Howitt, Mary (1799–1888)

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Howitt, Mary (1799–1888)

English poet, essayist, translator, and historian. Born Mary Botham in Coleford, Gloucestershire, England, on March 12, 1799; died in Rome, Italy, on January 30, 1888; daughter of Samuel Botham and Annie (Wood) Botham, both Quakers; married William Howitt (a writer), in 1821; children: five, including Alfred William Howitt (an English explorer and anthropologist in Australia), and Margaret Howitt (a novelist who edited Mary Howitt: An Autobiography, [1889]).

Mary Howitt, who was educated at home and in Quaker schools, wrote poetry from a very early age. During her marriage to fellow Quaker William Howitt (1792–1879), which extended over a period of 58 years, the couple wrote many works in collaboration. After settling in Nottingham, their first shared publication was a collection of poetry, The Forest Minstrel, in 1823.

Upon William's retirement as a chemist, the couple moved to West End Cottage, Esher, where Mary Howitt began to write a series of successful children's books. A residency in Heidelberg, where the Howitts lived in 1840, sparked an interest in Scandinavian literature. From 1842 to 1863, she translated the novels of Fredrika Bremer from the Swedish (the first to present Bremer to an English public).

Returning to England in 1843, she and her husband published Howitt's Journal, but it was not successful. In their later years, the Howitts drifted away from their Quaker upbringing and became interested in spiritualism. They moved to Italy in 1870, spending their winters in Rome and their summers in Tyrol. Howitt's husband died in 1879, and Mary lived with her daughter Margaret Howitt in the Tyrol. Baptized a Roman Catholic in 1882, Mary died in Rome six years later of bronchitis. She was honored by the Literary Academy of Stockholm.

In addition to collaborations with her husband, Mary Howitt wrote many poems, hymns, ballads, and some novels. Her independent publications number 110 distinct works, including Literature and Romance of Northern Europe (1852) and Ruined Abbeys and Castles of Britain (1862, 1864).

suggested reading:

Howitt, Mary. My Own Story (an autobiography), 1845.

——. An Autobiography, 1889.