Anna Jameson was born in Dublin on May 19, 1794, the eldest child of Denis Brownell Murphy, a miniature painter. In 1798, Anna and her parents moved to Whitehaven, England, leaving behind Anna's two sisters Louisa and Eliza. By 1802, the family was reunited and had moved to Newcastle-on-Tyne where they lived over the shop of a bookseller, Mr. Miller. In 1803 the family moved to London, first to Hanwell and then to the Pall Mall area. The family now consisted of five girls, Anna, Louisa (Bates), Eliza, Camilla (Sherwin), and Charlotte. In 1820 or 1821, Anna was introduced to, and subsequently became engaged to a lawyer, Robert Jameson, the protegé Basil Montagu, and a friend of Hartley Coleridge, Charles Lamb and Henry Crabbe Robinson. By June 1821, however, she had broken her engagement and had set off for Italy with the Rowles as a governess to their daughter, Laura. Returning to London a year later, she was engaged by Mr. Littleton (later Lord Hatherton) as a governess, a position she retained for about three years. She continued to visit the Hathertons at Teddlesley, Staffordshire, for many years afterwards.
In 1825, she finally married Robert Jameson and lived with him in Chenies St. Her first major work, The Diary of an Ennuyée, a fictitious account of her travels in Italy, was also published in 1825. This book gained her a certain notoriety when it was revealed to be fictitious rather than strictly autobiographical. In 1829, Jameson took up a position as a judge in Dominica; Anna went to the Continent with her father and his patron, Sir Gerard Noel. No clear explanation of the failure of their marriage has been given, but it would appear that Jameson was a more attractive partner on paper than in person. Jameson returned to England for a brief period in 1833 and then went to Canada where he became a magistrate in Upper Canada. Anna went to Germany. There the sculptor Henry Behnes Burlow, a man Anna seems to have been very fond of but who died in the cholera epidemic in 1837, introduced her to Robert Noel, a cousin of Lady Byron. Noel and later his wife Louisa remained her intimate friends until Anna broke off their relations when her friendship with Lady Byron ruptured in 1854. Robert Noel also introduced her to the painter, Retzsch and the Goethe family.
Called back to England by her father's illness, Anna returned to Germany in 1834 where she remained for almost two years. After spending the summer in England, she set off for Canada in October, 1836, in a last attempt to resume her marriage. In the summer of 1837 she made the trip around Lake Huron which is recorded in Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada before heading to New York for six months, and then back to England. Jameson had agreed to a formal separation and undertook to pay her an allowance, a commitment he did not unfailingly uphold some years later, maintaining that he was investing her money in property. When he died in 1854, Anna discovered that, apparently at the last moment, he had bequeathed his estate to others, leaving her with nothing. Anna declined to contest the will.
After she returned to England, Anna resumed her wandering life, returning to Germany for a third time in 1839, and Paris in 1841. When her father died in 1842, she moved the family which she had supported for many years, to Ealing. There they remained until the death of Mrs. Murphy in 1854 when Anna and her sisters Eliza and Charlotte removed to Brighton. In 1844, she paid her first visit to Scotland, returning again the following summer before going to Germany and Italy. In September 1846, while staying in Paris en route to Italy, she chanced to meet Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert and assisted them in their flight to Italy. In 1848 she spent three months in the country of her birth, Ireland. The shuttle between England and the Continent continued for the remainder of her life while she worked on her series of art histories. 1854 seems to have been a particularly difficult year for Anna: her mother died in the spring; her intimacy with Lady Byron, and hence her friendship with Robert Noel, effectually ended; and Robert Jameson died in the autumn, leaving Anna and her two sisters entirely dependent on her labour and her small Civil List pension. Still, she deepened her involvement in the "woman question," researching and writing Sisters of Charity which, when it was refused by the Edinburgh Review, she gave as a lecture at the home of her longtime friend, Elizabeth Jesser Reid, before it was published in book form. It was followed by another lecture and publication, The Communion of Labour. An annuity to supplement her income was put together by her friends, a very welcome relief for a woman whose health was steadily deteriorating. On March 17, 1860, Anna died after a very brief illness.
