Lady Sydney Morgan

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Morgan, Sydney, Lady, authoress, was born in Dublin between 1780 and 1786. Her father, MacOwen or Owenson, an actor and manager of the Theatre Royal, was a man of considerable versatility of talent, but without any ability for getting on in the world. His only children, two little girls, were early deprived of their mother, and were brought up in a rambling way by a devoted old servant, Molly. At so early an age as fourteen, Sydney gave to the world a small volume of poems; and in 1800 she began life as governess.

In 1804 her novel St. Clair, or the Heiress of Desmond, appeared, and was much admired; and in 1806 The Wild Irish Girl, which established her reputation as a novelist. The publication of these and the other works, which followed in quick succession from her pen, opened up to her the best circles, where her talents were fully appreciated. A visit to the Marquis of Abercorn in 1812 resulted in her marriage to his physician. Sir Thomas Charles Morgan, M.D., an intimate friend of Jenner. The union proved happy: his death in 1843 was the darkest shadow cast upon her life.

At the time of her marriage she had already saved £5,000 from her literary labours; and altogether her works are said to have brought her in some £25,000. Sir Charles and Lady Morgan settled in Kildare-street, Dublin, where they drew around them a brilliant circle. Lengthened visits to France and Italy between 1816 and 1819 resulted in several volumes of sketches concerning those countries then comparatively little visited. The liberal opinions expressed in these works brought upon her much obloquy, and caused the loss of many friends. Though anything but an admirer of O'Connell, she warmly advocated Catholic Emancipation.

Her novels upon Irish manners and history, and Irish subjects generally, attracted considerable attention to the country, then in the most depressed condition. In 1837 the Morgans removed to London, where they enjoyed the advantages of a wide circle of the best literary society of the day. During the ministry of Lord Grey a Civil List pension of £300 was conferred upon her, as an acknowledgment of her services to literature and to the Whig party. Lady Morgan's character, as shown by her works, widened and deepened with years. She died at 11 William-street, London, 13th April 1859, aged between 73 and 79, and was interred in Brompton Cemetery. Allibone enumerates twenty-two of her works, in the authorship of many of which her husband assisted. Her novel, Ida of Athens, published in 1809, was thus savagely attacked by Gifford in the Quarterly Review:

"If we were happy enough to be in her confidence, we should advise the immediate purchase of a spelling-book, of which she stands in great need; to this, in due process of time, might be added a pocket dictionary; she might then take a few lessons in joined-hand, in order to become legible."[16] Eight years afterwards her France was thus reviewed by the same hand: "Bad taste, bombast, and nonsense, blunders, ignorance of the French language and manners, general ignorance, Jacobinism, falsehood, licentiousness, and impiety. These, we admit, are no light accusations of the work; but we undertake, as we have said, to prove them from Lady Morgan's own mouth."[16]

On the other hand, the Athenaeum thus speaks of her collected works: "In the fulness of years and literary honour — ere the brightness of the fancy dims, or the strength of her execution fails — it is well that Lady Morgan should collect her works... So long as wit fascinates, so long as beauty of style lias power over the soul, and so long as goodness, gaiety, and dashing spirits are in the ascendant, so long may we expect a public for the works of the writer."

Sources

16. Authors, Dictionary of British and American: S. Austin Allibone. 3 vols. Philadelphia, 1859-'71.

246. Morgan, Lady, Autobiography. 2 vols. London, 1862.

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