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Mary Howitt

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Published : 9 Articles
Pen Names : None
Date of Birth : 12/3/1799
Death : 30/1/1888
Views : 2371

Miscellaneous writer, translator. Attended Friends' schools. In 1821 married William Howitt. Like her husband, took deep interest in social reform and in humanitarian and philanthropic matters. Contributed to Chambers's, Monthly Repository, People's Journal, Ladies' Companion, Leisure Hour, Good Words, and other periodicals; contributed to annuals; for three years edited Fisher's Drawing Room Scrap-Book. Collaborated with her husband on several works, including a history of Scandinavian literature. Wrote popular accounts of natural history, children's stories, fiction for adults; also verse, which was very popular both in England and in the U.S. Translated some of Hans Christian Andersen's books and the novels of Fredrika Bremer. According to D.N.B., wrote, edited, or translated some 110 works. In 1879 granted Civil List pension of £100 a year "In consideration of her literary services" (Colles, Literature and the Pension List).


The Howitts had become acquainted with Dickens by the mid-1840s and occasionally met him at social gatherings. Despite her husband's later altercation with Dickens, Mrs. Howitt remained on friendly terms with him. She and Dickens occasionally corresponded; his letter to her, September 7, 1859, concerns a memoir of him that she had written.

The Howitts became H.W. contributors at Dickens's invitation, conveyed in a pleasant letter of February 1850, intended for both husband and wife: " ... if you would ever write for [Household Words}, you would delight me, and I should consider myself very fortunate indeed in enlisting your assistance". Both she and her husband, stated Mrs. Howitt, agreed "most willingly" to Dickens's request (Autobiography, II, 58-59). What Dickens particularly wanted from the Howitts, he explained in a following letter, were stories "with such a general purpose in them as we all three have in all we do", though he added: "Whatever you may write earnestly and to your own pleasure, will be most welcome to me" (Woodring, Victorian Samplers, p. 152).

Mrs. Howitt's first prose contribution was the translation of a story by Meir A. Goldschmidt. In their Literature and Romance of Northern Europe, published in the same year as the contribution, the Howitts mentioned Goldschmidt as author of "a collection of highly interesting short stories"; Mrs. Howitt published a translation, or adaptation, of his novel Jacob Bendixen, the Jew. Her second H.W. article she extracted, in part, from Literature and Romance of Northern Europe, the three introductory paragraphs of the article, as also the lines from the Kalevala and three of the selections from Johan Ludvig Runeberg, being transcribed practically verbatim; she did not indicate, in the article, that the material was taken from Literature and Romance. Two of her verse contributions—"The Ballad of Richard Burnell" and "Thomas Harlowe"—Mrs. Howitt mentioned by title in her Autobiography (II, 63). "A Plea for Playgrounds" assigned to her in the Office Book, is by Sophia De Morgan.

The H.W. article "A Witch in the Nursery" mentioned Mrs. Howitt as among English authors who had written "excellent stories and songs for children". "Fairyland in 'Fifty-four" referred to "The Spider and the Fly" (without mention of author or title) as a "popular ballad".

Author: Anne Lohrli; © University of Toronto Press, 1971.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

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