. Five of them besides Agnes distinguished themselves (though in a less degree) by their literary talent. These were Elizabeth (1794–1875), Jane Margaret (1800–1888), Samuel (1809–1867) [see below], Mrs. Susanna Moodie (1803–1885) [see Moodie, Donald], and Mrs. Catherine Parr Traill (b. 1802), who survived them all. The father, Thomas Strickland, was descended from a family of yeomen settled in the Furness district of North Lancashire. The connection, if any, with the Stricklands of Sizergh, to which Miss Strickland constantly referred, is remote, and is unsupported by documentary evidence (Davy's ‘Suffolk Pedigrees,’ Addit. MS. 19150). Thomas Strickland was in the employment of Messrs. Hallett & Wells, shipowners, and became manager of the Greenland docks. He resided first at the Laurels, Thorpe, near Norwich, then at Stowe House, near Bungay, and finally, in 1808, bought Reydon Hall, Suffolk. He also possessed a house at Norwich, where in later life he lived during the winter. He took entire charge of the education of his elder daughters, Elizabeth and Agnes, and they early showed a taste for the study of history. He died of gout at Norwich on 18 May 1818, the disease being aggravated by anxiety consequent on the loss of the larger part of his fortune. He was buried at Lakenham.

The pecuniary situation of the family made it desirable that the sisters, who had already commenced to write, should regard their literary talents as a part of their means of livelihood. Agnes's first publication was ‘Monody upon the Death of the Princess Charlotte of Wales,’ which appeared anonymously in the ‘Norwich Mercury’ in 1817. In 1827 she published by subscription ‘Worcester Field, or the Cavalier,’ a metrical romance, written long before. ‘The Seven Ages of Woman, and other Poems,’ followed in the same year (another edition in 1847). About 1827, too, she paid a first visit to London and stayed with a cousin, in whose house she met Campbell and Sir Walter Scott. With her cousin she studied Italian, and she sent some translations of Petrarch's sonnets to the ‘New Monthly Magazine.’ She now turned her attention to prose, and, in conjunction with her sister Elizabeth, wrote several books for children. The most important were: ‘Historical Tales of Illustrious British Children’ (1833; there were other editions in 1847 and 1858); ‘Tales and Stories from History’ (2 vols. 1836; the eighth edition appeared in 1860, and the latest in 1870). In addition Agnes contributed to the annuals; published at her own expense in 1833 ‘Demetrius,’ a poem inspired by sympathy with the Greeks; and in 1835 a series of tales in two volumes entitled ‘The Pilgrims of Walsingham.’

At this time Elizabeth was editing the ‘Court Magazine,’ and had written for it some biographies of female sovereigns. It occurred to Agnes that historical biographies of the queens of England might prove useful. The two sisters planned a book together, under the title of ‘Memoirs of the Queens of England from the Norman Conquest,’ and obtained permission from the young queen, who had just ascended the throne, to dedicate it to her. But before the first volume was published the title was appropriated by another author, Miss Hannah Lawrance (1795–1895), whose ‘Historical Memoirs of the Queens of England’ appeared in 1839. The Stricklands then changed their title to ‘Lives of the Queens of England,’ and the first and second volumes duly appeared in 1840. Agnes's name was alone given as author on the title-page, Elizabeth having an invincible objection to publicity. Owing to an unbusiness-like agreement with Henry Colburn [q. v.], the publisher, the authors gained little remuneration, although the book sold well. Agnes fell ill, and wished to stop the work. But Colburn insisted on its completion, and finally agreed to pay the joint authors 150l. a volume. As the prosecution of the work necessitated frequent visits to London, Elizabeth leased a cottage at Bayswater. There Agnes resided when in town. She witnessed the queen's coronation in 1838, and was presented at court in 1840. In that year she wrote at Colburn's request ‘Queen Victoria from Birth to Bridal’ (2 vols.). The book, which was founded on scanty and untrustworthy material supplied to the author by Colburn, did not find favour with the queen.

