Hofland, Barbara (DNB00)

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HOFLAND, BARBARA (1770–1844), authoress, was born in 1770 at Sheffield, where her father, Robert Wreaks, was an extensive manufacturer. She lost him in her infancy, and was brought up by a maiden aunt. In 1795 she contributed her first literary essay, ‘Characteristics of some leading inhabitants of Sheffield,’ to the ‘Sheffield Courant.’ In 1796 she married T. Bradshawe Hoole, a Sheffield merchant, who died of consumption in two years, leaving her a considerable property, which was soon afterwards lost through the failure of the firm with which it was invested. To support herself and her infant son she published a volume of poems in 1805, for which sympathy rather than appreciation obtained two thousand subscribers. With the proceeds she opened a boarding-school at Harrogate, which proved unsuccessful; but while contending with the difficulties in which it involved her she found time to make herself known as a writer of fiction, and thus to achieve an actual, though precarious, independence. One of her early fictions, ‘The Clergyman's Widow,’ published in 1812 reached a sale of seventeen thousand copies in different editions. After ten years' widowhood she married Thomas Christopher Hofland [q. v.], the artist. The general ill-success of her husband's undertakings compelled her to labour harder than ever. By 1824 she had produced upwards of twenty works of fiction. The first of these published after her removal to London, ‘The Daughter-in-Law,’ fortunately attracted the notice of Queen Charlotte, who accepted the dedication of its successor, ‘Emily.’ Her next production, ‘The Son of a Genius,’ 1816, was able to stand alone, and is probably the only one of her writings that continues to be read. It well deserved this success from its genuine truth to nature, the vivid portrayal of the artistic temperament as she had observed it in her husband, and the artless but touching expression of her affection for her son by her first marriage, whose early death from consumption cast a shadow over her life. She also wrote a spirited pamphlet on the disagreements between George IV and Queen Caroline, and, anticipating some modern developments of journalism, contributed letters of London literary gossip to provincial journals. She died on 9 Nov. 1844.

Mrs. Hofland was a true-hearted, cheerful, and affectionate woman; resigned but intrepid in adversity. Judged by the standard of her time she was also an excellent authoress; but, with two exceptions, her works are so completely in the didactic style of the feminine fiction of her day, as to be almost unreadable in ours. ‘The Son of a Genius,’ however, shows what she could effect when her feeling was sufficiently powerful to break through the crust of conventionality; and ‘The Captives in India,’ which appeared in 1834, is interesting for the very different reason, that Mrs. Hofland, with acknowledgment but no apology, has transferred bodily to her pages Mrs. Fay's fascinating narrative of an Indian captivity by one who had actually endured it. How little justice Mrs. Hofland did herself in most of her writings appears from her lively letters preserved in her friend Miss Mitford's correspondence.

[Ramsay's Life and Literary Remains of Barbara Hofland, 1849; L'Estrange's The Friendships of Mary Russell Mitford; W. Smith, on Barbara Wreaks's Characteristics, privately printed.]

R. G.