Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Marcet, Jane

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MARCET, Mrs. JANE (1769–1858), writer for the young, was the only daughter of Francis Haldimand, a rich Swiss merchant established in London. On 4 Dec. 1799 she married Dr. Alexander Marcet [q. v.] She wrote familiarly on scientific subjects, at a time when simple scientific text-books were almost unknown. The large number of editions through which Mrs. Marcet's books passed testify to their popularity. Her first work was ' Conversations on Chemistry, intended more especially for the Female Sex,' 1806; other editions were published in 1813, 1817, 1824; the sixteenth is dated 1853. It is said that 160,000 copies were sold in the United States before 1853 (Hale, Woman's Record, pp. 732-3). Her most famous book was 'Conversations on Political Economy,' 1816, which was frequently reprinted editions are dated 1817, 1821, and 1824. It was highly praised by Lord Macaulay, who says, 'Every girl who has read Mrs. Marcet's little dialogues on political economy could teach Montagu or Walpole many lessons in finance' (Essay on Milton, 1825). McCulloch, writing in 1845, after the publication of Harriet Martineau's 'Illustrations of Political Economy,' states that Mrs. Marcet's book is on the whole perhaps the best introduction to the science that has yet appeared' (Lit. of Polit. Econ.) Jean-Baptiste Say, the French political economist, praises Mrs. Marcet as 'the only woman who had written on political economy and shown herself superior even to men.'

Miss Martineau's 'Illustrations of Political Economy' (1832) owed its origin to Mrs. Marcet's book, although she makes no mention of her obligations in the work itself. In her 'Autobiography,' however, Miss Martineau writes : 'It was in the autumn of 1827, think, that a neighbour lent my sister Mrs. Marcet's "Conversations on Political Economy." I took up the book chiefly to see what Political Economy precisely was. ... It struck me at once that the principles of the whole science might be exhibited in their natural workings in selected passages of social life. . . . The view and purpose date from my reading of Mrs. Marcet's "Conversations"' (Autobiog. vol. i. sect, iii.) In 1833 Mrs. Marcet, who generously acknowledged the success of Miss Martineau's efforts, had become intimate with Miss Martineau. 'She had,' Miss Martineau wrote, 'a great opinion of great people; of people great by any istinction ability, office, birth, and what not : and she innocently supposed her own taste to be universal. Her great pleasure in regard to me was to climb the two flights of stairs at my lodgings (asthma notwithstanding) to tell me of great people who were admiring, or at least reading, my series. She brought me "hommages" and all that sort of. thing from French savans, foreign ambassadors, and others' (ib.)

Mrs. Marcet's ' Conversations on Natural Philosophy,' 1819, was a familiar exposition of the first elements of science for very young children. She had, she confessed, no knowledge of mathematics. Other editions appeared in 1824, 1827, 1858 (13th edit.), and 1872 (14th edit, revised and edited by her son, Francis Marcet, F.R.S.) It was written previous to either of her former publications (Preface to edit, of 1819), and was designed as an introduction to her work on chemistry. Mrs. Marcet died on 28 June 1858, aged 89, at Stratton Street, Piccadilly, the residence of her son-in-law, Mr. Edward Romilly.

Besides the works mentioned, Mrs. Marcet wrote: 1. 'Conversations on Vegetable Physiology,' 1829. 2. 'Stories for Young Children,' 1831. 3. 'Stories for very Young Children (The Seasons),' 1832. 4. 'Hopkins's Notions on Political Economy,' 1833. 5. 'Mary's Grammar,' 1835. 6. 'Willy's Holidays, or Conversations on different kinds of Governments,' 1836. 7. 'Conversations for Children on Land and Water,' 1838. 8. 'Conversations on the History of England for Children,' 1842. 9. 'Game of Grammar,' 1842. 10. 'Conversations on Language for Children,' 1844. 11. 'Lessons on Animals, Vegetables, and Minerals,' 1844. 12. 'Mother's First Book-Reading made Easy,' 1845. 13. 'Willy's Grammar,' 1845. 14. 'Willy's Travels on the Railroad,' 1847. 15. 'Rich and Poor, Dialogues on a few of the first principles of Political Economy,' 1851. 16. 'Mrs. M.'s Story-book Selections from Stories for Children contained in her Books for Little Children,' 1858.

[Gent. Mag. 1858, ii. 204; Nouv. Biog. Génér. xxiii. 486; American Monthly Mag. 1833, vol. i.; Allibone's Dict.]

E. L.