Anna Jameson’s social network was extensive; it spread through her constant travelling across England, Scotland, the United States, Germany, Italy, and France and it cut across literary, political, artistic, philanthropic, and feminist circles.
Jameson had at least three intimate friendships with women--Lady Byron, Elizabeth Jesser Reid, and Ottilie von Goethe--and two with men--Robert Noel and Henry Reeve. Jameson met Robert Noel through Henry Behnes Burlowe, a friend of her husband. He introduced her to Ottilie von Goethe, the daughter-in-law of the poet, and a few years later, to Lady Byron. Lady Byron introduced Jameson to Joanna Baillie; Jameson, in turn, introduced Lady Byron to Harriet Martineau. Elizabeth Jesser Reid, a Unitarian active in the Anti-Slavery movement and the founder of Bedford College, was a friend of both Lady Byron and Harriet Martineau and a friend and neighbour of Henry Crabbe Robinson who Jameson may well have known through her husband. Julia Smith, the aunt of Florence Nightingale and Barbara Bodichon, was also a member of this circle.
Jameson’s introduction to literary circles was initially through her husband, the protégé of Basil Montagu and friend of Hartley Coleridge. Through the Montagus, she met Byran Waller Procter and his wife Anne Skepper Procter, both lifelong friends, and Fanny Kemble, a close friend at least for some years. Through the Kembles, Jameson met Harriet Grote. When Jameson travelled to America, she met many of the New England literati through Kemble, then Mrs. Pierce Butler. In the early thirties, Anna Maria Hall introduced Jameson to Maria and Geraldine Jewsbury and probably to Mary Russell Mitford. It was likely on the strength of her friendship with Mitford that Jameson dared to insist on meeting Elizabeth Barrett. Not long afterwards, Jameson happened to meet Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning in Paris and assisted them on their flight to Florence. She remained a close friend with both until her death. Other female friends of the thirties and forties were Sarah Austin and her intimate friend, Harriet Grote, the wife of one of the leaders of the "philosophical Radicals," a member of the Holland House circle, and an active promoter of both musicians and female artists. Henry Reeve was a nephew of Sarah Austin.
Jameson had the gift of forming friendships with young women, the daughters and nieces of her female friends. In her later years, she enjoyed the company of Adelaide Procter, Anna Mary Howitt, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, Bessie Parkes Belloc and others of this group of early feminists. It was Jameson who encouraged Parkes and Bodichon to proceed with the English Woman’s Journal and she critiqued each number as it appeared until her death. But it seems to have been her friendship with Ada Byron Lovelace, and her knowledge of Ada’s gambling, that caused the rupture in her long friendship with Lady Byron after Ada’s death.
For a literary figure whose professional reputation seems to have been firmly in place by the late 1830s--a position attested to by Jameson’s representation in numerous autograph collections--the number of letters known to be extant is surprisingly small. Gerardine Macpherson, in her biography of her aunt, notes that Jameson had destroyed many of her "private letters and papers" (including her journals) before she died. The largest collection is undoubtedly the correspondence between Jameson and Ottilie von Goethe held in the Goethe archives at Weimar. A selection was edited by G.H. Needler and published as Letters of Anna Jameson to Ottilie von Goethe (London: Oxford UP, 1939). These letters are in the process of being recorded in the database. Smaller collections are the correspondences between Jameson and Lady Byron (obviously a tiny and carefully culled portion of their long and intimate correspondence) held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and Jameson and Bessie Parkes, held at Girton College, Cambridge. All the letters published in whole or in part in the three biographies of Jameson (Macpherson, Memoirs (1878); Erskine, Letters and Friendships (1915); Thomas, 'Love and Work Enough' (1967)) are recorded as are other letters both published and unpublished. There are to date approximately 500 letters recorded; this figure is unlikely to reach 1000.
Jameson's handwriting is quite easy to read although proper names can sometimes give trouble. There are few deletions but when she was in a hurry or ill, she had a tendency to omit small words such as prepositions. All spellings, wordings, and punctuation have been retained; sic is used sparingly; superscript has in most cases been lowered. As is usual where correspondence and/or face-to-face interaction are frequent, the full dates are rarely given. Dates in square brackets are derived from postmarks or internal evidence.
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