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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Marguerite Gardiner,Novelist & Journalist

marguerite-power-farmer-gardinerMarguerite Gardiner, Countess of Blessington, Irish novelist, journalist, and literary hostess, is born near Clonmel, County Tipperary on September 1, 1789. She becomes acquainted with Lord Byron in Genoa and writes a book about him.

Born Margaret Power, she is a daughter of Edmund Power and Ellen Sheehy, small landowners. She is “haphazardly educated by her own reading and by her mother’s friend Ann Dwyer.” Her childhood is blighted by her father’s character and poverty, and her early womanhood made wretched by a compulsory marriage at the age of fifteen to Captain Maurice St. Leger Farmer, an English officer whose drunken habits finally bring him as a debtor to the King’s Bench Prison, where he dies by falling out of a window in October 1817. She had left him after three months of marriage.

Marguerite later moves to Hampshire, England to live for five years with the family of Thomas Jenkins, a sympathetic and literary sea captain. Jenkins introduces her to the Irishman Charles John Gardiner, 1st Earl of Blessington, a widower with four children and seven years her senior. They marry at St. Mary’s, Bryanston Square, Marylebone, on February 16, 1818, only four months after the death of her first husband.

Of rare beauty, charm and wit, Lady Blessington is no less distinguished for her generosity and for the extravagant tastes she shares with her second husband, which results in encumbering his estates with debt. On August 25, 1822 they set out for a continental tour with Marguerite’s youngest sister, the 21-year-old Mary Anne, and servants. On the way they meet Count Alfred D’Orsay, who had first become an intimate of Lady Blessington in London in 1821, in Avignon on November 20, 1822, before settling at Genoa for four months from March 31, 1823. There they meet Lord Byron on several occasions, giving Lady Blessington material for her Conversations with Lord Byron.

After that they settle for the most part in Naples, where she meets the Irish writer Richard Robert Madden, who is to become her biographer. They also spend time in Florence with their friend Walter Savage Landor, author of Imaginary Conversations which she greatly admires.

It is in Italy, on December 1, 1827, that Count D’Orsay marries Harriet Gardiner, Lord Blessington’s only daughter by his former wife. The Blessingtons and the newly-wed couple move to Paris towards the end of 1828, taking up residence in the Hôtel Maréchal Ney, where the Earl suddenly dies at the age of 46 of an apoplectic stroke in 1829. D’Orsay and Harriet then accompanied Lady Blessington to England, but the couple separates soon afterwards amidst much acrimony. D’Orsay continues to live with Lady Blessington until her death. Their home, first at Seymour Place, and afterwards Gore House, Kensington, now the site of the Royal Albert Hall, become a centre of attraction for all that is distinguished in literature, learning, art, science and fashion. Benjamin Disraeli writes Venetia whilst staying there, and it is at her home that Hans Christian Andersen first meets Charles Dickens.

After her husband’s death Lady Blessington supplements her diminished income by contributing to various periodicals as well as by writing novels. She is for some years editor of The Book of Beauty and The Keepsake, popular annuals of the day. In 1834 she publishes her Conversations with Lord Byron. Her Idler in Italy (1839–1840), and Idler in France (1841) are popular for their personal gossip and anecdotes, descriptions of nature and sentiment.

Early in 1849, Count D’Orsay leaves Gore House to escape his creditors. Subsequently the furniture and decorations are sold in a public sale successfully discharging Lady Blessington’s debts. She joins the Count in Paris, where she dies on June 4, 1849 of a burst heart. On examination it is discovered that her heart is three times normal size.

(Pictured: Marguerite, Countess of Blessington, painted by Sir Thomas Lawrence in 1822)


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Birth of Frances Browne, Poet & Novelist

frances-browneFrances Browne, Irish poet and novelist, best remembered for Granny’s Wonderful Chair, her collection of short stories for children, is born on January 16, 1816, at Stranorlar, County Donegal, the seventh child in a family of twelve children.

Browne is blind from infancy as a consequence of an attack of smallpox when she is only 18 months old. In her writings, she recounts how she learned by heart the lessons which her brothers and sisters said aloud every evening, and how she bribed them to read to her by doing their chores. She then worked hard at memorising all that she had heard. She writes her first poem, a version of “The Lord’s Prayer,” when she is seven years old.

In 1841, her first poems are published in the Irish Penny Journal and in the London Athenauem. One of those included in the Irish Penny Journal is the beautiful lyric “Songs of Our Land” which can be found in many anthologies of Irish patriotic verse. She publishes a complete volume of poems in 1844, and a second volume in 1847. The provincial newspapers, especially the Belfast-based Northern Whig reprint many of her poems and she becomes widely known as “The Blind Poetess of Ulster.”

In 1845 she makes her first contribution to the popular magazine Chambers’s Journal and she writes for this journal for the next 25 years. The first short story that she has published in the Journal is entitled, “The Lost New Year’s Gift,” appearing in March 1845. She also contributes many short stories to magazines that have a largely female readership.

In 1847, she leaves Donegal for Edinburgh with one of her sisters as her reader and amanuensis. She quickly establishes herself in literary circles, and writes essays, reviews, stories, and poems, in spite of health problems. In 1852, she moves to London, where she writes her first novel, My Share of the World (1861). Her best known work, Granny’s Wonderful Chair, is published in 1856. It remains in print to this day and has been translated into several languages. It is a richly imaginative collection of fairy stories. It is also in 1856 that Pictures and Songs of Home appears, her third volume of poetry. This is directed at very young children and contains beautiful illustrations. The poems focus on her childhood experiences in County Donegal and provide evocative of its countryside.

After her move to London she writes for the Religious Tract Society, making many contributions to their periodicals The Leisure Hour and The Sunday at Home. One of these is “1776: a tale of the American War of Independence” which is printed in The Leisure Hour on the centenary of that event in 1876. As well as describing some of the revolutionary events, it is also a touching love story and is beautifully illustrated. Her last piece of writing is a poem called “The Children’s Day” which appears in The Sunday at Home in 1879.

Frances Brown dies from apoplexy on August 21, 1879, at 19 St. John’s Grove in Richmond-upon-Thames. She is buried on August 25, 1879, in plot 40 in the cemetery at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Richmond, London. Frances dies unmarried and leaves all her belongings, valued at less than 100 pounds, to Eliza Hickman who had been her faithful companion and secretary for many years.