Miss Strickland based her ‘Lives of the Queens’ wherever possible on unpublished official records, on contemporary letters and other private documents. When preparing the biographies of the consorts of Henry VIII she found it necessary to consult state papers, and applied to Lord John Russell for the required permission, which he refused. However, through the influence of Lord Normanby, the difficulty was overcome, and both sisters were permitted to work at the state paper office whenever they liked. The Stricklands also visited many of the historic houses of England in order to examine documents. In 1844 Miss Strickland visited Paris, and Guizot, who much admired her work, enabled her to make researches in the French archives. The last of the twelve volumes of the first edition of the ‘Lives of the Queens’ appeared in 1848.

But this great undertaking did not absorb Miss Strickland's energies. During 1842–3 she edited and published the ‘Letters of Mary Queen of Scots’ in three volumes. The third volume was dedicated to Jane Porter [q. v.] as a tribute of friendship, and in the dedication Miss Strickland acknowledges the assistance rendered by Sir Robert Ker Porter [q. v.] in obtaining transcripts from the royal autograph collection in the Imperial Library of St. Petersburg. A new edition in two volumes appeared in 1844, and a complete edition in five volumes in 1864. From 1850 to 1859 Miss Strickland was engaged in the writing and publication of the ‘Lives of the Queens of Scotland and English Princesses connected with the Royal Succession of Great Britain,’ which had a good sale. In 1861 she published ‘Lives of the Bachelor Kings of England,’ i.e. William Rufus, Edward V, Edward VI. Elizabeth contributed the memoir of Edward V.

After her mother's death, on 3 Sept. 1864, Reydon Hall, which had always been her chief home, was sold, and Agnes removed to Park Lane Cottage, Southwold. She had just finished revising the proofs of a new edition of the ‘Queens,’ which appeared in six volumes in 1864–5. In the latter year she published a novel in three volumes, ‘How will it end?’ for which Bentley paid her 250l. It reached a second edition in the same year. In 1869 she visited Holland in order to collect materials for her ‘Lives of the last Four Princesses of the Royal House of Stuart’ (published 1872), her last work. At The Hague she had an interview with the queen of the Netherlands.

On 3 Aug. 1870 she was granted a pension of 100l. from the civil list (cf. Colles, Literature and the Pension List, p. 54). In 1872 her health gave way; she broke an ankle through a fall, partial paralysis supervened, and she died at Southwold on 13 July 1874. She was buried in the churchyard of Southwold.

Miss Strickland's fame as author and historian rests on the ‘Lives of the Queens of England,’ which was the joint work of herself and her sister Elizabeth. The lives contributed by Elizabeth, whose style is more masculine than that of Agnes, were those of Adelicia of Louvain, Eleanora of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, Isabella of Valois, Katherine of Valois, Elizabeth Woodville, Anne of Warwick, Elizabeth of York, Katharine of Arragon, Jane Seymour, Mary Tudor, Anne of Denmark, Henrietta Maria, Mary II, and Anne. To the ‘Queens of Scotland and English Princesses connected with the Royal Succession of Great Britain’ Elizabeth contributed Elizabeth Stuart, queen of Bohemia, and Sophia, electress of Hanover. Elizabeth Strickland also wrote the lives of the Duchess of Suffolk, Lady Jane Grey, Lady Katharine Grey, and Lady Mary Grey in the ‘Tudor Princesses’ (1868), and those of Lloyd and Trelawney in the ‘Seven Bishops’ (1866), both books, as usual, being given to the public as the sole work of Agnes. Elizabeth conducted the greater part of the business arrangements connected with their joint literary work. She died at Abbot's Lodge, Tilford, Surrey, 30 April 1875.

