1902 Encyclopedia > Anna Jameson

Anna Brownell Jameson
(also known as: Anna Brownell Jameson)
British writer
(1794-1860)




ANNA JAMESON (1794-1860), was born in Dublin in 1794. Her father, Mr Brownell Murphy, who was a miniature and enamel painter of some celebrity, took part in his early days in the political commotions which then agitated Ireland. His removal to England in 1798 con-fined his attention fortunately to his more peaceful calling, in which he attained considerable skill, but his daughter's mind seems to have been influenced in the highest sense by the circumstances that surrounded her birth; she was distinguished from her tenderest years by that ardour and courage and keenness to supply the needs and redress the injuries of others which marked her career through life.

At sixteen years of age she undertook the office of governess in the family of the marquis of Winchester, and later in that of Mr Littleton, afterwards Lord Hatherton. Between these two engagements she accom-panied a young pupil, one of a party of travellers, to Italy, a tour which gave rise to a narrative of what she saw and did, written in an imaginary character. This, her first literary production, the merits of which she little appreciated, did not make its appearance until after her marriage with Mr Robert Jameson, a barrister, in 1825, when it was adver-tised by a friend under the title of a Lady's Diary, and ultimately published by Mr Colburn as The Diary of an Ennuy'ee. Mrs Jameson's marriage was not a happy one; but, if not more unfortunate than many of her sex in this form of trial, she set the example of a rare discretion under it. Her marriage troubles were made no excuse for appeal-ing against the laws of the land or the usages of society. The Diary of an Ennuy'ee attracted much attention. Italy was no such beaten ground then, nor a traveller with ardent feelings for art and nature so common, as both have become since. The authoress has been blamed for assuming the disguise of an invalid, who dies on her way back ; but such a tinge of romance made no difference in the truth of her descriptions, while it procured them more readers.

In 1829 Mr Jameson was appointed puisne judge in the island of Dominica. It was decided to be impracticable for her to accompany him, and meanwhile Mrs Jameson visited the Continent again with her father. Traces of this journey appear in Visits and Sketches at Home and Abroad. Hitherto the subjects she had treated had been limited to impressions of outer scenes and passing things, or to abridg-ments of history, as in her good schoolbook Female Sove-reigns. The first work in which her powers of original thought became embodied were her Characteristics of Shakespeare's Women, which appeared in 1832. These analyses of the great poet's heroines are unsurpassed for delicacy of critical insight and fineness of literary touch. They are the result of a penetrating but essentially feminine mind, applied to the study of individuals of its own sex, detecting characteristics and defining differences not perceived by the ordinary critic, and entirely over-looked by the general reader.

In 1833 Mrs Jameson paid her first visit to Germany, the literature and art of which country may be said to have then first roused the curiosity of English minds. Dresden and Tieck and Retsch, Frankfort and Dannecker, Weimar and, if not Goethe, who had died the year before, yet the homage which more than restored him to life, succes-sively occupied her. Nor was she proof to the spell of the modern German art which the late King Louis of Bavaria had evoked in his capital. Those conglomerations of hard lines, cold colours, and pedantic subjects which decorated Munich were new to the world, and Mrs Jameson's enthusiasm first gave them the reputation which has long since faded away.

It was in 1836 that Mrs Jameson was summoned by her husband to join him in Canada. She started with many a regret for the life she was leaving, and was not long left in doubt as to the fruitlessness of the step. He failed to meet her, even by a letter, at New York, and she was left to make her way alone at the worst of seasons to Toronto. After six months' experiment she felt it useless to prolong a life far from all ties of family happiness and opportunities of usefulness. Before leaving, she undertook a journey to the depths of the Indian settlements in Canada; she explored Lake Huron, and saw much of emigrant and aborigines life unknown to travellers, which she afterwards embodied in her Winter Studies and Summer Rambles. She returned to England in 1838. It was at this period that Mrs Jameson first devoted her attention to the subject of art. She began by making careful notes of the chief private collections in and near London which had hitherto received no systematic description. This Companion to the Frivate Galleries was soon followed by the Handbook to the Public Galleries. These works were useful compilations, and had a certain circulation; but the authoress laid claim to no powers of real discrimination, and many of her ver-dicts, in which she only followed those that went before her, have been since superseded by exacter knowledge. These works, however, led on to those by which her literary career has been specially distinguished,—her series of Sacred and Legendary Art. The time was ripe for such contributions to the traveller's library. The Acta Sanc-torum and the Book of the Golden Legend had had their readers, but no one had ever pointed out the connexion between these tales and the works of Christian art. The painters employed by convent or church had introduced the local or family saints according to contract, and the faithful had retained the tradition of their names; but for the modern Protestant traveller the whole was a terra incognita. The way to these studies had been pointed out in the preface to Kugler's Handbook of Ltalian Painting by Sir Charles Eastlake, who had intended pursuing the subject himself. Eventually he made over to Mrs Jameson the materials and references he had collected. They could not have been placed in better hands. She recognized the extent of the ground before her as a mingled sphere of poetry, history, devotion, and art. She directed the taste of her readers with judgment and even enthusiasm ; and, with the same penetration that had guided her in her literary tasks, she threw many a light on a master's inten-tions which had escaped both artists and critics.

Another service Mrs Jameson rendered to the English public, and that the most valuable of all, has still to be noticed. She began her literary career by analysing books, she proceeded to analyse works of art, and she ended by analysing society. It was a natural supplement to a course of varied personal experience and no little struggle that her attention should be directed to the great moral questions of the day, and especially to those affecting the education, occupations, and maintenance of her own sex. Her early essay on The Relative Social Position of Mothers and Governesses is a masterpiece. She knew both sides; and in no respect does she more clearly prove the falseness of the position she describes than in the certainty with which she predicts its eventual reform.

To Mrs Jameson we owe the first popular enunciation of the principle of male and female cooperation in works of mercy and education. Her mind was peculiarly to be trusted with the advocacy of such tenets—it had become as clear and judicious by experience as it was ardent and vigorous by nature. In her later years she took up a succession of subjects all bearing on the same principles of active benevolence, and the best ways of carrying them into practice. Sisters of charity, hospitals, penitentiaries, prisons, and workhouses all claimed her interest—all more or less included under those definitions of " the communion of love and communion of labour " which are inseparably connected with her memory. To the clear and temperate forms in which she brought the results of her convic-tions before her friends in the shape of private lectures, subsequently printed, may be traced the source whence living reformers and philanthropists took counsel and courage.

Mrs Jameson died in March 1860. She left the last of her Sacred and Legendary Art series in preparation. It was completed, under the title of The History of our Lord in Art, by Lady Eastlake. (E. E.)








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