Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Mohl, Mary

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MOHL, Madame MARY, whose maiden name was Clarke (1793–1883), conversationalist, was born at Millbank Row, Westminster, in 1793, her father, Charles Clarke, being the son of an Irish Jacobite, and her mother, Elizabeth Hay, the daughter of Captain David Hay of Hopes, Haddingtonshire. In 1801 her mother and maternal grandmother took her to Toulouse, where she was placed in a convent school. Her mother, on becoming a widow, removed with her to Paris, and from 1831 to 1838 they occupied apartments adjoining those of Madame Recamier at the Abbaye-aux-Bois. For eighteen years Mary Clarke was a daily visitor of Madame Recamier, helping to amuse Chateaubriand in his closing years. She became engaged to Auguste Sirey, but his early death prevented the marriage and led to litigation with his family. She seems to have been next in love with Claude Fauriel, who, however, twenty-one years her senior, was accustomed to merely platonic attachments. He joined the Clarkes in Switzerland in 1823, accompanied them to Milan, where he introduced them to Manzoni, and parted from them at Venice. He appointed Mary his literary executor (1844), and he had long previously introduced to her Julius Mohl (1800–1876), the accomplished orientalist, whose indications led Botta to the discovery of the ruins of Nineveh. In 1847, after her mother's death, and after making him wait eighteen years, she married Mohl and found him a home, for he had till then been living with Ampere. Not liking to be thought older than her husband, she made a mystery of her age, and at her marriage appears to have given it, or at least allowed it to be entered, as thirty-nine (Le Curieux, August 1885). Her receptions in the Rue du Bac for nearly forty years attracted a galaxy of talent. Ticknor in 1837 found her circle, with one exception, the most intellectual in Paris, and in 1857 he describes her as 'talking as amusingly as ever, full of good-natured kindness, with a little subacid as usual to give it a good flavour.' Ampere thought her 'a charming mixture of French vivacity and English originality,' and her old-fashioned English and sometimes peculiar French gave an additional zest to conversation quite devoid of pedantry, albeit she was a great reader and good art connoisseur. She was an ardent Orleanist, never referring to Napoleon III except as 'cet homme' or 'le monsieur,' and was so outspoken as sometimes to give offence. The Queen of Holland called on her in 1867, and her long list of friends included Quinet, one of her earliest admirers, De Tocqueville, Guizot, Thiers, Mignet, Thierry, the Due de Broglie, Scherer, and Renan. Dean Stanley first met at her dinner-table his future wife, Lady Augusta Bruce, and among her English visitors were Thackeray, Nassau Senior, Lord Houghton, and Mrs. Gaskell, who wrote while staying with her the greater part of her 'Wives and Daughters.' Lord John and Lady Russell visited them in 1870. On her husband's death in 1876 Madame Mohl discontinued her receptions, and her memory was latterly impaired. She died in Paris 14 May 1883, and was buried at Pere-Lachaise. Her only, and that an anonymous, attempt at authorship was an article on Madame Récamier, in the 'National Review, 1860, expanded into a volume entitled 'Madame Recamier, with a Sketch of the History of Society in France,' London, 1862. Her husband's nieces have carried out her intention of commemorating him by endowing a bed at the Hospitalité de Nuit, Paris.

[Mrs. Simpson's Letters of J. and M. Mohl, London, 1887; N. W. Senior's Conversations, London, 1868–78; Life of Ticknor, Boston, 1876; K. O'Meara's Madame Mohl, London, 1886 (often inaccurate); Contemp. Review, 1878; Macmillan's Mag. 1883; Journal des Débats, 4 and 5 July 1885; R. E. Prothero's Dean Stanley, 1894.]

J. G. A.