‘The Lives of the Queens of England’ was very successful and popular. By 1854 it was in a fourth edition, which was embellished by portraits of each queen. In 1863 Miss Strickland bought from Mrs. John Forster (the sole executrix of Mr. Colburn) the copyright of the book for 1,862l. 15s. 6d. The statement (cf. Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. iii. 458) that the copyright fetched 6,900l. at Colburn's sale in 1857 appears to be incorrect. Miss Strickland bequeathed the property to her sister, Mrs. Catherine Parr Traill, who sold it to Messrs. Bell & Daldy in 1877 for 735l. (cf. Mrs. Traill, Pearls and Pebbles, 1894). Of the edition in six volumes published in 1864–5 over eleven thousand copies were sold. The work has still a small though steady sale. An abridged edition, intended for use in schools, appeared in 1867.

Miss Strickland was laborious and painstaking, but she lacked the judicial temper and critical mind necessary for dealing in the right spirit with original authorities. This, in conjunction with her extraordinary devotion to Mary Queen of Scots and her strong tory prejudices, detract, from the value of her conclusions. Her literary style is weak, and the popularity of her books is in great measure due to their trivial gossip and domestic details. Yet in her extracts from contemporary authorities she amassed much valuable material, and her works contain pictures of the court, of society, and of domestic life not to be found elsewhere (cf. Letters of Mary Russell Mitford, ed. Chorley, 2nd ser. ii. 25–6).

Miss Strickland took her work and her reputation very seriously. On one occasion she wrote to the ‘Times’ to complain of the plagiarisms of Lord Campbell in his ‘Lives of the Chancellors,’ and on another gave emphatic expression, also in the ‘Times,’ to her indignation at Froude's description of the death of Mary Queen of Scots. She was a welcome guest in the houses of many distinguished persons, and her warm heart and conversational powers won for her many friends. With the exception of Jane Porter, whom she visited at Bristol, and with whom she carried on a frequent correspondence, and a casual meeting with Macaulay, whom she found uncongenial, she came little in contact with the authors of her day.

Miss Strickland's portrait was painted in June 1846 by J. Hayes. By her will she bequeathed the picture to the nation, and it is now in the National Portrait Gallery. It is a three-quarter length representing a woman of handsome appearance and intelligent expression, with pale complexion and black hair and eyes. The painting was engraved by S. C. Lewis, and forms the frontispiece to ‘Historic Scenes and Poetic Fancies’ (1850), and to the 1851 edition of the ‘Lives of the Queens of England.’ It was again engraved in 1857 by John Sartain of Philadelphia for the New York ‘Eclectic Magazine’ (vol. xlii.). There is another engraved portrait in the ‘Life’ by her sister, Jane Margaret Strickland (1887), which may be from the half-length in watercolour by Cruikshank mentioned in that book. A miniature painted by her cousin and a bust by Bailey are also referred to there.

Other works by Agnes Strickland are: 1. ‘Floral Sketches, Fables, and other Poems,’ 1836; 2nd edit. 1861. 2. ‘Old Friends and New Acquaintances,’ 1860; 2nd ser. 1861. She also edited Fisher's ‘Juvenile Scrap-Book,’ in conjunction with Bernard Barton, from 1837 to 1839, and contributed two tales to the ‘Pic-nic Papers,’ edited by Charles Dickens (1841).

Miss Strickland's brother, Samuel Strickland (1809–1867), born in England in 1809, emigrated in 1825 to Canada, where he became connected with the Canada Company and obtained the commission of major in the militia. His experiences are recorded in ‘Twenty-seven Years in Canada’ (2 vols. 1853), edited by Agnes. He died at Lakefield in Canada on 3 Jan. 1867. He was thrice married, and left many children.

Another sister, Jane Margaret Strickland (1800–1888), was born 18 April 1800. She died at Park Lane Cottage, Southwold, 14 June 1888, and was buried in the churchyard there beside her sister Agnes. Her chief work was ‘Rome, Republican and Regal: a Family History of Rome.’ It was edited by Agnes, and published in two volumes in 1854. She wrote some insignificant books for children, and a biography of her sister Agnes, published in 1887.

[Allibone's Dictionary, ii. 2284–5; supplement, ii. 1401; Life by her sister, Jane Margaret Strickland (1887); Mrs. Traill's Pearls and Pebbles, 1894; private information.]

E. L.