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Mary Darby Robinson

(1758 - 1800 / England)

Biography of Mary Darby Robinson

Mary Darby Robinson poet

Born to Mr. and Mrs. John Darby of Bristol, England, Mary Darby Robinson benefited greatly from her father’s membership with the mercantile firm of Miller and Elton. Not only did she enjoy the perks of high society but she was also provided what was considered to be one of the finest educations of the time. She spent her early educational years learning from a minister of a monastery at St. Augustine. Robinson grew to love the arts, dabbling not only in writing and music, but also acting in her later years. Even in her early years she demonstrated a skill in the use of language and flourished in her English classes. Her talent in music earned her a harpsichord and she studied music under Edmund Broadrip. Robinson then attended a famous school, which was run by Hannah More and her sisters in Bristol.
During her childhood, her father John abruptly mortgaged all of his property and then sailed away with his mistress, Elenor, leaving Robinson and the rest of her family behind. His escapade to America failed, and he was forced to return home seven years later. Immediately, he formally separated from his wife and then placed Robinson and her brother John in a school at Chelsea. When Robinson failed from Mrs. Lorrington's school at Chelsea failed, Robinson's mother intervened and enrolled her in her own boarding school, which she opened up with the help of her children. By this time Robinson was fourteen and teaching English prose, poetry, and grammar in Little Chelsea in her mother’s school.
Robinson finished her schooling at Oxford House, the place she developed her love for theatre where she became involved in theater. On a trip to Greenwich she met her future husband, when she stepped out of the carriage at The Star and Garter Inn at Greenwich. Thomas Robinson Esquire greeted her as she exited the carriage, and soon realized he was a neighbor of hers. Shortly after that, Robinson’s brother, George, caught smallpox and Thomas attended to him daily, which gained the approval of Robinson’s mother. By the time George recovered Robinson had fallen ill as well, and received the same care from Thomas that her brother had. Thomas pressed courtship and attended her everyday until Robinson finally agreed. She and Thomas wed in secret when she was fifteen. After Robinson started showing her pregnancy her mother demanded their marriage be announced, and Thomas confessed to his father, who accepted them.

Soon after, they became friends with Lord Lyttleton, an older man who became quite intrested in Robinson. He began to pursue her, and even informed her of her husband’s infidelity with a woman by the name of Harriet Wilmot. Upon questioning, Robinson found this to be true, and became quite distraught. Despite her pain Lyttleton continued to try to seduce Robinson, but she refused. She was later rumored to have had a fifteen-year love affair with Lord Banastre Tarleton. The death of his mother in 1797 catalyzed him to end his 15-year relationship with Mary. Within a year, he met and married a young heiress, Susan Priscilla Bertie. Mary Robinson revenged herself as best she could by writing a savage characterization of Tarleton in The False Friend. The Natural Daughter was an attempt to remind readers of an old scandal concerning Tarleton's young wife: Susan Bertie was an illegitimate child of the Duke of Ancaster. Shortly after the affair she was nearly raped by George Robert Fitzgerald, a murderer who was later hanged by the Kings Officers. Thomas fell into debt and the couple was forced to move in with Thomas’ father, who was now much less welcoming. Robinson soon tired of constant taunting and insults and fled to the Treveca House on November 18, 1774. Here she bore her daughter, whom she christened Maria Elizabeth. Later Thomas was discovered and the couple relocated to Robinson’s grandmother’s home in Mommouth. Thomas was caught here and forced into custody. After his release the family retired at Hafton Garden, where Robinson lived the rest of her life.
In her final writings Robinson sought to describe and justify her life. She expressed her disillusionment with marriage in a work of social criticism, entitled A Letter to the Women of England, on the Injustice of Mental Subordination which she wrote in 1799. She first published the work under the name of Anne Frances Randall, and it reflected the thinking of her friends Mary Wollstonecraft and William Godwin. Mary argued for the choice of a wife to leave her husband. Robinson also began to write her autobiography. However, her health became increasingly poor, and she died on December 26, 1800, leaving it unfinished. Her daughter Maria Elizabeth edited and published her memoirs (Memoirs of the Late Mrs. Robinson, Written by Herself, With Some Posthumous Pieces) in 1801 and a collected edition of her Poetical Works in 1806.

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The Poor Singing Dame

Beneath an old wall, that went round an old Castle,
For many a year, with brown ivy o'erspread;
A neat little Hovel, its lowly roof raising,
Defied the wild winds that howl'd over its shed:
The turrets, that frown'd on the poor simple dwelling,
Were rock'd to and fro, when the Tempest would roar,
And the river, that down the rich valley was swelling,
Flow'd swiftly beside the green step of its door.

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