Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 28.djvu/431

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Inchbald
Inchbald
425

were printed from her manuscripts by Boaden with the ' Memoirs of Mrs. Inchbald 'in 1833. Most of these pieces are translations, and some of them are trifling enough. Those which are original are chiefly improbable, but display power of characterisation and command of dialogue.

Mrs. Inchbald's great romance, by which she is principally known, 'A Simple Story,' was finished by her at her lodgings in Frith Street, and was published, 4 vols. 12mo, 10 Feb. 1791. It obtained an immediate success, a second edition being ordered on 1 May. For the copyright she received 200l. In spite of the break in the middle, which practically divides it into two parts, and of the unexpected frailty of the heroine, it is a supremely tender and touching work, written with much happiness of style, and giving a very lively portraiture of character. It exercised a powerful influence; it was one of the earliest examples of the novel of passion, and seems to some extent to have inspired 'Jane Eyre.' 'Nature and Art,' an able but inferior story, followed in 1796, 2 vols. 12mo. In 1806-9 she edited 'The British Theatre,' in 25 vols., with biographical and critical remarks. Though sensible in the main, her observations upon various plays involved her in disputes with George Colman the younger and others. The contents of the `Modern Theatre,' 10 vols. 1809, and 'A Collection of Farces,' 7 vols. 1809, were simply selected by her. When in 1808 John Murray was starting the 'Quarterly,' under the guidance of Gifford and Walter Scott, he was most anxious to secure Mrs. Inchbald as a contributor, and it was only her extreme diffidence which led her after some hesitation to decline the offer (Smiles, Mem. of John Murray, i. 122). She contributed, however, to the 'Edinburgh Review,' and received 50l. for her first article, or, as she said, 'for five minutes' work.' The prices paid her for literary work were invariably high. She received, indeed, from Harris as much as 600l. for a single play. She invested her money so as to secure herself a yearly independent income of over 260 l.; but, equally prudent and generous, she gave large sums to various members of her family. Mrs. Inchbald died Wednesday, 1 Aug. 1821, at Kensington House, and was buried on the 4th in Kensington churchyard. The memoirs of her life, for which she had been offered 1,000l., were by her peremptory injunction destroyed at her death; in this matter she acted on the advice of Bishop Poynter. Her will was signed 29 April 1821. In all she left about 6,000l. In her private life she was blameless, though she was given to sentimental attachments, and, despite her anxiety to marry again, she declined many offers, some of them advantageous. She died a devout Roman catholic. Singularly fascinating and gracious, although a little apt to take and give offence, she was very popular in both literary and fashionable society (cf. Clayden, Rogers and his Contemporaries, i. 4, 46). William Godwin's daughter, Mrs. Shelley, wrote in a notice of considerable interest 'relative to Mrs. Inchbald ' that she had heard a rival beauty complain that when Mrs. Inchbald came into the room and sat in a chair in the middle of it, as was her wont, every man gathered round it, and it was vain for any other woman to attempt to gain attention. Godwin admired her greatly. (He used to describe her as a piquante mixture between a lady and a milkmaid, and added that Sheridan declared she was the only authoress whose society pleased him' (Kegan Paul, Godwin i. 74). Her beauty she retained until late in life, and she always dreaded its loss. According to an account penned by an admirer which she preserved in her papers, and endorsed 'Description of Me,' she was handsome in figure, but stiff; above the middle height; fair, but a little freckled, and 'with a tinge of sand, which is the colour of her eyelashes; no bosom; hair of a sandy auburn; … face beautiful in effect and beautiful in every feature; … countenance full of spirit and sweetness, excessively interesting, and, without indelicacy, voluptuous; … dress always becoming and very seldom worth so much as eight-pence.'

A portrait of her was painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence, and one by W. Porter was exhibited in the Royal Academy. A third, by Harlowe, is in the Garrick Club, where is also a representation of her, by De Wilde, as Lady Jane Grey. Most of her plays have been reprinted in collections, such as those of Cumberland, Oxberry, Lacy, and 'The London Stage.' Her 'I'll tell you what' was translated into German, Leipzig, 1798, and her stories were more than once translated into French. Of 'A Simple Story' and 'Nature and Art ' many editions have appeared, one, with a memoir by William Bell Scott, being published in 1880. Both works are in the 'Collection of British Novelists,' Thomas Button, author of the 'Dramatic Censor,' 1801, in which Mrs. Inchbald is freely handled, wrote 'a satirical poem' on her entitled 'The Wise Men of the East, or the Apparition of Zoroaster, the Son of Oromases, to the Theatrical Midwife of Leicester Fields.'

[The chief authority for the life of Mrs. Inchbald is the Memoir by James Boaden, 2 vols. 1833. Boaden seems to have had access to her correspondence, and to have seen in manuscript